Dakota Datebook

Fort Totten

 

Following the US-Dakota Conflict of 1862, many members of the Sisseton-Wahpeton Band of Dakota migrated out of Minnesota. In response, an Indian Reservation was created near Devils Lake by the US government in early 1867.

 

Later that year, a military post was established by General A. H. Terry within the Indian Reservation, on the south side of Devils Lake. The fort was one of a series of military posts constructed in Dakota Territory in response to border disputes with Canada and the need for mail routes stretching from Minnesota to the gold fields of Montana.

 

The post, named in honor of the late chief Engineer of the United States Army, Brevet Major Joseph Gilbert Totten, was initially erected by companies A., D., and M. of the Thirty-First Infantry utilizing machinery for a sawmill from Fort Stevenson. By winter, the log buildings surrounded a four-hundred foot square parade ground with an 18-foot stockade on the north side and an entrance gate on the south. Two years later Congress approved construction of a new post 800 yards south of the original fort. With a few exceptions, the new buildings were constructed with brick made locally.

 

Although erected as a military post to protect overland travel routes, for nearly a century Fort Totten also served US Indian policy.

 

As early as 1870, the US Agent on the Sisseton Indian Agency recommended that Fort Totten have its own Indian Agent as Dakota inhabitants numbered more than 700. The following year, William H. Forbes, the first Indian Agent, arrived at Fort Totten. Under his leadership, Dakota residents planted over 100 acres; harvesting 1,500 bushels of corn, 500 bushels of potatoes, 1,000 bushels of turnips and cut and stacked 200 tons of hay.

 

As the necessity for a frontier military post receded in importance by the late nineteenth century, Fort Totten was decommissioned in 1890. The following year, the abandoned garrison was turned over to the Interior Department. Over the next 70 years, Fort Totten served variously as an Indian boarding school, a tuberculosis preventatorium and a community school.

 

It was on this day, January 18, 1960 that Fort Totten was acquired by the North Dakota State Historical Society. Today the sixteen brick buildings of the former military post, school, and preventatorium serve as a popular state historic site, bed-and-breakfast and community theater.

 

Dakota Datebook written by Christina Sunwall

 

Sources:

History of Fort Totten- http://www.lib.ndsu.nodak.edu/govdocs/text/forttotten.html

Living History Field Day, September 13, 2004 Booklet (Fort Totten State Historic Site Foundation; 2004)

Robinson, Elwyn B. History of North Dakota (Lincoln: University of Nebraska; 1966)

 

» View the post.