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Fort Blue Earth was short-lived

By Staff | May 18, 2011

An ‘Editor’s Notebook’ column from a couple of weeks ago elicited an unusual response.

Remember? The piece had to do with an editor of the first newspaper in Blue Earth and Faribault County being shot in the face.

It happened after he enlisted in the army during the Indian uprising of 1862.

He was at Fort Ridgely near New Ulm when he was shot.

A Register reader, Irene Hodgdon, Blue Earth, sent me a clipping from the Blue Earth Post from some time in the early 1980s.

The clipping was a story written by Stephen Bakken about the events of 1862.

It seems there is another interesting twist to the Indian uprising of 1862. It resulted in the construction of Fort Blue Earth.

That’s right, there was once a fort constructed in Faribault County’s largest city.

Don’t bother looking for remnants of it anywhere. It would be hard to find. Not a bit of it (or any photograph) remains.

But, if there were any pieces of it to see, I could just look out my office window at the Register office and spot them.

That’s right again, it was built right smack downtown, right on Main Street.

Here is a brief history of the fort.

After years of broken promises, the hungry, mistreated and angry Dakota Sioux went on the war trail after a store owner refused to serve them and reportedly told them to “eat grass.”

More than 30,000 settlers fled the prairie, more than 2,000 were massacred.

The people in the area were living in fear and left their homes for the larger cities.

Blue Earth’s population of 673 swelled with the influx of rural settlers. The population in the rural area west of Blue Earth dropped from 2,500 to less than 100.

In order to protect themselves, the citizens decided to build a fort, and named it Fort Blue Earth,

It was fairly substantial, 132 feet square. It was built around the Metropolitan Hotel. Despite its fancy name, the hotel was just a one and a half story log structure, but was the largest building in town.

I believe it stood in the area where the Avalon building and the Register building are now – on the southwest corner of Fifth and Main streets. I think my office is right smack in the middle of the fort.

Fort Blue Earth had 9-foot tall walls. Six feet were sod, with the top three feet made of wooden spikes driven into the top of the sod wall. Portholes were cut at uneven intervals – both for watching and for shooting through.

There was a 3-foot wide ditch (moat) skirting the entire outside perimeter.

The town’s citizens dug a well inside for fresh water.

They also brought in every gun and piece of ammunition in the town, and formed a company of citizens into a militia unit. James Wakefield was elected captain of a calvary company which had 30 horses.

To be able to view the area around the fort, they felled every tree west of the fort walls to the river, so they could see if anyone approached.

As a precautionary measure, they brought all the county records into the fort for safe keeping. They even had a secret spot to bury the books, should the fort be overrun.

They never had to use it.

Despite sending out scouting parties, not one soldier from Fort Blue Earth ever spotted any Sioux. Wakefield expanded the search and offered $20 for any Indian scalp. Scouts reported the prairie was deserted, however.

The fort had been completed on Aug. 23, 1862.

Seven weeks later, on Sunday, Oct. 5, word came that the Indians had been defeated and the uprising was over.

The settlers returned to the prairie, the town folks to their homes and businesses.

By the end of October, the fort walls were dismantled. The wooden spikes were used for firewood, the sod walls used to fill in the fort’s moat.

Fort Blue Earth disappeared nearly as fast as it appeared. Today it is just a vague memory, mentioned in a history book about Faribault County.

Luckily, there never was an attack on the fort; no battle, no deaths. No reason for this spot to be remembered.

Others – both settlers and Indians alike – were not as fortunate. It was a sad time in our history.