Land Owners Win The Second Battle Of Killdeer Mountain


The Battle of Killdeer Mountain was a conflict between the US military and Sioux tribes in western North Dakota. It’s a fairly significant historical event, and there is a great deal of information and artifacts already collected from it.

But here’s the thing: Today the Kildeer Mountain battlefield, much of which is privately owned, sits atop major oil reserves. Environmentalists don’t want those reserves developed. The land owners want to cash in on the mineral rights they own.

SB2341 would have appropriated $250,000 for a survey by the State Historical Society looking for new artifacts. The obvious intent was to make some discovery that would derail efforts for oil/gas development. In the state Senate, however, the bill’s appropriation was slashed down to under $5,000 and the bill was ultimately defeated today by a 16 – 31 vote.

In other words, the land owners won this debate. Which is as it should be.

The challenge in preserving the history of Native American villages and battle fields and sacred ground is that you can’t throw a stone in North Dakota without hitting some place where a village was. Or a battle. Or some sacred ground.

Maybe that’s exaggerating things, but it can get pretty ridiculous. There comes a point where you really have to question the value of roadblocking development of certain land just because, a couple of hundred years ago, there was some skirmish there. What’s driving a lot of this obstruction are small groups of vocal activists. It’s worth keeping in mind that the ridiculous grand jury petition to indict Governor Jack Dalrymple for bribery for approving some of these areas for oil development originated in Dunn County which is also home to Killdeer Mountain.

The Battle of Killdeer Mountain is well-documented in our history books. With some prudent regulation, the land where the battle took place can be developed responsibly. What we don’t need is to stop land owners from profiting from their land on the off chance some trivial artifact might be found there.

Rob Port is the editor of In 2011 he was a finalist for the Watch Dog of the Year from the Sam Adams Alliance and winner of the Americans For Prosperity Award for Online Excellence. In 2013 the Washington Post named SAB one of the nation's top state-based political blogs, and named Rob one of the state's best political reporters.

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  • WOOF

    Shameful piece of American history.

    • Roy_Bean

      I won’t argue the fact that it is nothing to be proud of, but it wasn’t the racism that it has been portrayed as either. A similar event occurred in what is now Dickey County in September of 1863 and another in Georgia in November and December of 1864. The first was Whitestone Hill against the Lakota and the second was Sherman’s march to the sea against the Confederate States of America. It was the belief of the US military, and presumably President Lincoln, that this type of action against both military and civilians would bring about the quickest end to both wars. It did contribute to the end of the Civil War but the Lakota really didn’t give up until 1890.

      • WOOF

        I was really wondering if the heirs of the tenants who were killed and evicted from Killdeer were looking for a piece of the mineral spoils ?

  • Seejai

    I’m sure it can be developed responsibly, but a lot of things that should happen responsibly in the oil patch don’t.

  • realitybasedbob

    So if you could make a buck by building condos on your Mom’s grave you’d start digging?

    • yy4u2

      That’s laughable because you would.

    • Kevin Flanagan

      How much would the property taxes be?

  • yy4u2

    Why then was there not excavation done for these alleged artifacts…until now when it doesn’t fit the kook’s agenda?

  • joeb

    Properly sited, a ten acre pad can access and produce oil from over 5000 acres of contiguous lease area. Access roads and pipeline rights of way can be routed to avoid major archaeological sites. There is enough wiggle room that oil production and history can coexist. Besides, the oil boom of today is tomorrow’s history.

    • Kevin Flanagan

      Mother earth emits petroleum on a continual basis.

  • NDArchaeologist

    The State Historical Society does not have the resources to excavate, they are understaffed and overworked, and oil development has increased their workload as is the case in all state agencies. They are busy trying to manage the tasks and duties they already have, plus build a museum.

    State Lands would have to give permission for an excavation, and the sites in question were not discovered until after the ground froze. State Lands has not given permission for an excavation, and the Historical Society cannot object because it is unknown if the sites are significant. They can only object to development if the sites are known to be significant, the sites cannot be determined significant until they excavate, and/or determine the boundaries of the battlefield. The battlefield has a recommended study boundary based on the written documents from 149 years ago. There is a lot of work to complete the study needed to determine the boundaries of the battlefield. Over 100 people died in that battle and their burial locations are unknown. The area has known occupation for 3000 years, and has stories and traditions surrounding it that continue to be practiced to this day.

    Also, archaeologists do not just go around digging holes just because. Preservation in place is always preferable, if the site is going to be destroyed than a plan is worked out to mitigate the damage. When an oil company puts wells in on a battlefield they are destroying the integrity of the whole site, and it doesn’t matter if they put fill on it. The fill itself is destruction of the site. In that case Hess and Lynn Helms have made archaeological determinations on how to do preservation. These are not people trained in preservation and it is insult to all permitted cultural resource staff in ND for them to do so. To be permitted to make those determinations one must have a Masters degree in Anthropology, Archaeology, Cultural Resource Management, Historic Preservation, or Architectural History If Lynn Helms goes to school to get the proper education and takes on several grand in debt than I will consider respecting his determinations on how to best preserve sites.

