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North Dakota - Sioux Country
updated: May 01, 2010, 9:20 AM
By John McCafferty (aka McSeas)
|The Dakotas are fresh and green after a number of spring rainstorms.
Bismarck, ND is a pleasant city with good restaurants and a fine museum we visited when we followed the Lewis and Clark trail. But this time, I was after a feel for the prairie, so I didn't stay long.
The feel once again here on the northern Great Plains was "rainy." A mild storm was moving slowly through the land of the Sioux Indians, French trappers and a couple of dozen Colonial explorers. And now me - exploring at my leisure, in the comfort and safety of a small rental car.
Sipping coffee in a little corner store in neighboring Mandan (friendly, helpful Native Americans there, I had read in the Lewis and Clark story), I contemplated the gentle rain and wondered if I dared continue south. The cheery young woman behind the counter assured me that the main rain had passed, taking with it "hail the size of baseballs". I gulped and wondered if it was safe to continue my journey.
I asked her if she was willing to bet my life on it, and she laughed.
"Sure! You can trust me! I've lived here my whole life and I'm not dead yet!"
"How long is that?" I asked. "Twenty whole years? But that's a good record. OK! I'm off to South Dakota!" I stopped at the door: "But wait! Which street? I have three choices!"
"Straight ahead!" she pointed, smiling some more. "Can't miss South Dakota!"
The drive south was near perfect. The rain eased off and left a long and wide view of green - pastureland, hills, farmhouse lawns. They had even thrown in a herd of buffalo over yonder to the east, on a hillside. Bison Preserve, a sign said. I wondered how many high school teams in these parts would be named Buffalos, or Bison.
This was Chief Sitting Bull country, and I spotted The Sitting Bull Burial Site on the map. Road 1806, at the river hamlet of Fort Yates, on the Missouri River. This ought to be good, I thought.
Once again I remembered Lewis and Clark and how the tough Sioux tribe in these parts had spared the White Eyes' lives even after they denied the Indians' demands for whisky, guns and bullets. Not being simple schoolchildren, the Sioux were insulted by Clark's offer of beads, trinkets and a picture of President Jefferson.
A riot very nearly ensued, but, as I recall from my reading, the presence of Sacagawea prevented bloodshed and the explorers escaped with their lives, though they were followed up the river for a while by cursing Indians.
Some speculate that Sitting Bull's remains were relocated on a hill overlooking the river near Mobridge, South Dakota. But Sitting Bull was born in North Dakota and I was going with my map and turned off onto a small road and into Fort Yates, which consisted of not much. A taco stand appeared to be the main attraction. I didn't see any signs to the graveyard. I drove around until I saw the nicest building in town, that of the Standing Rock Indian Agency.
A pretty young woman therein gave me directions back out to the Sitting Bull burial site. It was insulting, I thought. Here lay one of the greatest Indian leaders, and in his memory all you see is a nameless dirt road to a poorly maintained site out in the weeds. It looks like a vacant lot. There, carved into a big stone - apparently the "Standing Rock" - is a brief biography of this mighty warrior, with a notice engraved at the bottom that says much graffiti had been removed.
I was very moved by this sad little monument. Maybe by the end of hostilities, the Indians were left with almost nothing, including cemetery land. Maybe, as they say, "Custer had it coming". On the other hand, where was the Indian pride? I doubted that the U.S. government was in charge of Indian memorials.
The whole scene bothered me. A little throwaway town, a half-hearted memorial … maybe nobody cared about anything, and still don't.
I hoped that many of the miles of well-tended fields of grain in these parts were owned by Sioux descendants. Money is probably the best revenge.
On to South Dakota.
(To be continued)
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