Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Pahá Sápa Adventure

Part 4: "The Heart of Everything That Is"

Last month I traveled to Pahá Sápa, which is the Lakota name for the Black Hills of South Dakota. Accompanying me on this journey were my friends Kathleen, Joey and Will.

As I mentioned previously, one of the reasons I was particularly looking forward to this trip was the fact that it afforded me the opportunity to experience places and landscapes associated with the Oglala Lakota warrior and mystic Crazy Horse, someone for whom I have much respect, and in whose life and times I am greatly interested.

Although Crazy Horse lived most of his life on the Great Plains, he was born in the Black Hills and, according to reliable sources, spent time there as both a child and an adult. And, of course, like all Lakota of his time, Crazy Horse understood and experienced the Black Hills as being the most sacred place in creation, as the heart of everything there is. It grieved and angered him greatly to see the Black Hills taken over and exploited by the whites.

Our first full day in Pahá Sápa was Sunday, June 9. We spent much of that day exploring that area of the Black Hills known today as Custer State Park. Now, I have to say that given the sacred significance of the Black Hills to the Lakota (or Sioux), I find it troubling, to say the least, that any part of Pahá Sápa should be named after George Armstrong Custer or indeed any of the white military leaders who played a role in driving the Lakota off their lands. Such naming just seems to add insult to injury. I feel the same way about place names in my home country of Australia. There, however, a "dual naming policy" has been adopted which allows official names that consist of both the traditional Aboriginal name and the English name. Perhaps the most well known examples of this policy are Ulura/Ayers Rock and Kata Tjuta/The Olgas.

As far as I know, no such dual naming policy exists in the U.S. I think this is unfortunate as it reflects an insensitivity, perhaps even an indifference, to indigenous culture, spirituality, and history. Take, for example, the case involving General William S. Harney, the U.S. cavalry officer who on September 3, 1855, oversaw the massacre of 86 people in the camp of the Brulé Lakota chief Little Thunder. Most of the dead were women and children.

In The Journey of Crazy Horse: A Lakota History, Joseph M. Marshall III notes that the young Crazy Horse witnessed the aftermath of this brutal attack as well as the previous "Gratton incident," which resulted in the death of Chief Conquering Bear. Writes Marshall:

History told from the viewpoint of those who consider themselves the winners in the so-called "clash of cultures" casts the indigenous people as the bad guys because they stood in the way of progress and "manifest destiny." The whites, so far as the Lakota – and many other Plains tribes were concerned – were the bad guys. They were not considered honored enemies, such as the Crow, Shoshoni, and Pawnee. The newcomers were arrogant intruders and loud, brash interlopers whose movements into Lakota territory was like a prairie fire consuming everything in its path.

. . . One wonders what Crazy Horse would think of the modern-day irony associated with General Harney, dubbed "Woman Killer" by the Sicangu [or Brulé] Lakota: In the middle of the Black Hills is the highest of all the granite peaks. Like Bear Butte to the north, it was a favorite location for vision quests and other ceremonies. It was, and is, considered by the Lakota to be the spiritual center of the world. That highest and holiest of places was named Harney Peak by the whites. I have seen old Lakota men simply shake their heads at what they considered to be the most grievous of insults, because they could find no words to adequately describe their feelings.

– Joseph M. Marshall III
The Journey of Crazy Horse: A Lakota History
pp. 108-110

Given all of this, I prefer the Lakota name for the highest peak in the Black Hills – Hinhan Kaga Pahá, the Place of the Thunders.

Above: At the head of the trail to Little Devils Tower. From left: Joey, Kathleen, and Will.

Above: The Cathedral Spires – a group of granite pillars located in an area of Custer State Park known as the Needles.

Above: With Kathleen atop Little Devils Tower – the second highest point in the Black Hills. Behind us can be seen Hinhan Kaga Pahá, the highest summit in the United States east of the Rocky Mountains and the highest point in the Black Hills.

Wikipedia notes that:

[Hinhan Kaga Pahá] is the site of the [Oglala Lakota] Black Elk's "Great Vision" which he received when nine years old, and the site to which he returned as an old man, accompanied by writer John Neihardt, who popularized the medicine man in his book Black Elk Speaks.

Neihardt recorded Black Elk's words regarding his vision as follows: "I was standing on the highest mountain of them all, and round about beneath me was the whole hoop of the world. And while I stood there I saw more than I can tell and I understood more than I saw; for I was seeing in a sacred manner the shapes of all things in the spirit, and the shape of all shapes as they must live together like one being."

Black Elk, who died in 1950 aged 87, was a second cousin of Crazy Horse.

