100 Years of Killdeer

Celebrating Killdeer: Past. Present. Future.





On the afternoon of July 26, 1864, General Sully, with 2,200 troops supported by several artillery batteries, left a wagon train at the Heart River and began a march to an Indian village in the Killdeer Mountains. That afternoon, military scouts fought a brief skirmish with a scouting party of Indians, but the troops pushed on. About 11 a.m. on July 28, scouts raced back to the column, which had stopped for breakfast on the north side of present-day Killdeer, and told Sully that they had found an Indian camp of about 1,600 to 1,800 lodges a few miles ahead. To assure a combat-ready advance, Sully immediately rearranged the marching order of the command into a phalanx, a huge, hollow square that extended a mile and a quarter on each side. Inside the square were two batteries of artillery, transport wagons, ambulances, and the command staff. Because the terrain was too broken and rough for concerted cavalry maneuvers, much of the cavalry dismounted to fight on foot. Every fourth man took the reigns of his mount and three other horses and waited inside the square until needed. In this formation, the column started off toward the village site.

After four or five miles, the army confronted the Indians, who were arrayed across a shallow valley and along the top of low ridges to the north and the south of the valley. Stories differ about who fired the first shot, but events rapidly unfolded. As the troops drew closer, long lines of Indian warriors rode along the flanks of the phalanx circling around to the rear. Feints and counter-feints were attempted on both sides, as small skirmish lines formed and drifted away from the main column; however, the soldiers’ phalanx continued to move inexorably toward the Indian encampment.

At one point, cannons were brought forward to clear onlookers from a prominent hill, which stood squarely in the line’s advance. At another point, an Indian scouting party, returning to the village, threatened the supply wagons at the rear of the phalanx, until another battery was rushed back to support the harried rear line. Foot by painful foot, the soldiers advanced, and inch by inch, the Indians yielded.

As the day wore on and it became apparent that the full force of both sides were unlikely to engage in a pitched battle, Major Brackett led a cavalry charge that broke the Indian line and drove it into forested breaks in front of and beside the village. Meanwhile, a battery of cannons secured a position overlooking the village. From this vantage point, the cannons literally tore the village and the Indians’ forward lines apart. The troops surrounded the village on three sides and advanced toward the center of the ever-tightening circle.

A battery of field guns, set up to the north, shelled the Indians out of the forested gullies behind the village and onto the exposed hillsides. Seeing that they no longer had any chance of repelling the troops, the Indians abandoned their village and tried to escape over the steep, rugged terrain to the rear. As their families climbed to safety, the warriors valiantly defended them until darkness silenced the guns.

The following morning, Sully left approximately 700 men at the village site to collect and destroy all abandoned materials. With the rest of his troops, he set out to find and kill the Indians who escaped attack, but he was defeated by the deep canyons and steep buttes of the badlands. Soldiers burned between 1,500 and 1,800 lodges, 200 tons of buffalo meat and dried berries, clothes and household utensils, tipi poles, travois, and piles of tanned hides. With bayonets, they punctured camp kettles, buckets, and pails. They also shot abandoned dogs.

Leaving this scene of smoldering devastation at about 4:00 p.m., the troops marched six to eight miles back along their trail. That night, Indians attacked the soldiers’ picket line killing two soldiers, Privates David La Plant and Anton Holzgen, Company D, 2nd Minnesota Cavalry. Later that night, Sergeant Isaac Winget, Company G, 6th lowa Cavalry, was shot and killed by a nervous sentry. Although Sergeant Winget’s body was never found, the other two men were buried the following day in a little valley near the scene of their deaths, and Sully’s command returned to the base camp and wagon train at the Heart River.

Although the destructive force of the Battle of Killdeer Mountain was nearly as profound as that of the Battle of Whitestone Hill, the survivors still had time before the onset of winter to replace some of the their belongings. Probably the most significant outcome was the expansion of bitterness and distrust between Indians and whites on the northern plains. This battle solidified the antagonism of those Indians, especially of the Teton, who had not participated in the Dakota Conflict of 1862, toward the encroaching whites and committed them to continued warfare, which would have dramatic consequences in the years to come.

The modern-day site bears considerable resemblance to the historic battlefield, despite modern intrusions of roads, fences, farms, and ranches. Set against the scenic backdrop of the Killdeer Mountains, a sandstone slab monument and flagpole mark part of the July 28, 1864, battlefield. Two headstones honor soldiers killed in the conflict, Sergeant George Northrup, Company C, and Private Horace Austin, Company D, Brackett’s Battalion, Minnesota Cavalry. An unpaved parking lot is separated from the site by a log barrier.

