A Working Vacation to the Sioux Nation

I am not real sure how much detail to put into this, as the readers of it will have a very diverse interest—Some, with greater interest in the vacation aspect, some with greater interest in the work aspect, SOOO! I will just write my thoughts on each.

Some background on why the trip took place is in order first. I have been working with the 4-Winds Medicine Council at the Michael Unit, to take to court, an action to cause TDCJ to acknowledge the Religious Freedom rights of the American Indian inmates it has locked up. An action has already been filed in court but without an outside expert testimony acknowledgement; that is certainly a necessity.

A few years back, through Linda Davenport of Texas Prisoners Network Support, I came into contact with the work of Mattie High Pipe, a full blood Sioux spiritual person of the Rosebud reservation in So. Dakota. The Lakota group (family clan) of the Sioux, for the most part, live on the Rosebud while the Oglala, Hunkpapa, Brule etc. groups live on the Pine Ridge reservation next to the Rosebud. Both reservations are located in the lower, left part of the state of So. Dakota.

Mattie operates an office funded by the Lakota Tribal council to assist any Lakota’s that are locked up anywhere; because the Religious Freedoms of those already showed a need for an outside activist concern, Mattie’s office took on the policy of assisting any locked up N A with maintaining their Religious rights. It was through this policy that, she and I started up discussions and I decided to travel to the Rosebud to present a request for assistance for the efforts of 4-Winds.

I have always been an ardent worker in the field of genealogy, so-- it was not unusual for me to be talking to a niece of my great grandmother’s and mentioned that I planned a trip to the Rosebud Reservation soon, as discussions of our own Native American heritage has been a recent undertaking.

The relatives name is Velma and she had just had her 81 st. birthday. Within minutes of her learning of my travel plans, she announced that she Wanted to go also! Folks—I am with the Comm. for the Blind, can no longer drive (since ’98), so I take the Greyhound most ever place I go. It fits my needs and budget as I eat where the bus stops and I take snacks, I sleep/rest/read on the bus to my destination where, usually, someone I am traveling to meet picks me up and the return trip is the same. I readily admit that I can Be a loner type personality. With that noted—I agreed to take my 81 year old 3rd cousin with me on the bus, she quickly informs me that she is not going any where on the bus. Well folks!! I should have let that stay and took the bus but did not. Velma is a kind lady and she talks me into things easily; she offered to rent a big four door truck and get her son, that would be a 4th. cousin (I think) to drive us on the trip. She added that Phillip, her son, had all kinds of camping gear and she was up to camping out on the way up and back to save motel/hotel costs and that we could cook meals at the camp ground. I have done a lot of camping so all that sounded great.

Within days of my agreement of joint travel, Velma notified me that a truck rental contract had been signed to start June 8th. and that her son was taking 2 weeks vacation starting the next Monday. I had not planned on making the trip until July or Aug. as I get by on So. Sec. Disb. and must put funds away for a big trip for several months; I discussed the $$ issue with Velma and she told me they were already set to start travel June 8/9, too hard to change it, do not worry about $$ as we will be camping and cooking out. Sounded good again, all is a go.

The 1st. hint I had about things not going too well as to a travel agenda (I am Former Marine Corp and learned to travel fast, light and on a moments notice and have continued those practices for the past 30 years having traveled extensively just like that) was when my cousins do not show up on Sat. the 9th. until 2 PM, upon which time, I am informed that Phillip, because of an active after hours life in Austin/working his own remodeling company, etc. does not get up until after 10 AM ever day of the week. His camping gear was in Velma’s garage and too valuable to load and leave in the truck the night before, it all had to be loaded that Sat. morning. The rented truck was a Big truck and it had an equally big bed; well there was NO room in the bed of that truck to put even my suitcase so it had to go in the rear seat with my clothing bag, briefcase etc. and that cramped Velma’s room.

We finally leave Waco around 2:30 PM and have to stop in West, 15 miles down the road so Velma can buy a Cappuccino drink; for those inside too long, it is a hot chocolate fused with milk and coffee. I find out at that stop that Velma will drink nothing but that and bottled water and maybe tea from a bottle if nothing else available. Phillip drinks only bottled water and bottled green tea- Nothing else. Fifty more miles down the road and Velma must make a rest stop—informed then, that such frequent stops were going to be a must—well OK, the alternative to not stopping could not be considered, might have been If I had been driving.

On the up side, Phillip is a good driver, the truck is running great and both of those factors Hold for the entirety of the trip.

