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Killdeer Mountain hike to commemorate historic battle

Land in Dunn County that is now known as pasture and buttes was the site of a significant conflict 147 years ago. Today marks the commemoration of the battle at Killdeer Mountain.

The conflict of 1864 was between troops commanded by U.S. General Alfred Sully and a gathering of Teton, Yanktonai and Dakota (Sioux) Indians, according to the Killdeer Mountain Battlefield website.

The State Historical Society of North Dakota will be hosting an informational guided hike at Killdeer Mountain on Saturday.

Museum Division Director Chris Johnson said the event is a great way to enrich local history and give insight on the battle.

"Our goal is to educate people about the event that occurred in 1864," he said. "We don't try to paint it one way or the other -- who is right and who was wrong -- we just lay out the information we know."

Although the combat took place in 1864, the conflict started years earlier, Historical Sites Manager Diane Rogness said.

In 1862, the nation was in the midst of fighting the Civil War and Congress was hoping to raise money for the effort and decided to delay payments of signed treaties with Santee Sioux groups in the east, Rogness said.

The Native American group struck back at the indiscretion of the government and tried to get back some of the land that had been taken from them, she added.

Sully was pursuing Native Americans and came upon them at Whitestone Hill in 1863 and Killdeer Mountain in 1864, where decisive victories were taken by Sully, Rogness said.

"Whitestone Hill and Killdeer Mountain were very defining for Native American people on the plains. It rocked their world. It changed their way of life," she said, adding that it scattered groups and destroyed tribal relationships.

The battle engaged at least 2,200 U.S. troops and up to 6,000 natives, which puts it under the category of a major battle on the northern plains, Johnson said.

He added that analyzing past events can make for a better future.

"Sometimes you learn more from the hard times and mistakes than you do with the successes," he said. "It was a tragic event, it had to come to a fight, but let's not cover up that history. Let's see what we can learn from

it and how that can help


Johnson said small skirmishes between the groups carried on for the next 20 years.

In 2008, the history of the battle got a boost in publicity when Alick Dvirnak donated his personal collection of relics found on the battleground to the Stoxen Library at Dickinson State University. Dvirnak gathered the artifacts on his ranch, which was located on the battlefield.

Library Director Rita Ennen said it is difficult to know how many people check out the archive, but she said it is a terrific resource.

A collection of arrowheads, maps and spent ammunition are displayed for the public.

"It is a way to reflect on an important part of our history," Ennen said. "It's one thing to read or hear about something, but there is something about seeing the artifacts that make history come alive for people."

The Killdeer Mountain Battlefield site is one of five sites in North Dakota defined significant by the Civil War Sites Advisory Committee, Rogness said.

The guided hike is free. A carpool will leave from the Running's parking lot in Dickinson at 8 a.m. and additional participants will be picked up at the Killdeer pool at 8:45 a.m. on Saturday.