Part Of Wounded Knee Massacre Site To Be Sold

Wounded Knee
Part of the Wounded Knee massacre site, the scene of one of the worst attacks on Native Americans in U.S. history, may soon be sold to private interests, the BBC reports.

In 1890 in South Dakota, there were widespread fears among the white population that the Sioux were going to stage an uprising. A drought and insufficient government rations had led many Native Americans to the brink of starvation, and some had turned to the Ghost Dance religion, a revivalist faith that many whites interpreted as warlike.

The U.S. military tried to relocate the local Sioux to the Pine Ridge Reservation but one band refused to go and fled in the middle of the night. They were eventually tracked down to Wounded Knee Creek. On December 29, the soldiers tried to disarm them. One Sioux refused to give up his gun. A soldier tried to grab it and it went off. The nervous whites then fired into the crowd.

In the ensuing battle 25 U.S. soldiers were killed, but the death toll among the Sioux was far higher. It’s unclear exactly how many were killed but estimates vary from 250 to 300, with at least half of them being women and children who hadn’t resisted. One mass grave, shown here, was used to bury 146 bodies.

Ever since that bloody day, the massacre site has been of deep significance to the Sioux and the Native American community in general. Little has been built there, however, and now a 40-acre plot that’s owned by someone outside the tribe is up for sale.

Some Sioux are calling on President Obama to make the land, already a National Historic Landmark, a National Monument, a status that would give it more federal funding and protection.

The landowner says that he has tried to sell the land to the tribe but was rebuffed. He’s giving the tribe until May 1 to come up with the $3.9 million price tag before he puts it on the open market. Sioux leaders say the Pine Ridge Reservation, one of the poorest regions in the country, has little money to spare and that the asking price is far above market price.

[Photo courtesy Library of Congress]

Top North American rodeos to check out this summer

North American rodeosIn honor of the approaching National Day of the American Cowboy, which I wrote about earlier in the week, I wanted to highlight some of the best rodeos North America has to offer.

Even city slickers can enjoy a rodeo; it is, after all, a sporting event. With a lot of beer. And grilled meat. And a lack of giant foam fingers and face-painting (not a bad thing, I might add).

In all seriousness, rodeos are great family fare. There are usually parades and drill team exhibitions, down-to-earth people, great camaraderie, and you can watch some truly amazing human, equine, and bovine athletes perform in independent and team events. At day’s end, you can always count on a big barbecue, live music, and a dance. The below rodeos are all located in places of great historic interest if you love the Old West or Americana. Git boot-scootin’.

Calgary Stampede
It may be surprising to learn that Canada has a cowboy culture, but Alberta does, and is home to this world-famous event, which is an integral part of the community. Critter lovers should note that the Stampede places extreme emphasis on animal welfare, which you can read about here (FYI, the PRCA (Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association) also has strict animal welfare regulations in place, so contrary to belief, livestock are not being tortured for the sake of entertainment). Events ranging from steer wrestling and women’s barrel racing to junior steer riding will be happening July eighth through the 17th.

[Photo credit: bronc, Flicker user Bill Gracey;North American rodeosSheridan WYO Rodeo
Located in the heart of Yellowstone Country at the foot of the Bighorn Mountains, Sheridan has no shortage of pastoral pleasures to go with its Western heritage. Rodeo Week–July eighth through the 17th–kicks off with a parade, and night rodeos are held the 13-16th. Part of the Wrangler Million Dollar Tour, Sheridan WYO also features events like the Indian Relay Races (Those of you who are offended by the non-PC-ness of the name…remember we are not in Berkeley, and there’s a $25,000 payout prize), and a public Boot Kick-off event featuring live music, food vendors, and more.

Cheyenne Frontier Days
Know as the “Daddy of Em All,” the world’s largest outdoor rodeo has celebrated the American West since 1897. From July 23rd to the 31st, crowds from all over the world gather to watch arena events. You can also visit Cheyenne’s excellent Old West Museum, tour historic homes and “Behind the Chutes(don’t miss if you want to see what goes on before that gate swings open and bulls and broncs cut loose),” and attend Western Art Shows, concerts (Kid Rock and Sheryl Crow headline this year), a carnival midway, an Indian Village handicraft/historic recreation, and more.

