Lakota Stories

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The True Name of Bear Butte as told by Jake Herman

Bear Butte


Bear Butte is located near Sturgis, South Dakota, at the foot of the Black Hills or Paha Sapa at the edge of the Great Plains. In the early days the vicinity of Bear Butte was a favorite camping ground of the Northern Cheyenne and the Teton Sioux.

While two small groups of the Cheyenne and Sioux were camped near the Butte, a Cheyenne medicine man went to the top of the butte to do the hum-ble-cia (vision quest.) The medicine man stayed there for three days and three nights without food or water. On the fourth day a big storm came up. The lightning was terrific during the thunder storm, and after it was over, a party of Cheyenne and Sioux warriors climbed the butte. They found the body of the medicine man. He had been struck by lightning and his body was burned black. The thunder horse had taken its toll and Bear Butte thereafter became a sacred spot to the Cheyenne.

Another story that Dewey Beard told of Bear Butte was of a battle in which a young warrior was killed. While the Sioux were camped near the butte, a warrior named One Horn lost a son in battle. After he mourned for four days for his son, One Horn mounted his war pony and took only his hunting knife with him. He rode to a hill near the camp and sang his death song. He then rode away toward Bear Butte. Later when hunters went to look for One Horn they found him dead near a buffalo bull. Evidence of the duel showed it had been stabbed to death.

Dewey Beard continued his story by saying, "These are legends of Bear Butte as told to me by my forefathers. The butte was given the name, 'Sacred Butte' by the Cheyenne because their medicine man was struck by lightning there. The Sioux called it 'One Horn Butte' for the grief-stricken warrior who fought a duel to the death with a buffalo bull."

The late Dewey Beard, who was at the Custer Battle 1876 and the Wounded Knee Massacre in 1890, told these two legends of Bear Butte. "In fact," said Dewey, "this so called Bear Butte was also called Bare Butte or Paha Sla, a Sioux word meaning the butte had no vegetation. It was not known as Bear Butte until the first white pioneers came into the Black Hills."

The Sacred Black Hills as told by Jake Herman

This is an aerial shot of the Black Hills


Centuries ago, the Sioux roamed the Paha Sapa or Black Hills. Legends have grown around the now famous vacation land of America in the State of South Dakota, and to this day the legends are still told.

The wind cave, where Wind Cave National Park is located, was a sacred cave where the buffalo lady dwelt. At first the Sioux feared the cave because they thought a giant lived in it. they thought that the wind which blew in and out of the mouth of the cave was caused by a giant breathing. This giant invoked the providence of the Great Spirit to give him knowledge of the mysterious hidden powers of Mother Nature that lurked in the cave the Indians feared.

One day, a medicine man stood at the mouth of the cave pondering, and suddenly, a vision appeared to him. A young Indian maiden told him she was the immortal buffalo lady from below the earth.

The buffalo lady told the medicine man to tell his people that the cave was one of the sacred places of the Paha Sapa. She said, "Tell your people to come to this cave and offer gifts and toke ns by dropping them into the sacred cave. By your offerings the Great Spirit will provide your temporal wants by providing great herds of buffalo for your livelihood."

The Sioux Indians also knew of the hot springs and called it "Spring of Healing Waters." Here the Indians came to swim in the springs and to rub the mud over their bodies. They claimed it had curative powers.

When the white man first came to the Paha Sapa, the spring of healing waters was kept a well-guarded secret by the Sioux Indians until a reckless warrior told a white man. The warrior was promised a nice gray horse if he would lead the white man to the springs. After the warrior had taken the white man and showed him the healing waters, he took the gray horse back to the Indian camp. That night a thunder storm came up. The gray horse was struck by lightning and killed.

This is a legend of Wind Cave and the Hot Springs, both located in the Paha Sapa or Black Hills.

Grandmother and her Quilt

This story has been told for a long time. I heard it when I was young and came across it again just recently. There sits a grandmother on top of the biggest hill in the black hills, with her watchful dog, cooking a pot of soup and finishing a quilt. She sits and quills her quilt with her dog watching closely to what she is doing. Every time she gets up to stir her soup with her buffalo bone ladle, the dog goes and undoes the work grandmother has finished and unravels her quill work. It is said that if grandmother ever finishes her quilt, the world will end.

A Creation Story

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This is another story which has been passed down for a long time which I just recently heard again. Bear with me I might not get all the wording right but the message is the same. It all starts with a heavy rain that began to fall one day long time ago. The rain kept coming without any end. The people and animals alike could not escape the water that began to rise. Higher and higher they climbed to the highest points in the land, but still it was not enough. The earth began to sing a mourning song. Soon enough all was consumed by the great water except a young maiden who kept going higher as the water kept rising. The only sounds was of the earth song and the song the maiden was singing. Soon she was running out of places to run as the water kept rising. Then Wanbli (Eagle) came and swooped down and being as brave as she was grabbed a hold of Wanbli and he carried her to the highest branch and set down. The songs kept being sun and then finally the water started to recede and still the maiden sung. Suddenly a cloud engulfed Wanbli and then when the cloud was gone there sat a Sioux warrior. Finally when all the water was gone and the earth was dry again the maiden and the warrior could be heard coming along with the moccasins of their twins, and thus the great Sioux nation was born.

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