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Bald Hill

Bald Hill Dam. Have you ever wondered about the origin of that name? Bald Hill?

I have been rereading portions of the book Joseph N. Nicollet on the Plains and Prairies, the expeditions of 1838-39 with journals, letters, and notes on the Dakota Indians translated from French and edited by Edmund and Martha Bray (1976). On their way to Devils lake from Fort Pierre during the summer of 1839 the Nicollet expedition traveled for a time along the Sheyenne River north of what is now Valley City. 

Here is a bit of the journal entries from July 23-24:

“…after 13 miles we camp in good time at the mouth of a little river which comes from quite far away to the northwest flowing from a big salt lake. The voyageurs name it…Bald Creek, because of one hill slashed by a vertical cliff without vegetation which is on the right bank of the Sheyenne near the junction of this river….these bald hills are…about 150 feet above the bed of the river….The bald hills are remarkable. They resemble Indian mounds made by the hand of man. There are seven or eight of them, round and conical, lining the slope of the plateau along the river, their bases at various heights above the river.”

The editors note that the hills were southeast of Cooperstown in an area altered by the damming of the Sheyenne River to form Lake Ashtabula.

It is interesting to note that Gordon Hewes from the UND Department of Sociology and Anthropology in cooperation with the North Dakota State Historical Society conducted an archeological study on two burial mounds in this area during the 1940’s and discovered human bones along with several artifacts. So it appears that at least some of the Bald Hills were burial mounds.

Over the years the “Bald Hills” became “Bald Hill,” perhaps in large part because of the naming of the dam. Some of those “Bald Hills” may still be intact, but for most people, I suspect that the Bald Hills, or maybe I should say Bald Hill, will only be associated with an 1800 foot long and 60 foot high earthen and concrete dam on the Sheyenne River north of Valley City.

-Chuck Lura

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