Fort Ridgely and the settlement of the Minnesota River Valley, 1853-1867

Paul Norman Beck, Marquette University


This dissertation studies the influence of the military on white settlement in the Minnesota River Valley. In 1853, Fort Ridgely was established to oversee the Santee Dakota on their nearby reservations, keep the peace between settlers and Native Americans, and uphold federal treaty obligations. In performing these duties, the soldiers at the fort impacted the development and settlement of the valley. In a short period of time, the presence of the army helped transform the valley from a "frontier," inhabited by the Santee, to a "civilized" region, dominated by white settlers. The physical needs of the army encouraged the development of roads and increased steamboat traffic on the Minnesota River. Farmers and businessmen prospered economically by selling livestock, crops and goods to the fort. Civilians benefitted from the medical care, school, church and other services available at the post. Finally, many settlers moved into the valley because they believed the fort made the area "safe." The history of Fort Ridgely is primarily one of the military' s involvement with the Santee and the reservations. Soldiers attempted to keep settlers off Indian lands, stop alcohol smugglers and assist Indian agents in the performance of their duties. Although part of a society that regarded Native Americans as inferior, officers tried to enforce the terms of the treaties and often sympathized with the Santee and their problems. In return, Santee leaders, in their struggle to protect their people from white settlers and Indian agents, saw the army as a possible ally. The coming of the Civil War brought changes to the valley. Regular soldiers, stationed at the fort, were replaced by volunteer soldiers. These volunteers were soon fighting an Indian uprising. After years of abuse, hunger and oppressive reservation conditions, the Santee fought back. Within a year, they were defeated and driven from the valley. The Santee removal impacted the further existence of Fort Ridgely. Without reservations to oversee and with the valley occupied by white settlers, the army had little reason to remain. In 1867, Fort Ridgely closed; the soldiers stationed there moved westward to a new frontier region.

Recommended Citation

Beck, Paul Norman, "Fort Ridgely and the settlement of the Minnesota River Valley, 1853-1867" (1996). Dissertations (1962 - 2010) Access via Proquest Digital Dissertations. AAI9719089.