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Seth Eastman: The Soldier Artist

Seth Eastman: The Soldier Artist

by Patricia Condon Johnston

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The Soldier (continued)

Shortly after graduating from West Point, Eastman was transferred to Fort Snelling, the country’s northernmost frontier post. Built in the wake of the War of 1812 to block British infiltration of the Northwest and protect the newly organized American fur trade by maintaining peace among the Indians, Fort Snelling was a hunkering, stone behemoth on steep limestone bluffs that overlooked the confluence of the Mississippi and the St. Peters (Minnesota) Rivers.
Enlarge: Fort Snelling


Manned by up to two dozen officers and as many as three hundred enlisted men, this self-sufficient wilderness garrison’s squat stone buildings included a hospital, school, guard house, and workshops for blacksmiths, carpenters, and wheelwrights. Its stables quartered one hundred horses, and a four-story commissary stored four years’ provisions and supplies. The officers’ quarters and troops’ barracks were built of lumber milled by the soldiers.

History would call Fort Snelling the best fort in the West. It was an extravagant display of American sovereignty that would never be equaled in the two thousand miles that stretched west of the Mississippi. Minnesota still belonged to the Indians. Though white settlement was inevitable, when Seth Eastman arrived at Fort Snelling in 1830, the United States laid claim only to the parcel of land on which the fort stood and a modest buffer zone, that explorer Zebulon Pike (for whom Pike’s Peak in Colorado is named) had purchased from a handful of Dakota warriors in 1805.


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