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FORT DAKOTA, D.T. - 1865-1869

fortdakota.jpg (16409 bytes)

"Seeming Protection" on the frontier 

Italicized words located in glossary

Fort Dakota was a typical outpost of the frontier period. As with most temporary posts of the time, it looked more like a village than a fort since the chances of a frontal attack were remote. Few outposts across the frontier displayed stockades or other defenses. The big threats at Fort Dakota consisted of an occasional Sioux Indian running off with post horses or harassing settlers encroaching their homeland. Fort Dakota was a loosely grouped collection of buildings constructed from local naturally occurring materials surrounded by a simple rail fence to keep the grazing stock from wandering.

During the mid 1860's, members of the 6th and 7th Iowa Cavalry, and Brackett's Minnesota Cavalry were spread thinly at their posts in the Dakota, Nebraska, and Colorado Territories. The number of active military posts on the northern frontier grew from five in 1860 to over thirty in 1868. Many of these were tiny garrisons large enough for only a company or two, often built beside a river by unskilled enlisted men. They used whatever materials were handy at the time such as wood, stone, and mud. These outposts were lonely little islands, situated in the midst of a vast sea of prairie grass or clustered at the foot of a mountain.

Although quiet when the Civil War began, Indian warfare emerged on the northern prairies in August of 1862, when the Santee Sioux broke out violently in Minnesota. This conflict quickly overlapped the artificial borders set up by the whites and spilled into Dakota Territory. Settlers throughout Dakota panicked and fled as rumors of war and its resulting atrocities reached settlements and farms. The thriving community of Sioux Falls, established in 1856, was one of the several communities in Dakota Territory abandoned during this time. The Sioux set the community on fire after it was abandoned and only one building survived.

The Santee Sioux, who united with the western Sioux bands, had been driven west into Dakota Territory and were determined to save their homeland from encroaching settlers and broken treaties. During the Civil War, in 1863-1864 the U.S. Government assigned volunteer and state Infantry and Cavalry troops to campaign deep into Dakota territory to remove the Sioux threat on white settlements. These campaigns left the Sioux as bitter enemies to the whites. By 1865, Sioux and Cheyenne war parties raided through most of Dakota Territory.

6thIACAV.jpg (15626 bytes) Members of the 6th IA Cavalry
On patrol somewhere in Dakota - Circa 1860's

DEicher.jpg (15731 bytes) Captain Daniel Eicher - 6th Iowa Cavalry

The United States government understood that a military presence in Dakota Territory would help settlers feel safe, and perhaps encourage others to move to the frontier. Therefore, a military post was established on the abandoned site of Sioux Falls City. On May 5th 1865, Lt. Colonel John Pattee of the 7th Iowa Volunteer Cavalry laid out the area for two posts, one at Sioux Falls, the other along Firesteel Creek. Pattee left Captain Daniel Eicker with a company of the 6th Iowa Volunteer Cavalry as the garrison of the post, which the volunteers dubbed 'Fort Brookings' after early settler W.W. Brookings. The men of the 6th were relieved by Company "M" of the 7th Iowa Volunteer Cavalry in the fall of 1865. They were soon joined by a company of Brackett's Minnesota Cavalry Battalion who wintered with them at the new fort. In the spring of 1866, the Minnesota Cavalry departed and were mustered out. The men of the 7th Iowa remained as the sole unit at the desolate post until the arrival of the 13th United States Infantry in June of 1866.


By late 1865, the Civil War had ended and most of the wartime volunteer and state units were withdrawn from Dakota Territory. These volunteers were replaced by hastily reorganized regiments of the regular Army, such as the 13th US Infantry. One company of this unit was transported by the steamer "Rubicon" to Sioux City, Iowa. From there they traveled outside the border of the United States of America into the Indian territory of Dakota at Fort Randall. Then, the troops marched another week to reach their final destination.

Upon their June 8, 1866 arrival, the 82 men of Company "D" relieved the remaining 19 ragged men of Company "M" 7th Iowa Cavalry. These men were eager to leave and be mustered out of service as soon as the fresh troops arrived.

Upon their arrival, the members of the 13th found four buildings: two enlisted mens barracks, a stone commissary building, and a stable along the river. Their commander, Colonel Kilburn Knox, renamed the post Fort Dakota, and put his men to work, improving and enlarging the post. By the time the Federal Government closed the post three years later in 1869, there were eighteen buildings. . knox.jpg (15731 bytes)
Colonel Kilburn Knox - 13th US Inf. (Circa 1863)

Tour of Fort Buildings

Illustration: soldier during 'fatigue duty'

As with most posts on the frontier, the main assignment of the soldier was "fatigue duty", a military term for manual labor. Soldiers who enlisted to provide services to make the frontier safe were often shocked to suddenly find themselves brevet architects. As one officer later commented,
"They most often made poor laborers, and labor made them poor soldiers."
Throughout this period, drudge labor occupied most of the time and energy of the troops at Fort Dakota.

During the four years of its existence, the political climate around Fort Dakota changed quickly. The pressing need for protection by the federal troops to reassure prospective settlers lessened as the Indian threat diminished. Within one year of its establishment, there was a petition before congress to have the post shut down since its immediate need had passed. This vacant expanse of land occupied by a handful of soldiers at Fort Dakota was seen as prime real estate. Land speculators vied for the chance to be the first to purchase and parcel out these holdings as soon as the army would relinquish them. Frequently the soldiers from Fort Dakota were called out to evict squatters from the boundaries of the military reservation, only to have others soon follow in their place.

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