Dakota County Historical Society
To preserve, interpret and promote the history of Dakota County.

In 1805 Lt. Zebulon Pike met with seven Sioux Chiefs at Little Crow’s Kaposia Village to negotiate the signing of the Sioux Treaty which would cede Indian lands to the United States government, for the purposes of constructing a military outpost in the area. As was often the case in land treaties with Native Americans the tract of land ceded was quite large and quite a bargain for the government. This was usually because the Native American tribes involved had little concept of land ownership and personal property in the same way as white men did. It was a misunderstanding white treaty negotiators often exploited, which may have been the case with the Sioux Treaty of 1805 given that Lt. Pike reportedly bragged that he had purchased the land “for a song.”

The land Pike purchased included a portion of what is now Dakota County, with the Military Reservation Line running through parts of what would eventually become Burnsville, Eagan, Mendota Heights, West Saint Paul, and totally encompassing Mendota and Lillydale. The reason for this was likely due to the US Government’s desire to control both sides of the river and keep its options open concerning where the fort would ultimately be located. There was clearly some high ground on the east bank of the river that must have been considered. However Pilot Knob Hill, one of the highest vantage points in the area, was not included in the purchase, possibly because it is a sacred Native American site. Both before and after construction, US Military personnel noted the hill when assessing the threat it posed to Fort Snelling as a superior position for enemy artillery to potentially shell the fort. However, the Government expected no such conflicts and a location on the Western side of the valley was instead chosen for the fort’s location.

It wasn’t until August and September of 1819, however, that construction of a fort on the property began with the arrival of Col. Leavenworth and the establishment of a Cantonment on Picnic Island where goods and materials to be used in the construction – as well as the troops who would build the fort – were assembled. Due to seasonal flooding the Cantonment was not habitable year round, with troops staying at “Camp Coldwater” on higher ground during those times.

Fort Snelling was ready for occupation in 1822 and as the territory became more populated and developed over the subsequent years the land on the eastern bank within the Military Reservation Line was put up for sale and also opened to settlement.

Visit one of these Dakota County Historic Sites