Although not part of the state historic site, headstones have also been erected at the burial place of Private La Plant and Private Holzgen, a few miles from the Killdeer Mountain Battlefield.



FROM ROCKS TO RAILS: A brief history of Killdeer

A story about the city of Killdeer would not be complete without the mention of Sam Rhoades.

In 1892 Sam Rhoades was a kid looking for a job and a way out of Texas. He was offered a job breaking horses for $30 a month and decided to try it. He caught the eye of a trail boss and was offered $35 a month to help herd 4,400 steers north. The steers were to be herded north to Dickinson, North Dakota. For a young man, this was just what he was looking for; good wages and he would be getting out of the Texas. After many trials and tribulations they arrived in North Dakota.

With about 1,800 steers pointed in a northwesterly direction over rolling, fenceless prairies they traveled until they reached Indian Springs. It had taken two days to cross Green River and reach the Snow country. The third night they bedded down near an old landmark called Grassy Butte, less than five miles away from the Arnett ranch house.

As they traveled they saw where land drained into the Little Missouri River on the west and to the right, a ruggedly eroded valley drained northward down the Charlie-Bob Creek. In the distance beyond there rose a long ridge of scenery called the Killdeer Mountains.

It is believed that the name for the City of Killdeer came from the close proximity to the Killdeer Mountains. They continued to move the cattle another day and led them along the Long X Ridge down to Squaw Creek and the Badlands. The cattle were then turned over to the crew at the Long X and Rhoades and what was left of the crew, turned and road swiftly south until they came into sight of Grassy Butte and the old Arnett Ranch which was built in 1886. They wintered there and, history tells us today, young Sam Rhoades eventually settled in our area and became a prominent part of our history.

Time moved on and early in October 1914, construction of the Mandan to Killdeer branch line of the Northern Pacific Railroad Company had reached the NW quarter of Section 23, Township 145, and Range 95.

This area is what we know as the City of Killdeer today. This parcel of land and the West half of the NE quarter is the original town site and at one time was in the huge land grant given to the Northern Pacific Railroad Company by the Congress of the United States on July 2nd, 1864.

The purpose of the land grant was to enable the railroad company to sell the land to investors and settlers to provide the financing necessary for building a railway to the Pacific. The Killdeer location was chosen as the site to build the turn-a-round; ending the line west and make the turn back east to Mandan using the same tracks.

Also in early October of 1914, Jesse Whitaker moved the first building from Dunn Center, which was then a bustling community that previously held the end of the railroad. This large structure became Killdeer’s first hardware store and first store opened in the new city. Joe Dolezal opened the first Blacksmith Shop on Railroad Street in November, 1914. The shop opened in December, 2013 and in the spring he was sharpening plow shares and shoeing broncs for farmers and ranchers in the area. During the City of Killdeer’s 40th anniversary celebration; the Blacksmith Shop held the distinction of being the oldest business in town.

The Motor Inn was started in 1914 by Charles Maas. Changing hands in 1916 and 1949 the Motor Inn was expanded to carry John Deere Equipment, Chandler, Overland and Chevrolet Cars operating under Motor Implement Co. Killdeer continued to grow and prosper with many new businesses. No community would be complete without the publication of area news. Two papers sprang up in 1914; E.K. Jenkins, publisher of the Killdeer Tribune with its first publication on October 9, 1914 and I. L. Doherty, publisher and founder of the present day Dunn County Herald. This paper is still located in the original building where Doherty began.

Jack Whetstone became the first mayor of the village of Killdeer in 1915, one year after the railroad came and 700 residents had moved to town. There were 3 banks, 3 hotels, 2 drug stores, 2 tailor shops, a bakery, a dime store, 2 harness shops, a shoe shop, 6 restaurants, 3 pool halls, 2 barber shops, 2 blacksmiths shops, 1 mortician, a furniture store, 1 dentist and 2 doctors. There were also 3 churches, 2 meat markets, 5 grain elevators, 2 farm equipment dealers and several building contractors.

The town held its first 4th of July celebration in 1915. The weather was awful; rain, snow, sleet, windy and cold.

In the fall of 1915 it was the time of one of the first cattle shipments to go out of Killdeer by rail. Many of our old timers and early settlers had recollections of the past with the sight of hundreds of wagons and teams loaded and grain coming into town from all directions. These early pioneers have left us with a priceless heritage.

