North and South Dakota – Jane has written a fascinating daily journal about her travels in North and South Dakota. They are the most beautiful states to visit and Jane captures the moments with her usual eloquence:

south dakota badlands

Beautiful Dakota

My Journey to visit the Native Americans of North and South Dakota – and gift shops 

Part One 

Almost exactly fourteen years ago, on 6/7/06, I went on an organised Spiritual tour to the Dakotas in America to spend time with the Indian Tribes there, mainly the Lakota, and Sioux. It was enjoyable, educational, sometimes farcical, and often disorganised trip. My knowledge of Indian reservation Gift Shops is second to none, as no matter where we were, they would always appear, sometimes at the roadside in the middle of nowhere, uncannily guessing that a coachload of tourists might appear in an otherwise barren desert at just the right time.. 

 A few weeks ago, I found my diary of the trip. I thought that I would share some of the highlights, and lowlights, of the two weeks there. I present this pretty much as I wrote it at the time. Names have been anonymised. 

Arrived in Rapid City, South Dakota from Gatwick, 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  wheel chair bound friend, Yvonne, who, together with Debbie, seemed determined to have me create and sew an entire new wardrobe. 

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. 

An early start and 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. Another early start had the driver smiling at the girly conversation as we headed to see the Sioux tribe, passing buffalo and fish rich rivers. There I met a Shaman, “Starbird” who gave me an insight into my own Past Life 

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 line of 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 to stay behind so as not to hinder the speed of the younger men and women seeking safety.” 

A fine day filled with spiritual significance. 

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 do not use towels to clean your guns. 

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 visited 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 unsuccessfully requested of Secretary of War John H. Eaton, a federally funded exploration of the Westl. 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. Frémont during the early 1840s. 

The rocks have pictures of buffalo, eagles bears etc painted on them, they are thousands of years old, the Indians claim they can read them like tarot cards, and I learned that sage is widely used as a disinfectant and aid to chest problems 

Drove to North Dakota, saw a one room schoolhouse and went over Black Tongue Hill and the 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 

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 father and 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.  

Monday – so exhausted, I left everyone downstairs after just one glass of wine. 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 could not 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. 

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 videoed me doing Hopi Ear Candles. We were chatted up by the ranch guys who asked Eileen her name. She said it was Prem, because she always came early! 

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 in a 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 overcome 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 Wokmapenny, 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 on his phone explaining  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, Jenny 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! 

My Journey to visit the Native Americans of North and South Dakota – and gift shops 

Jane Osbourne

Part two Tomorrow:

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