The Home of the Bison - The Cultural Foundations of Tribal Affiliations to WCNP

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The cultural significance of the region where WCNP now stands to the Lakotas, Cheyennes, and other tribal nations is frequently diminished and trivialized in European American accounts. Their stories about the area are often labeled as "tales," "lore" or "legends," implying that none of them need to be taken seriously. This is unfortunate because Lakota and Cheyenne understandings of this area, its landscapes, landforms, geological activity, astronomical pheno-mena, plant habitats, and animal life, involve complex, richly textured, and systematized bodies of knowledge. The ontological premises of their knowledge systems certainly differ from the ones to which European Americans conventionally subscribe, but they still generate sophisticated interpretations of the region in which WCNP is located. This knowledge needs to be taken seriously and treated as a different but no less compelling way of thinking about the park in particular and the Black Hills more generally. The Black Hills are a powerful teacher, as the Lakotas, Cheyennes, and Arapahos have long known, and it is important, where it is culturally appropriate and permissible to do so, to include some of their teachings in park interpretive programming (pp. 283-286, 578-593, 649).

From historic times to the present, the Lakotas have referred to the Hills euphemistically as a "meat pack, " a "safe," or a "supermarket," a place that contains all of the resources necessary for the well-being of the life forms they once depended on (pp. 281-282). In the historic era, roughly 1742 to 1877, the Black Hills represented a veritable storehouse of animals, plants, minerals, soils, and waters of value to local tribes. Tribes drew on these resources in different ways and degrees, but one thing is clear: the Black Hills were well known as an important and highly esteemed location for various kinds of resource procurement. Although one important species, the bison, abandoned the Hills after the 1860s, others remained abundant enough to provision the bands who stayed in the area or accessed it from a distance on a regular and recurring basis. Even after tribal title to the Hills was extinguished in 1877, Lakotas and Cheyennes continued to return to the region to hunt and find plants, stones, and other resources important to their daily needs and spiritual well-being, and they continue to do so to the present day (pp. 315-32, 392-400).

The Black Hills' unique and diverse natural landscapes did not go unnoticed by the tribal nations who once lived and traveled in their reach. In most tribal perspectives, the abundance, uniqueness, and diversity of the Hills' life forms were a telling testimony of their importance and sacredness. Indeed, the two went together in the sense that the region's geological/ biological complexity was embedded in, constituted by, created for, and a sign of their spiritual power. Indeed, the Lakotas and Cheyennes have long believed that the Black Hills are part of a complex and integrated ecosystem with important relationships to the surrounding prairies and sagebrush steppes. In his testimony before the Allison Commission, Red Cloud referred to the Black Hills as the "Head Chief of the Land" (pp. 522, 578-579, 595). Just as leaders do with their followers, the Hills guided, nurtured, and provisioned the lands within their shadows. As early as 1804, Lewis and Clark learned from the Arikaras that the winter home of the animals was located in the Black Hills (p. 476). In the early nineteenth century, bighorn, elk, pronghorn, and bison were reported to seek shelter during the winter months in their lower elevation recesses. The annual cycle of ungulate movement between the Black Hills and the surrounding grasslands was well-known to the Lakotas and Cheyennes, and it was also described by scores of European American writers who traveled the Hills before several native species were extirpated from the area (pp. 309-315; 578-579).

The Lakotas and Cheyennes believe the Black Hills contain all the tiers, directions, and/or elements of the universe and that the spiritual forces which govern them have their homes in the Hills and their outlier formations (Inyan Kara Mountain, Bear Lodge Butte, and Bear Butte). Some of these homes are associated with caves. The Lakotas, for example, link Wind Cave to the spiritual force that governs the wind-power responsible for the breath of life (pp. 294-295, 305, 498, 499, 553). The Lakotas and Cheyennes, along with the Arapahos and Arikaras, also believe the spirits of animals reside in caves, and even more specifically, that they inhabit the vast cavern formations underneath the Black Hills. Cave openings are seen as portals to the animals' subterranean homes, places where they exist in a spiritualized state awaiting the time of their materialization and emergence on the earth's surface (pp. 309, 311-312, 579-588).