Days of ’76 Rodeo

Held in one of the Old West’s most historic and notorious towns, this Deadwood, South Dakota event has been named Best PRCA Small Outdoor Rodeo four times, as well as PRCA Midsize Rodeo of the Year since 2004. This, the 89th year, runs from July 26-30th, and features two parades and lots of local Native American culture. The entire city of Deadwood is a national historic landmark located in the Black Hills Territory, so be sure to plan on an extra day or two for exploring.

Pendleton Roundup
Eastern Oregon is at the heart of the state’s cowboy country, and Pendleton is one of the ten largest rodeos in the world. Have a last-days-of-summer trip September 14-17th, when the weather is hot and sunny (it does happen in the Pacific Northwest, really). Bareback and saddle bronc riding, team roping, bull riding, Indian relay races, wild cow milking, children’s rodeo, and parade: it’s all here. Trivia: Pendleton is one of the first rodeos to have women officially compete. In 1914, Bertha Blanchett came within 12 points of winning the All-Around title.

[Photo credit: team roping, Flickr user Al_HikesAZ]

Colonial Williamsburg farms for the future

Guilty confession: I got “D’s” in U.S. History. I just don’t get all wound up about battlefields, or ye olde anything. It may come as a surprise, then, that I recently paid a visit to Colonial Williamsburg, a registered historic landmark and living museum on the Virginia Peninsula. Why would I do such a thing, given my very unpatriotic educational record, and tendency to be freaked out by period costumes worn in public? Two reasons: love, and cows. Rare breed cows, to be exact.

I grew up on a small ranch where we raised horses, mules, goats, rabbits, and chickens. My dad is a large animal veterinarian who once observed, in all seriousness, “Laurel has a way with cows.” It’s true I was a bit of a bovine-whisperer in my youth, although I wasn’t too stoked when Dad felt it necessary years later to impart that information to my gleeful college roommates. I did, however, manage to convince my parents to let me raise a Jersey heifer for a 4-H project, so at least my talents weren’t wasted.

My love of dairy animals led to my current position as a contributing editor for a consumer cheese magazine, and I frequently write about humane livestock management. When my boyfriend moved to rural Virginia for work last year, I suddenly found myself looking for local story material to pay for my visits from Seattle. That’s how I discovered CW’s Rare Breeds program.

CW’s Coach and Livestock department started the program in 1986, as a means of “preserving and showcasing” heritage livestock and poultry breeds similar to the ones used to help establish the agricultural economy of the colonies during the 17th and 18th centuries. While authenticity is in keeping with the CW’s educational objectives, there’s a bigger reason behind the breeding program: preserving genetic diversity in livestock, and preventing the extinction of the historic breeds still in existence.

The advent of modern agriculture has led to the development of a few select breeds of livestock and poultry, designed for maximum output, in order to meet global demand for commodity products such as eggs, milk, and meat. Many heritage animals retain genetic traits such as disease resistance, tolerance to climatic extremes, mothering traits (sometimes lacking in modern breeds, who are often separated from their young at birth), and physical characteristics that make them better suited to specific geographical environments. Some of these breeds are so scarce, their estimated global population is less than 2,000. The Rare Breeds program has been so successful, the American Livestock Breed Conservancy has declared it an “outstanding historical, agricultural representation. Colonial Williamsburg is a pioneer…in conservancy and breeding.”

Richard Nicholl, director of Coach and Livestock and founder of the Rare Breeds program, has a more simple way of explaining it. “We’ve distilled our meat, poultry, and dairy industries down to just a few hybrids. If something happened to one of those breeds, it would have a serious global impact upon our food supply and food costs. Here, our job is to give life to the Historic Area, and provide education. I want children to be able to walk up to a fence, and be encouraged to pet an animal. We’re so totally disconnected as a society about the source of our food.”

