Sunday, July 03, 2005

Buryanek Recreation Area on Lake Francis Case, Missouri River, South Dakota!

Over the rise is the Missouri River

10:40 p.m.

While all the campers and motorhomes are rallied in an almost treeless scrubby circle, the manager gave me "Group Area 1", secluded and right on the lake's bank. Put up the tent right away, then went for a “soak” in the water before it grew dark. Exquisite! I haven’t had a bath or a swim since – I can’t even remember! (I probably didn't need to share that.) Didn’t want to come out; just basked in the freshness of the water, the gentle lapping sound and the red-gold twilight. I hope there will be many more swims like this along the way.

After just absorbing the experience for a quarter hour or so, proceeded to drag out all my clothes (which were no longer "fresh"), a couple items at a time, and rinse them in the lake, then hang them out to dry overnight (hopefully.)

Last night’s campsite was wonderful. The wind grew increasingly intense through the night, flapping the sides of the tent, bending it over sideways, rushing through from end to end; I was thankful I had staked the corners. It was exciting and exhilarating. Not the most conducive conditions for rest, but I didn’t mind. The uncertainty of not knowing the forecast, whether this might portend a storm, gave the experience a bit of an edge, as did being out on open land, a solitary camper.

Campsite on Buffalo Gap National Grasslands

I wanted to visit Wounded Knee on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation today. The White River Visitor’s Center, located at the south entry to The Badlands, provides some of the history.

On December 29th, 1890, between two and three hundred Minneconjou Sioux from the Cheyenne River Reservation were trying to make their way to the Pine River Agency. Their encampment was surrounded by the Army’s 7th Cavalry which then attacked (I was unable to uncover the reason for the attack, however at the time there was a fair amount of hysteria surrounding the rising "Ghost Dance" movement among the Sioux.) My understanding is that none survived. Thirty soldiers also died, their deaths attributed to “friendly fire”.

The 1868 Laramie Treaty established a Sioux Reservation covering all of South Dakota west of the Missouri River. White men’s violations of the treaty became blatant and frequent, especially once gold was discovered in the Black Hills. These incursions spurred rebellion by Sioux tribes. Several (including Sitting Bull, Gall and Crazy Horse, the chiefs who led their warriors at Little Bighorn) refused to sign subsequent treaties ceding further lands to the white man.

At Sharp’s Corner on Pine Ridge, I stopped for a beverage and snack. I just stood in the parking lot watching all the comings and goings. I was one of the few white men to be seen! A big Sioux fellow, obviously inebriated came over and looked at the bike. “Do you want to trade?” he asked, pointing to his Nissan truck. He had ridden a Harley until “it crashed.”

“The Lakota have heart. Everyone here...” he said, thumping his chest with a fist. “But watch out, there a lot of drunk drivers.”

Two (white) couples on motorcycles pulled off the road and into the lot, and looked at a map. They didn’t seem comfortable entering too far into the lot.

“Look. They’re lost. They should ask the ‘skins’. But no; they look at that piece of paper.”

"What's your name?"

"I don't have a name...but the white man name is 'Tony'."

He shook my hand (a couple of times) and said “enjoy the ‘rez’, but be careful.”

I went back into the store to confirm something I thought I was observing – that a high percentage of these Sioux (at least the ones I saw in this short period of time) are sadly overweight.

Coming out again, Tony approached with a small bunch of fresh sage and tucked it between my packs.

“It’s for good luck.”

“I’ll strap it down.”

“It will stay.”

“Here, I’ll just put this strap over it.”

“You don’t believe me. This (my pack) will come off, but it (the sage) will stay.”

I took his word.

Again he shook my hand, saying “ma cola”.

“What’s that?”

“Ma cola – my friend.”

The homes on the reservation are primarily either trailers, or small rectangular single-family dwellings, much like those built throughout the U.S. after World war II; a few windows and a door on the front side, a few windows on the back side. Many looked fairly new. Each surrounded by a fair amount of land.

At Wounded Knee, I was surprised to find a visitor’s center (literature I had read said there was only a damaged church at the site.)

