They toil on horseback across 191 miles of Badlands and other harsh terrain in the freezing cold, sleeping outside, sometimes fasting. The two-week journey along the route taken by doomed Lakota 121 years ago is a time of prayer, reflection and honoring the fallen.
It has turned into a family affair for the Kuntzes—Melanie, now 22, and her sister Jamie, 20, who have both ridden the road since they were teenagers. At first their father made them do it. But one ride, and they were converts, as this stirring story in the Great Plains Examiner relates.
“I just remember being so upset that we were going,” Melanie Kuntz told the newspaper of her first trip as an unwilling 14-year-old. “But after getting down there and riding, it was like a complete 180. When I was done, I was so glad I did it."
The girls' father, Duane Kuntz, accompanies the riders—dozens of them in all, many of them young people and some descendants of those who died—in a truck alongside. It's important, he said, for people to learn about Lakota and Native history by living it. This year was the 25th consecutive ride memorializing the hundreds of Lakota men, women and children who were massacred on the Pine Ridge Reservation in 1890 as they fled from the U.S. Army.
The massacre scarred the perpetrators too, as the Great Plains Examiner story points out. A member of that 7th Cavalry, Hugh McGinnis, recounted his vivid memories of the carnage in writing before dying in 1965. His nightmares, he wrote in an article in Real West Magazine, were haunted by the screams of the women and the shouts of the warriors as they were "cut down in rows by demon-crazed white soldiers,” the Great Plains Examiner said.