Pat Atkinson went in for a regular physical therapy treatment last Monday and came out a historical philanthropist.
The therapist, named Denise Wentz, did some musing about Mandan¹s Crying Hill and said it was up for sale. She was concerned, she said, that it was going to be sold and developed.
This triggered a memory for Atkinson about a toboggan and the hill. “Tell me the lore and legend, the history behind Crying Hill,” he said.
After listening to her story, Atkinson said to himself, they can’t sell this, what are they going to do with it?
So, he drove to Mandan to Crying Hill and parked the car.
“As I walked the hill, I put into perspective the history and what I had been told. It became apparent to me that these were very sacred grounds. This is a place where generations of kids grew up, where churches came to pray a place of mourning, fasting, communing with the dead,” he said.
Atkinson could see that people had used the hill. There was evidence of sage being planted and piles of prayer stones; some were five high.
Hungry for more information, Atkinson talked to Juanita Maxon, a Mandan/Hidatsa who works at Five Nations Art. Maxon shared stories about Crying Hill from her mother and grandmother.
The next day, Atkinson brought his son, Ernesto, of Mayan Indian Cakchiquel descent, to the hill. Ernesto is studying to be an architect.
“Ernesto,” he said, “I don’t feel anything here.”
Ernesto said, “Papa, just listen.” So they did. They lay down on the hill in the sunny afternoon, and they heard the birds, the wind, the rustle of grass. These are sacred grounds, they both agreed.
”What could we do with this property?” Atkinson asked. “If I purchased it.”
”We could put a house up here,” Ernesto said. “Look at the view. It would make a beautiful home, but it wouldn’t be right.”
Atkinson did purchase the land within two days of discovery.
“I didn’t buy this for myself,” Atkinson said, “I believe I am being used as a tool to pursue this.”