In many different ways, the Black Hills are envisioned as an enormous fertility or reproductive structure, often represented in the form of a bison. In historic times, winter was the time when animals returned to their underground homes. It was the season of gestation when new life was incubated inside the womb of ungulate species and by extension inside the earth and the caves in the Black Hills. In spring, when new generations of animals were born and received the breath of life, they were nursed at locations along the Race Track. The thermal waters at Hot Springs, for example, are described as the "milk" of the earth. Eventually, the animals made their way to the surrounding grasslands through the Hills various gateway canyons or "birth canals," including the most famous one, the Buffalo Gap. After a summer season of feeding and growth, they returned in the late fall to the Race Track and then to the underworld to undergo a new cycle of rebirth and regeneration (pp. 455-456, 532-533, 564-565, 578).

In Lakota traditions, the spirit homes of bison are typically located in stone structures underneath the earth and usually inside eminences, such as mountains or hills (pp. 296-298, 340, 447, 544). In one Lakota story, the ice-like crystals of this subterranean world were the material out of which the Creator formed the first members of the Pte Oyate (Buffalo Nation), the ancestors of humans (p. 297). Gypsum (selenite), an important mineral in cave formation, was used in healing, in locating and calling animals, and in marking ceremonial altars (pp. 429, 433). In fact, the ribbon-like formations of gypsum that follow the Race Track have important symbolic meanings in Lakota and Cheyenne traditions and religious observances (pp. 340, 433-434, 557, 560, 566, 573,592). Stone is one of the most important spiritual entities in Lakota cosmology, constituting the foundation of all subsequent forms of creation. It is strongly equated with the earth and the bison (p. 594).

The spiritualized essence of the earth is usually represented in the figure of a bison woman whose home of origin is a cave or a spring. In Lakota and Cheyenne traditions, she appears either as an elderly woman or a young female who gifts humans with the plentiful supplies of bison that emerge from her subterranean home (pp. 299-300, 338-339, 447-449). The notion that the Black Hills embody a feminine generative presence is widespread in tribal traditions and documented not only for the Lakotas and Cheyennes, but also the Kiowas (pp. 499-500). Beneficent female bison spirits appear in a number of stories associated with Wind Cave (pp. 537-540).

Like stone and earth, water that comes from the depths of the earth is believed to have regenerative properties. And like caves, springs are seen as sites of emergence. In fact, several Cheyenne stories speak about bison coming to the earth's surface through springs rather than caves (pp. 303-304, 453-454). Springs and caves are related, insofar as both are connected to the subterranean home of the bison and their guardian, the Earth. Both are also associated with Little People, who in some traditions are the Earth's helpers, assisting in the generative processes that she controls. Little People appear in several stories linked to the Wind Cave-Hot Springs area (pp. 454-455, 561-562).

Many Lakotas believe they are descended from the Pte Oyate (Buffalo Nation), and like their forbearers, they came into existence in the subterranean world and reached the earth's surface through a cave opening. The Lakota genesis story of Tokahe is widely associated with Wind Cave, and in fact, today, this is the one most commonly told in relation to this cave (pp. 540-542).

Once bison emerge on the earth's surface, their movement is linked to the wind and the sun. In early Lakota traditions, the North Wind, Waziyata, or his grandfather, Waziya (Winter Man and/or the First Buffalo Man), were equated with the North or Nadir of the earth, the direction from which the bison come. The home of these two figures is a cave. Some stories about Wind Cave are associated with the North Wind and/or the Old Man of Winter, and one of the Lakota names for this cave identifies it as the home of the wind, suggesting it has a connection to Tate, the Wind and his five sons, the Four Winds and the Whirlwind (pp. 302, 340-341, 449-452,549-555). In Lakota thought, the North Wind represents the material manifestation of ni, the breath of life (pp. 292, 302, 447). On cold winter days, bison were easily located by their clouds of frozen breath. Similarly, the openings to caves were made visible by the condensation they emitted. The Lakotas formed a synergistic connection between the two. Caves came to symbolize not only the place where bison came from but also where the breath of life or the wind originated (pp. 451, 452, 586). Because of its forceful airflows, Wind Cave came to represent the penultimate expression of this process, and some modern Lakota identify it very specifically with the spiritual force that governs breath (p. 545).

Historically, the North Wind and his grandfather, the Winter Man, maintained a paradoxical relationship with humans and bison because they created conditions that were life-giving as well as life-taking. Winters with enough cold and snow coverage to force bison into their usual patterns of movement were believed to be necessary for strong health and the renewal of life. Yet, under extreme conditions, winter could also bring death by driving game away and causing starvation (pp. 580-583). Indeed, one of the episodes in the highly regarded Falling Star cycle of the Cheyennes and Lakotas tells how the hero killed the Winter Man so people could hunt the bison he was hoarding. This story may have been associated with Wind Cave (pp. 556-557).

