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The wide-open spaces of the Great Plains roll away to infinity
to either side of I-90 in SOUTH DAKOTA . Though the land is
more green and fertile east of the Missouri River, vast numbers
of high-season visitors speed straight on through to the spectacular
southwest, site of the Badlands and the adjacent Black Hills
- two of the most dramatic, mysterious and legend-impacted tracts
of land in the US. For whites, they encapsulate a wagonload
of American notions about heritage and the taming of the West.
To Native Americans they are ancient, spiritually resonant places.
The science-fiction severity of the Badlands resists fitting
into easy tourist tastes. The bigger, more user-friendly Black
Hills, home of that most patriotic of icons, Mount Rushmore
, have been subjected to greater exploitation (dozens of physical,
historical and downright commercial attractions, and the mining
of gold and other metals), but encourage more active exploration
(via hiking trails, mountain lakes and streams, and scenic highways).
Time and Hollywood have mythologized the larger-than-life personalities
for whom the Dakota Territory served as a stomping ground: Custer
and Crazy Horse battled here for supremacy over the plains,
while Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane were denizens of the
once-notorious Gold Rush town of Deadwood . On a more contemporary
note, Kevin Costner's award-winning Dances with Wolves (1990),
shot in the state, boosted South Dakota's tourism image, though
Costner's own ambitious development plans for the Black Hills
have meant that he himself has fallen foul of the Sioux.
Sioux tribes dominated the plains from the eighteenth century,
having gradually been pushed westwards from the Great Lakes
by the encroaching whites. To these nomadic hunters, unlike
the gun-toting Christian settlers and federal politicians, the
concept of owning the earth was utterly alien. They fought hard
to stay free: the Sioux are the only Indian nation to have defeated
the United States in war and forced it to sign a treaty (in
1868) favorable to them. Even so, they were compelled, in the
face of a gung-ho gold rush, to relinquish the sacred Black
Hills, and ultimately the choice lay between death or confinement
on reservations. For decades their history and culture were
outlawed; until the 1940s it was illegal to teach or even speak
their language, Lakota. More Sioux live on South Dakota's six
reservations now than dwelled in the whole state during pioneer
days, but their prospects are often grim. Nowhere is the leg-acy
of injustice better symbolized than at Wounded Knee , on the
Oglala Sioux Pine Ridge Reservation - scene of the infamous
1890 massacre by the US Army, and also of a prolonged "civil
disturbance" by the radical American Indian Movement in
You'll be hard put to see much of South Dakota without a car
. Amtrak routes bypass the state entirely, while Jefferson (tel
1-800/444-6287) bus lines serve points between Rapid City and
Sioux Falls, sites of the two major airports . Powder River
buses (tel 1-800/442-3682) serve Black Hills I-90 towns such
as Rapid City, Spearfish and Sturgis, as well as making the
two-hour trip to Cheyenne, Wyoming.
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