As the men of the First Minnesota Mounted Rangers followed General Sibley through Barnes County in July of 1863, they named several overnight camp locations after doctors who accompanied the expedition; doctors like Samuel Sheardown and Lucius Smith. When the men made camp on July 13 near a beautiful cluster of freshwater lakes, they named the site after Regimental Surgeon Dr. Josiah S. Weiser. Within weeks, the camp named for Dr. Weiser would take on a whole new significance.
On July 24, General Sibley's column came upon three thousand Sisseton, Wahpekute and Yanktonai hunting buffalo a few miles from present-day Tappen, North Dakota. Although the majority gave signal to peaceful intentions, it was evident a small number of combative hunters were in the mix.
The army column set up camp nearby and prepared for any potential conflict while Sibley sought an audience with the peace-minded chief, Standing Buffalo. Sadly, there would be no peace that day. As a large group of Indians assembled on a high hill called Big Mound, Dr. Weiser spotted several Sisseton friends he had known in Minnesota. Fluent in the Dakota language and confident of their peaceful intentions, he mounted his horse and approached his long-time friends. Suddenly, a Santee named Tall Crown approached the surgeon from behind and put a bullet into the doctor's heart.
Panic immediately broke out on both sides. The doctor's assistant tore back to the bivouac announcing Weiser's death as army scouts attempted to shoot Tall Crown. He managed to escape, but the damage was done. Both sides exchanged gunfire, touching off the Battle of Big Mound.
That battle's tragic beginning was marked by an equally tragic ending. Hearing the firefight, women and children in the Indian camp quickly loaded their possessions and fled toward the Missouri while warriors fought a delaying action, giving them a chance to escape. By the end of the day, seven soldiers lay dead or wounded while Native American causalities have been estimated by some historians as high as eighty.
As for Dr. Josiah Weiser, his untimely death was not forgotten. A small marker was placed at the site of his death, and his brother, a long-time resident of Valley City, ensured the local Grand Army of the Republic Post was named in Josiah's honor. And Camp Weiser, named by the men of the First Minnesota Mounted Rangers less than two weeks before the doctor's death, continued to bear his name when the site was acquired by the State Historical Society of North Dakota on this date in 1923.
Dakota Datebook written by Christina Sunwall
Clodfelter, Micheal. The Dakota War: The United State Army Versus the Sioux, 1862-2865. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, Inc., 1998.
Snortland, J. Signe, ed. A Traveler's Companion to North Dakota State Historic Sites. Bismarck, ND: State Historical Society of North Dakota, 2002.
"State Historical Society of North Dakota Strategic Long-Range Plan", State Historical Society of North Dakota https://www.state.nd.us/hist/LRPlan.htm.
Wright, Dana. "The Sibley Trail." North Dakota Historical Quarterly II, no. 2 (January 1928): 120-128.