USA Trip: Day 19 – The Foggy Black Hills Of Dakota

USA Trip: Day 19 – The Foggy Black Hills Of Dakota

South Dakota

I slept like a log for the first time in a while but then being on the road all day will do that to you. The weather outside was not great. Overcast and quite foggy which was not promising considering a few of the main activities today involved looking up! We were in Hot Springs about an hour south of our first destination; the Crazy Horse Memorial. South Dakota has always been on my list of places to go due to its landscape, history and sites. A little over 200 years ago this part of the US was French. In 1803 Napoleon Bonaparte sold most of what is the US Midwest for only $15 million. Even by today’s  money that is a bargain at 42 cents an acre. The Dakotas had a large Indian population which gave the state its name. The largest tribe in the Midwest were the Sioux. In South Dakota their branch was named the Lakota Sioux. South Dakota itself is the size of England and Scotland combined with the population of Liverpool. So it is quite spread out with many small towns the size of UK villages and only a handful of places over 20,000 people. It can often make you feel very isolated but peaceful at the same time.  The Missouri River cuts the state in half north to south on its path to St Louis and the Mississippi River. It leaves behind two distinct East and West areas that are two completely different pieces of land. The east is flat and contains the majority of the states population and farmable land. The west is sparsely populated and dominated by the Black Hills. This is where we camped last night and would spend most of our time today.

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We drove an hour north to the Crazy Horse Memorial. It is a privately owned attraction so we knew it wouldn’t be affected by the shutdown. We pulled off the highway at the info centre and Emma went back to use the toilet. As it was out of season the info centre was shut with a note to just drive up to the ticket office. So I did! Emma was not impressed and had to Spiderman herself to the walls of the toilet until Bertha stopped rocking around. I found it very funny and made a mental note to do it later in the trip. We paid our entrance fee and parked up to find the place incredibly cold and busy. We looked up to find Crazy Horse going under cloud cover and Emma managed to snap this just seconds before it was engulfed. To give you an idea of it’s size click on the photo below and spot the five tonne digger on the arm.

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The wind was whipping up and we rushed inside not really knowing what to expect. As we were in South Dakota we were wearing the cowboy hats which with hindsight was a bad idea. The Crazy Horse Memorial is a museum to the Indian people and their culture. Unfortunately South Dakota saw some rather grizzly fighting and massacres including Wounded Knee and The Dakota Wars. The 1862 Dakota Wars did not have as many casualties as some of the other US wars but it did have a huge social impact on the area. The Sioux were dominant in these parts at the start of the 19th century and over the course of 50 years had gradually lost land to the US government. Preceding the Dakota wars the Sioux had lost huge territory in what wold become current day Illinois and Minnesota. They were being forced west and were losing a lot of their rich fertile land. In return for giving up most of what is now Minnesota and living in a small reservation the treaty agreed they would receive money and food. That compensation never arrived due to corruption and the US senate backtracking on the treaty. In 1858 the Sioux were further riled up by encroachment onto their reservation and the loss of a quarry, an important source of income.  With famine ravaging the area and years of non-payment Sioux leaders tried to lobby food from the local government representative Andrew Myrick. He turned them away saying

“So far as I am concerned, if they are hungry let them eat grass or their own dung.”

By August the Sioux had had enough and decided to go to war. They fared well against the local settlers. One of the first to be killed was Andrew Myrick. He was found dead in a field with grass stuffed in his mouth.The Sioux also won battles against the local US army units including a particularly long and brutal Battle of Birch Coulee. When news of the Sioux victories reached President Abraham Lincoln he diverted reinforcements from the civil war. When the reinforcements arrived Little Crow the leader of the Sioux declined to surrender believing that the US would not hold their word in any negotiations. The Battle Of Wood Lake followed and with more experienced soldiers and cannons the US won easily even knocking off a top Sioux chief with a direct hit from a cannonball. With the majority of the Sioux surrendering the war was over and the government prosecuted those involved. The trials were very one sided and often unfair, 303 Sioux were given the death penalty. Much to the disappointment of the Minnesota governor, President Lincoln himself  reread the trials documents of each defendant with a neutral stance. He overturned the death penalty of 264 Sioux, still allowing for 38 to die (one was reprieved from execution). The execution of those 38 Sioux remains the largest mass execution in US history.