The connection of bison to the North Wind appears to have been part of an older Lakota tradition, widely recorded in the writings of nineteenth century observers who frequently mention the Black Hills in association with a giant who lived in a cave and controlled the movement of animals (pp. 449-450, 478, 587-588). This connection was confirmed in later years by Lakotas, who suggested that the lofty position of the North Wind was replaced by the figure of Tatanka, often represented as a white bison bull (pp. 337, 538). In fact, this cosmological shift may very well have followed a change in the seasons bison were typically hunted. Prior to the widespread adoption of horses and the commercial marketing of their robes, bison were usually hunted in the late fall and early winter through driving techniques at locations with natural enclosures or precipices (pp. 322-323, 581). In fact, just south of park properties is the Sanson Buffalo Jump, where bison were hunted in this manner during prehistoric times. By the mid-nineteenth century, the customary time of the year to hunt bison was the late summer and early fall when the herds congregated on the open plains at locations outside the Black Hills (p. 323).

Tatanka remains a central figure in all major Lakota religious observances, including the most important of all, the Sun Dance (pp. 337-338). The bison bull is important to the Cheyennes as well, but he is not described in any detail in the ethnographic literature (p. 338). Among the Lakotas, the bison bull is sometimes linked to caves, and a few stories about Wind Cave and the general subterranean cavernous structure underneath the Black Hills mention white bison bulls or crazy bulls (pp. 542-543, 545-547). More typically, Tatanka is connected to the surface of the earth, including lands along the Race Track near the Buffalo Gap that are known in the Lakota language as Tatanka makalhpaya [The Stomping Grounds of the Bison Bull]. One important traditional Lakota story tells how a bison bull transformed himself into a human at this location (pp. 533-534).

In his various manifestations, Tatanka appears to be most closely associated with the sun, another major cosmic force in Lakota and Cheyenne cosmologies. The two are companions, and at night, when the sun sets, it stays underneath the earth in the bison's subterranean home (pp. 300-302, 452). In Cheyenne cosmology, the Sun is associated with the Southeast Wind (Hesenota or Esseneta'he) (p. 287). There are many tantalizing bits of information, albeit circumstantial, that suggest the Buffalo Gap area may have been associated in older Cheyenne traditions with the home or "pillar" of this wind. In Lakota beliefs, the sun is connected either to the South (Itokagata) or the East (Wihiyanpa) Wind (pp. 290-291). In the worldviews of both tribes, there is a dynamic tension between the north (nadir-earth) and south (zenith-sun) that is played out every spring, when the sun begins its return movement north (pp. 300-301). According to the Lakotas, as the sun gets stronger, it drives the North Wind away and signals the bison to emerge from their subterranean homes to follow the sun's path. In historic times, this seasonal shift was associated with the general area of the Buffalo Gap and the annual cycle of the bison's movement to the grasslands beyond the Hills (pp. 300-302, 340, 452, 583-585).

The interaction of water, stone, and fire leads to the creation of breath, and bison symbolize this process because they carry the ton or force of the four superior spiritual elements in Lakota cosmology, namely, Stone, Earth, Sun, and Wind (and Sky) (p. 713). The sweatlodge, which is an important cultural practice among the Lakotas and Cheyennes, mimics a process that takes place on a grand scale in the region of Wind Cave National Park where the forces of the sun intersect with water (springs) and stone (caves), creating the conditions that spark the breath of life for new generations of bison (pp. 462-463, 585-586). When the southeastern reaches of the Black Hills still teemed with bison, the movement of certain herds between their winter homes along the Race Track and their summer grazing grounds on the prairies as far south as Alliance, Nebraska was well known to the Cheyennes and Lakotas who traveled and lived in this area (p. 579). Even after bison were extirpated from the region in the 1860s, their relationship to the Black Hills and the Wind Cave-Buffalo Gap area remained inscribed in tribal memory. When bison were reintroduced in the area during the early twentieth century, this event probably did not go unnoticed, nor would it have been unexpected. After all, Wind Cave was a major portal to and from their underworld home, and so logically, this would be the place they would first reappear. This event was certainly consistent with tribal beliefs, and it may have even reaffirmed the Lakotas' conviction that Wind Cave is the origin home of the bison.

