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American Indian North & South Dakota Trip

by | Aug 26, 2020 | Blog

American Indian North & South Dakota Trip

Arrived in Rapid City Lake, to be greeted by our own coach and taken to an Indian Reservation Craft shop, hoop dance, and drumming demonstration.

Despite the objective of sampling authentic Indian culture, I found myself in Walmart buying genuine capitalist tat cloth for a wheelchair bound friend, Yvonne, who, together with Debbie, seemed determined to have me create an entire new wardrobe.

We drove through Sturgess a few weeks ahead of their huge biker’s rally with preparations well advancing for the event.

I found the purchase of a watch invaluable in determining the time, which when it is nine hours behind GMT is a bit difficult to work out, playing havoc with my sleeping pattern.

A long straight road stretches ahead over vast flat cattle grazing land and over the mountains ahead.
After 180 miles we arrived at the reservation after stopping at the Eagle Butte hotel before proceeding to eat with the local tribes.

That evening while the rest of our party danced and prayed, Jean, Pam and I got transport to the local liquor store and drank the night away on the steps. An early start had the driver smiling at the girly conversation as we headed to see the Sioux tribe, passing buffalo and fish rich rivers.

Starbird: “you were in a loving marriage, but died giving birth, I was helpless to save you, but took the child to save your soul. Your children were your father’s. I will show myself in time. I cup your face with my hands. I will protect you as you coveted me. Your mother was in the tribe, she was the child you died for at birth, she came back to help your life and survival. By the end of the trip you will know and understand my deep love for you. You will no longer look for love, you will find it within you. You are about to grow more than you ever imagined. My heart is your heart, feel me now (!) and know it is true Accept our gifts to you – an eagle feather 4th down the eagle tribe renowned for vision and inspiration”.

My visit to Eagle Butt was significant, with land stretching to the Missouri River. “You used to help make medicine from buffalo fat and herbs, your hands are gifted”. we are bringing your group in with a welcoming invitation song, we welcome you here, we hum in your presence, open the keys to your insight with the stamp of your feet. We camped on this hillside in the autumn of an impending severe winter. Many elders chose t stay behind so as not to hinder the speed of the younger men and women seeking safety.

In another motel a sign instructed us that guns must be unloaded, do not clean fish in your room, ask at reception for rags and don’t use towels to clean your guns ( bums?)
Stopped off at Grand River Casino for a drink and to collect our next guide, bought presents for Sonia and Charlotte

Spoke with David

Visited a site first explored by Lewis and Clarke and discussed the removal of the City Bull Stones. Very hot. The crickets have devoured the vegetation and swarm everywhere. Had dinner at the Casino.

Went to the Grand River and travelled along it, the site where the first fur traders started and vested the Jedadia Smith Monument. Jedediah Strong Smith (January 6, 1799 – May 27, 1831), was an American clerk, transcontinental pioneer, frontiersman, hunter, trapper, author, cartographer, and explorer of the Rocky Mountains, the North American West, and the Southwest during the early 19th century. After 75 years of obscurity following his death, Smith was rediscovered as the American whose explorations led to the use of the 20-mile (32 km)-wide South Pass as the dominant point of crossing the Continental Divide for pioneers on the Oregon Trail.

Coming from a modest family background, Smith travelled to St. Louis and joined William H. Ashley and Andrew Henry’s fur trading company in 1822. Smith led the first documented exploration from the Salt Lake frontier to the Colorado River. From there, Smith’s party became the first United States citizens to cross the Mojave Desert into what is now the state of California but which at that time was part of Mexico. On the return journey, Smith and his companions were likewise the first U. S. citizens to explore and cross the Sierra Nevada and the treacherous Great Basin Desert. In the following year, Smith and his companions were the first U. S. explorers to travel north from California (on land) to reach the Oregon Country. Surviving three Native American massacres and one bear mauling, Jedediah Smith’s explorations and documented travels were important resources to later American westward expansion.

