Exterior stockade wall at Fort Atkinson. (c) 2015 J.S.Reinitz

Exterior stockade wall at Fort Atkinson. (c) 2015 J.S.Reinitz

In the nine years that were its heyday, Fort Atkinson was tasked with keeping the peace for the Ho-Chunk tribe, which had been relocated from Wisconsin to a 40-mile wide plat in northeast Iowa. The neutral ground was originally planned as a buffer between other First Nation tribes, so when the Ho-Chunk (also known as the Winnebago) arrived sometime around 1840, the fort was in charge of protecting the tribe from rivals and keeping its members from backtracking to the cheese state.

The fort had 24 buildings inside a wooden stockade and 14 other structures outside its walls. When the army moved out in 1946 to fight the Mexican-American War, a volunteer miltia replaced them. The volunteers helped move the Ho-Chunk on to Minnesota, and the fort was closed in 1849.

Over the years, the buildings fell into disrepair as settlers began using the bricks and wood to construct their homes and shops in the town of the same name that sprang up. The state of Iowa got what was left of the fort in 1921, and reconstruction started in the late 1950s.

Today the fort is a state preserve with a rebuilt stockade wall and a mixture of rebuilt barracks, partial ruins and assorted foundations. Every year, it hosts a pioneer and buckskinner living history rendezvous.