Once life is incubated within the depths of the Black Hills and emerges on the earth's surface through various cave openings, its various manifestations need to be ordered to insure its survivance. The process of this ordering is what the famous story of the Race Track is about. There are many different versions of this story among the Cheyennes and Lakotas, but many focus on how the race ordered the relationships between different animals and humans, thereby establishing certain basic categorical and cosmological distinctions in the universe (pp. 563-568). In some Cheyenne traditions, the origins of the Sun Dance are connected to the story of the Great Race, and the area of the Buffalo Gap is believed to be the location where the bison first performed the dance and turned its teachings over to humans. The Sun Dance remains one of the most important religious observances of the Cheyennes and Lakotas, and much of its symbolism, at least among the Cheyennes, is directly tied to the Race Track and the story of the Great Race. Although many Lakotas and Cheyennes believe that the first Sun Dance conducted by humans took place in the Sun Dance Mountains near Bear Lodge Butte, its ultimate origin is still associated with the Wind Cave-Buffalo Gap area (pp. 472-475, 569, 572-573, 595-596).

The Lakotas also connect the Race Track to a circular constellation comprised of stars whose movements were coordinated with various landforms in the Black Hills (pp. 506-511, 569-570, 593-596). These alignments marked events in a ceremonial pilgrimage that started in the early spring with a pipe ceremony near the Buffalo Gap, moved to the interiors near Harney Peak and the Central Prairies, traveled to Inyan Kara Mountain and Bear Lodge Butte, and ended up at Bear Butte. One of the routes on this pilgrimage apparently followed the Race Track across WCNP properties to trails that led to the higher elevation regions of the Hills (p. 583).

While the Black Hills are unquestionably associated with the life cycle and movement of local animal populations, they are also distinguished by their plant life, which includes many species that never die over the winter months. The year-round greenery of the Hills' abundant and concentrated stands of lodgepole pines, ponderosas, cedars, sages, spruces, and kinnikinick must have underscored the idea that this region had powers to perpetually renew and regenerate life (pp. 430, 589). Kinnikinick or bearberry, the gift of a spirit wolf, comes from the same direction as the North Wind and the bison, and it remains a vital ingredient in the tobacco mixtures that local tribes use when smoking a pipe to carry their messages to the spirits and Wakan Tanka or Ma'heo (pp. 436-437). The notion that the Hills embody immortal forces and spirits is a long-standing one that, at least in terms of the written record, extends back to the mid-nineteenth century (pp. 513-514). This idea imbued the Black Hills with their reputation for providing tribal people with the natural resources necessary for maintaining and regenerating their own health, and it is probably the principal reason why the Hills remain a preferred site for the collection of many plant resources used in tribal healing and ceremonial observances today (pp. 393-395).

It needs to be emphasized that there are many different beliefs and practices associated with the Black Hills in general and Wind Cave and the Race Track in particular. There is no "right" story nor has there ever been a single overarching narrative about either of these landforms in Lakota and Cheyenne traditions. Notwithstanding the variation, there are certain common themes that tie the different beliefs about these sites together, that link them to other locations in the Black Hills, and that reveal a more encompassing and shared sense of meaning about the relationships between the land, its animals, plants, and minerals, and the sky, its birds, winds, and stars. What the Lakotas and Cheyennes shared were certain cultural assumptions about the relationships between caves, springs, breath as a life-giving force, bison, and the spiritual forces, the Winds, the Earth, the Stone, and the Sun, that governed them. The cosmological precepts they shared were woven together in a range of tapestry-like storytellings that made sense in relation to the unique topography and landscape of the southeastern Hills. Most of the stories about Wind Cave, the Race Track, the Buffalo Gap, and the Hot Springs address fundamental and widely shared cosmological tenets about the nature of life and the workings of the universe. When they do so, they evoke the sacred knowledge and spiritual understandings that are at the heart of the way the Lakotas and Cheyennes see themselves and interpret their presence in this world (pp. 573-575).

Over time, some of the beliefs associated with the area of WCNP have changed. Yet, there is a remarkable continuity in the fundamental cosmological precepts that these traditions address. There is very little in modern Lakota and Cheyenne understandings of this area that does not have some historical precedent. Contrary to certain critics, who argue that contemporary Lakota beliefs about the sacredness of the Black Hills were invented in the twentieth century, either in response to tourism or the political movements of the 1970s, this report has gone to great lengths to demonstrate how modern beliefs and practices relating to the Hills and the region of WCNP have deep historical roots (pp. 476-577).