We leave Ft. Worth/Dallas on 35 north on a travel agenda to reach and spend the night in St. Mary’s, Kansas because a TDCJ inmate family I have worked for, for years, had said we could spend the night there. St. Mary’s takes us out of the way and we, of course, because of a late start, do not reach St. Mary’s until almost dark. I am met at the door of the house, let in and the door shut before the cousins get to the door; they knock and are let in, we are all 3 seated at a small kitchen table and offered coffee, only 1 of us drinks coffee—me!! And I did. I talked about it being night, the need for me and the family to hold serious discussions and they volunteered that there was a nice camp ground just outside of town. I sent the cousins to the truck, held brief talks and said good-by. Phillip had his lap top hooked up for GPS travel assistance and it showed a big K O A campground outside Kansas City so we went and found it. We did not get to the tent camp grounds until after 11 PM; every one around us was asleep. As quietly as possible, Phillip, using Coleman lanterns, started putting up a small tent for him and Velma as I had volunteered to sleep in my seat of the truck so only one tent would be needed.

It is time now to cover Phillip’s camping set up. First Class in ever way. The structure, when complete, can be as big as 20’ X 30’-- with covered access to side tents with a chemical toilet, hot/cold running shower and a cooking tent.

All of this is packed in maybe 12 plastic bins 18” x 30” s that are stacked 6 on the truck beds floor and 6 on top of them with plastic Jerry can’s (5 gal.) of water, various tarps, clothing bins, food supplies etc. on top and all WELL strung down with bungee cards of JUST the right length. About here, I need to interject that I was recently run over by a car while walking 3 months prior and had been using a cane, out of 4 point walker only 1 week. On un-level, unfamiliar ground, in the night by Coleman lantern light, I try to help Phillip put up a tent. Every thing must be just right for Phillip, NO short cuts so it took about 2 hours to put up a partial tent city. This done, the cousins go in to sleep and I go to sleep in the truck seat. Daylight comes early; I am at the K O A showers and already had a number of cups of coffee while wondering around the real nice K O A log structure main office and of course TALKING to every one I meet. Sure enough folks—come about 10 AM, Phillip gets up and we store the tent, bins etc. all back perfectly in the bed of the truck and re-tarp it. A little after High noon, we pull out of the K O A and get on the road. About 10 miles north of K C, Velma and Phillip think about lunch- they do not ever eat breakfast!! Well OK, there is bound to be a fast food, gas station etc. coming up. New surprise-- neither eats at those places!! Period!! They eat at legitimate set down restaurants so we have to go back to K C for them to eat. I do not have the $$ to do this but I order something cheap to just get along, thinking I will save money on other night camp cooking.

We are on travel day 2 and Only just out of K C, Kansas after 2 PM and Phillip, no fault of his own, gets on the freeway (alternate due to construction) going east instead of north and only after 1 ½ hours traveling in the wrong direction, does his G P S speak loud enough that it gets his attention: You are not on your trip course!! We have to stop then for a travel break and get Cappuccino; it is maybe 2 ½ hours before we are headed north again. To make any miles at all, Velma volunteers that we should drive on to dark but she does not want to see her son try to set up camp in the dark again. That night, we stop at 3 road side motels before Velma will agree to stay in one, she will not rent form a middle eastern person. We finally find one for $100/night, I cannot afford it and knew ahead of time I could not afford one night’s motel costs so I declare—I will sleep in the truck and watch the camping gear. The sun woke me up coming through the windshield Early and I drank about 10 cups of coffee and walked the large motel grounds until 10 AM saw my cousins up. Well, we then had to go to a set down restaurant and it took the computer to find directions to one for us after several were reviewed and voted no.

A third day of travel showed good progress as we had a very beautiful ride on 35 up to Sioux City and Sioux Falls where we turned west across the DESOLATION of So. Dakota. Towards the late afternoon, severe Thunder Storms poured in but travel in the big truck went well in the storms and we made it onto the Rosebud reservation around 9 PM, to the settlement of Parmelee where Mattie High Pipe lives. Every one in Parmelee uses a PO Box so there are no street signs, house no.’s etc.—every one knows who lives where- Except a bunch of Texas cousins. There were teens walking the streets like ever where and they soon pointed out directions to the High Pipe house, Mattie was sitting on the front porch and we were greeted warmly by Mattie. We discuss putting up a tent in Mattie’s back yard but the grass is sort of too high to see the ground well enough to pick out a spot level and big enough for a long term camp so we stay in Mattie’s house, at least my cousins do. I quickly saw that Mattie had to give up her daughter’s and 6 month old granddaughter’s room and I was to sleep on the sofa but she had a nephew that had been using it so—I will sleep in my truck seat. The next morning, like clock work, my cousins got up around 10 AM.; I had already had coffee with Mattie and saw her off to work, the storms continued and it was late afternoon before a tent city was erected. We had lots of curios Lakota’s walking by to SEE what the White friends of Mattie’s were doing. I let Phillip put the tent city up like he wanted it and I watched, played with Mattie’s 4 dogs and talked to people. It took Phillip 4 hours to put up the tent city the way he wanted it.

