TIMBER LAKE, S.D. - About 78 riders a day followed a weeklong trail from Cannonball, N.D., to Green Grass. Those who rode through the prairie and buttes on the Standing Rock and Cheyenne River Sioux reservations were treated to a living history of the area.
Organizers from Standing Rock and descendants of area chiefs and subchiefs shared their history as the party followed the ancient trails and visited gravesites of some little-known chiefs and subchiefs during the 125-mile trek May 26-June 1.
Riders heard of the lives and exploits of Chiefs Grass, Bear Soldier, Goose, Big Head, Black Eye, Two Hearts, High Bear, Kills Eagle, One Who Rattles When He Walks, Cottonwood, Rattling Hail, Fire Heart, High Bear, Black, Wolf Necklace, Bear Ribs, All Over Black, Thunder Lightening, Yellow Robe, His Pipe, Grafs, Elk Head, Bears Heart, Smoke, Black Tomahawk, Magpie, Big Robe, Bullhead, Red Bull, One Who Shoots Walking, Tantaloons, Lousey, Foot, Hollow, Camps in the Middle, Belly Fat, Medicine Man, Big Knee, Black Bird, Plenty Chief, Fools Heart, Sitting Crow, Bears Come Out, Lone Soldier, Iron Horn, Slave, Little Soldier, Antelope, Grease, Lone Dog, Blue Cloud and Red Horse.
Last year some 30 riders made a shorter journey, Ron McNeil, president of Sitting Bull College at Fort Yates, N.D., and one of the organizers, said.
Standing Rock Councilman Milton Brown Otter of the Rock Creek District joined the ride on a horse purchased by his district. Brown Otter, who hadn't ridden in some time, admitted he was sore after a couple of hours on a saddle with a hard seat. Despite his discomfort, Brown Otter continued the ride to Timber Lake.
Though his muscles ached, Brown Otter said he enjoyed the journey with others from the region including descendants of Chief Rain In The Face.
McNeil said riders pushed on through stormy weather early in the ride as thunderstorms hit the area. They finished their ride at Timber Lake just in front of another thunderstorm with lightning darting across the sky behind them.
McNeil said riders toured the burial sites of more than 50 chiefs and subchiefs. In addition to exploring their histories, riders examined markers at burial sites that need repair and made an inventory of the burial sites.
The markers were placed by the families of the chiefs or by churches. Many were scattered across remote areas and reaching them in a vehicle can be a challenge. While many could be considered historical landmarks, they have received no federal recognition nor has the nation assisted in efforts to preserve the markers, McNeil said.
While many of the chiefs in the region are known to history buffs and descendants, many escaped mention in American history. McNeil said only a handful of tribal elders familiar with their history know where some of the chiefs were laid to rest.
The group visited Little Eagle before turning west along the Grand River to the site of the Sitting Bull camp where the chief was killed in 1890 and visited his grave. They stopped at Chief One Bull's grave and another site in a small cemetery near Rock Creek where Chief Rain In the Face is buried. His descendants joined the ride to pay tribute to the chief.
Novices as well as seasoned trail riders in nearly every age participated. Some rode with saddles, while others rode in the traditional way - bareback.
Some riders chose only to participate in parts of the ride as they made their way from Cannonball following the Chief Big Foot's trail to Green Grass where a Sacred Canunpa (Pipe) rewrapping ceremony was held. About 300 people attended the rewrapping ceremony, which McNeil said, takes place every few years.
Visitors to the Arvol Looking Horse property at Green Grass had to give up cameras and recording equipment because the ceremony cannot be photographed. Guards at the gate collected a truckload of video cameras, digital cameras and other devices as visitors drove through the checkpoint to attend the three-hour ceremony.