The region of WCNP not only occupies a significant place in Lakota and Cheyenne cosmo-logies and religious practice, but it also has importance for other reasons. Historically, this was an area some bands customarily established their winter camps. Locations along the Race Track, including those in the area of Wind Cave National Park, were highly valued because they were common winter haunts of the bison, and if bison failed to return, there was an abundance of other game. The season from late fall to early winter was the primary time of the year to hunt elk and mule deer, which commonly inhabited the Race Track and the rocky recesses of the Hogback. It is not fortuitous that most of the Lakota stories associated with the Wind Cave area take place during the late fall or winter months, the time of year the tate [small hunting parties] pursued elk and deer. Whether Lakota and Cheyenne winter camps were in the park at locations along the Race Track, at nearby sites along Beaver Creek and the Fall River, or outside the Hills along the Cheyenne and White rivers and even as far away as the Platte or Missouri rivers, it is clear that the region of Wind Cave National Park was one of areas small groups of hunters came to find game during the late fall and early winter months. The lands that make up most of the park's properties were clearly understood as a game reserve. They were a favorite winter hunting ground for the Lakotas and Cheyennes, an area that once held large numbers of bison. Even after this animal disappeared from the region, it was still rich in other sorts of large and small game, including several different species of birds commonly taken for food (pp. 106-109, 210-211, 214-215, 216, 218-210, 222, 223,316-317, 319, 379-380).

Bands that wintered outside the Hills usually camped in the area during other seasons. Around the time of the vernal equinox and before the thunders arrived, the Wind Cave-Buffalo Gap region was a place to gather dogwood and kinnikinick for tobacco mixtures (p. 509). As the summer solstice approached, bands began to move to locations in the higher elevation regions of the Hills (p. 399, 437-438). In doing so, they followed the Race Track to reach the well-established trails that took them into the interiors. At least two of these trails crossed park properties: one entered the Hills by way of the Buffalo Gap and followed Beaver Creek and its tributaries into the interiors; and the second skirted the western edge of the park near the water supply area by way of Red and Shirttail canyons and the Beaver Valley (pp. 586-587).

In the late spring and early summer, local bands focused their activity on the procural of plants used as food, medicine, and in manufacturing and ceremony. This was the time of the year the Lakotas and Cheyennes gathered lodgepoles, sought out medicinal plants not found on the surrounding prairies, and gathered food plants that were abundant in the Hills at this time of the year. Eastern facing locations along the Race Track and Hogback, for example, were popular sites to gather prairie turnip in the month of June (pp. 197, 208, 211, 220, 222, 223, 242, 393, 399, 583-584, 586-587).

Some local bands also traveled these trails in the fall and winter months to trap animals whose peltries and hides were at their prime during this time of the year. This would have been particularly true for the Lakotas and Cheyennes whose immediate families were linked by marriage to European American traders and trappers (pp. 227-229). In fact, some early European American observers described how blazes were set in the trees of the Hills' interiors to mark trails when these were covered by snow. Again, the familiar route that crosses Wind Cave National Park along Beaver Creek and its tributaries may have been used for this purpose (pp. 210-211, 228-229). Some bands also returned to the area in the fall rather than the spring to procure their lodgepoles (p. 399)..

No matter what season groups were in the Hills, they clearly sought out local springs in the area either for drinking water or for healing. The thermal waters just south of WCNP at Hot Springs were widely used by the Cheyennes and the Lakotas. There is abundant archaeological evidence of campsites in the vicinity of these springs, and this is one area where Lakotas and Cheyennes were reported to return on a continuing and recurring basis after 1877. While their reverence for and use of these thermal waters is the best documented, other springs have cultural significance too. Springs that emerge out of bluffs and rock outcroppings are commonly associated with the spiritual homes of Little People and also with the Double-Woman of the Lakotas, who is an important figure associated with excellence in quillwork. Any site of this order is bound to have spiritual significance and use, and, it would not be surprising to learn of such places inside the boundaries of WCNP (pp. 295, 304, 453-454; 485-487, 590-591).

Prior to the acquisition of trade metal and European-made tools, the Black Hills were a prime location to acquire rock and mineral suitable for manufacturing and ceremonial use. Two sites near WCNP, Battle Mountain and Flint Hill, were important areas to quarry flint used in the making of arrowpoints, and several archaeological sites on park properties also reveal quarrying activity. The gypsum and red clay deposits found along the Red Valley, for example, are explained in Cheyenne and Lakota traditions as originating in the Great Race, and both play a significant role in their ceremonial observances, including the Sun Dance. Even after the Lakotas, Cheyennes, and Arapahos were removed from the area, some of them returned to procure minerals, clays, and soil, especially those used for healing and religious observances (pp. 397-398, 433-434, 591-592).

