(Foot)Notes on Iowa - Fort Dodge (Fort Museum) to Fort Dodge (Kennedy Park) (Part 2, Day 7)


Part 2, Day 7, started and ended at the Fort Dodge Fort Museum and Frontier Village. I headed north from the museum along the river and on to Kennedy Park Campground before eventually returning to peruse the collections and displays. I decided to amend and extend my walk the day prior to provide for a slightly shorter day in the exceptional heat forecasted for Part 2, Day 7. On the day traversing Fort Dodge, a friend and fellow researcher also joined me for the ten miles or so deep in the heart of Webster County.

Meeting in the early morning, Craig, a retired cardiac surgeon turned historic trails researcher, and I embarked before the sun broke over the trees. We stopped to admire the Daughters of the American Revolution Dragoons Trail Marker before heading east toward the trail system flanking the river. We talked about our common research interests, as well as Craig's plan to bicycle in summer 2022 from Cairo, Egypt, to Cape Town, South Africa, a journey of nearly 7,000 miles. I contemplated the incredible feat, especially considering Craig will turn 78 years old prior to the start of the ride. We talked a lot about how life demands to be lived, and I was glad to have the company for the day.

Making our way up the river we quickly arrived at the location where Lizard Creek empties into the Des Moines River. At the time of American colonization of Iowa, the Wahpekute Dakota leader Sintominiduta spent summers at a large village at the location. Early Americans estimated the village at 5,000 persons, a figure dwarfing all other communities in Iowa at the time (Des Moines would not surpass 5,000 persons until the 1870 census). The original location of Fort Dodge (military fort) stands today in the downtown area, not at the location of the museum, and overlooked the location of Sintominduta's village. Early Fort Dodge Sutler William Williams often referred to the Des Moines above Fort Dodge as 'The River of the Sioux' due to the large numbers of Dakota living along the river.

From Lizard Creek, we crossed the Des Moines to arrive at Australian artist Guido van Helten's 110-foot-high grain silo mural depicting different Fort Dodgers holding pieces of pottery. Rising above the Des Moines from the east bank, the 360-degree mural defies easy description. Van Helten used very few colors of hand-mixed acrylic and aerosol paints to create the largest mural in Iowa. As I flew the drone (keep an eye out for some great footage in the Part 2, Day 7 video), Craig and I discussed the incredible skill and vision painting such realistic figures at such an enormous scale on a curved surface represented.

From the mural, we entered Loomis Park. On the opposite bank we took a look at the site of the former Fort Dodge Hydroelectric Dam. Originally built in 1916, the dam generated power until 1971 before falling out of use. The river has slowly destroyed the remaining structure over the five decades since the close of the dam. As we looked on, a large bald eagle took flight from a tree branch a few feet above our heads. Majestically, the giant bird glided down over the river and eventually landed on a tree on a small island in the middle of the Des Moines. I snapped several shots, none of which can do adequate justice to a wonderful moment.

We pushed on, making steady progress in the morning heat carefully skirting between the river and the Fort Dodge Airport. Just north of the airport we encountered Community Orchard, a large apple orchard started in the 1950s by Dr. Paul and Edna Otto. Today, the facility grows fourteen different types of apples. As we ambled by we looked on as irrigation lines underwent maintenance, a necessity given the onset of moderate drought conditions during the previous few weeks.

Feeling bit parched in the late-morning sun, we stopped at the Concordia Cemetery. We walked among the stones, many for former military personnel, and Craig shared with me some of his experiences serving during the Vietnam War. We counted Purple Hearts and other awards denoted on the stones, rested, and eventually decided to press on to our final walking destination of the day.

John F. Kennedy Memorial Park, a 400-acre recreational area featuring a golf course, campground, hiking trials, and the 53-acre Badge Lake, opened in 1965. Today, the park represents the most popular and visited property managed by Webster County Conservation. Upon our arrival, we met the support vehicle and retraced our route back to the Fort Museum and Frontier Village to take a look at the buildings and exhibits.

On the whole, the Fort Museum and Frontier Village far exceeded my expectations. As a board member of Preservation Iowa and several local historical groups, I understand the challenges faced by small museums. However, in Fort Dodge I found a creatively organized, interpretively balanced, and carefully curated museum. QR code videos throughout the frontier village provided wonderful self-guided interpretive opportunities, and local items found homes in well-thought out displays (a chest of slide out drawers hosting a variety of specific objects including ashtrays, buttons, etc. from local establishments stands out as a personal favorite). The museum's interpretation of difficult topics, specifically the settlement era (a topic of my own expertise) and American Civil War, represents the thoughtful work of the museum staff. Fun exhibits, like a copy of the Cardiff Giant, mix with a wide-range of collections and topics to present a great museum experience.

Parting ways with Craig, I continued on to cross several other historical sites in the area off my list.

The Iowa Department of Transportation's "Dragoon Trail" starts in the parking lot of the Fort Museum, and from there I proceeded downtown to visit the marker for the original fort location.

I also visited the Oakland Cemetery to pay my respects to William Williams. The original sutler of Fort Dodge (fort) and credited founding father of Fort Dodge (city), Williams wrote a variety of documents important to the research I conducted over the past decade related to the Dakota in Iowa. Sometimes, when reading historical sources from one person so frequently over such a long period of time a sort of kinship develops.

Although William Williams undoubtedly had shortcomings evident in the documents he left behind, I still wanted to stop out in the balmy afternoon to visit his grave and thank him for having the foresight to record so much about northwest Iowa during the mid-1800s.

I also hopped in the vehicle and headed for the end of the Iowa Department of Transportation 'Dragoon Trail' driving route in Webster City. While visiting, I also found another Daughters of the American Revolution Dragoon Trail Marker.

All told, the day proved an interesting one in spite of the heat. The mileage for the entire 2021 walk across Iowa crossed the 250 mile mark during the day's journey, cutting the remaining distance to Spirit Lake to just over 120 miles.

47 views1 comment