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Fort Defiance featured in book

July 14, 2009
by Michael Tidemann - Staff Writer

Fort Defiance, for which Fort Defiance State Park was named, is one of the featured locations in the book Forts of the Northern Plains by Jeff Barnes.

Barnes has compiled an accurate and informative account of military forts that existed on the Northern Plains all the way from the fur trade era until the time the threat of attack by Native Americans had ended. While leaving out speculation and innuendo, Barnes has included all the historically proven details that are written in a easily digestible manner.

Barnes does provide an interesting detail about the era when Fort Defiance was built that may not be generally known, even locally. He says that forty percent of the men in Emmet County left to fight for the Union as soon as the Civil War broke out in 1861. Compare that with the number volunteering for the military today, and it gives you a good idea as to how committed they were for the Union cause.

Article Photos

Fort Defiance, for which Fort Defiance State Park is named, is featured in a book on frontier fort of the Northern Plains. The lodge at Fort Defiance State Park replicates the design of a frontier fort.

Other forts that Barnes writes about are the Council Bluffs blockhouse, or Camp Kearny, at Council Bluffs; Fort Croghan at Council Bluffs; Fort Des Moines; and Fort Dodge.

Barnes chronicles the history of frontier forts in Minnesota, Nebraska, the Dakota, and eastern Montana and Wyoming as well, or basically up to the east slope of the Bighorns.

Barnes also offers a fascinating history of Fort Ridgely, located not far from Estherville at Fairfax, Minn. The fort, which was in service from 1853-1867, was attacked twice during the Great Sioux Uprising. The first was Aug. 20, 1862, about the same time a boy stumbled into Estherville, a refugee from the Indian raid on Jackson, Minn. About 180 soldiers fought off 400 warriors. The other attack came two days later when 800 Dakota were fought off, with the loss of about 100 Dakota but only three soldiers.

Fact Box

Barnes: Frontier fort fascination becomes book

by Michael Tidemann

Staff Writer

One day Jeff Barnes was traveling and stopped at an old frontier fort in Sidney, Neb., to see what he could learn.

It wasn't open.

When he was returning, he stopped again.

It wasn't open then either.

That experience encouraged him to write his book, Forts of the Northern Plains.

Subtitled Guide to Historic Military Posts of the Plains Indian Wars, the book published by Stackpole Books is a handy compedium to anyone interested in learning more about frontier forts in the Northern Plains.

Fort Defiance plays a predominant role in the book, since it was one of the forts built to withstand Indian attacks during the Sioux uprising in 1862.

Interviewed by phone Monday at his home in Omaha, Barnes said he first started the project over Memorial Day weekend 2005. He had a choice of either starting the book or going to a concert in the Twin Cities. He decided on the former.

After a year and a half, the project came to fruition. It was just a matter of taking trips whenever he had a three- or four-day weekend available. He estimates he drove 13,000 miles to visit all the sites.

"I've always had an interest in the Plains Indian wars," Barnes said.

As former Gov. and current Sen. Ben Nelson's first press secretary when Nelson ran for governor, it was Nelson who helped prod him along with the project. Barnes managed to wrangle a foreword from Nelson for the book.

You might say writing comes second-nature to Barnes who got his start in the newspaper business at the Nebraska City News. He later edited a business newspaper in Omaha.

"I kind of attacked the project like a reporter," Barnes said. He researched then visited the forts then returned to write up what he had learned.

Initially, he had not included the Iowa forts. However, after seeing that they were neglected in much of the literature of the Plains Indian wars, he decided to include those as well.

"I thought Iowa was kind of neglected in the Plains Indian wars," Barnes said.

Of all the forts he visited, Barnes said his favorite is Fort Omaha since that's his home.

In addition to speaking engagements for his current book, Barnes is working on two other projects, one on Forts of the Southern Plains which will include Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas and a travel guide that follows the travels and exploits of George Custer. That project will take him from Texas to North Dakota.

Forts of the Northern Plains is a must for any history buff or for that matter any student of Iowa's past.

The book is available from



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