In March 1831, while in St. Louis, Smith requested of Secretary of War John H. Eaton a federally funded exploration of the West, but to no avail. Smith informed Eaton that he was completing a map of the West derived from his own journeys. In May, Smith and his partners launched a planned para-military trading party to Santa Fe. On May 27, while searching for water in present-day southwest Kansas, Smith went missing. It was learned some weeks later that he had been killed during an encounter with the Comanche – his body was never recovered.

After his death, Smith’s memory and his accomplishments were mostly forgotten by Americans. At the beginning of the 20th century, scholars and historians made efforts to recognize and study his achievements. In 1918, a book by Harrison Clifford Dale was published covering Ashley-Smith western explorations. In 1935, Smith’s summary autobiography was finally listed in a biographical dictionary. Smith’s first comprehensive biography by Maurice S. Sullivan was published in 1936. A popular Smith biography by Dale Morgan, published in 1953, established Smith as an authentic national hero. Smith’s map of the West in 1831 was used by the U.S. Army, including western explorer John C. FrĂ©mont during the early 1840s.

The rocks have pictures of buffalo, eagles, bears etc in them, the Indians claim they can read them like tarot cards.

La Donna Gave us a talk. Sage is widely used as a disinfectant and aid to chest problems. Sitting Bull was born on the South side of the river and presided with two elders.
Drove to North Dakota, saw one room schoolhouse and went over black tongue hill and porcupine hills seeing mutes, flat top hills levelled by glaciers when plains were under water. The tops of the hills have dinosaur and shark fossils from those times and buffalo with straight horns. Now there are pheasants imported from China, mountain cats, eagles and lions.

Drove through long soldier district where bachelor men played flutes to lure prospective wives. We learned of Claire rose who at 16 was tried for rustling cattle, and at 18 having worked a stall bought and ran a brothel. She was convicted of cattle rustling but could not be hanged as there was no law to hang women, she always carried two pistols, and killed her brother. And learned of Turkey Track bill who killed men and married an Indian woman.
Headed at 9.30 to prairie nights and Fort Yates Casino, clean, fine and buzzing with coffee in the rooms a bonus-too tired to explore on first of two nights.

Sunday – after a great night’s sleep and fine breakfast, the girls bought most of the gift shop and we set off with four tour guides including a son who had featured in many Westerns.

Joan saw the ghost of an Indian squaw on a trail tour led by story teller “Brave Bull “ Bill, fir balls scratched my legs and attached themselves to my skirt, before more shopping at Fort Yates and a visit to the sacred site of Standing Rock. Debbie’s fixation on Bill’s muscular torso and thighs belied her advancing years, you never lose your appreciation for firm thighs before heading back to the Casino Marina for a display of traditional plants and medicines. The afternoon session was without an indisposed Bret.

Monday – so exhausted, I left everyone downstairs after just one glass of wine instead of the usual bottle! But my sleep was disturbed by Pam drenching herself running the bath without realising the shower was connected before having to sleep with her hair in rollers because she couldn’t work the hairdryer. Pam put her straight the following morning. A girl’s life on the road!

Another great breakfast (Americans know how to do them) before group photos outside the Casino and a trip to Bear Butte via Rapid City.

Stopped at Timberlake South Dakota for the toilets, Museum and general store for ice cream and cigarettes.
Debbie talked 90 minutes nonstop to Pam at the back of the coach from 9.30am, Joan dribbled ice cream down the front of her green blouse oblivious to the mess. From the Rapid City Ranch Resort we headed to the Pine Ridge reservation and in doing so passed through a time zone sending us back an hour.

The ranch was a series of log cabins and Debbie video me doing Hopi Ear Candles. We were chatted up by the ranch by guys who asked Eileen her name. she said it was Prem, because she always came early!
Pearl took out some solitary time, and then after shower and night wear we were ready for bed.

Tuesday 11th July.
I was up early at 6am but the motel didn’t open till 7am so I microwaved coffee in a plastic bucket liberated from Prairie Knights Casino and passed my time helping Debbie and Maureen with their hair. The breakfast was fabulous (again) so much so that we all wrote them a thank you card before setting off 100 miles to the Reservation with Jeremy and Elijah, past Medicine River Creek surrounded by barren landscape.. We stopped at a wooden hut run by a husband and wife artist team who made beaded jewellery at very good prices- we all spent far too much encouraged by Jeremy who told us that this was the way they supported their extended family. Jeremy sang traditional Indian songs too me ina low soft gentle voice as we headed south to Red Clown Reservation.

