Today is July 4th.
I ride from Osakis to Fergous Falla along the Wobegon Trail and its feeder paths. We start with a violent thunderstorm and wait as long as we can at a high school our previous night’s stay. Even a breakfast at a Cafe can delay our wet departure for only so many minutes.
When the thunder and lightening is to the East we mount our bikes with a sigh and get ready to be drenched.
Which we are…for 2 hours.
Finally the sun comes out and 1 1/2 hours later we arrive at our park for the night, just a short ride of 55 miles.
Along the way we pass the Continental Divide,
not East /West but North/South. Rivers here flow into the Hudson Bay and Arctic Ocean far from the warm waters of the Atlantic or Pacific Oceans.
The Park is very rustic, 4 outhouses, 1 tap of brown water for more than 100 campers, and no electricity.
At least the tent sites are beautiful on a lake and there is no rain, let me repeat that, no rain in the forecast.
I think back again to times of the settlers but my mind wanders even further , as it did in the recent past. I found this story I wrote here in this same exact spot 3 years ago, one which goes further back.
The Sioux Indians
Today as I ride I notice the landscape is beginning to change. The flat fields are giving way to rolling hills of wheat farms. The sheathes are turning from green to yellow, soon to be golden brown. As the breezes blow from the south ripples move from behind us to in front, faster than we can ride. Lakes dot the countryside, surrounded by long willowy reeds. Swans, ducks, even pelicans nest in safety along the banks gaggles of babies behind. Occasional small forests rest against these lakes where wild turkeys and deer abound.As I ride I think of how it must have been for the Sioux Indians who lived here for hundreds of years before the white men came.
I think of how they worshiped the land and took only what they needed to survive, the fowl, buffalo, deer, all without harming the land. I see them sitting upon horses above those hills looking down at these same geese, ducks, and pelicans discussing how best to capture them. I imagine them turning west to see the plains, searching for dust clouds of a buffalo herd. I see them look down at the tracks of covered wagons and shake their heads wondering whether to help this fragile white man or wipe him out before he can grow in number and strength. The victors write history so what I can share is limited to the conquerer’s story. White men first came into contact with the Sioux in the early 1600s, french fur traders trying to compete with the English Hudson Bay Company. The French continued to ally themselves with the Indians until the mid 1700s with intermittent bloody feuds and skirmishes. In 1763 the French gave up claims in the to be continental U.S. and for a while the Sioux were at peace with the white man. As settlers moved west during the early 1800s contact again gave rise to conflict. Conflict came to a head when in 1862 Sioux Indians, during a famine year, attacked and killed a white settlers family. Hundreds of Sioux were rounded up and in a mass trial with little defense or witness hundreds were seated to death. Lincoln reviewed the case and commuted the sentences of all but 38 who were hung in December of that year in the largest U.S. mass execution in history. The rest were imprisoned in Iowa where more than half died. For the next four years money set aside by the U.S. Government in treaties with the Sioux were diverted to white settlers families worsening the plight of the Indians. This led to the two great Indian Wars, Red Cloud’s War from 1866-1868 , won by the Indians leading to the Laramie Treaty and a short lived peace, and the Great Sioux War from 1876-1877. The earliest engagement was the Battle of Powder River, and the final battle was the Wolf Mountain. Included are the Battle of the Rosebud, Battle of the Little Bighorn, Battle of Warbonnet Creek, Battle of Slim Buttes, Battle of Cedar Creek, and the Dull Knife Fight. These battles led to a U.S. Military victory but the last battle did not occur until 1890, the Massacre of Wounded Knee. On December 29, 1890, five hundred troops of the U.S. 7th Cavalry, supported by four Hotchkiss guns (a lightweight artillery piece capable of rapid fire), surrounded an encampment of Sioux Indians with orders to escort them to the railroad for transport to Omaha, Nebraska. Some hours later 25 troopers and more than 150 Lakota Sioux lay dead, including men, women, and children.
Following this “Battle” the Sioux were all distributed to various reservations throughout the Midwest.
Prior to the White man the Sioux territories were wide spread,
from where I am now…
to where I am riding
As I ride I will try, day by day, to show respect for the conquered and dead…
Yes today is America’s Birthday, but for the Souix, just a sad day in their not too remote past…