Battle site set in stone
One acre of land reminds visitors of what occurred on this picturesque piece of land that changed the face of North Dakota forever. Two grave markers also sit on the Killdeer Battlefield State Historic Site and a stone tells a history of the brut...
One acre of land reminds visitors of what occurred on this picturesque piece of land that changed the face of North Dakota forever.
Two grave markers also sit on the Killdeer Battlefield State Historic Site and a stone tells a history of the brutal battle that took place July 28, 1864, when the U.S. military attacked Dakota, Nakota and Lakota (Sioux) nations camped across the area.
"If you compare it to today, it was a major, major battle and it really changed history," said State Historical Society of North Dakota Historic Sites Manager Diane Rogness. "It was a dramatic change for them and their way of life was gone and it opened the west for European, white settlement."
The site where Gen. Alfred Sully headed the attack is about eight miles northwest of Killdeer off a gravel road marked by a wooden sign.
This assault on a Native American trading village in the Killdeer Mountains was part of the military reprisals against the Sioux that followed the Dakota Conflict of 1862 in Minnesota, according to society records.
Two headstones of soldiers killed in the conflict, Sgt. George Northrup and Pvt. Horace Austin, rest at the site though, the two may not be buried there. Rogness says that through her research she has found they are buried in the general area.
"There is another grave marker southeast of there on private property and there's an oral history tradition that there is a mass grave of Native Americans there and that is also on private property," she said.
Craig Dvirnak lives on the family ranch which surrounds the historic site where the battle took place.
Descendants of soldiers often visit the site and occasionally knock on his door to talk to him. Other times they just leave their name in a log book kept at the monument.
"Every year they come to see the place and I'd love to corner them and hear their stories."
He has extensive knowledge of the history of the area and battle and can share many of the stories.
Dvirnak's grandfather gave an acre of land for the Killdeer Battlefield monument in the 1930s and children brought a penny to school to help pay for the markers and monument there, Dvirnak said.
"There's a big spring here and that's why the Indians camped here," he said.
Official military records show between 1,600 to 1,800 lodges occupied the area at one time.
It was ideal because "there was water, there was food, there was shelter," Rogness said.
The Native Americans thought they were going to win the battle because they outnumbered the soldiers 5-1, Dvirnak said. So they never took teepees down or gathered their cooking utensils, food and supplies. The day after the battle, the soldiers destroyed everything.
The number of Native Americans killed in the battle is unknown but estimated at 100 to 150. Lore claims a number of them climbed the hill and escaped through Medicine Hole, Rogness said.
Though a "notice" sign alerts visitors to their obligations at the monument, Dvirnak says he's pretty easy to get along with. He erected the signs after he found people had been trespassing and using metal detectors.
"We don't have a problem as long as you ask. Don't litter, respect the land," Dvirnak said.
The state took over the battlefield property in 1955 and cares for the plot.