    Private property rights are sacred in this state, and are not going anywhere anytime soon. No archaeologist would enter someone else’s property without permission from the landowner. Also in the testimony at the first hearing Dr. Rothaus said that he could record the sites, and tomorrow the landowner could go plow it up, or do whatever he wanted with the site. No one can tell the landowner what to do with his/her land. A project with federal funds would have a lot of issues because of federal preservation laws, but the only thing that would stop a landowner from doing anything on private land is the state burial law. You can’t dig up burials, if you dig up a known grave your going to get in trouble. Duh! You can’t go dig up somebodies grandma in the cemetery, nor can you dig up a known grave site on the prairie. Common sense stuff.

    Also, one cannot talk about Whitestone without talking about Killdeer Mountain Battlefield, or the Uprising of 1862. The battles are all connected. Killdeer is important for the number of people fighting and the figures who fought there. Sitting Bull is an internationally known figure. This was his first known encounter with the military. Gall and Inkpaduta are other well known figures, and if you doubt it check out the books written about these people. This is a Civil War site and the most significant one in North Dakota. It is part of what made this state and this nation, and we should not forget where we come from and where we have been. We should not forget the way our government chose to drive out the American Indian people. The government took away their food supplies, forced them onto reservations and then starved them. They have not forgotten the historical trauma, and the people of this nation should not forget either. It is important to recognize the lives lost here, just as our nation recognizes the soldiers lost in all the Civil War battles, and other wars we have fought.

    I’m not sure why the author thinks there is an archaeological, historical, or sacred site every few feet. It is completely false, and rarely is development halted for sites, usually sites are worked around without any problem, or real consideration for the visual and audible impacts to sites in ND. That explains why there will likely be a bridge near Theodore Roosevelt’s Elkhorn Ranch, because the impacts are not given enough time and serious consideration, nor is there enough time to do serious research, besides oil is king, and not even Roosevelt’s grandson can save it. Very few sacred sites are known in ND, that information is considered confidential by all the tribes I have worked with, and they don’t like to share that knowledge. I believe I heard Fern Swenson of the State Historic Preservation Office say that less than 11% of ND has been surveyed, and only 4% of state lands has been surveyed. That leaves a lot of unknowns out there, and a lot of unknown destruction.

    No one was trying to block oil development, there were alternatives suggested for drilling near the battlefield, just not on it. Lynn Helms did not like the alternatives, even though Continental has drilled from three miles away to avoid the battlefield, and still have access. The NDIC chose to agree with Lynn Helms. Most projects go through a process with real alternatives, alternatives that take public input into serious consideration. That has not happened in this case, Hess would rather drill on the battlefield than on a section that would have no physical impacts on the site, and Lynn Helms has bent over backwards to allow them to do so.

    • DelawareBeachHouse

      It’s not a Civil War site. Were the Confederate agents fomenting the uprising? No, just as they didn’t foment the Sioux uprising in southern Minnesota.Just contemporaneous. Appreciate your arguments, but you undermine your credibility with the ridiculous claim.

      If we give a small number of American Indian activists veto power, nothing will ever happen. They pay tribute to an animist, migratory past, where everything, everywhere is sacred.

      • Roy_Bean

        Actually, the claim isn’t all that ridiculous. Missouri was a slave state, claimed by both the US and the CSA, which wasn’t all that far from southern Minnesota where the uprising took place. In any wartime situation you will have alliances formed because of the “enemy of my enemy” principle. Just look at the military assets committed to this “western front” during the Civil War.

  • Info
    • Rob

      That’s a government report, with a bit of editorializing on the cover:

      “Any full scale effort to extract oil from this area will devastate the landscape.”

      Wow. Way to be impartial, federal government.

      But this is not a Civil War battle field. It is a civil war era battle field, but it had nothing to do with the Civil War itself.

      • Info

        It will devastate the Landscape that is science not being impartial.

        • infor

          correction: Drilling on the mountain will be devastate the Landscape. This is based on science which is impartial.

          • Rob

            You just declaring it’s “science” doesn’t make it so.

        • Rob

          No, that’s an opinion.

          Oil development can happen without the land being devastated.

  • awfulorv

    Why not take a leaf from the Newmont Mining Memorial Book? Every week, throughout the year, to honor the hundreds of Paiute Indians killed in The Pyramid Lake war, and countless other skirmishes fought in present day Nevada, they explode thousands of pounds of TNT.

    They do this, quite possibly on the very sites where the engagements took place, to commemorate the brave Warriors, and soldiers, who died in those battles.

    There are videos taken of Senator Harry Reid, Majority leader of the U.S.Senate, pushing a handle and, otherwise, vigorously, participating in these memorial explosions.

    In light of this I see no, plausible, reason why Harry wouldn’t want to attend whatever it is the oil drillers have planned on the commencement of drilling at Turtle Mountain #1.

    At the very least he should be asked to attend, It’s likely his schedule would not permit it, but he would welcome the invitation, I’m sure.

  • WOOF

    Cramer votes yes.
    “A majority of the House Republican conference was rolled when the House voted to suspend the rules and pass Democrat Rush Holt’s (D-NJ) bipartisan bill to expand federal support for preserving American battlefield sites. Requiring a two-thirds vote for passage, the House adopted the bill by a vote of 283-122: All Democrats voted in favor of the bill, with Republicans spliting 101 in favor and 122 opposed. The bill reauthorizes a federal grant-making program for the protection of Civil War battlefields and extends the program to Revolutionary War and War of 1812 battle sites.”