Friday, August 4, 2017

Crying Hill, An Endangered Historic Site

"Crying Hill," or "Mandan Hill" can be seen in the middle of this photo, the Missouri River down below, city development behind in the distance. 
Crying Hill Endangered
Site Overlooks River, City, Interstate
By Dakota Wind
Mandan, N.D. (TFS) – A hill rolls above the floodplain where the Heart River converges with the Missouri River. It divides the city of Mandan from traffic of I-94. It loudly proclaims “MaNDan” on its east face in bright white concrete lettering; the south face of this same plateau says the same but with trees spelling the city's name.

It’s the home of the Mandan Braves, named after the indigenous people who lived there on the banks of the Heart River as traders, fishers, and farmers. The Nu’Eta, as they call themselves, could defend themselves when called for as well. They lived in fortified villages in the Heart River area from about 1450 to about 1781.

Each village had a civil chief and a war chief to advice and look after their interests. The Nu’Eta were productive and hard-working. They must have been doing something right; their villages possessed no jails.

Welch's notations on a 1911 US Geological survey map. Bismarck and Mandan have grown considerably in the hundred+ years since. 

The village along the banks of the Heart River in present-day Mandan, ND was large, with a population of perhaps as many as 3000. Its identified mainly as a Nu’Eta site, but the Hidatsa claim the populace as their own. The Hidatsa became neighbors of the Nu’Eta sometime around 1600 C.E., and inter-married with them over the centuries that today one isn’t Nu’Eta without having Hidatsa relatives.

This large village was known by many names. The Nu’Eta called it Large and Scattered Village. The Hidatsa called it the Two Faced Stone Village for the sacred stone feature atop the plateau overlooking their village. Crows Heart, a principle leader of the Nu’Eta, informed Colonel Alfred Welch that that they called the village there in present-day Mandan, “The Crying Hill Village.” Crows Heart also essayed to Welch that they called it so because their women went to the top of the hill to mourn for lost relatives.

Another village there, south of the Crying Hill Village, called Motsif today, was known by the Nu’Eta as Youngman’s Village. According to Welch’s informants, the Nu’Eta of both these two villages would gather together and inhabit a winter camp in the timber on the floodplain of the Missouri River[1].

According to the late Mr. Joe Packineau, the Crow separated from the Hidatsa at the Crying Hill Village, adding that the village was also called the Tattoo Face Village, and further, that it was Hidatsa, not Nu’Eta. In the time of Good Fur Robe, he had a brother whom they called Tattoo Face. A hunt concluded with a dead bison recovered from the middle of the river. Good Fur Robe divided the kill and took the paunch, which infuriated Tattoo Face and his people, who picked up and moved west. According to Packineau, the Hidatsa called them not Crow, but “The Paunch Jealousy People.” Where the Crow broke away from their Hidatsa relatives was at the Crying Hill Village[2].

Welch drew this diagram mapping the features of Crying Hill. Visit the Welch Dakota Papers site.

At the top of Crying Hill were stone features (including a stone turtle effigy measuring twelve feet across), sacred to the Nu’Eta, upon which were images or pictographs, which changed, and were said to be able to tell the future. One oracle stone in particular, was said known as the “Two Face Stone.” When diviners gathered ‘round to interpret the stone’s musing for the future, they would lift the stone, which seemed to them to be very light. Upon putting it down, they would lift again, and the stone mysteriously weighed more than one could lift. They called this stone Two Face because of its dual nature, and according to Welch’s informant, the village below was called “Two Face Village.” Enemy Heart, an Arikara man, estimated the side of the Two Face Stone to be a diameter of about 18 inches[3], it’s location, at least in 1912, was lay just east of the Morton County Courthouse in Mandan, ND[4]. Enemy Heart insisted that the Crying Hill Village’s proper name was Two Face Village.

In the 1870’s, as the city of Mandan developed on the remains of the Large and Scattered Village, or Crying Hill Village, or Tattoo Face Village, Two Face Village, homes and streets encroached on Crying Hill itself. One day, a prospective home owner, took dynamite to the sacred stone on the hillside of Crying Hill and blew it up[5]. Welch contends that the greater oracle stone was drilled and split by white settlers for building stone. One resident, Mr. G.W. Rendon built the basement of his house from fragments of this holy stone[6].

There used to be a burial ground at Crying Hill. In 1933, laborers of the city of Mandan were expanding development of the city for two new houses, and disturbed the graves of eleven Nu’Eta men and women, including a baby. Col. Alfred Welch was called on to offer his assessment of the findings, and he estimated that the size of the Crying Hill Village at about 3000 souls, and was occupied for about 300 years[7], from ~1500 C.E. to about ~1800 C.E. The bodies were hastily buried, possibly due to the haste in which the survivors departed the Heart River villages in 1781 following the smallpox epidemic which struck them.

