Renegade Roads

Up and Down in the Black Hills

You’ll find at least two sides to every story on this journey from Sundance, Wyoming, to Deadwood, South Dakota.

Custers-Black-Hills-expedition

There are two sides to every story, and the greatest thing about the Black Hills of South Dakota and Wyoming is that you can hear and see both sides.

Well, maybe that’s not the greatest thing. I mean, there’s Devils Tower National Monument ... oh, and Custer State Park ... wait, let’s not forget Deadwood and its wonderful Adams Museum (plus all those casinos to take your hard-earned money). It’s hard to top Lintz Bros. Pizza in Hermosa ... and, wait, didn’t “The Star-Spangled Banner” kinda begin at Fort Meade in Sturgis? ... and how can we leave off Mount Rushmore? Or, since we’re talking about those two sides, the Crazy Horse Memorial?

Wow. I’m already exhausted, and I’m only in Sundance.

Sundance Kid, Bad God’s Tower & a Buffalo Jump

This Wyoming town on the edge of the Black Hills is a good jumping-off point. Stop in at the Crook County Museum & Art Gallery in the lower level of the county courthouse. Harry Longabaugh, better remembered as the Sundance Kid, spent a little time here for stealing a horse. You can even sit in a spectator chair from his trial for that crime. Then you should check out the dioramas showcasing Devils Tower, George Custer’s 1874 expedition into them thar hills and the Vore Buffalo Jump.

From Sundance, we might as well loop over to Devils Tower. Established by President Theodore Roosevelt on September 24, 1906, as the nation’s first national monument, this rock shoots dramatically 1,267 feet to an elevation of 5,112 feet. Devils Tower got its name in 1875 during Col. Richard Irving Dodge’s expedition when an interpreter misinterpreted the name as Bad God’s Tower. The Lakota called it “Bear Lodge” or “Brown Buffalo Horn,” while other tribes—Arapaho, Crow, Cheyenne, Kiowa, Shoshone—had their own names for it. And, of course, it was the star in 1977’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

Yes, climbing is allowed. Me? I’ll stick to hiking, specifically, on the 1.3-mile Tower Trail. It’s paved.

From here, backtrack to I-90 and make a stop at the Vore Buffalo Jump east of Beulah. At least five tribes used this site over a 300-year period to harvest perhaps 20,000 buffalo—I mean, bison. For archaeologists, this is definitely a work-in-progress. Only about five percent of the site has been excavated.

We’ll get to more diggings and buff—er, bison—once we cross the state line into South Dakota. But now it’s time for two sides of history.

The Two Faces Behind the Black Hills

The Black Hills (Pahá Sápa, to the Lakota) belong to the Lakota, according to the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868. Then George Custer led an expedition into the hills in 1874. Gold was discovered in French Creek, and, before you could say “Calamity loves Wild Bill,” the rush was on.

South Dakota’s Deadwood, Lead (as in “I lead,” not “I’m slow as lead”), Hill City, Custer City and Rapid City were soon born. This led to the United States v. Sioux Nation of Indians, a 1980 Supreme Court decision that said the Black Hills were illegally taken from the Lakota by the U.S. government and that the U.S. owed the Indians almost $106 million in remuneration. That figure has gone up astronomically over the past 32 years. The Lakota still won’t take it.

Sometimes I can’t help but feel like a dirty squatter when I find myself in this beautiful country.

Want two sides to the story?

For the first part, stop at Sturgis, where the Old Fort Meade Museum pays tribute to the Army presence in the Black Hills. Established in 1878, Fort Meade was first manned by the reformed 7th Cavalry after the Little Big Horn battle. Comanche, the...

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