A new exhibit at Historic Fort Snelling shows the site’s importance to Minnesota and the Dakota people.
Historic Fort Snelling wrapped up a major revitalization project last year, renovating the decades-old visitor center and embracing education about the site’s complex history and relationship with the Dakota people.
Visitor response to the changes has been encouraging, with tickets selling and positive feedback pouring in. Now, a new exhibit building on that momentum will open Sept. 16.
“Many Voices, Many Stories, One Place” will encompass the history of the fort and the land the Dakota people call Bdote, translated as “where two waters come together.” Fort Snelling sits on the point where the Minnesota and Mississippi rivers converge, a sacred site of creation for the Dakota people, and also where many Dakota were incarcerated after the U.S.-Dakota war in 1862.
It is arguably the most important site in Minnesota to tell both stories simultaneously, says Bill Convery, research director at the Minnesota Historical Society, which runs Fort Snelling.
“It’s really important for Minnesotans to understand what a pivotal site Fort Snelling was, not only to the cultural history of the Dakota but also to the history of the creation of the state of Minnesota,” Convery says. “Minnesota arguably began at Fort Snelling.”
Not only do the rivers converge there, but so does the history of the U.S. military, the Dakota people and enslaved African Americans.
Dred Scott’s story started at Fort Snelling, where he and his wife Harriet resided for four years as enslaved people in a free territory.
When Scott was brought back to Missouri, where slavery was legal, he sued for his freedom, arguing that since he was brought into a free state, he was now granted freedom. His became the landmark 1857 Dred Scott v. Sandford case that went before the Supreme Court, which ultimately ruled against Scott. That decision angered abolitionists, fueled the anti-slavery movement and contributed to sparking the Civil War.
Under construction for almost six years, the exhibit will be housed in the updated visitor center and is included in the price of admission.
“I really think it’s a place where visitors have to go to more than once in order to fully appreciate all of the different ways that this place was significant to Minnesota,” Convery says.
If you go
Where: 200 Tower Av., St. Paul, mnhs.org/fortsnelling
Hours: 10 a.m.- 4 p.m. Thu.-Sat.