This reconstruction of the 1863 Apple Creek Fight is overlaid on 1850's Warren survey map. 

Crying Hill overlooks one of the largest conflicts in Dakota Territory history. In 1863, General Sibley led ~2200 soldiers into Dakota Territory on a punitive campaign from Camp Pope in Minnesota. The campaign concluded at the mouth of Apple Creek, on Aug. 1, 1863, when Sibley withdrew from the field of conflict, unable to pursue the Lakȟóta across the Missouri River. The Húŋkpapȟa, led by Black Eyes, crossed the Missouri River where the Northern Pacific Railroad Bridge spans the river, and thence up the Heart River to escape pursuit.

A week after the Apple Creek conflict, Black Eyes brought the Húŋkpapȟa back across the Missouri River and re-crossed the Missouri at the northern most mouth of the Heart River (which had three mouths at that time), and camped above the floodplain opposite Crying Hill. During the night, miners from Fort Benton, MT came down and camped on a sandbar. The next morning the miners tried forced themselves on a Lakȟóta woman who had gone down to the river to refresh herself. She died at the miners’ hands; Black Eyes retaliated and the Húŋkpapȟa warriors awoke and hurried to the river’s edge and exchanged gunfire with the hostiles. During the fight, the boat’s swivel gun misfired into the boat itself causing a fire to break out. The miners were killed to the last man, and there precious gold was scattered about the sandbar[8].

The Mandan Historical Society features this photo of the "Mandan Hill" in the summer of 1959. Visit the Mandan Historical Society today.

In 1934, a local Boy Scouts troop arranged forty-seven truckloads of local stone into giant letters which spelled out “MaNDan,” on what became renamed “Mandan Hill.” It was maintained by the Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, and the Mandan Jaycees over the years, then in 1968, after Interstate 94 (I-94) was complete, the “MaNDan” sign was reconstructed in concrete. In the late 1990’s, pine trees were planted on the south face of Crying Hill arranged to spell “MANDAN[9].”

Sometime in 2003, Mr. Patrick Atkinson, acquired 4.7 acres of what remained of Crying Hill, to save it from development. Atkinson heard that the property was going to be put on the market, and he dashed up to Crying Hill after hearing a little about the lore, and provoked by his own winter memories of sledding down the face of Crying Hill. He took his son to the site to talk about what it meant to them. They concluded to save what they could. Atkinson maintains that the Crying Hill preservation effort is ecumenical and non-political, preserving the site for the sake of the sacredness and inspiration found there by native and non-native alike[10]. Visit Atkinson's site about Crying Hill.

In 2008, Preservation North Dakota declared that Crying Hill was endangered. To be declared endangered, a site must be of historical, cultural, or architectural significance and in danger of demolition, deterioration, or substantial alteration due to neglect or vandalism. Preservation North Dakota acknowledged the preservation efforts of Atkinson and the Crying Hill preservation coalition for saving Crying Hill for the edification and gratification of future citizens.



[1] Welch, Alfred, Col. "Good Fur Blanket Was Mayor Of Mandan In 1738 - Proof Is Found Of Ancient City On Present Site." Mandan Daily Pioneer (Mandan), April 14, 1924.
[2] Welch, Alfred, Col. "Joe Packineau's Verson of The Split and Formation of Crows." Welch Dakota Papers. November 15, 2011. Accessed August 2, 2017. http://www.welchdakotapapers.com.
[3] Welch, Alfred, Col. "Arikara Hide Their Sacred Stone From The Sioux." Welch Dakota Papers. November 15, 2011. Accessed August 2, 2017. http://www.welchdakotapapers.com.
[4] Welch, Alfred, Col. "More About The Two Face Stone." Welch Dakota Papers. November 15, 2011. Accessed August 2, 2017. http://www.welchdakotapapers.com.
[5] Welch, Alfred, Col. "The Minnitari Stone." Welch Dakota Papers. November 15, 2011. Accessed August 2, 2017. http://www.welchdakotapapers.com.
[6] Welch, Alfred, Col. "Stone Idol Creek Journey." Welch Dakota Papers. November 15, 2011. Accessed August 2, 2017. http://www.welchdakotapapers.com.
[7] "Spades Of Workers Rudely Disturb Last Resting Place Of Ancient Gros Ventres Warriors." Mandan Daily Pioneer (Mandan), May 11, 1933.
[8] Dakota Wind. “The Apple Creek Fight.” The First Scout. Nov. 17, 2014. Accessed Aug. 4, 2017. http://thefirstscout.blogspot.com.
[9] "Mandan Hill 501 N Mandan Ave." Mandan Historical Society. 2006. Accessed August 2, 2017. http://mandanhistory.org.
[10] Crying Hill Heritage Site. 2003. Accessed August 3, 2017. http://www.cryinghill.com


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