Arlo Levisen is the President of the Grant County Historical Society. He has extensive knowledge on the history of the area, including: Grant County History, Big Stone Lake History, the History of the Holland Grist Mill, the History of the Milbank Congregational Church and much more! Each week, he answers your questions.
Q: How far back do Milbank city directories go? – J.H.
A: We have directories dating back to the 1890’s. They are in the Historical Museum in Milbank.
Q: I live close to Big Tom Hill and think it is one of the most beautiful landmarks in this county. My grandfather said that its name originally was the Sioux name for Turtle Mountain but was changed to Big Tom Hill. My grandfather said a native man name Big Tom was outside a saloon. A white man came out and kicked him and was stabbed and killed. Tom ran of his life and headed for the most holy spot. When he got to the top of the hill the posse caught and killed him . I combed the early microfilms and found nothing of the murder. The history of Grant County written by the first school superintendent said General Sibley and his regiment camped at its base in 1861. They were trying to negotiate a peace with Chief Inkpa. Mr Levisen…what do you know of this story ? – B.L.
A: I wish I had more documentation about Big Tom. I have looked for such over the years.
It is written in the 1978 History of Grant County (red) General Sibley used Big Tom for an encampment site on the 23rd of June, 1863. He and his cavalry were part of what was supposed to be the southern arm of a large pincer movement known as the Punitive Expedition. The goal was to surround the Dakota Sioux and cause them to surrender. (As an aside, one of his generals was General Becker, for whom Becker Township, at the north end of Big Stone Lake in Roberts County, is named.)
The only problem with this story is I have a copy of General Sibley’s official map of his 1863 campaign and Big Tom is not listed as a site he used. He recorded coming to Camp Jennison, which is about a mile southwest of where our house is located on Big Stone Lake. This was one of the 1862 massacre sites. On his map he makes the jump from Camp Bradley, close to the border in Minnesota, to Camp Jennison – a distance of about 25 miles.
I know Big Tom is a glacially-formed hill rising to 1,175 feet while the towns of Revillo and Milbank both sit at 1,000 feet and I agree it is a very pretty place in Grant County. I continue to be disappointed that Doris Black, in her 1939 booklet entitled History of Grant County, never mentioned Big Tom Hill in her chapter Landmarks in Grant County History. The story you relate regarding the other possibility for the naming of this prominent hill is one that I have never heard either.
If anyone has more information or documentation about this or other landmarks in our area, please contact me. You never know when you might be sitting on an important piece of our history’s puzzle.
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