One of the things that President Abraham Lincoln did in response to the bloody 1862 conflict between settlers and Sioux Indians in Minnesota was to send more troops into the region. In 1863 and 1864, the U.S. Army aggressively pursued and fought with various bands of Indians from Minnesota and Iowa through all of Dakota Territory. The Army also established more defensive positions in strategic locations throughout the upper Great Plains. The forts offered protection to local settlers and served as supply and transit points for campaigning military units.
In 1864, the 30th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry under the command of General John Pope established Fort Wadsworth on 160 acres about 30 miles west of present-day Sisseton, South Dakota. (The Army soon realized that they already had a Fort Wadsworth on Staten Island, New York, and the name of the territorial outpost was changed to Fort Sisseton in recognition of the predominant Sioux tribe in the region.) Army and civilian workers making use of local timber and stone built officer's quarters and barracks for enlisted men. They built a powder house, a livery, and a house for the fort's commanding officer. They also built berms and other defensive earthworks around the perimeter of the fort.
Fort Sisseton was an active Army post and frontier waystation for 25 years but by the late 1880s, with the Native population largely subdued, it was clear to the federal government that the fort had served its military purpose. In 1889, the Army abandoned it. In 1890, an act of Congress turned over control of the fort to the State of South Dakota. The property was unoccupied and essentially unused for the next 47 years.
In 1937, renovation and restoration of Fort Sisseton’s 14 surviving historical buildings was authorized and funded by the Works Progress Administration (WPA.)
In 1959, the 35 remaining acres of the original fort’s land and all of the buildings were designated a South Dakota Historic State Park. Fort Sisseton was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1973.
Tours of Fort Sisseton are available all year and numerous events are held during the summer months. The Fort Sisseton Historical Festival is the largest annual event. First held in 1977, the Festival draws historical re-enactors and thousands of visitors during the first weekend of June.