Above and below: Views of Pahá Sápa from Little Devils Tower – Sunday, June 9, 2013.

Following is another excerpt from The Journey of Crazy Horse: A Lakota History by Joseph M. Marshall III. This excerpt speaks powerfully of the significance of the Black Hills to the Lakota.

Traveling into the Black Hills – even simply observing them from a distance – always evoked a moment of reverence, an unspoken acknowledgement of all that this sacred place meant. such feelings were often hard to put into words, so one simply paused and looked and allowed images to have their impact.

. . . Not only were these mountains the place of Crazy Horse's birth, they were the center of the Lakota world, which carried far more meaning. The heart of everything that is. . . . No one knew how many Lakotas were laid to rest here in these mountains – over countless seasons their flesh and bones becoming one with the most sacred of places. There was no way to own these mountains, not in the sense one owned clothing or a weapon. But this was a place to feel connected, truly related to everything that is. It was a place that owned the Lakota.

– Joseph M. Marshall III
The Journey of Crazy Horse: A Lakota History
p. 200

Above: The rock formation known as the Eye of the Needle.

Above: The Needles Eye Tunnel.

Above and below: Traveling the Needles Highway, also known as South Dakota Highway 87.

Notes Wikipedia:

After splitting from US 16A, the route is known as the Needles Highway. The highway is named after the high granite "needles" it winds among. Access to the Needles Highway requires a Custer State Park entrance license, making that portion of SD 87 a toll road. Along this stretch lies the Black Hills Playhouse. The highway passes through two tunnels blasted through sheer granite walls — Iron Creek Tunnel at mile 25 (40 km), and Needles Eye Tunnel at mile 31 (50 km). Owing to the narrow roadway, sharp turns, and low tunnels, the road has very little traffic. The vehicles that do travel this road are almost exclusively sightseers.

Just after Needles Eye Tunnel, Highway 87 serves as the northern terminus of SD 89. After this junction, SD 87 has one more tunnel, Hood Tunnel, at milepost 33 (53 km).[1] It then provides access to the Sylvan Lake Resort. The route finally ends at US 16/385 south of Hill City.

Above: Sylvan Lake.

Above and below: The buffalo (or bison) herd of Custer State Park.

Notes Wikipedia:

[Custer State Park] is home to a famous herd of 1500 free roaming bison. Elk, mule deer, white tailed deer, mountain goats, bighorn sheep, pronghorn, mountain lions, and feral burros also inhabit the park. The park is famous for its scenery, its scenic drives (Needles Highway and the wildlife loop), with views of the bison herd and prairie dog towns.

Concerning the correct use of the terms "bison" and "buffalo," Wikipedia notes that:

The term "buffalo" is sometimes considered to be a misnomer for this animal, as it is only distantly related to either of the two "true buffalo," the Asian water buffalo and the African buffalo. However, "bison" is a Greek word meaning ox-like animal, while "buffalo" originated with the French fur trappers who called these massive beasts bœufs, meaning ox or bullock — so both names, "bison" and "buffalo," have a similar meaning. Though the name "Bison" might be considered to be more scientifically correct, as a result of standard usage the name "Buffalo" is also considered correct and is listed in many dictionaries as an acceptable name for American Buffalo or bison. In reference to this animal, the term "buffalo", dates to 1635 in North American usage when the term was first recorded for the American mammal. It thus has a much longer history than the term "bison", which was first recorded in 1774.

I conclude this installment of "Pahá Sápa Adventure" with an excerpt from Larry McMurtry's book Crazy Horse: A Life.

The Sioux [or Lakota] peoples in the time of Crazy Horse were spread across the northern and central plains in many loosely related tribes of bands, each governed, for the most part, not by one leader but by councils composed of tribal elders, men of skill, experience, and wisdom. . . . The Sioux were a mobile people who saw little advantage in rigidly fixed arrangements. Crazy Horse was an Oglala who spent a lot of time with the Brulés (his mother's people), some time with the Cheyennes, and later in life, at least a little time with the Hunkpapas. One of the glories of being a Plains Indian in his time was that one didn't have to stay put. An Oglala might want to move in with the Minniconjou band for a while, and was free to do so. The people were of necessity on the move anyway – the necessity being the dictates of the hunt.

. . . [Crazy Horse's] prominence today, as a symbol of Sioux resistance, owes much to his character . . . but it also is in part a matter of historical timing. He fought his best in the last great battles – the Rosebud and the Little Bighorn – and died young, in the last moments when the Sioux could think of themselves as free. By an accident of fate, the man and the way of life died together: little wonder that he came to be a symbol of Sioux freedom, Sioux courage, and Sioux dignity.

