Fort Ridgely served as a buffer between Dakota Indians on the reservations and white settlers pouring into the Minnesota River valley. Soldiers stationed here enforced treaty agreements and protected the Dakota from intrusions onto their reservations. Over the years, the army attempted to keep peace despite mounting friction and strife between the two groups over social, economic, and religious issues.Minnesota Historical Society
By 1854 there were 52 U.S. Army forts west of the Mississippi. Some were built for national defense or to protect economic interests. Others, like Ridgely, were "buffer" posts and not considered permanent. Fort Ridgely operated for only 14 years, closing in 1867.
Finding a Suitable Location
In 1852, Captain Napoleon J.T. Dana and Colonel Francis Lee were ordered to select a suitable location for a new military fort on the upper Minnesota River. They eventually chose this site, high on a bluff overlooking the river and valley. The site had its pros and cons:
· Supplies and soldiers could easily be transported up the Minnesota River.
· Good boat landing at base of bluff.
· Spring nearby for drinking water.
· While close to the reservations, the fort was, in fact, a little too far away—15 miles from the Lower Sioux Agency and 40 miles from the Upper Sioux Agency.
· Fort Ridgely was on the north side of the river, while both agencies were on the south side.
· The fort was built for peacekeeping. It was vulnerable when used for defense, as in the summer of 1862. Deep ravines flanked three sides, while the north side was open prairie.
· The site was cold, windy, and unprotected during winter.