Awe at Wounded Knee

Personal Journeys

My favorite placeWhen I tell people...

November 22, 1998|By Amanda L. Burt | Amanda L. Burt,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Awe at Wounded Knee; My favorite place

When I tell people that I am going to South Dakota, the response is always the same. South Dakota? they say. Just to see Mount Rushmore? The truth is, I have seen the faces of Mount Rushmore, but that's not why I visit South Dakota. When I go to South Dakota, a part of me goes home.

I was neither born in nor raised in South Dakota. My first trip to the state occurred in November 1994, while researching a story about a number of Native American artifacts in my alma mater's possession. I spent most of my time in Mission, on the Rosebud Sioux reservation. On my final day there, I drove through the Pine Ridge reservation to visit Wounded Knee.

In December 1890, Wounded Knee was the site of one of the most notorious massacres in Plains history. After the assassination of Sitting Bull, Big Foot and his band of Sioux fled to Pine Ridge seeking protection from U.S. soldiers sent to arrest him as a proponent of the Ghost Dance religion. The government found the religion threatening in part because of its teaching that all white men would cease to exist on Earth. The soldiers caught up with Big Foot's band of nearly 350 Indians and massacred half of them, the majority of whom were defenseless, including many women and children. Shortly after the massacre, a snowstorm blanketed Wounded Knee, freezing most of bodies before they could be recovered.

I parked my rental car at the bottom of the hill at the Wounded Knee cemetery and walked up the dirt drive toward the makeshift brick and iron archway. The air was cold and moist and heavy. An eerie silence fell over the land as I entered the cemetery. Tiny wooden crosses - like the ones used as roadside markers for fatal crashes - dotted the ground. Some had names printed on them. Some did not. Though the crosses were time-worn, fresh flowers had been placed in front of them

Staring across the vast expanse of plains around me, I realized this place was a destination of sorts for me as well. And, like all worthwhile destinations, the journey there was as important as being there.

On my way out, I left a tobacco offering at the archway, and headed to my car. At that moment, I noticed a rustle in the air, and several fine flakes of snow began to fall, the precursor to the storm that would trail me to Rapid City. As I drove away, I wondered if the people in the cemetery, like their ancestors over a century earlier, had finally made it home.

Amanda Burt lives in Tracys Landing.

West Virginia

Judy Volkman, Baltimore

"As an alternative to fall foliage in New England, we decided to visit Canaan Valley Resort in West Virginia. As we entered the valley, the reds and yellows of the trees just burst forth for us. They were just brilliant, even in the rain. A well-spent 700-mile drive!"

Vienna

Jean M. Tebay, Lutherville

"We found a superior farm-style bed and breakfast only 15

minutes from the Vienna airport. Bright, new, en-suite, pine-furnished rooms with telephones and color TV for only $60 to $70 per double room including taxes and breakfast."

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Pub Date: 11/22/98

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