Badlands Star Visitor Gathering
The Western part of South Dakota is a revered gateway between the Black Hills and the vast open prairie. At one
time millions of bison roamed the prairie and provided sustenance to the Native Americans. The buffalo was the most
sacred animal to the tribes of the Central Plains. Every part of the animal was untilized from the meat for protein,
blood for paints, hide for clothes, hoofs for glue, bones for tools, organs for containers.
Once French fur trappers penetrated the area, several groups of settlers followed. Cattle ranchers and homesteaders,
backed by the U.S. Army contested the Sioux for the land, eventually driving the Native Americans out or onto reservations.
During the conservation movement of the early twentieth century, the Badlands' prairie, wildlife and fossil beds were seen
as worthy of preservation.
In 1939, President Roosevelt established the Badlands National Monument; in 1976. 133,300 acres of the Pine Ridge
Reservation were added and to be administered by the Park Service and the Oglala Sioux Tribe. Designated a national
park in 1978, the 244,300-acre area preserves the sweep of prairie and the sublimity of massive rock formations.
The Lakota Sioux and other Plains Indians have long considered the the broad expanse of harsh terrain called the Badlands
a place of deep spiritual significance. The saw-tooth ridges and parched canyons inspired many generations of Native
Americans, especially young men who came on vision quests to pray for a good life enriched with fruitful hunting.
A vision quest would typically last four days and nights of fasting and sleep deprivation on a lonely hill. In
this life-changing test, a young brave would chant and meditate until an animal spirit came into vision and acted as a protector
for the rest of his life.
After this spiritual vision quest, the brave would return to his villiage where the elders could interpret the circumstances
surrounding his vision. Today, the Stronghold and Sheep Mountain Tables
are sacred sites for Lakota men to visit and pray and seek a vision for the future.
For about 11,000 years human beings have lived on the Badlands prairie. First
paleo-Indians, then Arikara Indians, and later the Oglala Sioux (or Lakota) populated the area. Carved by erosion, this scenic
landscape contains sharply eroded buttes, pinnacles, spires, and animal fossils that date back 40 million years.
The Badlands includes the largest, protected mixed grass prairie in the United States which supports bison, bighorn
sheep, deer, and antelope. The Sage Creek Wilderness is the site of the reintroduction of the black-footed ferret, the most endangered land mammal in North America;
and the Stronghold Unit is co-managed with the Oglala Sioux Tribe and includes the sites of 1890's Ghost Dances.
This park can be divided into three main areas: the popular eastern finger of the North Unit, the Sage Creek Wilderness
Area, and the Pine Ridge Reservation section, or Stronghold Unit.
A visit to Sheep Mountain Table will reward the visitor with one
of Badlands National Park's most outstanding vistas. This 4 mile long plateau
is surrounded by steep drop offs and is accessible by a 7 mile dirt road which is passable only when dry. Because this is
a sacred place for the Lakota people, there are many prayer offerings and ceremonial artifacts.
Mako Sica (Land Bad) is the Indian term for the The Badlands National Park. To the tribes who vewntured
into this forbidding terrain at the "edge of the world," the Badlands offered an unusual environment for individual vision
quests and group ceremonies.
The Plains Indians would find profound spiritual meaning in the harsh conditions, enabling them to communicate directly
with the Great Spirit. Several famous Nativer American ceremonies took place in the Badlands including the enigmatic
"Ghost Dance" of the Ogala Dakota.
The oral histories of the Plains Indians speak about the legends of the dinosaurs, the visious monsters and giant winged
beast. that roamed the land before the coming of the white people.
One popular legend speaks about a winged beast called Wakinyan Tanka, the great thunderbird of the Black Hills. The
thunderbird fights against the dreaded water creature, Unktehi. The thunderbird uses lightning bolts to defeat
his enemies in the Badlands where "their bones were turned to rock."