The really really old West

We started the day with some artifacts from 27,000 years ago – mammoth bones found in Hot Springs, South Dakota. Accidentally discovered in 1974, they were found in an ancient sinkhole in which over 60 skeletal remains have been discovered so far, preserved by the limestone that hardened around them.

This is an ongoing paleontological site, and many more will be unearthed.  Much was made of the fact that all the mammoths discovered so far were male, but feel free to draw your own conclusions about why they fell into the hole and no females did…

The other displays showed us remains of other denizens of the sinkhole – and a reconstruction of a baby mammoth found in Siberia. There were no humans in this area at the same time as the mammals, though they were found in Europe, and used the bones and fur to build homes.

Then it was on to Custer SD.  This town was named after George Custer, who led an Army expedition that found gold in the area.  That was too bad for the Indians.  As the prospectors poured in, Custer was responsible for moving the Indians out of their sacred Black Hills.  The result came several years later at the Battle of Little Big Horn.

The next site we visited is hard to review.  You may have heard of a gigantic sculpture being carved in the Black Hills of Chief Crazy Horse, the Lakota chief who refused to ever sign a treaty and who remains a great hero to many Indian tribes.

In 1948, Chief Henry Standing Bear invited sculptor Kraczak Ziolkowski to carve a statue of Crazy Horse into the mountains.

He accepted and moved his wife to a desolate spot just north of Custer SD, and began his life work.  In 1982, Kraczak died, but his wife and his ten children continued the work.  Today, the site is an incredible tourist site, all privately controlled and funded.  It often verges on the kitsch, but who is to say what this means to the Indians and what it will evoke when completed.  I’m not sure that will happen in our lifetime, but work continues, with the current focus on the horse’s head and Crazy Horse’s hand.  The model will give you an idea of what is planned.

All I can say is that it’s pure Americana, and for that, it was worth the trip.

Tonight we are in Rapid City SD, and it is the largest and most hopping place for miles around.  It has a certain degree of funk and old charm, and then has made a statement with bronze statues of Presidents, one decorating each corner of the downtown area.  (The reason for that is probably its proximity to a national icon we will be visiting tomorrow.) We sampled a few corners and sights to get the flavor.


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