Killdeer Mountain battle artifacts to be unveiled

Dickinson, North Dakota (AP) 6-08

Alick and Grayce Dvirnak say they decided to donate historical artifacts they found on their ranch to a university instead of a museum to ensure others can enjoy them.

The 1,500 items from the site of the 1864 Battle of Killdeer Mountain in western North Dakota were unveiled June 5 at Dickinson State University’s Theodore Roosevelt Center.

“If we put it in some small museum, it would probably be put in some drawer. And how many people would get to see it? “ Grayce Dvirnak said. “Where if it’s displayed here, it’s going to be seen by and appreciated by a lot of people.”

The July 1864 battle was fought by General Alfred Sully against the Sioux. Historians differ on the count of those who died, but they’ve estimated at least 100 Sioux. Two soldiers are buried on the Dvirnak’s ranch on a small plot donated to the North Dakota Historical Society.

The Dvirnak family has been on the ranch that encompasses the battle grounds since 1928. The artifacts have been collected by family members through the years.

Alick Dvirnak, 89, said he has spent the spare moments of his life scanning the grounds of the ranch.

“No matter where I was at, I was looking,” he said.

Dvirnak said he collected arrowheads, spear points, bullets, casings, stone pipes, tomahawks and cannonball fragments.

He and his brother once unearthed an unexploded cannonball as they were using a team of horses to plow a ditch for a water line.

“It was a dud,” Dvirnak said. “If it was to blow, it would’ve blowed up then.”

Clay Jenkinson, director of Dickinson State’s Theodore Roosevelt Center, said Dvirnak is not only a collector but also an amateur historian.

“Lots of people can pick up an artifact or an arrowhead, but Alick did the hard work of reading everything there was to read about the battle and actually meeting people who had been there and working with Indians so that he would get it right,” Jenkinson said.

Dakota Goodhouse, the chief of interpretation at Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park, said he views the preservation of the artifacts as a positive.

“In my opinion, it’s better that they all stay together in one collection at an educational institution,” said Goodhouse, a member of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe.