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Civil War Era in North Dakota

Commemorating Battles

On September 3, 1914, hundreds of people gathered at Whitestone Hill to commemorate the battle and massacre that took place there fifty-one years previously. They stood below the memorial to Civil War soldiers and listened as Red Bow and Takes-His-Shield spoke of their experiences in the massacre. Red Bow was just seven when the soldiers rode into his village; he was captured. Takes-His-Shield was a young warrior, eighteen years old, when he fought the soldiers. Redfish, a Cuthead Dakota, spoke of the long oral history of the massacre as he learned it from his relatives who were in the hunting village at White Stone Hill.* Holy Horse, a child of nine in 1863, appeared, but did not speak. Their words were part of the oral tradition of the Dakotas who lived through the massacre or had learned about it from others.  Oral tradition was a form of historical preservation among people whose language did not have a written form.  They also used pictographs, or story pictures, to record the events they experienced.  Historians have found oral tradition to be a reliable resource.

Whitestone Hill DedicationGovernor Hanna was present to dedicate the park. He gave the final speech “setting forth that if Indian affairs were handled by the several states where Indians are, we might even now hope to inspire the Indians with hope and a true desire for progress.”

The Bismarck Tribune newspaper covered the dedication and published a story about the event on September 9, 1914. The title of the article included the words: “Now Realized That Fight Was a Mistake.” The article went on to state: “Hemmed in and fired upon, the Indians fought back with telling results, as the 60 killed and wounded soldiers show. The Indian loss in killed and wounded was about 400 and we now realize that it was all due to a mistake, as most wars are.”

Whitestone Hill Memorial to IndiansThough Dakotas were invited to participate and their words were clearly heard and understood at the dedication of the site, there was no memorial comparable to the Civil War Soldier memorial at the site in 1914. In 1942, a memorial was built and dedicated to the Dakotas who were killed, wounded, or captured at Whitestone Hill.

The Battle of Killdeer Mountain has a memorial plaque. There is also a memorial plaque at Fort Dilts. The site of Fort Rice was dedicated as a state park in 1913 and today is a state historic site.Fort Dilts Memorial Plaque The deaths of Lt. Beaver at Apple Creek and Dr. Weisser at Big Mound are commemorated by grave markers, though their remains have been removed.

Visiting Civil War Monuments
There are Civil War commemorative statues in Fargo at Island Park; in Grand Forks in a small park on Belmont, in Devils Lake at the cemetery, and Lisbon at the Soldiers’ Home.

Grave MarkersThere are also graves of Civil War soldiers at the Big Mound battle site, at the Heart River Corral where two soldiers were buried after the Battle of Killdeer Mountain, and south of Bismarck where Lt. Beaver and Private Miller were originally buried. Many Civil War veterans were buried in local cemeteries. Their graves originally had GAR iron markers on them. Some have their service record noted on their stone.

* White Stone Hill was the preferred spelling of this location in 1863.  Today, it is Whitestone Hill.  You will find both spellings in these essays.