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Mandan Crying Hill

On this date in 1986, The Bismarck Tribune announced that the biggest sign in the state was going to be moved and reconstructed. In 1934, Boy Scouts used white painted rocks to spell out the name MaNDan, with the N and D capitalized, on the south side of Crying Hill in Mandan. At the time, towns across the country were encouraged to spell out their names on hills and waters towers, to help guide pilots. The sign was 300 feet long and 70 feet high. In 1959 railroad ties were used to spell out the words “Trail West” underneath. Over the decades the large sign was occasionally vandalized and the stones repainted. It eventually fell into disrepair.

In 1986 the Mandan Area Chamber of Commerce decided to resurrect the sign and orient it to  I-94. The sign was moved to the east side of the hill so it could be seen from the interstate, and built out of roof beams embedded in concrete, instead of with rocks. The roof beams came from the Morning Pioneer building, which had been demolished circa 1984 to make way for the Memorial Bridge interchange. In the late 1990s, trees were planted where the original stone sign was, also spelling out Mandan.

In 2003 Crying Hill was up for sale. This was discouraging news, not only because of the MaNDan sign, but mostly because Crying Hill is a historically sacred site for the Mandan, Hidatsa, Arikara, Lakota and Dakota tribes. The hill served as a place of prayer, solace, and mourning. The Mandan tribal settlement called “Good Fur Robe” once sat at the base of the hill, though it was gone when Lewis and Clark reached the site on their expedition.

When local resident Patrick Atkinson heard that Crying Hill was for sale, he went to the MaNDan sign and pondered the sacredness and legacy of the hill while sitting on the letter N. He decided he must purchase the land to preserve the hill. He did so, and created the Crying Hill Foundation to help preserve the area.
However, the future of the hill is still uncertain, and the site was listed as an “Endangered Historic Property” by Preservation North Dakota in 2008.

Dakota Datebook by Trista Raezer-Stursa

Hendrickson, Lucille, “Mandan May Boast State’s Largest Sign,” The Bismarck Tribune, December 15, 1986, pg. 1.
Sprynczynatyk, Cathryn, “Saving Crying Hill,” The Bismarck Tribune, June 9, 2003.

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