The mistreatment of the Sioux didn’t end there. A third of the prisoners who escaped the death penalty died in prison in the following four years and over 300 women and children died in an interment camp. In 1863 the US government declared all treaties null and void and placed a $25 a head bounty on any free Sioux found in the state. Remaining Indians were placed on boats and ended up in either Dakota or Nebraska. The Sioux that were beaten and expelled were the Eastern Sioux part of the larger federation. The Sioux federation had deep roots in what is now South Dakota through the Lakota people. The US army that won at the Battle Of Wood Lake chased the Sioux west into the Dakotas but didn’t stop there. They then engaged and won battles against the combined Sioux forces. These range of battles lasted 25 years with the government failing to stop settlers and miners encroaching on Indian land and then attacking the Indians when they retaliated against the trespassers. There were regular wins for the US army despite losing more soldiers in battle but with much superior numbers they could always replace those fallen. The final Lakota Sioux defeat came in 1890 at the Wounded Knee Massacre.

The US army came across an encampment of 350 Lakota Sioux and surrounded them setting up four mountain guns (cannons). At sunrise they walked into the camp to disarm the men. It was going fine until one of the armed Lakota men wouldn’t give up his rifle. He was deaf and could not understand the orders being given. A short scuffle followed and his rifle discharged. Then all hell broke loose and by time the smoke died down 300 of the Sioux were dead. Accounts vary as to the numbers but from the sources I can find 200 of those 300 were unarmed women and children. 20 of the US soldiers were awarded the Medal Of Honor. That is as far as I will take the bloody history of the Sioux in a travel website post. Needless to say cowboy hats in the museum was a bad idea.

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Around the time of Wounded Knee the Supreme Court ordered a monetary payment to the Lakota Sioux for the seizure of the Black Hills. To this day the Indians reject the payment requesting their land be returned to them instead. Now considering what you’ve read above think about this. You are the US government, it’s 1925 and you want to create a huge, one of a kind monument commemorating previous presidents. You can pick anywhere in the country, anywhere at all, the place has tons of mountains and hills that wouldn’t cause any controversy. You know where you shouldn’t build it? In the Black Hills into the side of a sacred Lakota Sioux Indian mountain with the faces of four presidents who presided over the seizure of Indian land. Needless to say Mount Rushmore was and still is quite controversial. So controversial it was the spark that ignited the Crazy Horse Memorial.

[Note - And now we are full circle ;)]

So why does the Crazy Horse Memorial exist? It is pretty simple really, it is a reply from the Indian people to Mount Rushmore. Crazy Horse was the Oglala Lakota leader that had had enough of being pushed around and rose up against the US. His most famous victory was at the Battle of the Little Bighorn where he along with Chief Sitting Bull (another Lakota leader) defeated a US army unit led by General Custer. He surrendered and died in a military prison after being stabbed with a bayonet by a guard. Soon after Mount Rushmore was finished the local chiefs wrote to Polish sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski saying

“My fellow chiefs and I would like the white man to know that the red man has great heroes, too.”

Ziolkowski started work in 1948 working alone and continued to blast and carve until his death in 1982. Since then seven of his children continue to work on the memorial funded by donations and private money. The foundation has previously turned down donations from US government. The image that will eventually be carved is of Crazy Horse on his trusty steed pointing south east over Lakota lands with the inscription

“My lands are where my dead lie buried.”

One controversy I find interesting is that in Indian culture pointing with your index finger (as Crazy Horse is doing on the memorial) is very rude and taboo. Almost like the four presidents on Mount Rushmore holding up their middle fingers. The museum and learning centre itself are fantastic. I have never seen so much Indian culture in one place before. You could really feel the plight and history all around you. I suspect there were a lot of tourists present that were meant for Mount Rushmore only 20 miles from here. Without fail just like at Antelope Canyon the swarms were a pain in the bum. There were a number of animals sculptures with traditional artifacts draped and tied to them. There were clear signs saying do not touch on every animal around yet the Chinese tourists insisted on holding, hugging, kissing and climbing on the animals.

