Friday, March 1, 2013

Remember Killdeer Mountain

Photo by Valerie Blumle, Save Killdeer Mountain.
Remember Killdeer Mountain
Development Encroaches Historic Site
By Dakota Wind
KILLDEER, N.D. - In the land of sky and wind Killdeer Mountain rises above the prairie like a step to heaven. The plateau is ancient, carved by rain and wind, gradually cracked and broken by ice and the sun for uncounted seasons. From the top of the step lies an unparalleled view of unending sky and vast rolling prairie.

North Dakota is in the center of North America. The farthest one can get away from the oceans, and yet here the great waters take different shape and form. Verdant waves undulate and break upon the step. There is no great emerald splash, no violent splatter of grass. The wind is the current, the wildest of the natural energies, which envelopes and ascends the cracked plateau in a fury.

Two-pronged antelope still scamper about the hills in a long forgotten race which gifted them with their fleet ability. Deer wander about the land in early morning or evening with the natural born caution that predators and humans grafted into them over thousands of years. Bison appear only in the imagination these days but a gange can be found in the Theodore Roosevelt National Park to the west.

Photo by Sage Brush Photography.

Archaeologists say that it’s a site that shows continuous cultural occupation for the past three thousand years. Young men travelled there on spiritual pilgrimage, a quest, to learn as much about themselves as to learn a good way to live in the natural world. They left little sign of their passage, but what they left was enough for anthropologists to date when they were there.

On a hot midsummer day, June 28, 1864, the long-held sanctity of the plateau was shattered when General Sully and his command of 4,000 soldiers engaged the Hunkpapa Lakota and Ihanktowana Dakota, commonly regarded as “Sioux.” These particular tribes of Sioux had nothing to do with the 1862 Minnesota Dakota Conflict. When the smoke of gunfire and cannon cleared and when the dust of combat settled on the broken encampment, all of the children who were left behind in the confusion of the raid were swiftly scalped and executed.

Photo by Sage Brush Photography.

A spiritual sanctum for untold generations of vision quest pilgrims became a violent memorial. The peace of the broken arrow, a sign never to raise war upon each other or an enemy, was replaced with bugle call to war.

Natural history on the Northern Great Plains has given way to industry. In the late nineteenth century it was railroads, in the middle of the twentieth century it was the interstate and highways. These days it’s the oil industry. North Dakota is the face of national energy development and independence. Industry has been changing the face of the prairie for over a hundred years and it’s changing at a greater pace than ever before.

Photo by Gerald Blank.

Killdeer Mountain is a sacred site to the Native people of Standing Rock, the Arikara-Hidatsa-Mandan Nation of Fort Berthold, the Turtle Mountain Chippewa, members of the Fort Peck Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes, the Whitecap Dakota and Wood Mountain First Nations in Canada, and others not mentioned here. Indian nations spread across the distance of states and countries regard Killdeer as a spiritual and culturally significant site.

Killdeer Mountain is a memorial to American Civil War combatants. The United States and the state of North Dakota either don’t know it or are ignorant of it. General Sully is a Civil War general. Sully’s command fought a tertiary battle of the Civil War in Dakota Territory. The Confederate States of America (CSA) promised congressional representation to Indian nations who engaged Union forces. The Sioux were unaware of the CSA’s standing offer, but that doesn’t make it any less important.

Photo of man descending into Medicine Hole, 1919. National Park Service, photo by Calvin Reed.

In 1919, three men, AA Liederbach, WL Richards and Col. CA Lounsberry working together as the Killdeer Mountain Park Commission, submitted their report to President Wilson, Secretary of the Interior FK Lane, Commissioner of National Parks ST Mather, North Dakota Senators McCumber and Gronna, and North Dakota Representatives Norton, Young and Baer.

Former President Roosevelt died on January 6, 1919 and people across the country were clamoring for a national park in his honor, but Congress had more important things to worry about like prohibition than preserving one battlefield in the heartland. Efforts to memorialize Roosevelt with a park didn’t prove successful until the 1940s.

There’s been talk, mostly inconsequential mumblings, of bringing the Killdeer Mountain conflict site into the fold of the Theodore Roosevelt National Park system. Hesitant talk, maybe wishful talk, perhaps from people who know about General Sully’s Punitive Campaign of 1864 and want to save it for the history or perhaps in the spirit of Theodore Roosevelt want to save it for the sake of saving an undeveloped natural landscape. 

Photo by Valerie Blumle, Save Killdeer Mountain.

In recent years, the National Park Service published an update of a report about the nation’s Civil War battlefields, one of which focused on the Killdeer Mountain conflict. More talk is what the report amounted to. The report suggested all kinds of things that could be done to preserve North Dakota’s Civil War battlefields. It was published in 2010.

Killdeer Mountain isn’t on the National Registry of Historic Places. Neither are any of the other Civil War related North Dakota conflicts listed in the National Park’s report. It is never too late to nominate Killdeer Mountain to the National Registry of Historic Places. It is too late to preserve it. The commercial value of the site is worth far too much ($250 million) to leave it undeveloped. The oil (3.5 million barrels) trapped under 3000 years of history, a battlefield, and sandstone would go to waste otherwise.

Photo by The First Scout, south looking north to the plateau where rests Medicine Hole.

In the spring I plan on taking my sons to Killdeer Mountain for a walk. We won’t talk about the oil wells. Instead we’ll talk of the mountain. We’ll talk of the conflict. We’ll probably take pictures. And it will remain a memory. 

No comments:

Post a Comment