Medicine Rock



One of the books I enjoy checking occasionally is Russell Reid’s Lewis and Clark in North Dakota.  As the title implies it contains the journal entries of Lewis and Clark, including the Biddle texts, as well as annotations and descriptions on interesting aspects of the Corps of Discovery while they were in North Dakota.  If you are looking for a good source of information on the expedition in our state, this is the book.

I recently read the February 21 entry from Clark’s journal.  Here is a portion of the Biddle text of that entry:

“We had a continuation of the same pleasant weather.  Oheenaw and Shahaka came down to see us, and mentioned that several of their countrymen had gone to consult their medicine stone as to the prospects of the following year.  This medicine stone is the great oracle of the Mandans, and whatever it announces is believed with implicit confidence.  Every spring, and on some occasions during the summer, a deputation visits the sacred spot, where there is a thick porous stone twenty feet in circumference, with a smooth surface.”

The rock was located about a three day journey for the men, and was located near the Cannonball River.  Although some people will maintain that the actual rock referred to by Clark is in doubt, Medicine Rock State Historic Site is likely the site.  It is located near the Cannonball River on top of Medicine Butte, about 9 miles southwest of Heil in Grant County.  It is a similar distance southeast of Elgin.  Medicine Rock was, and still is, a sacred site to some Native American tribes of the region.

The rock has been described as sandstone that contains many Indian petroglyphs.  Sadly some of the petroglyphs have been damaged or defaced, but many remain, including those of buffalo and deer tracks, a bear paw, bighorn sheep, human footprints, the outline of turtles, deer, and other characters.

The site is not easily accessible, and requires crossing private land.  It apparently takes some effort and knowledge to get to it.  It is interesting to note that Medicine Rock was part of the belief system of the Mandan back in the days of Lewis and Clark and it continues to be a sacred object even now in the twenty-first century.

Chuck Lura

Natural North Dakota is supported by NDSU Central Grasslands Research Extension Center and Minot State University-Bottineau, and by the members of Prairie Public. Thanks to Sunny 101.9 in Bottineau for their recording services.


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