Road Trip - Day One

Last weekend John and I ventured south and west to take in some of the sights of the Dakota-U.S. Conflict, what I grew up calling, “The Sioux Uprising”.  Times have changed and so has the interpretation of the events surrounding that conflict or war.  

This year marks the 150th anniversary of the conflict.  After the Star Tribune ran a series on the events this past summer, I hatched the idea of making a road trip out of the conflict.  Last weekend, after Opera choir, John and I drove south and west.

After 50 years, it’s interesting to drive through towns in Minnesota that you’d only heard about but never seen.  What’s fascinating is that all this history can be found with a easy, 2 hour drive from the Twin Cities.  We drove through some “firsts” for me (and John):  Glencoe, Cologne, and Norwood Young America – which until last Saturday I assumed was the combined name of a merged school system, not the actual name of one, single town.  We had lunch in Olivia, and then turned south to Morton and the Lower Sioux Agency.

(Birch Coulee battle site)

We didn’t follow the war in strict chronological order, but came fairly close. Just before Morton, you come to the Birch Coulee battle site.  Birch Coulee refers to the birch trees that grew near the coulee, which I learned was a French word for a stream that made a deep cut the landscape.  The battle occurred on rolling prairie directly west of the coulee, when Dakota warriors surrounded and fought with U.S. Army forces who were in the area as part of a burial party out to recover remains of settlers killed in early action.

We enjoyed the self-guided tour around the battle site, and then spent just as much time hiking the almost dry stream bed – the actual coulee.  

(John snapping pictures from an old dam perhaps - never quite figure out what this stone structure that spanned the stream really was.)

(In the Coulee - John off to the left.)

The Lower Sioux Agency site provided a chance to see history up close, and hike around some more.  The agency was the distribution point for supplies (seed, farm implements, etc) due the Dakota under the terms of the treaty.  1862 was an especially difficult year.  The Dakota were hurting and need of their allotted supplies.  The U.S. would not let them have access to the supplies – as they awaited more supplies that had not arrived.  The Civil War raging at the time must have been a factor in the hampering the effectiveness of the government to distribute the supplies on time.  The prevailing attitude of officials and agents towards the Dakota certainly didn’t help.  Demands were made, insults hurled, tempers flared.  There are number of great sources that describe the war in great detail – including this Minnesota Historical Society site.  I’m just trying to provide some context for my non-Minnesota readers.

After the obligatory stop and stare at old buildings, we were off to see the Minnesota River – by the difficult path.  The River looks rather undisturbed – so it’s hard to imagine that this was a bustling ferry site, with a nearby mill and blacksmith shop.

(Minnesota River looking west from Lower Sioux Agency.)

After the relatively easy down-hill, it was rather challenging uphill climb to reach the parking lot.  We were in a hurry to reach Fort Ridgely before it got too late. 

Fort Ridgely is an interesting place.  Its set in a state park with a golf course, set high overlooking the Minnesota River valley to the south.  When we stopped to purchase our park sticker, the little building also served as the source of golf balls, gloves, tees, and other assorted golf paraphernalia.  The Fort itself was nestled inside the course – with golfers walking across the parking lot between holes.  

Nice time of year to do this.  The weather was cool – sunny, windy, near 60.  There were no crowds.  In fact we were the only people visiting the fort – and had been two of less than a dozen at Birch Coulee and Lower Sioux.  The fort itself consists of one intact building and a number of ruins – stone foundations – of the remaining fort buildings. John had a blast crawling around and taking pictures.  

After the Fort we were off to New Ulm for the night.  

More to come in Day 2.


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