History of the Site

The US government established the Lower Sioux Agency in 1853 as an administrative center for the newly created Dakota reservation. It was the site of the outbreak of the US-Dakota War of 1862, just nine years after it was created.

The Lower Sioux Agency was one of two US government Indian agencies established in 1853 to be the administrative centers of the newly created Dakota reservations for the Mdewakanton and Wahpekute bands of Dakota. The agencies functioned mainly to provide government oversight of the Dakota and to implement federal Indian policy of the period. It had a school, blacksmith shop, stables, carpenter shop, church, boarding house, and homes for agency employees. That same year, the government established Fort Ridgely at the southeastern edge of the reservation.

The Minnesota River was an important highway for the Dakota, government employees, the military, settlers, and travelers. In the 1850s and 1860s, steamboats delivered people and goods to the agency by landing at the foot of the bluffs near the eastern end of the River Trail. The agency blacksmith shop stood nearby, and downstream were the agency saw and grist (corn/wheat grinding) mills. Located next to the landing was the ferry crossing to the north river bank and the road to Fort Ridgely. It was from here that agency workers fled the morning of August 18, 1862, in an effort to reach the fort after the war erupted.

At the time of the US-Dakota War in 1862, the settlement at the lower agency included between 15 and 20 government buildings, as well as sleeping quarters and homes for government employees and their families. Dakota families adopting a European American farming lifestyle occupied approximately 130 brick, frame, and log homes nearby. An Episcopal and Presbyterian missionary complex of homes, churches, and other buildings lay several hundred yards to the east of the agency grounds. Traders’ stores and homes lined the road just northwest of the agency.

The 1861 agency warehouse

A stone warehouse built in 1861 provided storage for food and goods intended for the Dakota. The building replaced several less substantial log buildings located below the bluffs, precariously close to the river. Agency carpenter John Nairn likely planned and supervised the project, possibly contracting with one or more masons to oversee the stone work. Judging from agency reports, plows and farm tools, seeds, food, nails, windows and doors, clothing, candles, dishes, and many other supplies were among the goods stored here. Although the wooden interior was burned out, the stone walls survived the war relatively intact. It is the only agency-era structure left standing at the site today.

After the war, the Knueppel family acquired the building and by the 1870s converted it to a farmhouse. The building served as a farmhouse and private residence for the next 100 years. Subsequent owners enlarged the narrow, original windows, cut in new doors and windows, and added an enclosed front porch. Restoration of the warehouse to its 1861 appearance began in 1997.

Home on the Minnesota River

After the war, the US government eliminated the reservations and sold the land to settler-colonists. However, in the 1880s, Dakota exiles started returning to their Minnesota River homes. Federal legislation provided for the establishment of a new Lower Sioux community. Today, the Lower Sioux Indian Community borders the northwest edge of the original site.