Old Fort Sisseton

Military Reservation of Marshall County

The military reservation lies in the eastern part of Marshall County and contains about 128 square miles or 82,000 acres of land. Fully one-third of this area is splendid farming land, while the other two-thirds are good grazing and farming lands. There are numerous lakes, of which Skunk, Four and Nine Mile Lakes, are the largest. There is still considerable timber in the vicinity of the lakes and in the gulches. All the heavy timber has been used at the fort during the last twenty years. The scenery is grand and picturesque in many localities, especially in the vicinity of Ft. Sisseton.

Pierre Bottineau, a Frenchman and uncle to Chas. Dugas, of Day County, was for many years a government scout, and well acquainted with Dakota. In 1864 he acted as guide for the military commission sent out to locate a fort west of the Sisseton reservation; the present site was selected in July the same year. At the time the fort was built the site was nearly surrounded by lakes and looked like an island; since then the water in the lakes surrounding the fort has receded. The commanding position of the fort with its timber and lakes makes a grand scenery. These lakes were known by the Indians as Kettle Lakes, where they, long before the advent of the white mars, held their councils and feasts. Chief Renville informed the writer that, along in the fifties, the lakes referred to were higher than has been known since. It appears that the continual evaporation has materially decreased the volume of water in the lakes.

The barracks and barn are built of substantial stone; the hospital and officers’ quarters of brick manufactured on the premises and of hardwood, sawn on the reservation. There are usually from eighty to one hundred soldiers, including officers, stationed here. In 1884 the white soldiers and officers were removed to Ft. Totten, and colored troops, with white officers from Ft. Hale, now occupy the fort. The colored soldiers are of all shades, from the nearly white to the blackest of black Africans; but all speak good English and apparently an intelligent class of soldiers.

The government usually keeps from two to four Indian scouts at the fort. When a prisoner or deserter has but twelve hours the start his chances are indeed small to escape; the scouts, like bloodhounds, follow the trail, and in a day or two run in the rascal or bring him in a corpse. Last June a colored servant stole Capt. Vander Horck‘s favorite pony, old Prince, and skipped, and has not been captured. In 1883 old Prince was stolen in open daylight, by a boy fifteen years old, and run into Brown County. Chas. Vander Horck followed him, secured Prince, but let the boy escape in Waverly Township.

The soldiers have no arduous duty to perform, and there is no apparent reason why the fort should not be abandoned and the reservation thrown open for settlement.

Capt. Vander Horck is a native of Germany, and has for eight years been Post Trader at the fort. He is an old time soldier and took an active part fighting Indians during the Minnesota massacre (see closing paragraphs of Indian reservation).


Hickman, George; History of Marshall County, Dakota: Its Topography and Natural History, and Sketches of Pioneer Settlers, with the Names of Actual Settlers where They are From, and where They Live; Also the Military and Sisseton Reservations; J.W. Banbury, 1886.

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