There has been enough now on the travel, camping out issues etc., be sure that the trip back followed about the same routine only because of the storms we never camped out again and I kept watch over the camping gear from my seat in the truck. Folks, combining riding time and sleeping time in that same truck seat, I got to know it real well!!

I need to touch on one mid-day travel stop of the day headed into the Rosebud as it was the city of Wall. Any one recognize its fame? No—nothing to do with Wal-Mart. It is the home of Wall Drug; once upon a time, a wood frame, old time, small town drug store but one that grew and grew. If you are ever up that way, it is well worth the stop. Almost all of down town has become a tourist place with the old Wall Drug as the focal point. The cousin’s needed a sit down/full service restaurant, so Wall was the stop and Wall Drug had a GREAT restaurant, it served very good coffee for 5 cents per cup and I drank 10 cups. The cafeteria held a wonderful collection of art and carved totems also.

There were other stops at museums, land marks etc. but we were now closing in on the Rosebud and we did reach it as a bad thunderstorm was easing around 10 PM Mon. night.

It was hard to tell when we actually entered the Rosebud grounds as there were NO big signs over the road or beside the road anywhere that I saw. I later came to realize that the land had always been there and spread all along the approach road from the north we came in on—The Sioux had always KNOWN where they were and had seen no need to put up a Welcome sign.

None of our cell ph’s had signals as we entered what we thought was reservation land so we angled toward a group of houses with lights. That turned out to be the community of Parmelee, really too small to be considered a town. I realized soon enough that I had no street address or street name for Mattie High Pipe, our Sioux host. As usual, the small community had teens walking in the neighborhood and after a few questions, we arrived at Mattie’s home; she had been sitting on the porch waiting for us.

Mattie had 2 daughter’s with kids at home so we all got to know each other and Mattie came home from work early the 1st. day to get us all settled in and she and I to start our work program. I will cut a lot of the day to day interaction short now except to say that get up time for the cousin’s remained plus/minus 10 AM. I was up with day light and cooking breakfast that I shared with Mattie as she got ready to go to work each day. The daughter’s were up with the babies and I truly enjoyed being accepted as part of the family, with every one swapping kids, food and talking through the days plans.

A little story telling here. I had called my sister—Rebecca, when we were traveling through Kansas to ask her directions to Dorothy’s house, she told me to just look for the young girl in Red slippers. I joked with Mattie about the call and said I was going to have to call Rebecca back and tell her I did Not find Dorothy. Mattie’s daughter Rosa said—Well Toto, you are Not in Kansas BUT Look at this!! She went and got a pair of RED tennis shoes that fit the 3 mo. old baby girl and I TOOK pictures Rebecca!! I never could pronounce the babies name but I am thinking it translated to: Dorothy. Folks—give me a few months to get pictures developed and copies made; I will send some in for enjoyment after that. ( add on Sept.—Mattie has informed me that the granddaughter WON 1st. prize in a baby padgent for N A children, she deserved to Win from what I saw of her).

Into our second day there, I started going to work with Mattie where I was being introduced to folks working in her office building, her friends, relatives etc. I spent one day with Mattie at the Lakota University discussing with folks there, the issues that Native American inmates faced inside TDCJ.

While I was in one meeting, an internet communication came through from Leonard Peltier/Pine Ridge Reservation activist Fed. Political Prisoner for about the past 35 years. Peltier was issueing a call to action by ALL N A’s/concerned activists etc. in the U. S. to come to the aid of all incarcerated N A’s in the U. S. to protect/assure them the same Religious Freedoms that other Religions are allowed to enjoy while incarcerated. It turns out—That was the Specific reason I was at the Rosebud—To recruit the assistance of the Sioux Nation to help in the Federal lawsuit of 4-Winds Medicine Council/Michael Unit of TDCJ, that seeks to redress the SAME Religious grievances that L. Peltier was concerned about.