Nineteen year old Jeremy has a small pouch on his shoe lace which houses a spirit stone, awarded him by his tribe, representing his repudiation of a life of drug and alcohol addiction which had over come him as a teenager, he was now going to college to study psychology and political science. The reservation itself is a mass of abandoned cars, those running were untaxed and unlicensed with few taxes on the land itself. The young talked to us about drugs, sex and rock n roll. On the way James and I swapped CD’s of American Indian music to listen to on the road.

The landscape had changed from barren desert, to lush farmland growing wheat, exceptionally nutritious hay, corn and sunflowers according to one of our guides, Richard, red Owl who took us miles off track to a gift store for some excellent lunch made by his daughter. We then made our way to Wokampenny, the Good Bay House where we stayed which also offered a therapies, inevitably there was a gift shop from which the girls bought jewellery, flutes, bags and quilts, one of our guides Jeremy spent most of his time explain to a girl their relationship was over, this obviously is much harder to say in native Indian than in English, telling her she should turn her frown upside down. He then rings another girl to ask her if they can meet up to wrestle in the mud, and another, Jennt to ask if he can be her best friend. Never a dull moment as a tour guide, as we make our way through Pine Ridge which is a little dull.

Wednesday- visited Red Cloud Indian school with fees of $200 a day, church and gift shop ( obviously, how we can transport all this junk home is unknown) on a sweltering day, pushing and pulling Yvonne up a dirt track to see Red Cloud’s grave, Yvonne nearly fainted. Maureen elicited much information from the tour guide, Debbie filled her hair with native clips, Eileen bought a drum with Debbie videoing the results.

We visited Fords Crow, where the famous medicine man is buried, and we all said a prayer for him.
Tuesday night was spent at a basic Tepee site comprising 5 tents, so basic that Joan and Pam didn’t stay, meaning they missed steak and melon balls, and fireside songs with Eileen drumming with stories by Jim.

Wed 3.45 am Woken by Debbie in the cold, warmed up Yvonne who was crying in the cold, made a traditional native Indian breakfast of bacon and eggs.

Went to Chamber of Commerce in Kyle, fascinating, but opted to lay down on coach rather than listen to a talk
Kyle in Oglala Lakota County, South Dakota, has a population was 846,located within the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation of the Oglala Lakota, it is one of two settlements which are closest to the North American continental pole of inaccessibility which marks a location that is the most challenging to reach according to that criterion. Often it refers to the most distant point from the coastline, implying a maximum degree of continentality or Ocean city. In these cases, pole of inaccessibility can be defined as the centre of the largest circle that can be drawn within an area of interest without encountering a coast. The community was named for James H. Kyle, a Senator from South Dakota.

We stopped off at the Ranch Hotel to pick up a guide Jeremy on way to Wounded Knee. Debbie took sage, we saw Lost Birds grave, Joan lost her camera, Yvonne stayed on the coach. Brett and Pearl looked as though they had something to do…

Obviously we stopped at gift store and education centre where I bought a Dreamcatcher in the shape of a tepee honouring women and their work. Joan found her camera in a bin; Debbie bought a rock painted to depict wounded knee and Maureen denuded the fields of sage. On the way back we encountered a raging forest fire with trees being felled to break the fire and cars and caravans abandoned in the face of the wall of fire.

We stopped at Common Courts for refreshments, most chose ice cream, I chose coffee, then chose to spill it all over my skirt on the bus.

At the tepee camp an elder gave us a lecture on the native way of life and ancestral stories, all acknowledged by a cap being passed which we filled with dollars. We are clearly like a mobile cash point for the locals.
Two of our young guides were planning a night on the town, despite my youthful urge to join them, I simply gave them some cash to make their night a little easier on their pockets- they were so grateful.

