The Old Paynesville Outpost
On the west end of town, where W Main St meets Bridge St (old hwy 23), on the site of Zap Leather and Cycle, stands an old concrete pillar. Sunken into the ground, it’s stood for many years as the world changes around it. Wind, rain, and snow have eroded the edges some, and time has darkened its hue. Yet, it remains a link to our past and is one of the few relics that harken to the days of old Paynesville. There are no engravings, no artwork, and no words on the pillar. It’s merely a piece of concrete that protrudes from the earth. Yet, as with many things plain in nature, it has a story that few people know of.
It was the autumn of 1862. The Indian attacks in central Minnesota had all but ceased as refugees began returning home. For many, the homesteads and villages they had labored to build were in ruins; Paynesville being no exception. In September of that year, the town had been razed. All buildings but two were burnt to the ground. Those settlers who returned to Paynesville came home to a community of charred ruins.
The scene was similar across much of Minnesota. From mid-August to the end of September, Dakota (Sioux) Indians made war on the white settlements that dotted their ancestral homeland. Although an official casualty report was never made, estimates have reached into the thousands. Many of the families in remote parts of the frontier were never seen or heard from again.
To ensure the safety of the settlers returning to Paynesville, a detachment of the 25th Wisconsin regiment marched to the charred ruins on a cool autumn day in 1862. They were ordered to guard the settlers and patrol the area for any war parties that still remained.
One of their first orders was to erect a stockade. They located on the site of the makeshift fort built by the townsfolk in August, a simply constructed fortification of sod earthwork built between the Methodist church and schoolhouse. The fortification was destroyed along with the rest of the town and would have to be rebuilt.
A small sketch was made in 1863 which shows what the fort looked like. A wooden stockade that measured eight feet tall and four feet deep was erected. It was surrounded with earthworks (piles of dirt), and loopholes for musket firing were made. Inside the fort, a 20’ lookout tower was erected and lean-to style barracks were built for the troops and officers. Once completed, the stockade measured approximately 100 feet from east to west, and 20 feet from north to south.
For about a year and a half, the fort was occupied by the United States military. Company E and A of the 25th Wisconsin built the fort, but shortly replaced by Company A of the Minnesota Mounted Rangers. The Rangers stayed in the fort until May of 1864 and sent regular patrols to the countryside that surrounded Paynesville.
By the spring of 1864, the Sioux Uprising was over. The Dakota who remained in Minnesota were exiled from the state. Once the war was over, the army abandoned the fort for good, leaving it to the townspeople. Lumber was raided and used by the community, and the remaining pieces of the fort were burned down. Years later a sign was erected along with the stone pillars that marked the boundary of the fort. For unknown reasons, the sign was eventually taken down and lost.
When the Paynesville stockade was abandoned; it marked the end of the Sioux Uprising in Paynesville. Today, few know of its existence, and even fewer know of the concrete pillars that mark the boundary. The museum houses a copy of the diary of one of the soldiers stationed at the fort. It’s a great read for anyone who is looking to learn more about Old Paynesville and the fort itself. With so many places and things being lost to history, the fort in Old Paynesville is one that is worth remembering.
The Old Paynesville Outpost