Standing Rock organizers prepare for Chiefs Ride


FORT YATES, N.D. - Standing Rock organizers are preparing for the second annual Chiefs Ride which will guide riders through history as they visits some little-known gravesites of former chiefs and subchiefs during a more than 125-mile ride May 26-June 1. The ride begins near Cannonball and ends at Green Grass, S.D.

Ron McNeil of Sitting Bull College in Fort Yates, a spokesman for the event, said the horseback trek across the reservation will give riders a tour of burial sites of more than 50 chiefs and subchiefs laid to rest in the region along with short biographies of who they were.

"We want to teach people about who our chiefs were because you only hear about a couple of them," McNeil said.

Another reason for the ride is to examine aging markers at burial sites that have fallen into disrepair so that an inventory can be kept.

"We noticed many are in disrepair. Many of the markers are so old they are falling down. As we lose the elderly people who know where these graves are ... we're going to lose the markings of the locations," McNeil said.

Though many of the markers, placed by families of the chiefs or by churches, would be considered historical landmarks, they have received no federal recognition nor has the nation assisted in efforts to preserve the markers.

Only Sitting Bull's marker has received attention from North Dakota and South Dakota, McNeil said, adding that words such as "misguided leader" were included in brief biographies attached. The Sitting Bull marker is being redone.

While many chiefs in the region are known to history buffs and descendants, many may have escaped mention in American history. McNeil said only a hand full of tribal elders, familiar with their history, know where some of the chiefs were laid to rest.

Although identification of burial sites along the Missouri River raised the issue of protecting burial sites from modern-day grave robbers, McNeil said steps are being taken to prevent such issues from marring the ride. While riders will be shown the areas, organizers won't publish a map of the sites.

They will provide riders with a booklet including biographies and photos of the chiefs including 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.

Riders will be allowed to camp at the Jack Thomas ranch five miles south of Medicine Rock May 25. The ride will begin at Medicine Rock at the north entrance to the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation near Cannonball at noon Saturday, May 26. Members of the Chief Two Bears clan and other local chiefs will be on hand to talk about the chiefs.

The first day's ride will end at Sitting Bull's grave in Fort Yates.

Sunday riders will gather at Sitting Bull's grave for a 10 a.m. (CDT) ceremony and then travel south 26 miles to Kenel, S.D., where a campsite will be available at the Kenel Annual Pow Wow. Horses will be kept at a nearby ranch.

Riders will leave Kenel, Monday at 10 a.m. and ride south toward the Wakpala District stopping at the graves of Chief Gall and possibly the Chief Mad Bear Camp. The horseback travelers will stay in Wakpala for the night and horses will be kept at the Manaja Unjinca Hill horse compound five miles east of Wakpala.

On Tuesday riders will leave Sitting Bull at 10 a.m. and ride northwest toward the Little Eagle District stopping at the Chief Running Antelope grave to offer prayers with the relatives. Riders will camp at the Little Eagle Pow Wow grounds and horses will be kept at the Ken Maxon ranch two miles east of Little Eagle, S.D.

On Wednesday the horseback riders will ride west along the Grand River to the Sitting Bull camp where the chief was killed in 1890. On the way, riders will stop at the site of Chief One Bull's grave. They will camp for the night at Bullhead/Rock Creek pow wow grounds. Horses will be kept at the Ron Brown Otter ranch five miles east of Bullhead.

Although some may end their ride at Bullhead, those interested in extending their journey may continue on Thursday from Bullhead toward Timber Lake, S.D., where they will follow the Chief Bigfoot trail for a distance and then camp at the Jeff Weber arena.

The final the leg of the trek is along the Bigfoot trail to Green Grass where they will be allowed to camp for the night.

McNeil said one event that separates this year's ride from last year's is a Sacred Canunpa (pipe) wrapping ceremony. McNeil said it is rare that the Pipe is brought to an event and the rewrapping ceremony takes place once every few years.

A gathering June 1 and 2 will include meetings concerning culture and values about the Pipe. The ceremony to rewrap the Sacred Canunpa brought by the White Buffalo Calf Woman will be June 2.

Arvol Looking Horse, 19th generation Keeper of the Sacred White Buffalo Calf Pipe of Green Grass said all those who believe in the Sacred Canunpa are invited. "It is important to attend with a good heart and good mind. Protocol is very important at this time. We would like to invite the Big Foot Riders and different societies to assist in security. It is the responsibility of the people to assist in providing a feast and make this ceremony happen in a good way."

McNeil said last year's ride attracted more than 30 riders who followed a shorter trail. This year, he said, at least twice that number have indicated they will participate.

All riders and supporters are responsible for their own gear, food, feed and sleeping arrangements. For more information on the Chiefs Ride, call McNeil at Sitting Bull College in Fort Yates (701) 854-3861, Bob Gipp (701) 854-3456 or Elliott Ward in Fort Yates during business hours (701) 854-7463.