Last month, Boyfriend and I spent a few days in CW, so I could talk to Nicholl, and take a tour of the state-of-the-art stables- something that’s available to the public through CW’s “Bits and Bridles” tours (book them at the main ticket office, when you purchase your visitor’s pass). Nicholl, a native of England, grew up working on various farms. While an agriculture student, he visited an uncle in Virginia who raised carriage horses. Nicholl’s fascination with the animals and heritage of horse-drawn transportation eventually led him to his present position, although he’s also the Chairman of the Driving Committee for the Federation Equestre Internationale, and a Course Designer for the sport of Combined Driving.

While Nicholl’s passion is for horses (the farm currently has two rare breed animals in residence: an American Cream Draft, and a Canadian horse used for carriages and riding), he’s equally devoted to the flock of 45 Leicester Longwool sheep- one of the only breeding herds in the U.S.-and his Devon Red cows. The farm also breeds heritage chickens such as Nankin Bantams, Silver Spangled Hamburgs, and Dorkings (I wonder why that name was lost to antiquity?).

The Rare Breeds program came about when Nicholl and his staff were trying to improve the crossbred flock of sheep they had at the time. They acquired a Leicester ram, although in 1986, finding heritage livestock was no small feat. Nicholl specifically wanted existing breeds that were also native to the region in the 18th century. He tracked down a Leicester breeder in Australia, where the animals are used for milk, wool, and meat, and had the ram shipped over. The next acquisition was a Red Devon cow, a breed that originally arrived with the Pilgrims, via Southwest England. Small, hardy, handsome cattle with russet hides, Devons were a multi-use breed, used for draft, milk, and meat. When CW’s first cow was purchased from New Hampshire, there were less than 100 Devons left in the U.S., and they were extinct in England.

Today, the program has approximately 20 cattle, which are variously used for public demonstrations on plowing and (occasionally) milking. Says Nicholl, “We’ve lost many of the dairy breeds of cattle to extinction, but the Devon is increasing in popularity-another rancher in our area is now using them for their grass-finished beef. This is a great example of the importance of the Rare Breeds program. It’s been very successful, as well as popular with visitors.” Nicholl is quick to point out that having too many animal species in the program is problematic. “It’s hard to let go; you can’t save every breed. We don’t have pigs now, but we encourage Mt. Vernon to raise them. It’s not sustainable to have too many animals.”

Some shops in the Historic Area sell wool from the sheep, and there are scheduled kitchen demonstrations of 18th-century food preparation, as part of CW’s Historic Foodways program. Some of the demos, including meat cookery and ice cream, butter, and cheesemaking, feature mutton and milk from the farm. It’s ye olde observation only, but fellow dairy dorks will enjoy The Cheese Shop, a family-owned, modern store in Merchant’s Square, adjacent to the Historic Area. There are over 200 domestic and European offerings to choose from, including Virigina farmstead cheeses from Caromont Farm, and Meadow Creek, as well as artisan bread from Richmond, a beautiful array of condiments, made-to-order-sandwiches, and other picnic fixings.

If you’d rather have a restaurant meal, skip the touristy taverns, and eat at the Fat Canary, which adjoins The Cheese Shop (and is owned by the same family). The restaurant is a pleasant, contemporary, casual-to-fine-dining spot with a patio and hopping bar. The food is mostly of the Southern American genre, with an emphasis on regional ingredients. Boyfriend and I had a very nice dinner that included a starter of housemade mozzarella with Virginia ham, roasted tomatoes, and pesto, and crispy Virginia soft-shell crab with roasted chili butter. If you’re still in need of a cheese fix, the Williamsburg Lodge offers “Wine, Wit, and Wisdom” classes, which are essentially cheese tastings punctuated by lots of wine and banter between their executive chef, wine and beverage manager, and sommelier. Not for serious oeno- or turophiles, but entertaining.

The Rare Breeds program is funded through the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation; Donations can be made here. Be sure to reference the program on the form.

Go here for a Devon clotted cream recipe, a traditional English treat that really needs to be embraced Stateside, like the cows who inspired it.

My trip to Virginia was sponsored by the Virginia Tourism Corporation, the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, and Greater Williamsburg, but the opinions expressed in this article are 100% my own.