In the years prior to 1877, Lakota, Cheyenne, and Arapaho bands maintained a complex, varied, and changing relationship to the Black Hills. As described in great detail in Chapter Seven (pp. 199-225), some of them regularly wintered along the Race Track and the lower elevation recesses of the Hogback, including locations in and around WCNP. Others wintered outside the Hills but at locations within easy reach; most of these bands generally camped in the Hills for shorter periods, especially during the spring and early summer. There were also bands who wintered at locations near the Missouri, Platte, and Powder rivers and who accessed the Hills on a recurring but less frequent basis. And finally, there were bands who hardly ever came to the Hills or who once lived near them but rarely returned after they moved to distant locations outside the area. Looked at another way, the size and composition of the populations who stayed near the Hills varied over time. When bison were still abundant on the grasslands east of the Hills, the area was probably densely populated over much of the year by bands that accessed the area at different times and in different ways. After the 1840s, when growing numbers of Arapahos, Lakotas, and Cheyennes moved to locations south and west of the Hills to find more productive bison hunting territories or better grazing lands for their horses, the populations who wintered or summered in the Hills probably declined. Yet, in some years during the 1850s and 1860s, the Hills were heavily populated when bands took sanctuary there to escape U.S. military forces (p. 224). There were also times, especially during the summers of 1874 and 1875, when the Hills were abandoned because of a large American military presence (p. 224). As far back as the prehistoric record, the Black Hills were used by populations who came to the area from diverse locations, who approached them in different seasons, and who stayed within their reach for varying lengths of time (pp. 17-25, 197-224).

However the Black Hills were used, they were an integral part of the territorial range of the Lakotas, Cheyennes, and Arapahos from the late eighteenth century until 1877 when they were illegally seized by the U.S. government. The Hills were also a common ground, a region these tribal nations jointly occupied and defended against outside encroachment. It was an area where they shared access to the region's rich resources, and where they built a sense of community through intermarriage and collaboration in subsistence, ceremony, and trade. In the process, they not only developed certain common understandings about the area, but they also shared access to the sacred sites that revealed the centrality of the Black Hills in their lives and cosmologies (pp. 50-57, 93, 96, 100, 196-198, 248-249, 526-530). The loss of the Black Hills was deeply felt by all of these tribal nations. Their inability to come together in the twentieth century to reclaim the Hills has engendered some bitterness. Yet, overriding some of their political differences is a profound and mutual sense of anger and frustration at being denied access to the Black Hills, particularly the public lands on which some of their most sacred sites rest (pp. 252, 257).

When today's Lakotas claim an ancestral connection to the Black Hills that stretches back to time immemorial, they are correct if we view their past in the light of a complex history of intertribal marriage and alliance and the cultural amalgamation that this history created. Certainly the Lakotas' entrance into the Hills entailed conflict and competition, but it also came about through marriage and cooperation. As pointed out in many parts of the report, contemporary Lakotas are not the same people as the Lakotas of the seventeenth century. The people who make up the population of today's Oglala Lakota (Sioux) Tribe, for example, share strong and well-documented genealogical ties with the Arikaras, Poncas, Arapahos, and Cheyennes, all of whom lived and traveled in the Black Hills before the main body of Lakotas arrived and took up residence in the area during the early nineteenth century. Before the Lakotas' arrival, Arikaras, Poncas, Arapahos, and Cheyennes shared ancestries with the Apaches who lived here probably as early as the sixteenth century. Decades, indeed centuries, of intermarriage created strong and tight social networks within which sharing, cooperation, and collaboration were not only possible but also encouraged across tribal boundaries. Although punctuated by short periods of conflict, the Lakotas' relations with the Arapahos and Cheyennes were especially strong and enduring. Throughout much of the nineteenth century, these three tribes lived together in peace and jointly defended the Hills against the incursions of other tribes, notably the Crows and Pawnees, and together, they attempted to thwart the advance of European Americans. Before these three tribes dominated the Hills, they were co-occupied by Kiowas, Plains Apaches, Comanches, and Crows who tried to keep the Lakotas and Shoshones at bay, and before them Poncas and Arikaras as well as various Apachean and Numic-speaking peoples frequented the area (pp. 50-57, 67, 70, 79, 95, 131, 526-530).