The camp leader brought his children to join us driving Debbie into instant granny mode, my greater concern was the giant crickets, mice and assorted other rodents (surely there must be snakes?) that infested our tepees. Debbie didn’t like the mushroom stroganoff opting for pasta, but there was so much excess food that the serving staff helped themselves at the end, we could barely move. When Debbie entered her tepee, she found one of the huge grasshoppers for company and expelled them by playing flute, a sort of Pied Piper without the drowning at the end.
Di is checking the itinerary. I am not sure why, as the itinerary has borne little resemblance to the original plan.

James and Sally disappear romantically over the brow of a hill, probably to our wooden well-ventilated toilet, just as well, it’s likely to become a bit steamy, I think.

An elder gave us another fable before departing. We decided to sig some London songs to the remaining tribes man, exactly what they made of “Knee’s Up Mother Brown” (complete with traditional London tribal dance), “May be Its because I’m a Londoner”, “Waterloo Sunset” and “London Calling” is unknown.

Thursday 13th July
Debbie and Yvonne went back to the ranch, listening to songs, and getting to know the men a bit better, six of us remained to listen to songs after Debbie had sung a beautiful song called “Rose”. Our tent, as always, was the last to fall quiet.

The camaraderie was wonderful, with much laughter normally around the quickfire wit of Di and Pearl, the latter the mistress of the one liner. That night a huge electrical storm broke with the guides frantically tethering down the tepees as we screamed at the tepee doors blowing open in the thunder and rain. Deb re-joined us, she was so scared, grasshoppers were driven off the inside of the roof of the tepee by the violent rainstorm, Pearl hid and became frantic, unable to breathe I lit a fire and held her to comfort her and made everyone some coffee sleep was impossible. For breakfast the chef brought pizza.

From natural disaster to man made disaster, the coach to the Ranch had insufficient seats, the ranch had insufficient rooms, the rooms had insufficient washing facilities
Horses trip
We went out to find wild mustangs, Sally was not in sight. On the way, Jeremy told us of his time in prison and rehabilitation programmes, and his happiness with now current girlfriend Jenny (no mention of naked mud wrestling). Debbie bought even more gifts and helpfully commented that if I had a brain, I would be dangerous.

I met Russell Means who champions on site Indian education rather than the shipping out of children to white schools, with no reference to their tribal past, robbing them of their history and culture. He also writes books and poems and preaches, saving lost souls.

He spoke of husband’s involvement in bringing up children, the respect with which mother in laws are held in order that they too can gain respectability, but his views were politically extreme, bigoted and his arrogance overwhelming. He brought the entire day down, and the entire trip, with disorganisation at the heart of it, reached a new low. The trip had, been organised by the Indian Tourist Board. But he won over some of our party, with Maureen suggesting we sponsor a child’s education at his school and Debbie enthralled by his words. Our coach driver said no-one listened to Russell.

Mitch is bemused by the poor organisation and suggests we organise a private guide to see some sights privately and that we have been taken in circles, always involving gifts shops. Fractures are appearing in the group as we are given Friday off with the planned visits cancelled, Joan is outspoken in voicing her dismay at the lack of culture on the trip, Debs view is that it is an experience, not a holiday.

Black Elk Country
A weird visit. We had lunch at a farmhouse, but the family didn’t join us, and the group broke into little uncommunicative groups, Sally James and Pearl found a pathway to a cliff of carved stones and left offerings there
Badlands National Park.

Home of the Lakota tribe Badlands National Park is located in southwestern South Dakota. The park protects 242,756 acres of sharply eroded buttes and pinnacles, along with the largest undisturbed mixed grass prairie in the United States. The National Park Service manages the park, with the South Unit being co-managed with the Oglala Lakota tribe

The Badlands Wilderness protects 64,144 acres of the park as a designated wilderness area and is one site where the black-footed ferret, one of the most endangered mammals in the world, was reintroduced to the wild We didn’t see one! .The South Unit, or Stronghold District, where the last battles between the US Army and native Indians occurred, following which the Lakota were driven onto reservations and the railways destroyed traditional Buffalo hunting, includes sites of 1890s Ghost Dances, a former United States Air Force bomb and gunnery range unexploded ordinance makes the area still dangerous, despite clearance efforts, and Red Shirt Table, the park’s highest point at 3,340 feet , tour guide Antony Wounded Head wanted to take us to the top- but the coach driver said the bus would not make it. The park also administers the nearby Minuteman Missile National Historic Site, it was scary to think that the end of the world could have been orchestrated from such a beautiful, awe inspiring place. Movies such as Dances with Wolves (1990) and Thunder Heart (1992) were partially filmed here, so it seemed strangely familiar. We drove past the White River and visited an education centre which stressed how much native Lakota culture and language is taught to the young people.

