We were looking forward to learning more about the cold war, nuclear armament buildup and subsequent reduction of nuclear armament by both sides at the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site Visitor Center near Wall, SD. Unfortunately, our stop was too short, but it was very interesting as it talked about the missiles with nuclear warheads that we relied on for defense during the Cold War. There were several silos in South Dakota.
Prior to the Minuteman Missiles, there were others that needed to be fueled so it would take much longer. If the president said to “launch”, it would take about an hour before it could be launched. Much different than Hollywood.
Stanislov Petrov was a Russian soldier who saw that nuclear missiles were headed toward Russia. He did not believe it so he didn’t launch in retaliation. He was disgraced and down graded by the Russian army. Here is a documentary about him that I am eager to see. All the world should thank him.
Our guide, Mike, counts to make sure that he has 38 people. Today he counted and recounted and came up with 39. He looked at each of us and came across a man he didn’t recognize and asked if he may have boarded the wrong bus. Indeed he had. How does that happen? I know that there are a lot of buses at these stops but surely, you recognize your bus driver, tour guides, fellow travelers, etc.
Our return trip takes us through the Badlands. It is one of the few places where the hand of man has been light. These 64,000 acres have been congressionally designated as wilderness to keep it that way. It was a beautiful day.
Throughout the Badlands there are broken sections of grass and soil that sit on top of badlands material. These features are known as sod tables. The soil and grass of sod tables protect the rock below from erosion by soaking up rain during intense storms, while the exposed rock around sod tables cannot absorb water and quickly washes away. The different rates of erosion make it appear like sod tables are springing up out of the Badlands, when they are really wearing away more slowly than the rock around them.
The Badlands get 16 to 20″ of rain each year. Emerald green grass covers the prairie in the summer. Apparently the south view in the Badlands is even more amazingly beautiful. That’s hard to believe.
After the armed resistance was over for the Indians, the remaining Sioux were forced into reservation life at gunpoint. Many Sioux sought spiritual guidance. Thus began a religious awakening called the Ghost Dance among the tribes of North America.
The Ghost Dance began in 1888 with a Paiute holy man called Wovoka. During a total eclipse of the sun, Wovoka received a message from the Creator. Soon an Indian messiah would come and the world would be free of the white man. The Indians could return to their lands and the buffalo would once again roam the Great Plains. Throughout 1890, the U.S. government was worried about the increasing influence of the Ghost Dance spiritual movement.
Although Wounded Knee has been called “the most abominable criminal military blunder and a horrible massacre of women and children,” the U.S. Army awarded the Medal of Honor, its highest commendation, to 20 members of the 7th Cavalry who participated in the bloodbath. (The soldiers executed the defenseless mostly women and children at point-blank range. The leader of the 7th Calvary was Custer and The Battle of Little Bighorn in 1876 was certainly on their minds. One cavalryman cried out Remember Custer!”)
Today there is a bill introduced to the US Congress called Remove the Stain Act to rescind these medals. It was a Biden campaign promise!!
Every year, riders from Lakota Country honor their ancestors by mounting horses and following the path marched by those who were killed by the U.S. Army 7th Cavalry at the Wounded Knee Massacre on Dec. 29, 1890.
Prairie Dogs used to cover the Great Plains, but their current range is 2% of its original.
The black-footed ferret was thought to be extinct. A family of them were found in Wyoming. They were bred and rereleased in various national parks. Now they have moved up the scale to endangered. The biggest population in North America is in the Badlands. Their diet is entirely dependent on prairie dogs so there is lots to eat.
Several other places that one should visit if interested in Native American culture: Red Cloud School Heritage and Art Center which is run by the Jesuits. Here one can visit the grave of Red Cloud. Also, the location of the Wounded Knee massacre.
We were in for a real treat when a father and son came to talk to us about Native American Culture but mostly about dancing. Next weekend in Rapid City is a gathering of Native Americans called a pow wow where there will be lots of dancing.