On the Road - Fort Dodge...The Other One

July 16, 2016  •  1 Comment

We're on the road again, this time heading north through Iowa with our farthest destination being the head waters of the Mississippi River. Along the way we're finding interesting history, and in Iowa it was Fort Dodge. Yes, the first Fort Dodge, before the more famous one in Kansas that was established a couple of decades later.  

Fort Museum & Frontier VillageThe Fort Museum & Frontier Village in Fort Dodge, Iowa is a recreation of the original, however some liberties were taken. The original Fort did not have a stockade like the one seen here surrounding it.

The Fort Museum & Frontier Village provides a peak at the past with wonderful displays and thousands of items in the many buildings, most of which have been donated throughout the years.  Run by the Fort Dodge Historical Foundation, the museum explores how around 1850, Brevet Major Samuel Woods lead a couple of military Companies along with a group of U.S. Dragoons from Fort Snelling, Minnesota with the goal of returning the Sac & Fox tribes back to the reservations in Kansas.  Afterwards, they built a post near what is now Fort Dodge city square and Company C, along with the Dragoons, remained to serve the Fort. 

Fort Dodge Barracks

Fort Dodge Blockhouse

The site was chosen from reports of the area 15 years earlier. Overlooking the Des Moines River, the location provided good water, timber and stone for building and possible coal.  A stream sawmill was brought in to speed up the construction of the Fort, and groundwork was laid out for a city to grow along side the fort. By November of 1850 twelve buildings were ready to live in and they named it Fort Clarke, in honor of the commanding officer of the 6th Infantry.  

The next spring, nine more buildings were constructed and the fort was renamed Fort Dodge, in honor of Col. Henry Dodge, U.S. Senator of the Wisconsin Territory and founder of the Dragoons.  At this time, the fort consisted of 3 commissioned officers, 10 non-commissioned officers, up to 80 enlisted men and 40 civilians, most of which were family members of the soldiers.  Scouting the area between the Cedar and Missouri River, they found that instead of dealing with fighting the Native Americans, they instead were getting trespassers of the Sioux lands. In addition they were finding bootleggers and pursuing deserters from the military. Life at the Fort was routine, with Garrison duties consisting of drill, tending post fields and gardens, guard duty, building maintenance and more drill. 

Meanwhile frontier life was basic and mostly boring.  As a private in the military, the pay was only $7 a month, but food was plentiful. Hunting, drinking and gambling were the main entertainment at the fort. Single women were rare, as well as news from the outside world. 

In 1853 Fort Dodge was abandoned and troops moved to Minnesota to establish Fort Ridgeley.  William Williams, the post sutler (store keeper), bought the store building and military post and a year later platted the City of Fort Dodge.  

Fort Dodge  -Sutlers StoreFort Dodge -Sutlers Store

The Fort Dodge Historical Foundation has done a good job in recreating 'main street' next to a replica Fort.  The actual Fort, when built, did not have a stockade around it like you see today.  We were told during our tour that when the museum was created back in the 1960's, most people associated Forts with a wall around it, mainly due to television westerns, which is why it was re-created this way. 

You'll find everything from the local newspaper office to the general store, each staged with interesting items of the times.  Each of the main street buildings have its own unique history, some brought in from other locations, to help create the look and feel of the young city back in the 1800's. 

In addition to touring the buildings of the frontier town and fort, be sure to see the Cardiff Giant. The story of the Giant is a tale as big as he is; a colossal 19th century hoax that was billed as a petrified man.  Actually it was a block of gypsum that was purchased by a Fort Dodge resident, who had it hauled to Chicago, carved into a man, then buried to be discovered in New York 2 years later.  All part of the plan of course, and even after it was discovered to be a hoax, P.T. Barnum continued to display it for the masses.  It was described as "an immensely lucrative practical joke whose author was a near genius at evoking the gullible in man."  While the original is in Cooperstown, New York, a slightly smaller replica can be seen at the Fort Museum. 

FortDodge, IA - Cardiff GiantFortDodge, IA - Cardiff GiantThis hoax of gypsum suckered many into believing it was actually a petrified giant.

Read more about the Cardiff Giant HERE.

Here are just a few of the scenes from the Fort Museum and Frontier village that we enjoyed.  The Fort Museum and Frontier Village are located off of Business 169 at 1 Museum Road, Fort Dodge, Iowa. See their website for more information HERE.



Lawrence W. Gordon(non-registered)
I qualified on the range here when I was stationed at a Radar Site at Dallas Center. This brought back mamories.
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