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Natural North Dakota

Dog Den Butte

There is a big high hill in northeast McLean County about four miles west of Butte, North Dakota along highway 53. That is Dog Den Butte.

I was recently reading the Geology of McLean County, North Dakota Geological Survey Bulletin 60 Part I, by John Bluemle from 1971. He notes that Dog Den Butte lies near the boundary between the Glaciated Plain to the north and the Missouri Coteau to the south.

Dog Den Butte has an interesting geology. A test hole drilled into the butte revealed 100 feet of glacial till above 212 feet of bedrock, below which was 44 feet of more glacial till and fluvial deposits before hitting bedrock again. Dog Den Butte is an ice thrust feature. During the last ice age, the pressure between the advancing glacier and the Missouri Escarpment (the boundary between the Missouri Coteau and the Glaciated Plains to the north) was so high that large masses of bedrock apparently broke away and were transported up onto the Missouri Coteau. The source of the bedrock is uncertain but probably came from the Cottonwood Lake area to the northeast.

The explorer David Thompson referred to Dog Den Butte as a landmark for travelers between the Mouse and Missouri Rivers. De Trobriand also referred to it in his journals from the 1860’s:

“Dog Den is called by the Indians The Mountain Which Looks, a name which is much more exact and with a much more real meaning. In reality it is a height composed of a collection of rather abrupt hills, separated by deep ravines well covered with trees or by narrow winding gorges filled with rocks. This height rises along in the middle of a vast plain. From the top, there is an unobstructed view for a considerable distance in all directions.”

The butte’s name may have originated because several wolf dens were known to exist in and around the butte. But Verendrye called it “Prairie Dogs Home.” Wolf dens or prairie dogs? Who knows? Maybe a little of both.

So the next time you travel highway 53 near Butte, take a little more time to look over that landmark. It is an interesting historical and geological feature.

-Chuck Lura

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