River Day: Celebrate Henry Hudson’s river discovery 400 years ago

One of my favorite sites last summer on my train trip from Cleveland to New York City was the sun glinting off the Hudson River starting north of Poughkeepsie and continuing until we were past West Point and the shine had deepened to a darker color. The Hudson is a river that has inspired artists and poets and has drawn the wealthy to its banks to create fabulous mansions, private colleges and upstate getaways, and religious types to build monasteries that offer solace in nature and quiet.

To celebrate Henry Hudson’s discovery of one of nature’s river masterpieces 400 years ago, New York is throwing a festival beginning next weekend that starts at Battery Park and New York Harbor on June 5 and continues up to the towns and villages in the Hudson Valley all the way to Albany. The final day for River Day is Saturday, June 13. At each location there are various events to commemorate the occasion.

Some of the main highlights are:

  • Flotilla of boats
  • Parade
  • Cannon welcome
  • fireworks
  • antique plane fly-overs
  • educational programs
  • food
  • music
  • and more of course

From reading the event’s page menu of what’s taking place at each of the festival’s locations, it’s clear how much the Hudson River means to the people who live near it and how the river connects people who live in New York with each other.

At ExploreNY400.com you can find out more information about other happenings this commemorative year.

Great American Road Trip: History lesson. Fort Abraham Lincoln, North Dakota

Although we head to Montana every summer, each year holds something different. Even if we travel on the same highway, we’ll take in something new. This time, I found Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park in Mandan, North Dakota, a few miles from Bismarck.

This is a perfect place for brushing up on a history lesson and getting a sense of what life was like on the Great Plains back when the Mandan Indians and Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer lived here.

The Mandans lived between the deep ravine and the Missouri River from 1575-1781 prior to Lewis and Clark’s arrival on the scene. Custer and his gang were later than that, but now, each part of history converges in the state run park.

Even though the fort was abandoned back in 1882, and the settlers took down many of the buildings for lumber, Custer’s house, army barracks, a granary and the stable have been either refurbished or reconstructed. There are stone markers that show where the missing buildings used to be.

We were lucky enough to roll into the parking lot ten minutes before the 1:00 p.m. interpretive tour. The tour, conducted by a dashing fellow in period army uniform, centered mostly on the house, but included what life was like for everyone from the soldiers to Elizabeth “Libbie” Custer, Custer’s wife.

She was living here when he died at the Battle of Little Big Horn. In case you’re wondering, she moved back to Michigan where she was from and her family still lived. She never remarried, and died when she was 91.

In one of the reconstructed barracks, you can find out what they looked like way back when. The set up is exactly like it would have looked when it housed men who were from as far away as Ireland and Sweden.

One room includes footlocker style boxes similar to the ones actually used by members of the 7th Calvary. There is a sign on each one that states the name of the person, where he was from and where he died, if known. Several died with Custer. I saw one that died in the Battle of Wounded Knee. One guy was from Ulster County, New York which is where I lived from 8th grade through high school.

Along with the tour of the fort, admission includes a tour of On-A-Slant Indian village where the Mandans lived before most of them were wiped out by small pox. That’s what the guide told us. There are five reconstructed earth lodges, each set up to tell about a different aspect of Mandan life.

Before this tour, I didn’t know much about the Mandan Indians. The guide pointed out details about their farming practices, tools and beliefs. We didn’t have much time in the museum because of our need to get back on the highway for the Billings leg of this trip.

I could have easily spent more time, but felt satisfied because of the information gathered from the tours.

If you do head this way, there is a campground at the state park, a concession stand and a café. The book shop and gift shop are well done.

I highly recommend this stop if you’re traveling with kids. As I told my son, “When you read about this part of history in school, you’ll have actually been to these places where the history happened.” Not a bad idea for adults either.

For the four of us, admission and parking was $21. Our son was free because he is 6 years-old. Our daughter was the student rate, $4. My husband and I were $6 each and parking was $5. The $5 parking was actually the cost to get into the park. The tours cost extra. Spend the money.

You can’t get into the buildings or to the Mandan village without paying for the tour.