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Big Mound Battlefield State Historic Site

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The Big Mound Battlefield State Historic Site marks the hilltop where Dr. Josiah S. Weiser, chief surgeon, 1st Regiment of the Minnesota Mounted Rangers, was shot and killed on July 24, 1863. This shooting sparked the Battle of Big Mound, the first major battle fought in Dakota Territory between General Henry H. Sibley’s Minnesota volunteers and a group of Santee and Teton Dakota (Sioux) Indians. This historic site lies ten miles north and east of Tappen, Kidder County.

The day of the battle, the column left Camp Grant and marched southwest across the rough hills of the Missouri Coteau. Around noon, scouts informed General Sibley that there were many Indians a few miles away. As the soldiers reached the edge of a large plateau and dropped down into a little valley, Indians were visible to the east, south, and west. Sibley ordered the troops to set up camp (later named Camp Sibley) and to prepare trenches and breastworks (temporary fortifications) for defense.

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Some of the scouts took up a position some four hundred yards south of the main camp, where they were approached by Dakota Indians who asked to parley with General Sibley. Dr Weiser spoke Dakota and was assisting in the discussions when he was shot by one of the Indians. Both parties scurried for cover while exchanging gunfire and retreating to defensible positions.

The barrage alerted the troops who were setting up camp, and they formed into battle lines. Heavy fighting broke out in a large ravine running from the top of the surrounding plateau down to the campsite. Sibley, recognizing the challenge of defeating Indians concealed by natural cover in the ravine, moved up the hillside on the east side of the ravine to establish a command post on high ground, accompanied by a battery of six-pound field cannons. From several progressively higher gun positions, the artillery shelled people concealed in the ravine, until the pressure of the artillery and advancing infantry forced the Dakota to retreat toward the top of the plateau.

Meanwhile, on the eastern side of the battlefield, the Sixth Minnesota Infantry was advancing uphill against lighter opposition. When they topped the bluff line they turned south, driving the Santee and Teton before them. On the west, McPhail’s Rangers circled west out of Camp Sibley, cutting off attack from the exposed side of the camp. Wheeling to the left (south), the cavalry established an effective blockade preventing the Indians from slipping off the plateau to the west. In concert, the Seventh Infantry, having gained the top of the plateau to the south, commenced wheeling to the right, sandwiching the Dakota between themselves and McPhail on the west (see McPhail’s Butte Overlook).

More than one hundred years later, the battlefield is now quiet farmland with scant evidence of the conflict. The place where Dr. Weiser was killed is marked by a stone fence and granite headstone mounted on a boulder.

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