In 1883, the Mandan Pioneer printed a story about the discovery of two vast prehistoric cemeteries, where giants were said to have been buried. It didn’t take long for the story to spread throughout the country, reaching well respected publications such as the Scientific American.
Labeled “A City of the Dead” by various papers, the first cemetery was said to be on the bluffs, near the junction of the Heart and Missouri rivers. Just east of Fort Lincoln road, the cemetery was said to cover 100 acres, which was filled with the bones “of a giant race.”
The discovery of the “dead nation” occurred after an exploration was conducted in the area. After initially discovering the cemetery, half a day was spent exploring the area. After digging a series of little holes into the mounds, it was determined that trenches had been piled full of bodies, both human and animal, and then covered with several feet of earth.
According to the Mandan Pioneer, “In many places mounds from eight to ten feet high and some of them a hundred feet or more in length have been thrown up and are filled with bones, broken pottery, vases of various bright colored flints and agates.”
The pottery, especially, amazed those present, as it was said to have shown great skill, and suggested it was built by a people “of a high state of civilization.” At the time, only feeble efforts at excavation had been attempted at the sight, and a systematic exploration was hoped for, as it promised to be a “grand field for the student.”
While an exact reason for the cemetery was not known, it was suggested that it was the result of a grand battle, where thousands of men and horses had fallen. There was hope though that further investigation would reveal who this “dead nation” was.
The second cemetery only got a brief mention. It was said to have been files miles north of Mandan, on the Bismarck side of the Missouri. Exploration of the area had not yet been conducted.
In trying to find out more about the cemeteries, a reporter for the Mandan Pioneer questioned an aged American Indian about what his people knew of the graveyards. His answer; “We know nothing about them. They were here before the red man.”