Sibley Historic Site and Fort Snelling
We couldn't come to Minnesota without touring and learning about Mendota. This area is rich in history with the Dakota tribe long before fur traders arrived here in the 1760's. The Dakota called this place bdota, which in english translates to where two waters come together. The town of Mendota sits at the confluence of the Mississippi and Minnesota Rivers. Ann Essling writes in her book for the Minnesota Historical Society "Historic Mendota Before 1863", that the english speaking fur traders, while trying to spell and pronounce bdota, spelled it Mendota. The Dakota's name for the river was Mnisota or sky-tinted waters.
Active in fur trading with the Native Americans, just outside of Fort Snelling the area was known as St. Peter's, then as a settlement formed it was renamed Mendota in 1837. The village would be the first city in what would eventually be Minnesota. At the Sibley Historic Site, we toured three homes, some of the oldest in the state, that were not only witness, but had active roles in the events that would shape Minnesota.
You'll enter the Dupuis Home to purchase tickets for the tours of the homes.
Built in the early 1850's, it was home to Hypolite Dupuis, a fur trade clerk and manager of the American Fur Company store. Dupuis, as best history can tell, was an assistant to Henry Sibley during his time in the fur trade here. He built the home after the fur trade had died out.
Down the hill the next stop was the Cold Store for the American Fur Company. Here things could be refrigerated by carving out large chunks of ice and putting them under the building.
The Cold Store and warehouse held many goods for the American Fur Company during the fur trading years here.
Read more about the Great Fur Trading Companies HERE
The Sibley Home, and the Cold Store, were built in 1836. Henry Hastings Sibley, regional manager for the American Fur Company's "Sioux Outfit", built it not only for a private residence, but business office and hotel for travelers.
After he married Sarah Jane Steel in 1843, Sibley converted everything to a family home and added an addition, a privy and ice house. The fur trade went bust around that same time, but Sibley stayed, making a living as a land speculator and later influential politician, including the state's first Governor.
Mendota, MN - Sibley Historic Site - Sibley House Dining Room Mendota, MN - Sibley Historic Site - Sibley House LivingRoom Sibley's role in the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862 remains the most controversial aspect of his career. While working for the release of hostages, he made promises to the Dakota that he failed to keep. He had been told by Major General Pope to treat the Indians "like wild beasts" and bowed to public demands for a mass execution. Many natives were tried and convicted with little due process, with 38 hung en masse in the largest public execution in American History.
Read more about Henry Hastings Sibley Here.
Read more about the Dakota War of 1862 HERE.
Next stop on our tour was the Faribault House. Jean-Baptiste Faribault had been a trader with the natives for many years and was lured to the area from Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin in 1819 by Lt. Colonel Henry Leavenworth, on his way to build Fort Snelling. Leavenworth was impressed at Faribaults knowledge of the Dakota language and thought he could be a key player in the fur trade at St. Peter's.
Faribault would eventually move next door to Sibley and had the home built in the same style around 1839 at a cost of $5,000. He would leave Mendota in 1847, after which the home was converted to a hotel in 1853 and later a warehouse.
The Sibley Historic Site provides tours during the summer on Saturdays and Sundays, and on Holiday Mondays. Plan on about 45 minutes for the tour, but take some time to mosey around this historic location. For more information about the Sibley Historic Site, see their website HERE.
Update from comments below: Peter Clark wrote - "At the Sibley site, we usually in April and May get many school groups, some of whom return every year. This is all before Minnesota became a territory and state. There are over twenty different sites around the state to visit, but this gem is tucked away at the Minnesota river and across from Fort Snelling. In the fall, one can stand on Sibley's front porch and see the Fort through the bare trees.
Across the Minnesota River, and sitting on the Mississippi is Fort Snelling. Founded in 1819 as Fort Saint Anthony, the fort sits on the bluff above the Minnesota and Mississippi Rivers to control the exploration, trade, and settlement on these waterways.
Fort Snelling, MN - View From AboveA view standing on the Round House looking over Fort Snelling, as a re-enactor walks the grounds below. Led by Colonel Josiah Snelling, commanding the 5th Infantry Regiment, the fort was constructed between 1820 to 1824. During construction, most soldiers lived at Camp Coldwater, which provided drinking water to the fort throughout the 19th century. Upon its completion in 1825, the Army renamed the fort as Fort Snelling in honor of its commander and architect.
The Round House at Fort Snelling is the oldest structure known still standing in Minnesota.
Fort Snelling, MN - Round HouseThe Round House is the oldest structure known still standing in Minnesota. Photo by Dave Alexander. Life for the soldiers at the fort was pretty routine and structured, and most every need taken care of by the government. However their families and others at the fort relied on the sutler's store for their goods.
Fort Snelling, MN - Sutler Store Interior Prices were negotiated and set with the U.S. Government so the sutler couldn't gouge the residents, but pricing took into consideration transportation costs up the Mississippi River from St. Louis.
You can learn more about the store just by talking to the very knowledgeable and friendly re-enactors here, who also give scheduled presentations on everything from the Surgeon to how the soldiers performed drills.
Fort Snelling, MN - DrummerPhoto by Dave Alexander. Fort Snelling, MN - Infantry DrillPhoto by Dave Alexander. One of those presentations taught about Fort Snelling's slaves, despite the fact this was free territory. Records show at least 30 slaves were at one point in time here. The most famous of which were the Scott's.
Dred Scott lived here from around 1836 to 1840. Owned as a slave by Dr. John Emerson, Scott met his wife Harriet at Fort Snelling. Arguably the most influential people to live here, the Scott's left the fort in 1840, and while living in St. Louis, Missouri, sued the government for their freedom, arguing that since they had lived in free territory while at Fort Snelling, they and their children should be freed. They would spend the next eleven years fighting their case before the Supreme Court decision of 1857 rejected their claim on the basis that they were property, not citizens, and therefore could not sue. Although freed that same year despite the decision, the Scott's case further inflamed the growing tensions in America leading up to the Civil War, and was a major catalyst to the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
There is a lot to see, learn and do at Fort Snelling. To experience it in full, be sure to plan ahead and count on a few hours exploring, watching demonstrations and interactive presentations, and enjoying this crucial piece of Minnesota history.
For more information see the Historic Fort Snelling's official website HERE.
Read more about Fort Snelling in our article HERE.
Plan a full day at both these great Minnesota Historic Sites. Until you do, here's a taste of the sights we saw in our Fort Snelling Slide Show:
Keywords: American Fur Company, Dred Scott, Fort Snelling, Henry Sibley, Minneapolis St. Paul area attractions, Minnesota, Sibley House, enactments, historical, tours
This would be a wonderful site (both the Fort and home of Sibley), especially for new residents and visitors. At the Sibley site, we usually in April and May get many school groups, some of whom return every year. This is all before Minnesota became a territory and state. There are over twenty different sites around the state to visit, but this gem is tucked away at the Minnesota river and across from Fort Snelling. In the fall, one can stand on Sibley's front porch and see the Fort through the bare trees.
Make this a weekend outing for you and family/fiends. This is where Minnesota began and where Sibley set site in 1836 and built his limestone house, which has stood for over 150 years and is the first historic site in the state.
The grounds are public property and you can enjoy a picnic here in the midst of the Sibley site. Come see us!
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