The horses charged up the green Piney Trail Ridge, snorting and panting, urged on by the battle cries of the soldiers. The few Lakota, ahead, were clearly fleeing, in panic. An easy kill. At the summit, Capt Fetterman barely paused to consider his commander had specifically ordered him, not once but three times, not to cross this Ridge. Fetterman contemptuously threw caution to the winds, and dashed over. After all, as he had claimed repeatedly, with just 80 troopers, he could wipe out the entire Lakota Nation - and he had exactly 80 troopers with him now.
I have now been on the road for three full weeks, and the tiredness seeping into my ancient bones admonishes me that I should have been home yesterday! And yet, the irresistible siren-song of the open road still has me in its thrall. I am happy to have this relaxed day, in the beautiful Black Hills, away from the searing tragedy of the native American experience, as well as the exuberant derring-do of the frontiersmen, the indomitable spirits that built this nation.
“My lands are where my dead lie buried,” the simple, haunting rebuff to a mocking question about where his lands are now, shortly before his murder. Tasunko Witko, Crazy Horse (more accurately, His Horses Are Crazy), The Strange Man of the Oglala, perhaps the greatest native, or even North American, warrior ever. The man the US Army was never able to defeat, or break. There is poetic justice in this astoundingly gigantic mountain being carved (in the likeness of his spirit, since he never allowed himself to be photographed), to dominate the sacred Black Hills he fought so hard to save. A fitting response to the pettiness that named the little nearby town, State Park and county after the man who opened the gates to the despoiling of Paha Sapa, Custer. There has to be historic discomfort in the street signs carrying the name of Custer, the undeserving darling of the miners, juxtaposed with the name of his victor, Crazy Horse.
It is really scary! White Thunder and I are on our way to Bear Butte, the most sacred mountain of the Lakota as well as other native nations. Chatting along I-90, at well over 80mph, we are right behind a long, double-decker vehicle carrier, when it suddenly wiggles crazily across the lanes, in a snake dance! A red Toyota, alongside it in the next lane, escapes being smashed into the roadside ditch, with barely inches to spare. The trucker regains control and all ends well, but it is frightening enough for me to ease off the accelerator and stay tucked, demurely, behind.
Today, I have been time-travelling. Much like the movie, I feel my car has zipped into time-machine mode, moving smoothly between the past, present and future. Yesterday, I drove across the Pine Ridge and Rosebud Reservations, marvelling at the first blossoms of hope for their future, before crossing the mighty Missouri river, to Chamberlain, the furthest east of my road-trip. Just for the night, I slipped across from Mountain Time to Central Time. I had come to visit a single institution, the Akta Lakota Cultural Centre of St Joseph’s Indian School. And it was well worth the many miles. It is a rich repository of Lakota artefacts, beautifully presented. The quality of the centre, and the campus, attest to its multi-million dollar financial reserves - clearly being spent well.