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McPhail's Butte Overlook State Historic Site

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McPhail’s Butte Overlook State Historic Site marks one place from which Colonel Samuel McPhail directed movements of the 1st Minnesota Mounted Rangers during the Battle of Big Mound, July 24, 1863. For the full story of these events, see Big Mound Battlefield.  This was the beginning of a weeklong series of battles, until the Sioux successfully escaped west of the Missouri River (see Sibley’s and Sully’s Northwest Indian Campaigns).  The site is located seven and one-half miles north of Tappen, Kidder County.

Following the tragic opening of the battle (see Big Mound Battlefield), Colonel McPhail’s cavalry prevented the Indians from escaping over the western edge of the plateau where they had been driven. Taking a position on the highest point at the western edge of the plateau, McPhail saw Indians moving south off the plateau through ravines opening onto the plains below. As the troopers pursued, a bolt of lightning struck, killing Private John Murphy and knocking two other soldiers to the ground.


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Undeterred, McPhail’s troops pursued the Indians for fourteen miles from the plateau to Dead Buffalo Lake, one mile north of the present-day town of Dawson. As darkness fell, the soldiers began setting up a temporary camp, but soon received orders to return to the main camp. The troops marched most of the night to return to Camp Sibley, gathering other regiments already encamped on the marshy plain. In all they had covered nearly fifty miles and fought a major battle with no food and little water.

A granite marker erected on top of a high hill denotes Colonel McPhail’s vantage point overlooking the battle. There is, however, no access road, and a barbed wire fence separates the historic site from the county road. For access information, contact the Historic Preservation Division, State Historical Society of North Dakota, 612 East Boulevard Avenue, Bismarck, North Dakota, 58505, or call (701) 328-2666.

SHSND Address:
612 East Boulevard Ave.
Bismarck, North Dakota 58505
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SHSND Hours:
Museum Store: 8am - 5pm M-F; Sat. & Sun. 10am - 5pm.
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State Historical Society offices: 8am - 5pm M-F, except state holidays.

Contact SHSND:
phone: (701) 328-2666
fax: (701) 328-3710
email: histsoc@nd.gov