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Arikara Memorial at Sentinel Butte (1911)


The town of Sentinel Butte was named after two nearby buttes located to the south and southeast. A butte is an isolated hill with steep sides and a flat top, and Native Americans long ago called them “Two Buttes That Stand Facing Each Other,” which became “The Sentinel Buttes,” in English.

Located eighteen miles west of Medora, Sentinel Butte rises 600 feet above the little town, three miles away. The butte has a top of about 240 acres with steep, rocky sides that turn into mixed-grass prairie on the lower slopes.

On top of Sentinel Butte lies a rock cairn, a mound of rough stones, gathered together as a memorial for two Arikara Indian scouts, one named American Black Eagle and the other called Standing Together. Although the cairn was partially destroyed in the 1950s, some of the rocks remain – a mysterious and enigmatic monument.

According to the recollections of Arikara scout Enemy Heart, published on this date in 1911 in the Dickinson Press, both of the scouts, American Black Eagle and Standing Together, were killed by Dakota warriors. The two were escorting a U.S. mail train between Fort Lincoln and the Missouri River forts.

The old scout recalled that the two men were killed in August, 1873, and that their bodies were carried back to Fort Lincoln, but Indians piled up two mounds of stone at Sentinel Butte to honor them.

“Many times past when we were out hunting,” related Enemy Heart, “we have thrown a few more stone(s) on these mounds.”

It is unclear if the two Arikara scouts actually died in the low pass on Sentinel Butte, for the official Army records tell of several occasions when Arikara scouts were killed, but the best match of events occurred on August 26, 1872, when 125 Dakota attacked an Army group of nine, killing two Arikara scouts twelve miles from Fort McKeen (later re-named Fort Lincoln).

Whether it happened in 1872 or 1873, a modern commemorative marker honoring the two scouts still stands at the south edge of Sentinel Butte, along with cast iron markers and some remnants of the stone cairn.

The old scout named Enemy Heart ended his newspaper interview by saying: “I hope the white people won’t disturb the stones and . . . [will] remember what happened there.”

Dakota Datebook written by Dr. Steve Hoffbeck, History Department, MSU Moorhead.


“Sentinel Butte Graves Ree Indians Tell Story,” Dickinson Press, April 29, 1911, p. 1.

“Indian Recounts Story Of Sentinel Butte Graves,” Beach Advance, May 5, 1911, p. 1.

“Famous Indian Scouts Return From Washington,” Bismarck Tribune, April 10, 1911, p. 5.

Ray Lingk, The Northwestern Indian Expedition (Bismarck: Bismarck Tribune, 1962), p. 5 [reprinted from North Dakota History, vol. 24, no. 4 (October 1957).

“Sentinel Butte,” North Dakota Magazine, vol. 4, no. 4 (February 1910), p. 32.

“Draft Memorandum of Agreement Among Western Area Power Administration and the N.D. State Historic Preservation Officer Regarding Mitigation of Archaeological Site 32GV97 (The Sentinel Butte Site) for the Proposed Construction of a Control Structure at the Sentinel Butte Microwave Station in Golden Valley County, N.D., 2010,” www.wapa.gov/ugp/.../DRAFT%20MOA%202010%20public_1.pdf, accessed on March 18, 2013.

United States Department of War, Record of Engagements with Hostile Indians within the Military Division of the Missouri From 1868 to 1882, Lieutenant-General P.H. Sheridan, Commanding (Washington, D.C.: GPO, 1882), p. 33, 36; 3 Arikara Scouts died on October 2, 1872, at Fort McKeen, later called Fort Lincoln. When the railroad reached the Missouri River in 1872, Fort McKeen was established on the west bank of the river as a small infantry post. In November of 1872, Fort McKeen was renamed Fort Abraham Lincoln.

“Sentinel Butte State Nature Preserve and Surrounding Area, http://www.parkrec.nd.gov/naturepreserves/sbsnp/sbsnp.html, accessed on March 18, 2013.

Golden Valley County Pioneers (Golden Valley, ND: Sentinel Butte Bicentennial Committee, 1976), p. 303.