I made a lot of good associations at the Rosebud and fully expect Mattie High Pipe and possibly other Lakota spiritual people to come to Texas to do visits to incarcerated N A’s in the TDCJ system. That visit may be as early as Sept./Oct. this year. I already am setting up councils with N A groups in Texas to act as hosts for the visit.

I would like to write a little here about the Rosebud. Mattie informed me that it was one of the most economically depressed areas in all of the U. S.; a family can expect an income of from maybe $3,000 to $5,000 yr. from profits earned from Tribal investments/enterprises. A number of adults have jobs on the reservation in support industries like stores, shops etc. just like any small town but the pay is low and the people have little to spend. Of course—folks can leave the reservation to work and a lot have but many can not acclimate to the outside (wind up in prisons). There are still small groups living in the old traditional ways out on the land. Many of the older population do not speak English still; I heard the Lakota language used most of time.

Only about ½ the families have a car/truck, so there is a great need for folks to give others a ride to places. There is a nice hospital but the Tribal funds do not allow for the hiring of high priced Dr.’s etc. and many residents in training come in to do volunteer work. Medical assistance, medicines etc. are provided to reservation people at low prices but still—few can afford it and many are afraid to use the facility. The older Lakota’s do not trust the new forms of medicine and language understanding failures have been the cause of some medical horror stories.

A family can apply for an receive 40 acres to build/live on and many still take that course while many others either live in a Tribal built home or build a home on Tribal land in one of the communities. A house like Mattie lives in—2 B R, wood frame rents from the council for about $5 per mo.. If a family does not have solid transportation—living away from a community can be a hardship as tel. lines go only to the communities. Those that can afford them have cell ph. but the service is sketchy. The area is so thinly populated that the reservation has NO T V service—this makes V C R/D V D’s very popular. I kept trying to get a channel on Mattie’s T V one afternoon and I think she let me fool with it a little while, until she walked over and told me—Sorry, we have no channels. They DO listen to a lot of radio music and it was quite pleasing to hear Mattie’s office using an—OLDIES/GOLDIES station. However—about ever 3rd. song was a Native American/Lakota music production. I looked over at the radio the first time I heard one come on and she laughed and said: That is an OLDIE also. I had to take her word for it.

On my last afternoon at Mattie’s, word came that the reservation Medicine man had invited us to his lodge. This was the ultimate for me and I started scooping up cameras but was quickly informed to LEAVE all such things at home.

Unfortunately—just as Mattie and I arrived, he was being called away to attend to an ill tribal member so I must wait until I return to the Rosebud to meet him. I did, for a short while, get to view the grounds at his lodge that had a number of Sweat Lodges and was the grounds for the Lakota Sun Dance ritual.

Well folks! It took 4 ½ hours to dismantle and pack the tent city.

We leave the Rosebud headed for Deadwood, So. Dakota, the city of Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane fame. Along the way we saw a great deal of the famed Black Hills, viewed part of the BAD LANDS of the old west movie fame and spent a deal of time at Mt. Rushmore. I encourage every American to visit it if possible, it was absolutely GRAND!! There were many exhibits showing all facets of the carving of the faces and they were terrific presentations.

Dead Wood left a LOT to be desired if one is looking to find wooden saloons etc.; we looked the town over pretty good and found mostly high profile, new type casinos embedded in the older brick buildings left in a down town district. Most folks of the town depended on the tourist trade of the summer months with many stores etc. being open only on the week ends in winter. After visiting the graves of Wild Bill and Calamity we start the long ride home.

Most notable stop on the way home was Sturgis, So. Dakota. Any one know its claim to fame? The cousin’s needed that sit down dinner at a family restaurant for dinner and on that occasion, I was pleased-- I HAD one of the Biggest, Best bowls of REAL GOOD Chile that I have had in a very long time. I loaded it down with lots of sliced fresh jalapeno’s and used a whole sleeve of fresh crackers with about 8 large glasses of good tea. Yep! I paid a price all the way into the next day and 2 states BUT—I would Do it again.

In Lincoln, Nebraska we stopped to visit the site of the original Pony Express H. Q. It was a well preserved log site with many original structures. Adds for riders were: Riders needed for express mail delivery, orphans preferred.

I hope those that have read this have enjoyed going with me through it; I will do more of these as I have a number of working vacations in the works.

Fellow Worker.
Hermano Lobo,
Dwight R.

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