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White Horse Hill National Game Preserve


In May 2019, the Spirit Lake Tribal council requested the federal government change the name to White Horse Hill in cooperation with the governor's office and the North Dakota Department of Tourism stating, "The Spirit Lake Dakota people... believe the name was chosen, White Horse Hill, comes from historical happenings that are sacred as well as unique to the Dakota people. White Horse Hill (Sunka Wakan Ska Pa Ha) reflects a positive experience to the Dakota People rather than an individual who was destructive to the Dakota people and their culture", In December 2019, the park was renamed through an act of Congress to its traditional Dakota name of White Horse Hill.

White Horse Hill National Game Preserve was originally created as Sullys Hill National Park, by President Theodore Roosevelt. It was first named after a general who served in the Civil War, Alfred Sully, who was also the son of painter Thomas Sully. The younger Sully gained his reputation by carrying out several massacres of the Dakota people, including at the Battle of Whitestone Hill. White Horse Hill consists of 780 acres near Devils Lake, North Dakota. Because it is a rare parcel of heavily forested terrain in a largely treeless state, it is the home of dense populations of Canadian geese, white pelicans, mallards, wood ducks, and other waterfowl.

When Theodore Roosevelt became president of the United States in 1901, there were just five national parks. At the beginning of the Roosevelt administration, the Boone and Crockett Club made an inventory of all federal and state parks in the United States, and North Dakota had none. The park seems to have been created for several purposes: to place a National Park in Roosevelt’s beloved North Dakota; to protect aquatic bird species, and to dispose of surplus lands of the Fort Totten Indian Reservation. These reasons may have caused Roosevelt, who never visited the park, to make the designation.

Authorized in 1904 as “Sullys Hill Park,” its designation as a National Park was added later. It has had an unusual and somewhat problematic administrative history from the start. By usual National Park standards, Sullys Hill was of marginal sublimity. It was never adequately funded or supplied with personnel. Conservation historian Douglas Brinkley said, “(the park’s) remote site and the fact that it is named after a general known for Indian massacres has given this park, in a sense, an orphaned status.”

The first superintendent of the park extolled “some of the most rugged landscape in the state with the exception of the Turtle Mountains and the Missouri River country.” But after several years of frustration trying to administer the park without any federal funding, the acting superintendent, in his August 1906 annual report to the Secretary of the Interior, wrote, “If (it) is not the intention to improve and maintain it as a park, it would better be restored to the public domain and sold for the benefit of the tribe…” In 1917, bison, elk, and white-tailed deer were reintroduced to the park, but after 17 years of inadequate funding, White Horse Hill was transferred to the National Wildlife Refuge System, to be maintained as a "big game preserve, refuge and breeding grounds for wild animals and birds." White Horse Hill is one of only seven National Parks to be disbanded following its creation.

Today, the preserve consists of 1,674 acres. It is an under-visited gem of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife System, and home to bison, elk, deer, a wide range of birds, and a rare prairie dog colony east of the species’ usual habitat.

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A 52 Weeks of Fun Fascinating Fact about White Horse Hill National Game Preserve

As of 1901, North Dakota was the only state in the union that did not have a national or state park designation.

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  • White Horse Hill National Game Preserve
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