2010-01-05 / Front Page

Big Foot Memorial Ride: 23 years

Giant Blizzard Blasts Riders
By Roseanna Renaud Times Correspondent

Highway Patrol Tows vehicles filled with horse tack, unexpected costs drain rider’s wallets

The crunch of horse hoofs on snowpacked prairie was the only sound as over one-hundred Si Tanka horseback riders, some carrying brightly colored tribal flags or sacred staffs thrust heavenward, joined their ancestors at the mass burial site on top of cemetery hill in Wounded Knee to complete their spiritual vows and participate in a Wiping of the Tears ceremony on December 29, marking the 23rd year of the Chief Big Foot Memorial Ride.

Although extreme weather conditions hampered this years’ three-hundred mile trail from Standing Rock into the heart of the Pine Ridge, the Oomaka Tokatakiy-Future Generations Ride youth completed their journey with dignity and determination, in remembrance of a time 119 years earlier when Big Foot and hundreds of Mniconjou and Hunkpapa men, women, and children were slaughtered by the U.S. Calvary nearby. Memorial Ride Senior Elder Chubbs Thunder Hawk talked with great enthusiasm about the nineteen male and female youth leaders from the Cheyenne River, Standing Rock, and Oglala Tribes. “It’s going to be their turn to carry on,” said Thunder Hawk. “Let the older ones step back and encourage them.” As he spoke, Mr. Thunder Hawk pointed to youth leader Jeremiah Young Bull Bear, an Oglala representing Medicine Root District.

The trek was not without its problems, or miracles. Only the tallest horse and rider led the way across country, navigating and punching through deep snow with many hidden obstacles that lay beneath. Charley New Holy and his horse, Nutcracker, plunged through a snow-covered pocket, the animal falling on Mr. New Holy’s left leg, requiring an ambulance ride to the IHS emergency room in Pine Ridge. Mr. New Holy was not one to giveup, and finished the ride on crutches with a brace on the injured leg. Nutcracker survived the ordeal in good condition. “I was coming down from Kyle into Red Owl into the deep snow where you can’t really see anything, trying to look for another way around,” said New Holy. “My horse jumped sideways and came back on me and my leg was underneath. I tore my ligaments pretty bad. I had these young riders that helped me back up on my horse.” Mr. New Holy had nothing but praise for supporters and the youth involved in the trip. “We thank people for their commitment, and their vows, and their prayers. For a lot of riders this is a healing journey.”

When the Christmas blizzard swept across South Dakota with white-out intensity and shut down all travel, some of the group were forced to abandon three of their vehicles along Highway 44, eight miles east of Scenic on December 25. But it was the arrival of a family in a Suburban, and traveling with a newborn child, that sealed the group’s intentions to press on. OST Parks and Recreation Rangers Glen Gibbons, Jamie Big Crow, and Travis Brave Bird came to the aide of the Riders, and sixteen people squeezed into two large pickup trucks, following behind the Suburban at a 5 mph slow crawl to Kyle, arriving at midnight. The appearance of an infant on Christmas Day was not lost on the Riders.

Sometime during the night, the South Dakota Highway Patrol called for wrecker service to remove the three vehicles. Absolute Towing responded, transporting the vehicles, loaded with saddles and bridles belonging to the Si Tanka group, to Absolute’s impound yard in Rapid City. Percy White Plume traveled to Rapid City with the $1,111 needed to release their equipment, a serious financial blow to the group’s resources. Until the riding tack was returned, participants were forced to ride bareback with rope bridles. South Dakota Highway Patrol Superintendent, Colonel Daniel C. Mosteller, was aware that the Big Foot Memorial Ride was in progress.

In a telephone call with Lakota Country Times he said, “I guess what I would do if I were in his shoes (Percy White Plume) I would ask is there any kind of break you can give us or do for us in this particular matter or situation. I can’t guarantee you, nor do I have any control over the fees that they charge but I would say that there is certainly a possibility that he might do something if he were asked about it.” When asked about the Highway Patrol involvement, Colonel Mosteller said, “I can find out if we called them or they were just towed because they were in the way. I don’t know if this is the case in this situation, but I can certainly do some checking.”

A manager at Absolute Towing, who declined to have his name printed, was adamant that all fees would apply. “It took us over an hour and a half to get to it and we had to go because the state radio had us go out, in a blizzard, and we couldn’t see the entire time we were driving out. Several times we had to stop and wait for the wind gusts to go down so that we could make sure we were still in the center of the road,” said the manager. “I mean we weren’t excited about going out there. We didn’t by any means juice the bill. But i took us about five hours total to get ou there, get them loaded and get back. We’v got one wrecked truck that is probably to taled because it was trying to get ou there.” Organizer Alex White Plume wa upset over the incident and lack of coop eration. “It wiped us all out. The day w went out there to get them (the vehicles) we were just so angry. We were angry be cause those kids were riding without bri dles. Our kids slept in the horse trailer during that blizzard.”

The social networking scene proved to b an exciting new venue for the event. Th Big Foot Memorial Riders/Si Tanka Rider Facebook page garnered over 900 fan worldwide and small donations from strangers to PayPal for hay, youth winte gear, food, EMT supplies, gas, campin gear, and propane. Postings along th route gave the computer-bound a peek in side what it takes to organize and maintain a cultural ride during a bitter winter.

“This morning is the final day of th Ride. The young riders have accomplishe much. It is a personal journey that contin ues in their everyday life.” Group Treasure Vevina White Hawk said that Facebook provided a global stage. “We heard from lot of people from around the world wh care about our cause and us as Lakota peo ple. The youth have so much to live for. They just have to open their eyes and believe that they are loved.”

Last year, at the request of Pine Ridge elders, Percy White Plume led some of the Si Tanka Riders from Wounded Knee to Pine Ridge. Many of the 1890 Wounded Knee survivors died and were buried at the village or Red Cloud cemetery. On this trip, thirty-three Riders split off from the main band, leaving Wounded Knee for Pine Ridge. “Wounded Knee was not the end of the journey for Big Foot’s people,” said White Plume. “Big Foot was trying to get to Pine Ridge. So I feel we must go on to Pine Ridge to complete that.”

Until the riding tack was returned, participants were forced to ride bareback with rope bridles.

South Dakota Highway Patrol Superintendent, Colonel Daniel C. Mosteller, was aware that the Big Foot Memorial Ride was in progress. “I guess what I would do if I were in his shoes (Percy White Plume) I would ask is there any kind of break you can give us or do for us in this particular matter or situation. I can’t guarantee you, nor do I have any control over the fees that they charge but I would say that there is certainly a possibility that he might do something if he were asked about it.”

A manager at Absolute Towing, who declined to have his name printed, was adamant that all fees would apply. “It took us over an hour and a half to get to it and we had to go because the state radio had us go out, in a blizzard, and we couldn’t see the entire time we were driving out. Several times we had to stop and wait for the wind gusts to go down so that we could make sure we were still in the center of the road,” said the manager. “I mean we weren’t excited about going out there.














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