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With over 100 photographs & maps in glorious colour
(paperback & EPUB versions; MOBI version in B&W)
A life-changing solo voyage of discovery across the blood-soaked Great Plains. A pilgrimage to momentous sites of Native American heritage. Meet the amazing “invisible warriors” fighting impossible odds to reclaim their heritage and share in the American Dream without losing their unique identity, much as their ancestors fought on the battlefields to save their way of life.
Nurturing a half-century obsession, he takes the reader along on his astonishing solo road-trip through haunting places of intense tragedy and stunning triumphs, through Native American spiritual experiences that shook the atheist in him, plunging into the rough and tumble worlds that were Deadwood and Dodge City, chuckling gently over modern American idiosyncrasies. Neither a “white historian” nor a “red commentator,” he visits both sides of the Native American experience to discover exciting sparks of a brighter, more hopeful future - an unusual & enthralling odyssey effortlessly plaiting space and time.
Timelines & maps
Day 0 Dawn
Day 1 Westward Ho!
Day 2 Trail of Tears
Day 3 Landlocked Submarine
Day 4 Comanche Attack!
Day 5 A Missing Head
Day 6 Remington and the Chuck-wagons
Day 7 Death at Dawn
Day 8 Get the heck out of Dodge!
Day 9 Tornado on my Tail
Day 10 Nabbed!
Day 11 Treachery
Day 12 Murder Most Foul
Day 13 Requiem
Day 14 The Last Medicine Man
Day 15 Invisible Warriors
Day 16 To the Missouri!
Day 17 Back to the Future
Day 18 The Berlin Wall...in South Dakota?
Day 19 Behold, the Holy Mountain
Day 20 Tasunko Witko
Day 21 Choo Choo Train
Day 22 Sin and Debauchery
Day 23 Witness to Murder
Day 24 One for the Underdog; Zero for Hubris
Day 25 Glory in Sunset
Day 26 Hippies and Hell’s Angels
Day 27 Trail’s End
Day 28 The Steaming Earth
Day 29 Bear Encounter Day 30 Toksha Akhay
Lakota Words Used in this Book
A Few Little-Known Facts
A brief reading and viewing list
Sample part of a chapter
Day 13: 2 June - Requiem
I woke to another spirit-lifting Kodachrome day, a cold 10 Celsius. It was a surprisingly comfortable night and, opening my eyes to the stunning beauty of unspoiled Nature all around, heralded by birdsong everywhere, was pure ambrosia for the soul. It was 7 am and there was not a soul stirring anywhere.
Even my pen was reluctant to wake up as I sat down to make notes in my diary, in that crisp, clean cold. If this is mid-summer, I mused, I do not want to be here in winter! My Lakota tepee is tucked away in a remote nook of the Pine Ridge Reservation. Upon its slight, breezy rise, in lone magnificence, the only mod cons it had were a camp bed and sleeping bag. Getting up reluctantly, I went in search of the toilet; this turned out to be a bit of an adventure. To brush my teeth, I located a lonely outdoor basin with a bucket of water sitting beside it. Wastewater drained through a plastic pipe below, splashing onto the ground. Okaaaay...but now I needed to locate the place for my morning ‘meditations’. This turned out to be on the other side of the wooden wall on which the basin hung, an outhouse without even the suggestion of a door. Communing with Nature took on a whole new meaning. I peered uncertainly in at this most non-urban contraption and realized it was just a deep hole in the ground, surmounted by a weary toilet seat. The pitch dark of the hole could easily conceal a small animal – or worse, a reptile just waiting to sink its fangs into my tender, unsuspecting rump. However, since Nature will not be denied, I had no choice but to mutter a prayer and perch unhappily.
A few of the feral mustangs ambled over and looked in on me through the open flap, evincing a friendly interest in the proceedings. The light, solar-electrified fence (showing it to me, last evening, my host’s mother-in-law, Whiteface, had deadpanned, “Want to touch it?”) was obviously beneath contempt for them. The strong breeze provided a blessed deodorizer as I perched apprehensively above what was, effectively, a rotting compost heap. Ruminating on life, I looked out over the landscape and noticed the ‘shower’. This was an open-to-Nature wooden frame, with a big plastic drum balanced precariously on top, and a flexible pipe running down to the lucky ‘showeree’...
.... By now, the cheery morning had retreated in the face of threatening banks of towering, black clouds, spreading a grim overcast across the landscape. They seemed a perfect, Wagnerian background to my somber mood as I drove towards the ill-fated site of the Wounded Knee Massacre – the worst butchery of defenseless civilians by the US Army in its entire history, till My Lai in Vietnam. As I stepped reverentially onto the brooding lea beside the dry Wounded Knee Creek, the many little wisps of mist still enshrouding the land seemed like ghosts of Chief Big Foot’s ragged, starving band of Miniconjou and Hunkpapa Lakota, trudging wearily in their pitiful rags across the freezing, snowbound landscape, under a huge white flag, desperately seeking safety and sustenance at the Red Cloud Agency in Pine Ridge. It was 29th December 1890, and the band comprised mainly women, children and the elderly, led by a mortally ill Chief.