As I climbed off the bike, a young woman approached and asked if I would support the effort to build a community swimming pool by purchasing a small leather purse. “Let me think about it. I want to look around first.”

The center was built by the reservation Indians. It proclaims the re-birth of Indian Nations and displayed literature and paraphernalia from A.I.M., the American Indian Movement. There are tributes to Leonard Peltier, who languishes in a prison, and to those who perished in a 1973 uprising on the Pine Ridge Reservation.

Memorial at Wounded Knee

I climbed the small hill to a cemetery. It was overgrown and unkempt, with paths worn white through the tall grasses. Some of the graves were recent. Far too many children and teens were laid in this small plot. One group caught my attention: a father who died in January, the grandfather who died in June and the daughter who died in July, all in the same year.

There is a large mass grave, a monument listing the names of 42 murdered at Wounded Knee.

"Buddy" Lamonte's grave at Wounded Knee

Mass grave at Wounded Knee

Coming down from the hill, "Amanda" was hanging some beads on a line next to the purse. I asked how much.


“How long did it take you to make this.”

“Two days.”

“I’ll take it.”

Inside the center, I also bought a small “dream catcher”.

Getting ready to leave, a man approached me and asked about my trip. Then, if I had been up to the cemetery. He said his daughter’s grave was up there, along with his brother’s and father’s.

"I saw them, but I thought the child's father was buried next to her."

"That's my brother's grave." He paused. "I’m taking donations…”

I didn’t know whether to believe him or whether this was just a scam. I looked at him then shook my head. I had already spent $45 here. (Even that I questioned if it were out of guilt.)

Leaving the center, turning south, I saw other roadside stands selling Indian crafts to tourists.

U.S. 18, skirting along the lower edge of South Dakota, is a very pleasant highway, free of the racing traffic found on Interstate 90, which in comparison is sanitized and insulated. Along the interstate you can be assured of the usual fare of franchises and chains. And with a 75 mph speed limit on the South Dakota interstates, I found myself usually riding in the slow lane, being constantly passed; not a safe position for a motorcycle. (One driver, apparently "multi-tasking" - on the phone, looking down at papers - didn't even bother to move entirely into the next lane to pass.)

Somewhere around Martin, South Dakota, reached the 10,000-mile mark in this journey. Pulled over to the shoulder to mark the occasion with a snack and to photograph the rolls of hay, a common feature of this countryside.

No more bales of hay

Further along, on the Rosebud Indian Reservation, came upon a Buffalo herd and stopped to photograph them. They moved away "en masse" as I approached the electric fence. A line of intimidating “defenders” took position facing me. By the way two or three nudged the others around, they were clearly the leaders. Learned that this is the Sinte Gleska University Bison Herd. The university is dedicated “to preserve and teach Lakota culture, history and language to promote innovative and effective strategies to address the myriad of social and economic concerns confronting the Sicangu Lakota Oyate.”

The Sinte Gleska University Buffalo Herd

I found many more prairie dog colonies today: on the Buffalo Gap Grasslands, and on the Pine Ridge and Rosebud Indian Reservations, but nowhere else. I suspect the eradication continues on "white men's" land. On the Rosebud Reservation (which looks much richer, more productive and well-managed than Pine Ridge), horses and cattle graze among the colonies. Everyone seems to get along. (The colonies are easy to spot from a distance; they look like poorly-maintained golf courses with a gopher problem. The dogs keep the grass cut short.)

South Dakota ranchlands

Baffled by the empty roadway. "Where is everyone?" A 20-mile unpaved highway construction zone was thankfully free of activity, all the equipment sitting idle for the holiday. At the edge of the zone, spotted a tortoise starting to cross the highway. I've only rarely seen them. Stopped to observe it for a while, and to make sure passing vehicles avoided it.

Found this guy trying to cross the highway

Many pheasants in this area, as indicated by the carcasses along the highway. They seem particularly at risk. The countless doves that took to flight in front of approaching vehicles, were quicker to react and avoid collisions.

Many abandoned gas stations along these secondary roads; were they casualties of Interstate 90?

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