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September 15: Young Man's Butte

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Standing a few miles east of Richardton, North Dakota, is a modest conical hill with a lot of history. It’s called Young Man’s Butte. Several legends exist to the origin of the name. One of the most plausible came from Rain-in-the-Face, a Lakota Sioux, born near the Cheyenne River in present day South Dakota in 1835.

As a Warchief, he participated in battles with the US Government during the 1870s, including the battle of greasy grass, also known as the battle of the Little Big Horn, where Custer’s contingent of the 7th Cavalry was wiped out.

After the Indian wars, “Rain” retired to the Standing Rock Indian Reservation, but during the 1890s he would often travel, sometimes visiting the railroad depot in Mandan. The railroad men would let “Rain” ride free to Dickinson, something he enjoyed immensely. He would walk up and down the train, looking out the windows, pointing out many landmarks that he and his people traveled when he was young. When the train passed Young Man’s Butte, “Rain” would become quiet and whisper. “Very brave Indian. Very brave Indian.” When asked what he meant, he related the story.

A party of over 100 Crow Indians had trespassed on Sioux territory to hunt. When the Sioux discovered the Crow, they gathered in force and attacked. In the running battle, many on both sides fell. The fight continued on to the base of a butte where all the Crow were killed, except for one young Crow warrior who made it to the top of the hill. He was surrounded with no escape. As the Sioux watched, the young warrior began to sing and dance. He called out that he would never be captured or killed by his enemies. The Sioux warriors sat back and watched in respect.

After singing his death song, the young Crow warrior stabbed himself in the heart. The Sioux, so impressed with the young man’s courage, did not mutilate the body, but built a stone cairn on top of the butte and reverently laid the Crow warrior on it, wrapped in a buffalo robe.

Early pioneers to the area backed up the story. They recorded finding a stone pile on the hill top, along with human bones.

Rain-in-the-Face died in his home on the Standing Rock Reservation on this date in 1905.

Dakota Datebook by Scott Nelson

Source:

  • ND History, July 1954, The Fort Keogh to Bismarck Stage Route by the Reverend Louis Pfaller, O.S.B., Page 105 through 107

Dakota Datebook is made in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, and funded by Humanities North Dakota, a nonprofit, independent state partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in the program do not necessarily reflect those of Humanities North Dakota or the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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