After American troops, prospectors, and settlers invaded the Black Hills illegally in 1874, the Lakotas, Arapahos, and Cheyennes joined forces in launching raids against the interlopers. Most of this raiding took place near the Hills' various canyon gateways and along the Race Track. Some of the most intense fighting occurred at locations that followed the Red Canyon and Buffalo Gap trails into the interiors (pp. 124, 125-126, 157). Some early settlers reported that the southeastern region of the Hills, where WCNP is now located, was one of the areas that local tribes were least willing to relinquish (p. 106). This was the area where the Sicangu Lakota leader Spotted Tail wanted to establish an agency for his followers (pp. 114, 132). When deliberations took place between the federal government and representatives of these three tribes over the sale of the Black Hills, the lands between the outer edge of the limestone plateau and the Cheyenne River, which included the Race Track, were the ones these tribes did not want to abandon. In fact, Red Cloud was very emphatic about not including the Race Track in any sale or lease (pp. 127, 128, 132).

In the last half of the nineteenth century, WCNP and its surrounding environs, including the Buffalo Gap and Hot Springs, remained an ideal location for settlement and use. The area was now within easy reach of government agencies on the upper reaches of the White River, where many Lakotas, Cheyennes, and Arapahos drew their treaty annuities. Although bison had largely disappeared from the area, it still remained a location rich in other game, notably, elk, deer, and pronghorn. The region also offered other necessary amenities, including access to good shelter, wood, fresh water, and even forage for small herds of horses. It contained a rich and diverse range of plant communities, which tribes relied upon for food and medicine and in manufacturing and ceremony; it also included minerals and soils important in their daily life and in the conduct of their religious observances. Some of the same reasons this area was so important to local tribes made it attractive to incoming European Americans. The newcomers also recognized the advantages of its milder winter climate, fine grasses, mineral waters, accessible supplies of timber, and abundant game. They homesteaded along the Fall River and along Beaver and Highland creeks, and they ran their cattle and horses on lands that covered park properties until this use was prohibited in the twentieth century (pp. 116-118142, 150-153, 234-237). They also gathered timber and plant foods in the area and hunted here, and it is probably not a coincidence that many of their stories about Wind Cave and its discovery also involve hunters and hunting (pp. 146-147).

After 1877 when tribal title to the area was extinguished, Lakotas and Cheyennes from the nearby Pine Ridge Reservation gradually returned to the southeastern Black Hills. Once the military's policy of reservation confinement was relaxed, small groups began to enter the Hills with the permission of their government agents. In the late 1870s, the Hot Springs area was settled by a small group of non-Indian men (and men of mixed ancestry) with their Lakota wives and descendants. In the following decades, even at the height of the "Indian Scare" between 1889-1990, Lakotas were reported in the area bathing at the thermal waters of Minnekahta, trading with local merchants and ranchers, visiting friends, and even camping in the town over the entire summer. There are also references to them picking berries, digging turnips, and collecting medicinal herbs in the area. The Lakotas and Cheyennes of Pine Ridge also visited Wind Cave, camped on park properties, and traveled through the park en route to the locations where they cut their lodgepoles (pp.154-161, 224- 226, 242, 393).

In contrast to the late decades of the nineteenth century, when Lakotas and Cheyennes from Pine Ridge returned to the Hills to carry on many traditional subsistence pursuits, their activity in later decades was focused less on procurement, other than the collection of berries and medicinal plants, and more on making a living through performance or employment. In the early decades of the twentieth century, they became actively involved in the round of summer celebration activities sponsored by local white communities, and some became associated with permanent tourist attractions too. In these years, some Lakotas continued to use the park as a camping location en route to areas in the Hills' interiors. In the 1930s, WCNP sponsored an encampment where Lakotas held dances and demonstrated bison butchering and cooking techniques. In these years, the Black Hills continued to be thought of as a source of sustenance, a place that provided people with a means of livelihood. Even though much of their presence in the Hills between 1920 and 1960 took place in settings of tourism, it can be suggested that this experience gave them a concrete context for retelling many traditional stories about the importance of the Hills and its various sacred sites, and this is certainly evident from the recollections of Nicholas Black Elk's grandchildren. Spending time in the Hills may have opened opportunities to visit isolated locations to conduct important but unobtrusive religious observances connected with fasting and other prayerful devotions and also for the collection of plants and stones used in healing and ceremony.

