Dispute on Bad River

Eugene Little, age 2, is a like a lot of Native American kids, sorta shy when they first get to a big city – and Ft. Pierre is very big to them. This boy felt more secure in the hands of his sister, at least for awhile.

With a splash of history and color, hundreds of people witnessed the re-enactment of the meeting of the Plains Indians with Lewis & Clark Expedition at the mouth of the Bad River near Ft. Pierre. At the original meeting, 200 years ago, there were no television crews and national press to meet them, so details of that event have been in some dispute ever since.

The Expedition had been on the road awhile before it reached what is now Ft. Pierre, South Dakota, and, as they made their way up the Missouri River, it is alleged they encountered hostile Indians. However, the only proven incident of hostility is recent … when the re-enactment reached a point near Chamberlain, they were met by a group of Indians who told them to turn their boats around and go home. And this was in September 2004!! These Indians, and some others, are upset about the celebration of Lewis & Clark’s arrival in Indian country, feeling it marked the beginning of the end for Indian culture. The modern-day explorers went on to a pleasant greeting in Ft. Pierre, meeting a group of Lakotas who traveled from Pine Ridge for the re-enactment on the very spot of the original meeting so many years ago.

Bad River makes its way west of Ft. Pierre, where its lofty banks open to the rolling prairie of what has become known as the “West River Country”. The unpredictable river flows through many towns that are now ghosts of what they once were: Wendte, Van Meter, Capa and Midland. Philip, the most important gathering place between Ft. Pierre and Rapid City, is now the only busy spot on the river banks.

The Bad River Gathering hosted the three day Lewis & Clark re-enactment on September 24, 25 and 26, 2004. It was managed by Gloria Little of Pine Ridge, who recruited the Lakota re-enactors from that sprawling reservation. The centerpiece of their involvement was a Lakota Heritage Pageant.

Noted Teton Sioux historian Craig Howe, a professor at Oglala Lakota College, offered a contrasting view of the meeting of Lewis & Clark with the Sioux at the confluence of the Missouri and the Bad River in what is now South Dakota. Howe made his remarks at the Tent of Many Voices, which was presented by the U.S. Forest Service during the Lewis & Clark event at Ft. Pierce. Professor Howe said American students have always been taught that the Lewis & Clark Expedition had been met with hostility. He read a piece that William Clark had written where Clark described the Teton Sioux as “the vilest miscreants of the savage race”. The results of his research, however, show that, in fact, the explorers were met with peace by the Teton Sioux, as that tribe was then known. He said his extensive research proves that his ancestors dealt fairly with the white man’s expedition, even honoring them with a feast.

Eli Tail, Sr., who played the part of Chief Black Buffalo in the pageant, said he came in peace to have fun. And so did the other Lakota tribal members from Pine Ridge, especially the kids. Gus Yellow Hair and John Black Bear, Jr., were the drummers and traditional chanters. They said they learned how to get along at Holy Rosary Mission School, but they have never forgotten their ancestors were here first.