(By Maggie Piatz | Staff Reporter)


EXPLORE HISTORY at the Dunn County Museum

The Dunn County Historical Museum is located on the original site of the Public School in Dunn Center, just a few blocks north of Highway 200.

Thanks to the very generous endowments given to the Dunn County Historical Society by local residents Les and Dorotha Pelton, the Dunn County Museum was built in 1986 and now includes more than 20,000 square feet of display space, making it possible to house a vast array of historical items.

The main museum building contains many individual “rooms”, including a church display, post office, bank, barber shop and seamstress’ shop. Separate areas showcase a kitchen, living room, bedroom and child’s nursery with period furniture, appliances, quilts and household articles.

There is a school area with many items from the Dunn Center School. Also to be seen in the main building are antique children’s toys, military uniforms and medals, clothing, a postcard collection, cameras, a Native American display, musical instruments, information on the construction of Lake Ilo and the historic Hutmacher homestead, and commemorative items from Dunn County businesses. A collection of over 125 oral history interviews completed with long-time local residents is housed in the main museum. A special section of the main building contains a large Knife River flint exhibit providing much information on the history of flint extraction and tool-making techniques. The museum is located only a few miles from the renowned Lynch Knife River Flint Quarries, recognized as a National Historic Landmark in 2012.

The Dunn County Museum maintains the largest collection of Leo Harris photographs in existence. A selection of his work is displayed in the main building. These black and white pictures, taken in the 1930’s and 1940’s by this well-known Dunn County resident, give a detailed pictorial description of life here during that time period. Many other historic photographs are found throughout the museum. The Western Room, attached to the main museum, is filled with old time items including saddles, horse drawn buggies, a forge, chuckwagon, barbed wire samples, a display of area rancher’s brands, wildlife mounts, many tools and cowboy memorabilia. This room also houses a 1929 Nash car and scale replicas of historic buildings in Dunn County.

The largest of the outbuildings at the museum houses varied agricultural equipment, machinery and implements. It also contains antique fire engines, a wrecker truck, and Rural Electric Co-op pick – up truck.

Smaller outbuildings include a log cabin and a homesteader’s claim shanty, both with furnishings of the day. We also have a one-room school house, displayed completely as it was when in use.

A 100-year-old bank building, moved from Manning, North Dakota, is in the process of being readied for exhibits. Some larger pieces of farm machinery and an antique windmill can be seen on the grounds. Under construction is the Dunn County Museum Veteran’s Monument, which, when completed, will honor those with a connection to Dunn County who were killed in combat or lost their lives as a result of their service. Inscription of the names and placement of the stones completing the memorial is planned for 2014.

This year is the Centennial Year for the completion of the Northern Pacific Railroad in Dunn County. The Museum will host a Railroad Centennial Day on Saturday, Sept. 13. Plans are underway for several special exhibits, presentations, model railroad, quilt and period costume doll displays, a meal, a raffle with many interesting items, and other activities. A commemorative map is being printed and will be for sale this summer, along with an 18 month calendar with historic photographs.

On Aug. 23, 2014, the Museum hosts its annual Cream Can Supper. Join us for an old fashioned meal of sausage and vegetables cooked in an authentic cream can, accompanied by rolls and homemade desserts. Tables are set up outside and musical entertainment is provided. Tickets for the Railroad Centennial raffle will be available.

Hours, Rates and Directions

During the summer months (Memorial Day to Labor Day) the Museum maintains regular visiting hours. A curator is on hand to greet guests and provide information on the many exhibits. Please be sure to call the museum at 701-548-8111 before your visit to check our schedule of open hours. At other times of the year (or outside regular hours in summer) the museum can be opened by appointment. The entrance fee for the museum is $5.00 per adult (age 14 and up). Children under 14 are free. Members are also free. Memberships are available for $10 per individual or $15 per couple, per year. Lifetime memberships are $100 per individual and $150 per couple. Membership benefits include unlimited free visits to the museum and the “Tales and Trails” newsletter, published three times per year. Please call for prices and to set the date for your tour.

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2 thoughts on “100 Years of Killdeer

  1. Hi:

    Does anyone have a picture of the steam locomotive that ran from Killdeer to Mandan called the Goose. My great grandfather, Jacob Lang, lent the engineer a steam whistle that the train used for years. I have the whistle, but no pictures of the train.

    Thanks, Warren Lang

  2. My 2nd great uncle, William Wilson Norred, was one of the founders of Killdeer, owner of the Norred Hotel, and his wife Grace Norred was the first postmaster. I have quite a bit of information so far, but was looking for any more of his history I can find. Anyone with any information please email, thanks.

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