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Tribal Historic Preservation Office
P.O. Box D
Ft. Yates, ND  58538

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Whitestone Hill

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White Stone Hill Massacre September 3, 1863


On September 3, 1863 General Alfred Sully led his troops to a hunting camp of over 4,000 Yanktonais and Hunkpatinas. General Sully was looking to locate and punish Dakota who the U.S. believed had participated in the “Dakota Uprising” of 1862. The Yanktonai and Hunkpatina camp he encountered was a peaceful camp that was busy making winter food preparations. Chief Bighead, Little Soldier, and Two Bears were among some of the leaders that were present. Chief Bighead attempted to surrender by waving a white flour sack but the camp was attacked anyway. The Native casualties were enormous—between 100 to 300 men, women, and children on the battlefield, whereas 156 more were captured and taken to Fort Randall. Those who did survive fled West and crossed the Missouri River near present-day Cannonball, North Dakota. General Sully lost 20 troops and an additional 38 were wounded. After the initial onslaught, General Sully and his troops set up camp at the present day sight on the 4th of September and in the ensuing days they proceeded to burn and destroy all of the Natives possessions and food. It was reported that: “Five-hundred-thousand pounds of jerked buffalo meat, food gathered for the Indians’ long winter, was burned for two-days by about 100 men, causing the melted tallow to run down the valley like a stream” (Matthew Von Pinnon, Fargo Forum, 9-2-2001).

The Whitestone Hill "Battlefield" became a North Dakota State Historic Site on April 26, 1904. The site has monuments to commemorate both sides. A soldiers’ monument was dedicated in 1909 and in 1942 a plaque on a stone cairn honoring Dakota participants was unveiled.

During the week of May 25th-29th, 2009 the Standing Rock Sioux THPO along with the Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate THPO and the Rosebud Sioux THPO conducted archeological field work at the Whitestone Hill State Historical site located 18 miles south east of the town of Kulm, North Dakota.

The field work consisted of locating any artifacts that may still remain on the historical site. “The bulk of it will be a surface search. We are going to find or get a better understanding of where the people were killed, the location of the village. It’ll pretty much be a systematic survey of a big block of land,” said Byron Olson, former SRST-Tribal Archaeologist and one of the leaders in this project. The goal of the project is to obtain a better understanding of what happened at the site during those significant days.  

Essentially through oral history and traditions we already knew what was there and how the camp was set up. The project might expose more items and artifacts that haven’t all ready been found. But The Whitestone Hill massacre, unfortunately, has been picked and prodded through for years before it ever was a state park. “This project will expose the looting that has been done to the battlefield all ready. The graves have been robbed at the hands of collectors and farmers,” said Tim Mentz, Sr., a descendant of the Whitestone survivors. “The farmers used the bones for fertilizer. The place was more than just a hunting camp, as the books have said. For us, the people, it was more than that, it was a spiritual place,” Mentz added.

The THPO office located at the tribal administrative building in Fort Yates is a modestly known office, yet the impact of what the office performs is important and significant. And you the reader may ask yourself: ‘What is the Whitestone Hill Battlefield?’ for it too is little known, a mere whisper in the annals of the Indian Wars. Yet its impact is significant to our people.

The goal of the Tribal Historic Preservation Office is to help conduct the field work that needs to be done on the site. This way the Tribe can document and record what is found. The initial steps in such projects can vary, but on this particular project the tribes are going about it “In a traditional and appropriate way. It is a sacred place,” Olson said. There was a ceremony before the workers began. Also tipis’ and a sweat lodge were put up to ensure that harmony takes place with the present reality and the spirits that are there. 

The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe has conducted such field work since the first Tribal Historic Preservation Office was founded, by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, in 1996. The workers of this office have been diligently working to help preserve, record, and document such field work as which will take place at the Whitestone Hill Battlefield.

Shortly after the Dakota Sioux uprising of 1862 in Minnesota many of the remaining Dakota fled West to North and South Dakota and parts of Canada.  They were once peaceful and cooperative Natives but after years of Euro-American pressure, neglect, and encroachment they became hostile and desperate. They scattered like the pollen of plants in the wind among the prairies and it was here they hoped to find peace and good hunting once again.

But the wasicus had other plans. Despite the historical mass hanging of 38 Dakota men, in lieu of the Dakota Uprising of 1862, their thirst for revenge wasn’t quenched. The US Army dispersed across the prairies of North and South Dakota. Their modus operandi was to capture, punish, and kill any Dakota Natives they could find, whether or not they were involved in the Dakota Uprising.

Born of this conundrum was the Whitestone Hill Battlefield. Whether or not this historical site was a massacre or a battle is an ongoing debate. But the fact remains that there was no evidence that linked the bands of Yanktonais and Hunkpatinas, who were the victims of this event, to the carnage that had happened further East.  However the people of this event will be forever linked to what happened that fateful September day. 

On the day of September 3, 1863 General Alfred Sully led his troops to a hunting camp of over 4,000 Yanktonais and Hunkpatinas. A two day battle ensued and the Natives lost somewhere between 100 to 300 men, women, and children on the battlefield, whereas 156 more were captured. Sully and his men suffered minimal casualties having only 20 troops killed and an additional 38 wounded. After the initial battle, General Sully and his troops set up camp at the present day sight on the 4th of September and in the ensuing days they proceeded to burn and destroy all of the Natives possessions and food. It was reported that: “Five-hundred-thousand pounds of jerked buffalo meat, food gathered for the Indians’ long winter, was burned for two-days by about 100 men, causing the melted tallow to run down the valley like a stream” (Matthew Von Pinnon, Fargo Forum, 9-2-2001).

It is here now where these bones, trinkets, and artifacts remain. Whitestone Hill Battlefield became a North Dakota State Historic Site on April 26, 1904. The battlefield has monuments to commemorate both sides. A soldiers’ monument was dedicated in 1909 and in 1942 a plaque on a stone cairn honoring Dakota participants was unveiled. The all encompassing goal of everyone who is involved in the Whitestone Hill project is to better identify with what took place on that fateful day more than 145 years ago. Olson feels that “It is a good opportunity to help better understand the native side of things. One of the most important things is to hear the tribal voice.” It has long been suppressed and it is time that it is heard so that the lesson in history and culture is not forgotten.