Dakota Datebook

The Legend of Prophet’s Mountain

Friday, November 3, 2006

Opening deer season is just days away, and as hunters begin getting their camping gear ready for the big weekend, it’s also time to remember the jokes and stories to share during the cold nights on the plains. That’s what John Smith, Black Horn, White Face, and two other Gros Ventre Indians did at their camp today in 1877.

The five were camping below the highest butte of the Dog Den Range in Sheridan County when one of the campers asked Black Horn to tell the legend of Prophet’s Mountain and the great flood of nearly 500 years ago. According to Black Horn, the flood came after the Big Snow of hundreds of years ago. When spring came, the narrator wrote, “The water lay upon these plains so deep that the Mouse River ox-bow became a great sea [that] found outlet on the breaks of the Missouri, thence down to the Gulf.”

At that time, five Gros Ventre villages were located near the Dog Den Buttes, and the principle village was located at the junction of the Wintering and Mouse Rivers. In that village, said Black Horn, lived a man with prophetic gifts. One night he dreamt that a great flood of waters of the north would come down and the only dry land would be the Dog Den Range.
Many of the tribe laughed at this old man, but a few did heed the man’s prophesy and followed him up into the buttes, then further south to the tallest butte. The others remained behind in their villages and were caught in the great flood and drowned. Only a few from the village near the Heart River survived by escaping to the high bluffs nearby. “Since that date,” wrote the narrator, “the Gros Ventres are more chary of prophetic warning,” and that tallest butte has been known as Prophet’s Mountain.

This is just one of perhaps many stories about Prophet’s Mountain. Sheridan County History states that “Some supposed that convulsions in the Arctic seas may have forced a tidal wave down toward Hudson Bay, thence across dividing lands submerging everything in its way.” A tidal wave in the central plains, however, seems somewhat unlikely, but like any story, exaggeration adds a little color. The narrator of this camping trip wrote, “Black Horn told the story was realistic, though Johnny’s interpretation may have given it much of its coloring.” But when sitting around a campfire, what stories are good without a little coloring?

By Tessa Sandstrom

“How Prophet’s Mountain Got its Name,” Sheridan County Heritage 1989. McClusky: 32.

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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