In 1805, members of the United States military met with members of the Dakota Indian tribe to obtain land for a trading post and a fort for future military needs. A verbal agreement was made for approximately 100,000 acres. Fort Snelling was built in the 1820’s, with Josiah Snelling as overseer of the project.
The first steamboat, the Virginia, arrived in 1823, the same year the first school with a regular teacher was established in Minnesota. The first post office in Minnesota was established at Fort Snelling in 1827. According to the Minnesota Historical Society, “Southern-born Zachary Taylor, destined to become thirtieth president of the United States, commanded the post but found the country ‘miserable and uninteresting.'” (Well, what did he know, anyway??)
In 1840, squatters who had resisted moving off the now government-owned land were forced downriver where they formed a community that is now St. Paul. The Minnesota Territory was formed in 1849 with Alexander Ramsey appointed as the first governor, the same year that Fort Ripley was completed on the Mississippi (becoming the most northwesterly army post on the frontier).
On May 11, 1858, Minnesota became the 32nd state with Henry Sibley the first state governor. Over the next few years, the last of the military troops marched out of Fort Snelling. However, the Fort continued to serve as an induction-discharge and training center for Minnesota soldiers until 1866.
According to the Historical Society, “In 1862, Minnesota governor Alexander Ramsey declared that “the Sioux Indians of Minnesota must be exterminated or driven forever beyond the borders of the state.” Dakota women, children, and older men were marched from the Lower Sioux Agency to Fort Snelling. Along the route they were attacked by mobs of angry settlers.” Also in 1862, the largest mass execution in US history happened at Fort Snelling when 38 Dakota men were hanged on December 12 for crimes against civilians. What a dark time in our state’s history.
By 1895, the buildings of the 75-year-old fort were rapidly decaying. A limited restoration was completed as part of the 75th anniversary. In 1898, troops headed to Cuba and the Philippines for the Spanish-American War were mustered at Fort Snelling. In 1917, World War I soldiers were inducted and trained at Fort Snelling, and it became the induction point for more than 300,000 recruits preparing for WWII.
After 1944, the fort housed the Military Intelligence Language School where Japanese-Americans learned Japanese, Chinese and Korean language and culture in preparation of overseas interpreting and interrogation work.
In 1946, Fort Snelling was officially retired as a military post and transferred to the Veterans Administration. In 1960, it was declared a national historic landmark, and a year later the Fort Snelling State Park was established on 2500 acres. However, the fort remains as headquarters for the 88th Army Reserve Command to this day.
A visit to Historic Fort Snelling is educational and enjoyable for all ages. Admission runs from $6-11. The site is open from Memorial Day to Labor Day (Tues-Sat from 10am-5pm, and Sundays Noon-5pm). In September and October, the site is open from 10am-5pm.
Stop in at the Visitors Center to watch a short orientation film, then wander back in time as you interact with costumed staff who share the fort’s colorful history through talks, demonstrations and activities.
After an informative and fun visit to Historic Fort Snelling, take a few minutes to stop by the adjacent Fort Snelling National Cemetery and soak in more history. While the Fort Snelling Cemetery was originally established in 1870 for soldiers who died while stationed at the post, an adjacent piece of land was officially dedicated in 1939 as the Fort Snelling National Cemetery. The bodies buried in the original cemetery were moved to the newly dedicated land.
The cemetery has 436 acres and is the final resting place for over 180,000 service men and women. From April through October, the cemetery is open Monday-Friday from 7:30am to 8:00pm, weekends and federal holidays from 8:00am to 8:00pm.
This post is just a snapshot of some of Minnesota’s rich and varied history. There is much to celebrate, but also much to mourn. All of it combines to makes this the unique and interesting place we call home.