[Yeah don't worry about that stupid horses saddle, its only 140 years old and used by Crazy horse at the Battle of the Little Bighorn. You sit on it wiggle around then break a strap as you climb off. It's alright I'm sure they've got four more out the back somewhere.]

Mount Rushmore

With the incoming storm in mind and the dropping temperatures outside we headed north to Mount Rushmore despite it being shut to see if we could get a look. I mean they can shut the car parks and visitors centre but it is a carving into the side of a mountain, even if we drive by we can still see it! As we got closer and the satnav counted down the miles we started seeing park rangers patrolling the highway. Every lay-by and possible stopping area either had a ranger in it or cones blocking it off. As we passed the entrance to the parking and information centre there were six National Park Service trucks. We had passed more on the road. It was ridiculous, are you telling me those six rangers couldn’t have just let people park up and look at the thing? I couldn’t believe that we were even allowed to pull over and look up at a poxy mountain carving. It didn’t matter anyway as the cloud obscured every inch of the mountain. We figured the National Park Service was against us but the weather as well?
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There weren’t much to look at on the 50 mile drive north to Deadwood. We had spent too much time at Crazy Horse and only had two hours in Deadwood which was disappointing. Obviously I had seen the TV series and wanted to go there purely to see if Ian McShane still hung around in a onesy peeing in a chamber pot and drinking whiskey. Deadwood itself is a beautiful little place and I wish we could have stayed there for a couple of days. What is so ridiculous is a town like Deadwood as famous as it is only has a population 1200 people. I had more kids attend my secondary school than live in Deadwood. Like with most things in South Dakota Deadwood’s history can be traced back to the conflict with the Lakota. When General Custer rolled through the area he discovered gold in the Black Hills and thus started a gold rush that founded the town and had the population many times the size that it is now.

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We wanted to learn more about Deadwood and headed to the ‘Days of ’76′ museum. It contains thousands of artifacts and information about the history of Deadwood and the local area. It was disappointing to see nobody else there as the place was huge and had so much going on. We followed the museum around and had a good chuckle at the stuffed bull and buffalo. Buffalo are HUGE and scary, I would not like to have one of them running after me snorting! Once done upstairs we went to the basement area and walked into a warehouse type room full of wagons and carriages many over 100 years old. It was like walking back in time in a real life version of Red Dead Redemption, I was half expecting to be challenged to a duel.

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When we arrived at the museum a school bus pulled up at the other side of the car park and unloaded a fully kitted American Football team. Thinking of this now we are leaving we walked over to look at a previously unseen pitch and according to the countdown on the scoreboard the game was due to kickoff in five minutes. I had gone a full 12 days without football so while Emma made us a late lunch I hung out on the railings with a cup of tea six feet up from the field.  Parents started arriving and I asked a mother next to me who was playing and how old were they. It was 8th grade football (13 years old) but their team was mostly 7th grade (12 years old). From playing sport at a kid I can tell you there is a big difference in 12 and 13 year olds. It showed in the squad as some kids had clearly hit puberty and experienced a growth spurt while others looked at though they were wearing 4 jumpers just so their pads fit. By time kickoff came around the car park was full of trucks with parents not wanting to brave the weather. It was getting colder but I thought nothing of it. I had Emma’s tasty tea and football.

The home team and the majority of the fans were the Deadwood Gold Diggers, the away team is a mystery to me. One person said it was Laramie, another said it was Sundance. Whoever it was had only brought 16 players and a coach with a big booming voice. I find it strange that the parents didn’t even know who their sons were playing. Either way the standard was quite poor and refreshing that not every high school player spent 20 hours a week in the gym. Each team had three or four good players, but the rest just seemed to be there for a throw around with their friends. As a football coach I love observing a teams sideline behavior. It often gives away the level and mentality of a team and Deadwood didn’t disappoint. My favourite sideline moment was when one of the younger; smaller players decided to get himself pumped up by headbutting the wall below our feet. The impact was a hollow knocking noise similar to a coconut being cracked and he grabbed his temples and let out a quiet “Owwww”.