Lakotas and Cheyennes from Pine Ridge and other reservations in South Dakota regularly traveled to the Hills to visit places of sacred significance. After 1930, Cheyennes from Oklahoma and Montana also began to travel to the Hills again for the same purpose. Throughout the twentieth century, the Black Hills were a place of return, an area that reminded tribal peoples of their culture, a landscape that continued to reveal and teach them some of the basic tenets of their worldviews and that rekindled and indeed became integrally tied to their own sense of identity as Indian people and members of particular tribal nations. The essential point is that the Lakotas and Cheyennes never abandoned the Black Hills. They continued to assert their relationship to the area, even if, at times, it was on the terms of the people who had stolen this land from them (pp. 172-179, 475-516).

After the 1970s, the Lakotas, the Cheyennes, and the Arapahos, began to reestablish a relationship to the Hills on their own terms (pp. 180-185, 269-274). Guided by provisions in the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868 and newly established federal laws, especially the American Indian Religious Freedom Act, they sought access to the Hills for the purpose of conducting some of their traditional religious observances. Some participated in political occupations and takeovers, including one at WCNP, to publicize their legal rights, and others tried to get congressional legislation passed that would return most of the public lands in the Black Hills to tribal ownership, including again the area of WCNP. Although much of this political activity has subsided in recent years, Lakotas, Cheyennes, and Arapahos still struggle to advance their interests on public lands in the Black Hills. They continue to lobby for the protection of their sacred sites, for accommodations to conduct ceremonies and solitary religious observances on these lands and for considerations to access various traditional cultural properties. Equally significant, although less publicized, is the fact that since World War II increasing numbers of Lakotas have returned to the Hills to live and work. In 2000, according to the statistics of the U. S. Census Bureau, nearly five percent of the Hills' population represented people who identified themselves as American Indian (p. 179).

As explained in greater detail in Chapter Seven (pp. 227-239), much of the land area that makes up the Black Hills and its outlier formations is under the jurisdiction of federal or state agencies. It is part of a vast public commons to which multiple interest groups have had varying degrees and kinds of access. Until the early decades of the twentieth century, much of area was open access land where local settlers hunted, grazed their animals, supplied their timber needs, and gathered wild plant foods with little or no restriction. Even the lands that became part of WCNP permitted certain extractive activities, including grazing, well into the twentieth century. For many years, tribal people also retained some limited access to the land for certain traditional purposes until laws and policies were enacted that seriously restricted the taking of faunal, floral, and mineral resources for domestic use. The passage of these laws not only affected tribal people but European American settlers as well. The extractive activities of both groups were restricted in the face of corporate timber and mining interests, but even more significantly, they were outlawed to meet the needs of an emerging travel and recreational industry.

When tourism and recreation started to flourish in the Hills after World War I, a new set of users entered the region with very different sensibilities about land-use and resource extraction. Over time, more public land came under a restricted status and off-limits to many traditional users, European Americans and American Indians (pp.165-169, 172-178, 224-226, 237-239). Competition and conflict between different user groups has defined much of the twentieth century history of the public commons in the Black Hills. Leaving aside for the moment their larger, treaty-based interest in the Hills (pp. 245-268), Lakota, Cheyenne, and Arapaho access to the area's public lands has been compromised, in part, as a result of changing attitudes towards land-use in the Black Hills, a shift that has affected many local whites as well and pitted their interests against those of tourists and recreationists. Although tribal interests in the Hills ironically share certain features in common with local white settlers, they remain quite distinct and separate in other ways. One feature that distinguishes tribal interests is their underlying religious character. In contrast to European Americans, whose religiosity is not tied to the land, the religious traditions of the Lakotas, Cheyennes, and Arapahos are integrally connected to the land and very specifically to the land that makes up the Black Hills (pp. 441-454, 531-596). Tribal interests in the Hills have always had economic components, underpinnings and motivations, but these have been defined and energized by worldviews where the material appearance of things is inseparable from its spiritual foundation. As explained in the text of this report (pp. 282-304, 325-354, 389-391), the material and immaterial dimensions of existence are intertwined in ways that make it difficult to separate the practical from the spiritual or the profane from the sacred in tribal worldviews. Nonetheless, there are certain times and places where the sacredness of life in its varied and complex manifestation is especially apparent and strong, where cosmic forces converge and reveal themselves in extraordinary and wondrous ways. One of these locations includes the environs where WCNP now sits.

Last updated: April 10, 2015

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