EXIT of the DAY: Exit 212 on I-90W to SD 83, Antelope Creek Road and Fort Pierre, South Dakota
The year of the birth of legendary Lakota Chief, Crazy Horse represents something of a watershed. Before his birth in 1840, these endless grasslands were cohabitated by various tribes. Those that lived in semi permanent villages along the Missouri River tended to cohabitate with the Plains Indians who would fight more regularly amongst themselves. In fact, the more sedentary River Indians — the Mandans, Hidatsa and Arika — traded profitably with the nomadic Plains Indians. They exchanged crops and handcrafts for meat and buffalo hide. Their semi-permanent towns flourished and prospered on a large scale not replicated by their more famous nomadic counterparts.
By the 1850’s the millennia-old order had changed radically. The River Indians suffered by peaceful association with earliest European explorers. Entire towns fell victim to the white man's diseases. Smallpox wiped out entire villages — even before white settlers showed up en masse in the 1850’s. Most River Indians all but disappeared not long after the Lewis and Clark expedition of 1804-1805.
Meanwhile the prairies were swept and dominated by one then other tribes. Due to their brave resistance, the Plains Tribes are the better known today: the Blackfeet Nation, the Cheyenne, and the Sioux/Lakota.
In fact, it’s believed that Crazy Horse's Lakota tribe was a very late settler coming to dominate the area just a few generations before the Europeans arrived. The Lakota came out of the woodlands to the east in Minnesota but becoming masterful horse warriors, they quickly displaced many of the local people.
In the 1840's, European travel into the northern Plains was chiefly by water—at first in dugout and bark canoes, and later in steamboats. By the 1850's, the steamboats had reached the head of navigation, the trading post of Fort Benton, Montana at the very gates of the Rocky Mountains. This was more than 2,000 miles from the mouth of the Missouri.
Traders soon established themselves along the river. They supplied factory-made goods in exchange for fine furs, buffalo robes, hides, and other native products gathered by the Plains Indians. Traders were followed by soldiers and later by ranchers, farmers, and then, Black Hills miners. This resulted in the USA reneging on treaty after treaty which tried to force the Plains Indians into ever smaller Reservations.
Around 1870, Crazy Horse married Black Shawl. Already a successful warrior he had led several raids against the US Calvary.
The couple had a daughter who died in her third year of life. Cholera was the likely cause of their only child’s death — whom the couple had named “They are all Afraid of Her”.
Fast forward just 4 more years. At the Battle of the Little Bighorn(June 26, 1876), Custer met his fate and Sitting Bull along with Crazy Horse attained their last great victory before being swept beneath the flood of modern warfare and superior numbers.
Before the end of the 1870's, bison, the Indians' primary food source, were systematically extinguished. The endless herds all but disappeared.
Dying along with his culture was Crazy Horse himself. In Army Custody, Crazy Horse was killed in 1877 just as his people moved onto the reservations. By 1880, the old nomadic life of the Plains Indians had vanished forever.
A brief afterword illustrates how recent this history seems. The wife of Crazy Horse, Black Shawl lived on until she was killed by the flu in 1927.
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