Part 2: Fisk's journal shares Fort Sisseton life
Journey vs. Destination
Wednesday, September 05, 2012 3:17 AM
EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the final installment of a two-part series.
From the vantage point of a block house at Fort Sisseton I see my campsite and that of the campsite house. (Bluff Country Reader photo by Lisa Brainard)
Last week in this column I introduced you to Fort Sisseton, located near Lake City in northeastern South Dakota.
As the 150th anniversary of the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862 is currently being commemorated in Minnesota, Fort Sisseton in South Dakota is worth a look. It was built as a result of the three months of battles, to help protect western Minnesota's frontier from further Indian attacks.
The scouting trip for the fort's location and its construction occurred in 1864-65. It's located on the "couteau des prairie" - hills among prairies. It apparently had lakes then, as the fort was surrounded by them on three sides.
Its original name was Fort Wadsworth. Later it was renamed to avoid confusion with another Fort Wadsworth out east.
As likely expected, the fort had many ties to Minnesota. One of the early commanders of the fort was Major Robert Rose, 2nd Minnesota Volunteer Cavalry. Last week we also met Andrew Jackson Fisk (1849-1910) of Minnesota. Interpretive signs at the fort share the story of Fisk's time there.
Doing a little research on this Andrew Jackson Fisk, I discovered he came from a family of adventurers, including a brother who ran wagon trains on the "northern route" to Montana. Eventually, all of his family seemed to end up there, where Andrew was involved with other family members in publishing a newspaper.
The museum at Fort Sisseton includes an exhibit specific to Fisk. A simple binder there, with sheets in plastic sleeves, includes his writings. The first page states, "Diary of Andrew Jackson Fisk," and continues with background information:
"Andrew Jackson Fisk was born in New York on Jan. 8, 1849. His family moved to Indiana and later resided in Minnesota.
"In October of 1863, at the young age of 14, Fisk enlisted in the army. He became a Member of Company A, the Second Minnesota Cavalry. He was soon sent west to assist in ending the Sioux Indian Outbreak." His company was then stationed at Fort Wadsworth. Here Fisk served as quartermaster sergeant from August 1864 to April 1866.
"After his discharge, Andrew Jackson Fisk migrated to Montana and he and his brother, Captain Robert E. Fisk, formed a partnership as Fisk Brothers and purchased a printing plant, the Helena Herald. They operated this service for nearly 30 years."
He also had a family and further appointments in government.
"Andrew Jackson Fisk is known to be the youngest member of the Grand Army of the Republic who saw action as a soldier "In the ranks" of the Union army of the Civil War.
"He died in Helena, Montana on Feb. 3, 1910."
"Sat. Nov. 4. Another meeting of the co. tonight. Men again decided not to go to Wadsworth. Captain talked to us, and then Col. Phlander gave us a two hour talk. Then the men reconsidered the matter and decided to go. Taylor Knight, Shep and I have secured a good stove for our tent.
"Sat. Nov. 11, 1865. Camped at Dry Wood Lake. At one point we could see both Big Stone Lake and Lake Traverse. We are now on the highest table land in the North American continent.
"Sun. Nov. 12, 1865. The fort has greatly improved since we were here a year ago. Stone quarters nearly completed for us to go into.
"Tues. Nov. 14, 1865. Took the best bath I could and put on clean clothes, first time in nearly three weeks. We indulged in a stag dance this evening.
"Wed. 6. C. Spillman, E. Dexter and Jack Young stole their horses out of the stable last night and deserted. Rumored the hay was going to be burned, and officers watched it all night."
"Thursday, Dec. 7, 1865. Thanksgiving Day. Nothing extra on our table. Was home a year ago today and oh! How different. Major Rose called all the companies together today, gave them a talking to and much good advice. Capt. Howe made an ass of himself in his talk. There has been quite a spirit of unrest among the men. The men are anxious to return to civil life and feel that favoritism has been shown in mustering out junior companies.
"Tues. Dec. 12, 1865. Very cold - very. My pony broke through the ice while I was watering him and he nearly perished with cold before I could get him back to the stable.
"Sun. 31. An awful day - snowing and blowing furiously. Kept in the house and played seven-up. Mustered for pay this morning. This is the last day of 1865. One year ago was at Fort Snelling in charge of Convalescent Detachment. These pages record a good many incidents in many places. Good bye old year. In closing my second year's diary since I have been in the service, the thought arises - where will I be, and under what circumstances will I write in the closing days of 1866."
"Wed. Jan. 3, 1866. We are mighty anxious to get mail. Nothing will make soldiers homesick so quick as not receiving letters from families or friends.
"Sat. Feb. 10, 1866. Whoop Whoop Hurrah Hurrah! Received orders today to proceed without delay to 'Sauk Centre,' Minnesota and report for duty. Great rejoicing and jubilee. Whoever heard of such good luck."
Thank you, Andrew Jackson Fisk, for a taste of life at a forlorn fort on the prairie around 1865.
More on the park
Fort Sisseton is a small park with camping offered and a few cabins. The large stable/stone barn holds showers.
Tours are offered daily during the summer, letting you get into some of the buildings. One of the barracks is used for the Northern Fort Playhouse for a few weeks in July (Lanesboro's Yvonne Freese, a student at Northern State University in Aberdeen, S.D., performed there this summer).
Also, special events are scheduled, such as lantern tours, the Fourth of July and a large yearly "Historical Festival" that's a big hit. It's set for June 7 to 9 in 2013. The next event is "Frontier Christmas," Saturday, Dec. 8, from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m.
Lisa Brainard is the news editor for the Republican-Leader and Chatfield News. She writes for the Phillips Bluff Country Publishing group of newspapers, which also includes the Spring Grove Herald, Bluff Country Reader, News-Record, and Spring Valley Tribune. She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org. She also photographs many scenic landscapes in her travels near and far, in addition to taking numerous newspaper photos.