Fort Dakota

Last Updated by Brian Gevik, Additional text provided by Siouxland Heritage Museums on
All Images Courtesy: Siouxland Heritage Museums

Settlers and speculators began laying land claims around the Falls of the Big Sioux River in 1856. A military post was established to protect them from occasional negative encounters with the Native people in the area. In 1862, after Judge Joseph Amidon and his son William were killed by a band of hostile Indians, and as the Sioux Uprising was escalating in Minnesota, the town was abandoned. Settlers and soldiers relocated to Yankton in August of 1862.

In May, 1865, Lieutenant Colonel John Pattee and Captain Daniel Eicher, arrived in Sioux Falls leading troops from the 6th Iowa Cavalry. Colonel Pattee was under orders to establish a fort at the falls of the Sioux River. Pattee left the building of the fort to Captain Eicher and the 6th Cavalry. 

captain daniel eicherCaptain Daniel Eicher, 6th Iowa Cavalry


fort dakota military reservation map circa 1865

The fort's buildings were erected near the falls, but the boundaries of the military reservation around the fort claimed an area of 70 square miles.



The fort was originally named Fort Brookings in honor of a prominent local settler. The U.S. Army ordered the name changed to Fort Dakota.



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.



Commissary building, 1866



In the summer of 1865, the Iowa Volunteers constructed the barracks for the enlisted men. Divided into five rooms, the structure measured 140 feet by 20 feet and was constructed of white oak logs. A centrally-located stove provided heat, which revolving wheels on the windows kept fresh air flowing throughout the structure. Bunks were made of poles cut from local trees and were often infested with bed bugs. To exterminate the bed bugs, soldiers rubbed the bunks with kerosene. Two men slept on one bunk, using hay-filled bed sacks as mattresses.



The army abandoned Fort Dakota in 1869.



The enlisted men's barracks was the last of the Fort Dakota buildings left standing. Seen here in 1871, the building was finally torn down in 1873.

An exhibit of photos, artifacts, and information about Fort Dakota is on display at the Old Courthouse Museum in Sioux Falls. The exhibit will be on display through the summer of 2016. Please contact the museum for more information.

Images of the Past Fort Dakota Exhibit A display at the Old Courthouse Museum in Sioux Falls