Though Crazy Horse was able to live many months and sometimes even years in the traditional Sioux way, raiding and hunting in turn, the way of life which he had been born was dying even while he was a boy. By the time of his birth the whites were already moving in considerable numbers along the Holy Road (what we call the Oregon Trail); at first the pressure of white intrusion may have been subtle and slight, but it was present, and would be present throughout his entire life. The buffalo were there in their millions when he was born but were mostly gone by the time he died. Crazy Horse would have been a boy of five or six when Francis Parkman camped in a Sioux village whose leader was Old Smoke; it's possible that young Curly – Crazy Horse's nickname while a boy – was even living in the village when Parkman passed through. We don't know that, but we do know that Francis Parkman was well aware that the way of life he was witnessing that summer – vividly described in The Oregon Trial – was a way of life that would soon be changing; indeed, would soon end.

As a lad Curly probably had no inkling of this, nor did most of his people, although the presence of whites in increasing numbers along the Holy Road was already an irritant. With an abundance of game both north and south of the Platte River, it may be thought that tribal life could have gone on with little change. But the lives of hunting people are never that secure. There was, to be sure, a lot of game; but it didn't meekly present itself to those who hunted it. The game still had to be found and killed – then, as now, animals were quick to shift away from places where they were heavily hunted. From the standpoint of the Sioux, Cheyenne, and Pawnee hunters who lived by what they killed, the white invasion was almost immediately destructive.

. . . By 1850 all the Plains Indians had to reckon with the fact that though the whites were going through, they weren't going away. They brought many things that the Indians could use, but they also brought something that no tribe wanted: smallpox. The terrible epidemic that struck the Missouri River tribes in 1837, just a few years before Crazy Horse was born, nearly wiped out the Mandans and drastically weakened the Blackfeet.

The Whites came, their diseases came, and the game left – not all of it, of course, but even a slight diminution was enough to affect the lives of hunting peoples. Friction steadily increased along the Holy Road; immigrant trains were attacked, the occasional immigrant killed. There was no full-scale warfare yet, just an ominous, continuous rumbling. From the Santa Fe Trail in the south to Fort Union in the north there were clashes, disturbances, apprehension. The Indians, who had at first been friendly with the whites, soon found their patience beginning to fray; the whites, for their part, had never had much patience with the Indians. The Plains Indians were beginning to be seen as mobile impediments; what they stood in the way of was progress, a concept dear to the American politician.

. . . [By 1873] the severe financial panic [back east] had for a time driven mere Indian fights off the front pages . . . the gilding was suddenly beginning to flake off the Gilded Age; all was confusion, dismay, frustration. There no longer seemed to be enough money; specifically, not enough gold. The conservatives were happy to have the country on a gold standard, as long as there was enough gold for the economy to expand; but in the summer of 1873, there wasn't enough. Paper money had not yet fully caught on.

Fortunately for the nation, unfortunately for the Sioux, the Black Hills awaited; there had long been rumors of large gold deposits in the Sioux's holy hills. Awkwardly, though, for the leaders of the whites, there was the binding and much-publicized treaty of 1868, unequivocally giving those very hills to the Sioux forever, with unusually clear provisions that they, the whites, were to be kept out. The U.S. government had broken many treaties with the Indians; some would say they had broken all of them – the writer Alex Shoumatoff recently reckoned the total at 378 – but few of these breakages involved so much squirming and soul searching and public posturing as the treaty of 1868. General Sheridan began to mutter unconvincingly about treaty violations on the part of the Sioux, but in fact the Sioux were behaving nicely at the time, as the same general had admitted in another context. There were no grounds for breaching the treaty of 1868 except the grounds the whites finally always used: The United States wanted the Black Hills and all the gold that might be there. A big step toward the taking of them was the expedition that brought General [George Armstrong] Custer back to the west and produced the famous photograph of a seemingly endless line of wagons proceeding through a valley in the Black Hills. This expedition soon fulfilled its main, though unstated, purpose, which was to find gold in sufficient quantities to quench the thirst of the starving markets.

– Larry McMurtry
Crazy Horse: A Life
p. 14, pp. 17-20, pp. 77-78

NEXT: "I Will Return to You in the Stone"

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Pahá Sápa Bound
Pahá Sápa Adventure – Part 1: The Journey Begins
Pahá Sápa Adventure – Part 2: The Badlands
Pahá Sápa Adventure – Part 3: Camp Life
A Visit to the National Museum of the American Indian
Crazy Horse: "Strange Man" of the Great Plains
"Something Sacred Dwells There"
This Corner of the Earth
My "Bone Country"

Images: Michael J. Bayly.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this interesting story and the wonderful pictures.