Spirit Mound purchase is complete

Spirit Mound purchase is complete U.S. Senator Tim Johnson announced April 20 that all of the land has been purchased from local landowners to preserve the historically significant Spirit Mound site near Vermillion.

Johnson secured nearly $600,000 in federal funds nearly two years ago so that the Department of Interior and South Dakota Parks and Recreation could purchase the 320-acre site. However, final agreement on purchase price was not agreed to until now. The total price to acquire Spirit Mound is $634,000.

Johnson said that $15,000 in interest has already accrued on the $600,000 in federal funds and the local Spirit Mound Trust will provide the remainder of the money.

The purchase of Spirit Mound will allow it to be restored to its original condition � including native grasses and flowers � when Meriwether Lewis and William Clark visited the site in 1804. Contemporary farm structures will be removed and serious erosion of the hillside will be halted. Gov. Bill Janklow has provided $378,000 for the restoration project through the Department of Transportation.

"Spirit Mound is one of the few remaining physical features of the Upper Missouri River readily identifiable as a place where Lewis and Clark actually stood," Johnson said. "Numerous individuals and organizations throughout South Dakota have worked very hard for this preservation effort and I am proud to have played a part in this important partnership with the federal government."

Johnson, a Vermillion native, visited the site in October of 1998 to announce the authorization of the $600,000 grant. He said Lewis and Clark fans and scholars will be retracing the route of the explorers as the Lewis and Clark bicentennial in 2004 draws near.

"If we can have this location here preserved in the tall-grass prairie condition of 1804, I think it would be a wonderful thing for those people and for all generations of South Dakotans and people from all over the world who are fascinated by the Lewis and Clark story," he said.

Tim Bjork of the South Dakota Parks and Wildlife Foundation, said the project will cost about $1 million. That's more than double the $490,000 estimate when planning began in 1986. It will include a biking and hiking trail along state Highway 19. The Lewis and Clark Spirit Mound Learning Center at the W.H. Over Museum is already open in Vermillion.

"The actual park will be minimal. We will not have a big visitors center," Bjork said. "We will have a trail leading to the top of the mountain. Then you will see what Lewis and Clark did."

Larry Monfore, chairman of the Spirit Mound trust fund board, said, "We are behind schedule as far as restoring the prairie by 2004, but we will make progress by that time. Our work will continue for years."

He said the state Game, Fish and Parks Department will maintain the historical and ecological park and get input from the Spirit Mound board.

Spirit Mound is located six miles north of Vermillion. When Lewis and Clark made their expedition into Louisiana Territory from 1804 to 1806, they visited the mound. Their observances were recorded in their journals:

"In a northerley derection from the Mouth of this Creek in an emence Plain on a high Hill is Situated, and appears of a Conic form, and by the different nations of Indians in this quarter is Suppose to be the residence of Deavels that they are in human form with remarkable large heads, and about 18 Inches high, that they are very watchfull and are arm'd with Sharp arrows with which they Can Kill at a great distance; they are Said to kill all persons who are So hardy as to attempt to approach the hill?"

Despite the Indians' beliefs, Lewis and Clark ventured to climb Spirit Mound on Aug. 25, 1804.

"Cap. Lewis and Myself concluded to go and See the Mound which was Viewed with Such turror by all the different Nations in this quarter," Clark wrote in his journal.

Taking several of their party along, they traveled toward the mound from their camp on the Missouri River, observing that the "Countrey is leavel and open as far as can bee Seen, except Some few rises at a great Distance, and the Mound which the Indians Call Mountain of little people or Spirits."

But before they could ascend, the heat of the day slowed their pace and the search for water delayed their arrival. Upon finding water to quench their thirst, they also "gathered some delisious froot such Grapes, Plumbs, and Blue Currents," Clark wrote. He added that "The reagular form of this hill would in Some justify a belief that it owed its origin to the hand of man," but further investigation revealed that "it was most probably the production of nature."

What Lewis and Clark and their companions saw on their way to Spirit Mound was quite different than what we see today.

"The Surrounding Plains is open void of Timber and leavel to a great extent," Clark wrote. "From the top of this Mound we behold a most butifull landscape; Numerous herds of buffalow were Seen feeding in various directions; the Plain to North N.W. and N.E. extends without interuption as far as Can be seen."

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