Dakota Datebook

First Bismarck Graveyard

Thursday, November 8, 2012


The first graveyard in Bismarck was established in 1872. Located on 4th Street and running north, it was initially believed that it was far from the main part of town, but within a decade the city overtook the area and plans began for the removal of the graves.


On this date in 1883, a reporter from the Bismarck Tribune visited the “Old Graveyard on the Hill” and, as he put it, “the meandering scribe walked leisurely about the weather-beaten slabs and soon was lost in wonderment and reflection.” He wrote about the phenomenal growth of the city and how not long ago these humble tombs were far distant from town. And he noted that “here amid these irregular and rapidly decaying wooden headboards … are the lowly graves of the pioneers and frontiersmen who died fighting the battles, which were the passports of those who are now enjoying the peace and luxury on the very ground for which they fell.”


Although the cemetery was never named, it was commonly referred to as Boot Hill. But not all of those buried there died with their boots on, as many of the Western legends depict. The reporter noted the grave of the modest lady long since gone and forgotten. And he mused upon the two-foot grave of a “wee prattling cherub who was taken away at the innocence of cooing childhood” lying next to the (quote) “strong man who died at midnight in a wild uproarious battle … but who would have rather fought his way through the lines of savage tribes than to have ever uttered a word that might offend the little sleeper by his side.”


Here too was Dave Mullen’s long mound. Shot down in his tavern in1873 near Broadway and Fourth Street, the Tribune later reported that some believed his spirit was seen traveling in the middle of the night from the scene of his death to this spot among the stones.


The reporter went on to reflect on the plans to move the graves noting that “in a few short years they are forgotten, the weeds and wild flowers cover their graves and soon the music and laughter of wealthy, comfortable homes is heard above their bleaching bones.”


Burials ceased in the cemetery in 1877, and the removal of the remains began in 1880. As foreseen by the reporter over hundred years before, tree-lined streets and palatial homes cover the once barren hill where the cemetery was located. Few of those who now live there, know the names or remember the stories of those who were buried in “The Old Graveyard on the Hill.”


Dakota Datebook written by Jim Davis




The Bismarck Tribune November 9, 1883


This text and audio may not be copied without securing prior permission from Prairie Public.

Dakota Datebook is a project of Prairie Public, in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, with funding from the North Dakota Humanities Council.

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