We learned of the ghost dances. The Ghost was a new religious movement incorporated into numerous Native American belief systems. According to the teachings of the Northern Paiute spiritual leader Wovoka (renamed Jack Wilson), proper practice of the dance would reunite the living with spirits of the dead, bring the spirits to fight on their behalf, make the white colonists leave, and bring peace, prosperity, and unity to Native American peoples throughout the region.

The basis for the Ghost Dance is the circle dance, a traditional Native American dance in which the participants work themselves into a hallucinogenic state, The Ghost Dance was first practiced by the Nevada Northern Paiute in 1889. The practice swept throughout much of the Western United States, quickly reaching areas of California and Oklahoma. As the Ghost Dance spread from its original source, different tribes synthesized selective aspects of the ritual with their own beliefs.

The Ghost Dance was associated with Wovoka’s prophecy of an end to white expansion while preaching goals of clean living, an honest life, and cross-cultural cooperation by Indians. Practice of the Ghost Dance movement was believed to have contributed to Lakota resistance to assimilation under the Dawes Act. In the Wounded Knee Massacre in December 1890, United States Army forces killed at least 153 Miniconjou and Hunkpapa from the Lakota people. The Lakota variation on the Ghost Dance tended towards millenarianism, an innovation that distinguished the Lakota interpretation from Jack Wilson’s original teachings. The Caddo still practice the Ghost Dance today.
It’s a hard life, working the land, or fixing the cars of tourists and agricultural vehicles, waiting for the Badlands to start treating you good.

Dust clouds swirled as we drove along. Stopping to see the Black Hills and Horny Peak, Sally and James were tempted to climb it. But it is a strange experience, the entire area is regarded as sacred by the Lakota, but much of it is fenced off by the US Military, It was a long day lightened by singing on the coach with Debbie treating us to our favourite “Rose” and James dedicating Yazoo’s “Only You” to Sally. Traditional drums were hen brought out and as we drove through Hermosa there was the contrast between the old railways station and saloon bars, and the new refineries as the area is rich in natural resources. Joan feared being smudged by sage. And told me how beautiful I was.

We return to Rapid City at the end of a long day having crossed the Cheyenne river to civilisation, Max Winkler the Chiropractor, Rushmore gold and Diamond factory outlet the Foothills inn and TGI Fridays.
Had a sumptuous meal including shark touracos chicken and pasta, I had my photo taken by an American man eating with his wife!

Went to the bar and was chatted up by a good guy, I introduced him to the girls, then his brother moved in on me like a shark, the girls ensured I made it to my room safely!

Pearl woke me up the following morning, breathless, Maureen was furious and decided to have a go at Pam when she was on her own- but Maureen could not organise a downward stream, upon leaving she had left everyone to their own devices but took her own baggage, leaving me to sort out a wheelchair for Yvonne. Maureen has divided the group and been divisive, alienating Pam and Joan completely and behaving totally childishly. Never have I been so pleased as when our departure Gate 5 from the airport at Rapid City came up- my escape was confirmed. Pauline offered her wheelchair to Yvonne who looked a bit better today, obviously relieved to be going home, on occasions I had been genuinely scared for her health. It was a straight flight to Gatwick UK, but Maureen was left to her own devices on the long flight home.

Even though I was in the middle of the plane, I could hear Debbie holding Court at the front and Maureen bragging about her Indian knowledge at the back. My confidence in Northwest Airways was dented when a section of the planes ceiling collapsed onto passengers- but fortunately the wings and engine held out and took us home.
It had been quite a journey.
Jane Osborne.

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