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Community Roots: Selections from the Local Legacies Project
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Indian scouts near Ft. Sisseton, c. 1870
Indian scouts at surrendered camp, near Ft. Sisseton, c. 1870

Fort Sisseton

During the past century, Fort Sisseton has played a key role in South Dakota's colorful history. This prairie outpost was established in 1864 following an Indian uprising that began in Acton, Minnesota, in August 1862. Also known as the Dakota Conflict, the uprising involved Mdewakanton and Wahpekute bands of the Santee Sioux living in the Minnesota River valley, who were provoked by a number of injustices: unfair trading practices, unkept treaty promises, and encroachment on their lands by homesteading settlers. The bands of Sisseton and Wapheton Santee Sioux, also living in the valley, were equally concerned about the injustices, but told their warriors not to become involved in any conflicts, fearing that impending military force would not be able to differentiate between warring and friendly Sioux. These two bands eventually moved to the head of the Coteau des Prairies (hills of the prairie) and the upper James River basin in present-day northeastern South Dakota. Except for a few renegades, both tribes remained on friendly terms with the United States government as well as the military forces later issued to protect the region and aid in future settlement.

The uprising, led by Chief Little Crow, raged for 38 days, creating panic on the frontier. The soldiers at Fort Ridgely were violently attacked. Minnesota Governor Alexander Ramsey commissioned a former governor, Henry Sibley, as colonel, and ordered him to quell the uprising. On September 6, 1862, Governor Ramsey telegraphed President Lincoln requesting military aid. Lincoln acted by created the Military Department of the Northwest and placing General John Pope in charge. The uprising continued until September 23, 1862, when Sibley's force of 1600 volunteers subdued Little Crow's 700 warriors at the Battle of Wood Lake. Although Little Crow and his followers fled to Devils Lake in eastern North Dakota, nearly 1200 Sioux surrendered to Sibley. After three additional campaigns between 1862-1865, with General Pope attacking the remaining hostile Sioux. A Fort Wadsworth, a post to further strengthen and protect the Dakota Territory was built in 1864 at the head of the Coteau de Prairies, on the south side of Kettle Lakes, in northeastern South Dakota. It became known as Fort Sisseton, to honor the friendly Sioux scouts who helped to protect it from direct attack. In 1937, the fort was restored as a WPA project. It has been placed on the National Register of Historic Places, but today is in great need of additional need of repair and structural work. The Fort Sisseton Historical Festival was begun in 1978 as an annual event to promote the continued preservation and restoration of the fort. The Ft. Sissteon Frontier Christmas, held annually during the second full weekend in December, features more than 20 hands-on craft demonstrations, sleigh rides, and the lighting of an old-fashioned Christmas tree.

Project materials include a written report, maps of the Coteau des Prairies region of northeast South Dakota, an explanation of the geological formation of the area, 26 historical 8 x 10 photographs with accompanying descriptions; a brochure; two slides and two posters relating to the Historical Festival Event and the Frontier Christmas Event at Ft. Sisseton; two videotapes: "Fort Sisseton: The Spirit Still Lives," and "Fort Sisseton Centennial: Commanding Officer's [Quarters] Show," and two books: Fort Sisseton and Chilson's History of Fort Sisseton.

Originally submitted by: John R. Thune, Representative (At Large).

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The Local Legacies project provides a "snapshot" of American Culture as it was expressed in spring of 2000. Consequently, it is not being updated with new or revised information with the exception of "Related Website" links.

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