By this point most of the dads were wrapped up and chatting away at the railings next to me. They had all started work early that morning so they could knock off an hour or two early to make the game. None of them were too involved with the match or taking it seriously, the talk was mainly the weather. There were varying accounts as to what was going on with the incoming storm but it had hit Wyoming and they were reporting up to four feet of snow. I looked up at the sky, it was certainly getting colder and windier. We were in the Black Hills, there was not much escape from here if the snow fell. Our camp for the night was 250 miles east at a much lower elevation. All were in agreement Deadwood would be under four feet of snow by the following day. At the start of the second quarter the Deadwood coach shouted at the defence on the field to ‘Get Physical!’. This started a a singalong with matching dancing from three or four Deadwood players repeating ‘Physical, physical, defence get physical’ to the tune of the Olivia Newton-John song of the same name. Another kid tried to ply a mid game doughnut out of  his mother only to be rejected. They eventually agreed that if the team scored he could get a doughnut. It had been raining all day and was getting heavier. My jumper was starting to get damp and I went to get a tea refill.

By time the two minute warning arrived the away team with only 16 players were 6-0 up. I left at HT after Deadwood had tried to run more than one swinging gate play in a row. The swinging gate is a trick play which when run very well is quite effective yet should only be used by teams who can move the ball and haven’t been shut down the whole first half.  The play went as well as you could expect from a team of undersized 12 year olds who headbutt walls and negotiate for doughnuts mid drive. After the professionalism of De La Salle’s high school team it was refreshing to see the game at such a basic level being played for fun. You could tell they were having fun, they were cold, but no one was complaining or getting upset. The parents were there cheering and encouraging without putting pressure on the kids. the coach was as firm as he needed to be but didn’t lose his top or swear at them if they messed up.. The rain started coming down heavy and we pulled out and headed for the Interstate going south east.

Wall Drug Store

We stopped off 90 miles later in a small town called Wall. We only stopped there to see the world famous Wall Drug Store. What a stupid idea that was. Wall Drug Store is just odd. We had seen signs for it for miles, even in other states. It runs a huge self promotion marketing scheme to the point where you want to go there with no idea what you want to buy or even what they sell. We fancied some dinner but the famous cafe offering free iced tea and 5 cent coffee was shut. Looked a nice place though.

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We spent 20 minutes there and bought some standard tat. The place was like a maze and whole sections of its tat shop were unattended. It was creepy, though not as creepy as these odd mannequins pretending to play a song. I walked up and down the line inspecting the cowboy orchestra and its lifelike figures and could swear their eyes followed me. I was out of there after that!

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If I had wanted paracetamol I would have come away empty handed. However if I wanted a baseball with pictures of South Dakota and Wall Drug Store all over it, there were buckets of them……. and I bought one, it’s awesome. As predicted the Minuteman Missile Site was shut as well as the entrance to Badlands National Park. Another two things that would have been awesome and I doubt we will make it back there anytime soon. We carried on east another hour to the KOA at Belvidere East. The place was pretty empty and it looked to have a lovely lake next to it. My intention was to get some dinner and maybe go for a walk. Emma got out to hook Bertha up to the good stuff and came back near death from exposure. We had outrun the storm but not out run the arctic winds.

Bertha was also beeping that she needed an oil change. We phoned Cruise America and after 20 minutes of waiting on hold and then having to explain our problem to three people they told us to just take it to the nearest town and keep the receipt to claim back the cash when we dropped Bertha back home. The problem with that is we were in the middle of nowhere which was in the middle of nowhere county in a sparsely populated state. The nearest place on our route was in Mitchell 160 miles away which tied in perfectly to the next days activities. Cruise America approved of this and satisfied Bertha would get her oil change Emma rustled up a superb belly warming curry and the gale force winds outside rocked us to sleep.

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