Vincennes State Historic Sites: Fort Knox II

The buildings and sites associated with the Vincennes State Historic Sites are either clustered together just south of Vincennes University or scattered downtown (Old French House and Indian Museum, Old State Bank). Fort Knox II is one of two administered by the museum that are located far from either location.

Fort Knox II only exists as a grassy field with posts indicating its contours and placards discussing its history. There is not much to see but much to read.

Fort Knox, named for the first US Secretary of Defense Henry Knox, actually existed in three incarnations at three different locales between 1787 and 1816. The changes in locations were prompted by changes in threats.

The first incarnation of the fort was built in 1787 at the site of the British Fort Sackville (which Clark captured in 1779) in downtown Vincennes. As the town grew and threats from Native Americans came from the north, the fort was moved outside of town and became Fort Knox II.

Fort Knox II (1803-1813) was an important outpost during a time of confrontation with Native Americans in the Indiana Territory. In 1811, future president—then Captain—Zachary Taylor built a stockade at Fort Knox. Another future president—then Territorial Governor—William Henry Harrison assembled an army to march on Prophetstown to battle Tecumseh and his brother the Prophet in what became known as the Battle of Tippecanoe.

With the War of 1812, the city proper was threatened again. The timbers of Fort Knox II were dismantled and floated downstream back to Vincennes to secure the city. In 1816, the fort closed for good. Fort Knox III was dismantled and the garrison moved to Fort Harrison in Terre Haute.

Fort Knox II is a strange historic site to visit, not just because no structure really exists there, but because a within a stone’s throw lies a log cabin not connected with the historic site. The log cabin clearly houses modern-day residents who have no connection to the fort or the museum. As I wandered around the site of the fort, I had the distinct impression that I was wandering around people’s front lawn.

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