The wild prairies of Dakota Territory lured settlers to start a new beginning on the unknown frontier. A tense period of time in the United States, the Dakota War of 1862, seeped into Dakota Territory, sending settlers into a fearful panic. Rumors of Native Americans on the warpath made the once enterprising pioneers abandon their homes and move to larger cities. The United States Government understood a military presence in Dakota would make settlers feel safe and would encourage others to move to the frontier. Established in 1865 at the current site of downtown Sioux Falls, Fort Dakota was created. For four years, soldiers encountered the trials and tribulations of weather, settlers, and Native Americans. Discover the life at Fort Dakota through first-hand accounts, uniforms, and weaponry used during the infancy of Sioux Falls.
Fort Dakota was a loose group of structures that looked more like a village than a fort. It was strategically placed on the west side of the Big Sioux River with bluffs and high grounds surrounding three sides of the garrison. The property of the post was 1,000 feet in length and 200 feet wide, with an area of over 22,000 square yards. It was enclosed by a 3-foot-high, single-rail fence on three sides of the property. When the military left the garrison in 1869, 18 buildings encompassed the fort.
Constructed in 1866, the officers’ quarters were located in the center of the garrison. It was constructed of logs set up stockade style and was plastered on the inside and out. The building contained three rooms, one of which measured 16 feet by 15 feet and two measuring 16 feet by 20 feet.
The construction of buildings at the fort required the gathering of stone and vast quantities of wood. One of Fort Dakota’s largest buildings was the log barracks, which Company E of the 6th Iowa Cavalry built in May 1865. This log, from the barracks, is white oak. At this size, it would take 768
logs to build the barracks. If the men could get five logs out of each tree, it would take 192 trees to build the structure alone.
A soldier’s life at Fort Dakota required him to follow a rigorous schedule. Soldiers were told when to wake up, when to eat, and when to go to bed. Depending on the season and year, reveille was at sunrise, and retreat was at sunset.
In the summer the tattoo call (return to quarters) sounded around 8 p.m., and then taps (lights out) would play a half hour later. Food was prepared for the soldiers, and they ate breakfast at 6:30 a.m. and dinner (lunch) around noon.