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Exploring (and Camping) Southwest Minnesota Historical Sites

We have most of the southern portion of Minnesota to visit before the end of the year. 

That's when our Minnesota Historical Society membership expires...unless G.G. renews it again.

We decided to see as much as we could in one weekend and started off near New Ulm.


Our first stop brought us to the Harkin Store.

The Harkin Store is an 1870's general store that had all of the products left behind when the city was abandoned. Actually the store stayed open for years after the railroad bypassed the city.

Everything as it was 150 years ago.

It brought me back to Laura Ingalls time. When life was simpler and you only bought what you absolutely needed. 

I wish we could have toured the home next door.

I'm thinking they need to restore it or it's full of junk.

We then drove over to nearby New Ulm to get lunch when we realized there aren't that many dining options in town. We settled on Plaza Garibaldi. It was pretty much your typical small town Mexican restaurant.

We decided to camp at Upper Souix Agency State Park, which is in the middle of the various historic sites. Here you can camp in a teepee. 

We opted for the walk in site. Although super mosquito-y it was probably the most private site in the park.

It doesn't help that we're still using some really crappy bug spray Costco sold last summer. You have to slather it on to keep bugs at bay (and then it still doesn't work).

This was Theo's first camping trip.

With the bugs being so bad we stayed snug in our tent playing Old Maid.

I went over to the confluence of the Minnesota and the Yellow Medicine river for some fishing. I really never have luck river fishing, but it's a scenic location to take in the sunset.

Sleepy bears. Since our trip to Texas last summer I've been braver about keeping the rain cover off. 

Theo was ready for the day.

He was wiggling around like a worm.

We kept breakfast quick and easy with oatmeal cups. Just add hot water.

It wasn't quick enough to avoid the skeeters.

Meadow was stil a trooper.

Our next site was the Lac qui Parle. Beginning in 1835 missionaries came here to force the Dakota people to be become Christians and live like the settlers.

Before that the tribes had moved from place to place,  following the food and game they relied on to live off the land.

Sadly this is not original, but a remake.

It seems strange when sites associated with the entire pre-settler human population have no interpreters and kind of feel like an afterthought. Though the new displays were informative.

All the sites we've seen are starting to tie together. 

Brooke got out of the car to see Fort Renville, but all that was there was a sign and overlook.

Since the trail by the mission was closed we headed down for a walk along the river to the fort site.

No sign of the fort was in view, but there were more epic views of the Minnesota River. Do you know that some experts claim the Minnesota as the actual source of the Mississippi River.

The route between Lac qui Parle and Lower Sioux Agency was corn as far as the eye could see until you got within a half-mile of the Minnesota River Valley.

Theo didn't make it to our next stop so we pulled over so I could feed the little guy. 

Meadow and I explored the roadside for wildflowers.

She picked me some red clover. 

Our next stop was the Lower Sioux Agency. For the first time ever we got to hear the Dakota side of the Dakota War.

Lower Sioux is home to a history center run by the local tribe members. Their families slowly resettled back in the land that their ancestors had been forced onto and then exiled from. Today they have a succesful reservation near the site of the Lower Sioux Agency.

The young men at the site were descendants of Chief Wabasha who tried to keep the Dakota from starting the US-Dakota War. He told us many stories and facts that were passed down among his family.

Stories untold in the history books.

After the tour we walked around the site and avoided the mosquitos as best we could.

There was a nice walk down to the river, but we couldn't make it that far.

Then we drove to our last site of the day: the Birch Coulee Battlefield. The site is next to a county park and has picnic tables at the entrance to the battlefield. It felt a bit strange having a picnic next to a battlefield.

We hadn't eaten all day and were very hungry.

Across the way was a well so we could wash up quick.

Meadow was getting bored with all the reading.

There were wooden posts throughout the field. They corresponded with the locations of the US soldiers locations and where the natives were able to ambush the encampment. Here's some background of how the war started and determined the course of Minnesota history.


"Hunger was widespread throughout Dakota lands in Minnesota.  Since crops had been poor in 1861, the Dakota had little food stored for the “starving winter” of 1861-62. Their reservation supported no game, and increasing settlement off the reservation meant more competition with Euro-Americans hunting for meat. Reports about government agents' corrupt treatment of the Dakota were ignored. Factionalism continued among the Dakota, as those who maintained traditional ways saw that only those who had acculturated were reaping government support. Finally, a delayed treaty payment made traders nervous, and many of them cut off credit to Dakota hunters. Indian Agent Thomas Galbraith refused to distribute food to the Dakota, and though Dakota farmers shared food with their relatives throughout the summer of 1862, it wasn’t enough.
We then headed back to our campsite for more historic sites in the park.

I'll say it again, I like the North Shore but there's something about the prairie that's beautiful too.

I think it's the epic valleys.

The state park is the location of the Upper Sioux Agency, the northern chunk of the reservation created after the treaty at Traverse des Sioux.

It looks idyllic today, but it was harsh environment that was not large enough to transition to farming or hunt and gather as they did for generations.

I once again had no luck fishing while everyone else stayed back at the campsite.

Little Theo woke up before everyone else.

My morning view as I awoke.

Brooke actually lets us sleep with the rainfly off during warm summer nights.

In the morning we had to get to our next history destinations.

In nearby Granite Falls we had breakfast at the local casino. You could say I ate my fair share. Still not as good as Black Bear.

Nothing is.

Our last stop was Fort Ridgely. This was the white version of the Dakota War.

There were of course more than one side to the war and it's causes. You have to remember that European settlers escaped to North America to leave behind hardship and persecution. It's so unfortunate that they brought a colonialist mentality with them.


There was a dress up area inside the museum that Meadow loved.

She tried everything on even if it was ten sizes too big.

More signs to read outside. 

A smaller version of Fort Snelling.

There were many more buildings. You can see the foundations to the right of Brooke.

Their were no fortress walls, which made the fort a siting duck during the war.

Poor Theo, the mosquitos loved him.

Our trip home just happened to pass by Minnesota's Largest Candy Store.

We hadn't stopped for a few years and since then they'd made some major upgrades.

This place has gotten busier and bigger since our first visit almost 10 years ago.

Meadow was excited to see all her favorite super heroes.

The murals and life-sized figures are really impressive.

We each got to pick two things. Decisions, decisions.


It took us a long time, but that was OK.

Some things I wished they had smaller options of. I wanted to try the Matcha Kit Kat.

For the most part you can get single-serving candy, but the Asian section had mostly larger portions.


The hot air balloon room was one of my favorites. 

Meadow had wanted the candy that double as toys. I talked her out of them and we settled on candy without toys.

Except for one. 

Meadow went with a chocolate egg that had Hello Kitty inside.

OK, that one was more candy than toy.

You know I got a Dog and Sud's Root Beer and store-made salted nut roll.

Meadow also went with a tiny heart lollipop. I went for my usual Watchamacallit and some Dutch chocolate.

This was a good end to a history-filled weekend.

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