Travel the state through the eyes of the ancestors
RAPID CITY, S.D. - To travel the state of South Dakota is like taking a trip into the past, with today's conveniences.
Interstate highways and excellent secondary roads move travelers from point to point today, but a stop along one of those roads to experience the vast, rolling prairies is to really see what thousands of American Indians saw before the European contact, minus the thousands of buffalo.
But travelers are not deprived of seeing buffalo nor are they deprived of spending a night or two on the Great Plains in a tipi or log cabin. American Indian entrepreneurs provide not only the equipment for a horseback ride in the Badlands. The knowledge from the past comes through stories told over campfires that bring a perspective of what Indian country was like. They bring an understanding of why people hold on so dearly to the family traditions and lands walked by their ancestors.
The state is endowed with culture, beauty and a never-ending sky. Many people are familiar with the Hollywood version of the state, but to really see it through the people - the American Indian people - is to experience buffalo country.
South Dakota has American Indian history the likes of few other states. Wounded Knee Memorial on the Pine Ridge Reservation is a site not visited by vast numbers of tourists because it is off the interstate. It is the site of the last major conflict between the Great Sioux Nation and the U.S. military. Most often is it called a massacre where more than 250 American Indians died.
The Lakota people, some say, suffered retaliation from the U.S. 7th Cavalry for the 1876 battle at Little Bighorn where Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer and most of his command died.
The mass grave tells the story and brings home the reality of that horrible day at Wounded Knee, Dec. 29, 1890. The area is accessible to travelers.
Green Grass on the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation is where Big Foot and his followers began their journey immediately followed the murder of Sitting Bull on the Standing Rock Reservation. The Cheyenne River and Standing Rock reservations are filled with history, plenty of sites to see and people to meet.
The Cheyenne River Reservation was home to the most complete Tyrannosaurus rex ever found. Sue went on display this month in Chicago's Museum of Natural History.
The saga of Sitting Bull's grave may interest many people. The memorial and alleged grave is across the Missouri River from Mobridge. Another location said to be the grave site is at Fort Yates, N.D., on the Standing Rock Sioux Indian Reservation.
Tribes along the historic Missouri River are gearing up for the 2003 Lewis and Clark 200th anniversary. Many sites where the Corps of Discovery camped are designated on maps. The drive up the river goes to the Fort Berthold Reservation in North Dakota, where Sakakawea joined Lewis and Clark. You will hear the story that says she was Hidatsa. Three Affiliated Tribes, made up of Hidatsa, Mandan and Arikara, have planned special events and tours for 2003. However, there is still plenty to see and do this year.
A meandering tour though South Dakota must include the Black Hills. Called He Sapa by the Lakota Nation, the Black Hills are sacred to the Lakota people. An origin story says the Lakota people and the buffalo emerged from earth at the site of Wind Cave National Park in the southern Black Hills.
The western portion of the state, with portions of Nebraska and Wyoming, make up the area Crazy Horse, Red Cloud, Sitting Bull, Gall and many others called home. It is home to many cultural sites, however, the eastern part of South Dakota also has its historic and cultural sites.
North of Vermillion, on the Missouri River in the southeastern corner, lies Spirit Mound, said to be the home of small, troll-like people.
Sica Hollow, northwest of Sisseton in the northeast part of the state, has glowing tree stumps, emits strange, moaning sounds and has a stream that turns red. American Indians called the area "sica" or bad. It is now a state park.
The Badlands cover some 244,000 acres of land referred to as an emerging desert. American Indians hunted and camped in an area that contains a large assortment of fossils. The Badlands are on the northern edge of the Pine Ridge Reservation.
Most sacred of all sites is Bear Butte or Mato Paha to the Lakota. On the northern edge of the Black Hills, this core of a volcano is a sacred prayer site for the Lakota and Cheyenne people. Bear Butte also is a state park and visitors are welcome, but when people are in the process of praying respect is expected.
In the southern hills, near where Custer - in charge of an illegal expedition which discovered gold - is a memorial to Crazy Horse. The mountain carving in progress is dedicated to the revered Lakota leader who led the Lakota into battle against Custer at the Little Big Horn.
That battle site is a mere five hours from the Black Hills. For those who relish seeking out battle sites, the area is rich with them - the battle of Rosebud, near the Little Big Horn in Montana and the Fetterman battle and the Wagon Box Fight sites between Sheridan and Buffalo, Wyo.
When people plan a historic tour through buffalo country they are never disappointed in what they find.
Many people on the reservations of South Dakota, North Dakota, Wyoming and Montana would be happy to advise travelers about historic and cultural events and locations. A well-planned tour will make a loop through North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, Wyoming and Nebraska.
For some internet information the site is www.travelsd.com/history/sioux/index.htm. To contact the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation log on to www.sioux.org. For more travel information contact the Alliance of Tribal Tourism Advocates at http://atta.indian.com.