Just weeks earlier, the towering legend, the revered Hunkpapa Wicasa Wakan, Holy Man, Chief Sitting Bull, Tatanka Yotanka, living a peaceful life on the Standing Rock Reservation had been ordered arrested by the infamous General Nelson Miles egged on by the unscrupulous Agent, James McLaughlin, who was deeply envious of the respect and regard universally accorded Sitting Bull. He insinuated, completely untruthfully, that Sitting Bull was encouraging the Ghost Dances which, he claimed, were preparations for war. Ironically, the Ghost Dance, created by the Piuate, Wovoka was, in reality, quite Christian in its tenets if not rituals, preaching love and non-violence leading to a reunion with family and loved ones in a more beneficent hereafter; in effect, a desperate people’s yearning for survival. Sitting Bull had never taken part in, or supported, the Ghost Dances but he had been systematically humiliated and stripped of authority by the corrupt Agent who, like most of his ilk, had rapidly transformed into a petty tyrant once he overcame his paralyzing fear of his illustrious resident. Sitting Bull’s people resisted this unjust arrest and, in the melee, the great Hunkpapa Chief, the last to give up arms, was shot in the back by Lakota policemen, a fate eerily similar to that of his friend and fellow warrior, Crazy Horse. The nearby town of McLaughlin still commemorates this shameful Agent.
Fearing a major disturbance after this assassination, two hundred of his people fled to the Miniconjou Chief, Big Foot (also known as Spotted Eagle) at Cheyenne River and together, they were racing desperately for sanctuary with Red Cloud. Just a fortnight after Sitting Bull’s murder, near Porcupine Butte, the 7th Cavalry under Colonel Forsyth intercepted the refugees and guided them to camp at Wounded Knee, even having his Doctor tend to the dying Chief.
The following morning, the 350 starving, destitute Lakota woke to find themselves surrounded by over 500 troops, 22 artillerymen armed with four deadly Hotchkiss machine guns mounted on strategic rises around the camp, and 30 Native Scouts. What triggered the shooting remains unclear, but when the sun set that inauspicious day, 300 Lakota lay dead, including over 200 old women and children. The berserk soldiers’ friendly fire even killed 25 of their own. They viewed this as the revenge of the 7th Cavalry for their humiliating defeat at the Little Bighorn – despite these Lakota not being anywhere near it and being obviously non-combatants. Heaping further infamy on themselves, the soldiers savagely mutilated and scalped the bodies, including that of the peace-advocating Chief Big Foot. Soldiers chased fleeing women and children as far as two miles and slaughtered them in cold blood, scalping their privates to display as trophies. Days later, the frozen bodies were dumped into a mass grave on a knoll covered in fading poverty grass, overlooking Wounded Knee Creek.
The theatre Commander, the notorious General Nelson Miles, saw nothing wrong in the encounter. The subsequent Army Court of Enquiry merely criticized Colonel Forsyth mildly but did not consider the massacre of innocent, defenseless civilians merited any punitive action.
The Pine Ridge Agent, the exceptional Dr. Valentin McGillycuddy, a rare good-hearted man, resigned in outrage, writing disgustedly to General Colby about the white settlers’ false alarms inciting this massacre, “I neglected to state that, up to date, there has been neither a Sioux outbreak nor war. No citizen...has been killed, molested or can show the scratch of a pin, and no property been destroyed.”
The 4 men and 47 women and children who survived were roughly dragged to Pine Ridge, and dumped in the freezing snow for long hours, before being herded into the nearby Episcopal Church – under a Christmas banner, “Peace on earth and goodwill to men”.
Among the survivors was a child, a cousin of Crazy Horse, who would grow up to become the great seer, Black Elk. Towards the end of his life, looking back on that dread day, he summed it best, with profound melancholy, “I did not know then how much was ended...I can see that something else died there in the bloody mud and was buried in the blizzard. A people’s dream died there...the Nation’s hoop is broken and scattered…. the sacred tree is dead.”
For this action, the county awarded the Army a remarkable 20 Congressional Medals of Honour. One citation even read “For conspicuous bravery in rounding up…a stampeded pack mule”. Despite many calls for their revocation, these shameful awards still stand, to the country’s continuing dishonor. Even the usually inhuman General Nelson Miles expressed mild unhappiness about this ‘battle’.
The next day, the same unit of the 7th Cavalry headed out to round up (phraseology seemingly applied to both Longhorns and Natives) a few surviving Lakota who had escaped. Cornered at Clay Creek, these few harried warriors managed to so completely pin them down that they had to be rescued by the Buffalo Soldiers of the 9th Cavalry. This was the last splutter of the Lakota flame, a final testimony to their fighting spirit and valor.
Distressingly, these days, the field at Wounded Knee is ringed with fraud. Stalls peddling allegedly hand-made Lakota craft, usually shoddy kitsch from China, have sprung up with several people posing as chiefs or descendants of the victims to ease a few dollars out of gullible tourists. Among these, I met a pretty Lakota girl, Emerald Elk, who said she had an Indian (from India) teacher in her school in Pine Ridge. I was not sure if this was a new, empathic ploy to prise the lucre out of my sweaty fingers. Sadly, I wonder at a tribal government that ignores such a depressing desecration of hallowed ground.
Across the road, on the small hillock, is the mass grave where the victims were dumped by contractors hired by the Cavalry, having been left to rot and be desecrated by wild animals for two days. I make my way slowly to the red and white striped gate, surmounted by a Christian cross, though none of the victims were of the faith. While the hill is still in use as a community graveyard, the mass grave, in the center, is fenced off for some protection. A few forlorn little ribbons of cloth flutter in the slight breeze, each a heartfelt prayer tied to the fence by genuine descendants of the victims who come to pray over the remains of their long-departed relatives....