The Badlands are more than just fossil beds and colorful layers.  Within the park is a large expanse of mixed-grass prairie, home to the black-footed ferret (the most endangered mammal in North America, bison, bighorn sheep, badgers, elk, coyotes, deer, antelope, bobcats, porcupines, and, of course, prairie dogs.  The official park site says “scientists have observed 39 mammal species, 9 reptile species, 6 amphibian species, 206 bird species, and 69 butterfly species.” All have to be able to handle extreme temperatures and find shelter, whether in burrows of their own making or by taken over those belong to something else.  Others survive through hibernation or dormancy or by taking shelter in canyons or other low spots.

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This doesn’t look like much, but it’s a major metropolis for prairie dogs.  Each light tan mound is the top of a burrow and this stretch of burrows runs along the road for miles!  Although rodents, not canines, the “dog” part of their name comes from the warning sound they make, somewhat similar to the bark of a dog.  Prairie dogs are familial and eat plants and insects. They’re considered a “keystone species” because they are important prey food, some species use the burrows for their nesting areas, and some grazing animals appear to like to graze on land used by prairie dogs.

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In the heat of summer, there isn’t always much green to be easily seen, but there’s always a bit of color somewhere to liven up the neighborhood.  Looks like there are visitors today!

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It’s not just animals who have lived here.  Wikipedia says:

For 11,000 years, Native Americans have used this area for their hunting grounds. Long before the Lakota were the little-studied paleo-Indians, followed by the Arikara people. Their descendants live today in North Dakota as a part of the Three Affiliated Tribes. Archaeological records combined with oral traditions indicate that these people camped in secluded valleys where fresh water and game were available year round. Eroding out of the stream banks today are the rocks and charcoal of their campfires, as well as the arrowheads and tools they used to butcher bison, rabbits, and other game. From the top of the Badlands Wall, they could scan the area for enemies and wandering herds. If hunting was good, they might hang on into winter, before retracing their way to their villages along the Missouri River. By one hundred and fifty years ago, the Great Sioux Nation consisting of seven bands including the Oglala Lakota, had displaced the other tribes from the northern prairie.

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The next great change came toward the end of the 19th century as homesteaders moved into South Dakota. The U.S. government stripped Native Americans of much of their territory and forced them to live on reservations. In the fall and early winter of 1890, thousands of Native American followers, including many Oglala Sioux, became followers of the Indian prophet Wovoka. His vision called for the native people to dance the Ghost Dance and wear Ghost shirts, which would be impervious to bullets. Wovoka had predicted that the white man would vanish and their hunting grounds would be restored. One of the last known Ghost Dances was conducted on Stronghold Table in the South Unit of Badlands National Park. As winter closed in, the ghost dancers returned to Pine Ridge Agency. The climax of the struggle came in late December, 1890. Headed south from the Cheyenne River, a band of Minneconjou Sioux crossed a pass in the Badlands Wall. Pursued by units of the U.S. Army, they were seeking refuge in the Pine Ridge Reservation. The band, led by Chief Spotted Elk,[11] was finally overtaken by the soldiers near Wounded Knee Creek in the Reservation and ordered to camp there overnight. The troops attempted to disarm Big Foot’s band the next morning. Gunfire erupted. Before it was over, nearly three hundred Indians and thirty soldiers lay dead. The Wounded Knee Massacre was the last major clash between Plains Indians and the U.S. military until the advent of the American Indian Movement in the 1970s, most notably in the 1973 standoff at Wounded Knee, South Dakota.

(Wounded Knee isn’t in the Badlands, but about 45 miles away.

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(Another entry for Jo’s Monday Walk series, too.  Just be sure to take enough water!)

  1. restlessjo says:

    It’s a sad story, isn’t it? So much is made of the slave trade but what happened to native Indians is as bad in many ways. Why can’t we be more tolerant? Live and let live 🙂
    Many thanks for the link up, Janet.

    • Intolerance seems to be at an all-time high these days, in all areas. Without civility and the ability to agree to disagree while still discussing, the world is in dire straits!

      Some other facts that are often overlooked in the discussion about the slave trade and what happened to the Indians are that slaves in Africa were sold to white slave traders by other Africans. Many Indian tribes weren’t exactly peaceful even before settlers arrived. They raided, killed, and took slaves, too. That sort of thing has happened all over the world. More slaves went to the sugar plantations than were brought to the US.

      Right now, the slave trade is sex slaves and it’s a horrific problem that’s all over the world. Of course there are “modern” countries that still have slaves of one sort or another, too.

  2. Dan Antion says:

    Thanks for the history. It’s important that we understand that this land has a long history that predates our discovery of it.

  3. scr4pl80 says:

    When I hear the word Badlands I immediately think of cowboys in black hats. Thanks for sharing the pictures and history. It is an interesting place!

  4. I really didn’t know anything about the Badlands before reading this post. Now, I have to say that considering the bloody history, the name suits it well, sadly…

    • Hannah, if you read the post from yesterday, you’ll see how the Badlands got its name and it wasn’t from this bit of history. Too many places in the world would have depressing names if history was taken into account.


  5. Such a sad and tragic history, Janet. This place is well-named indeed. Great photos and history lesson. xx

    • Sylvia, although it seems that it was called the Badlands for the history, it really wasn’t. I pointed out in yesterday’s post that the name came from the Lakota meaning “land bad” or “difficult to traverse”, a name echoed by the French trappers. I’ve always thought that the settlers probably found it a bad place to travel through because of all the formations, canyons, etc.

  6. I had to laugh about ‘take enough water.’ — Great post, though yes, I feel a bit parched!

    • Every year people die or have problems because they go hiking without taking water along. I think you’ve been around too much water lately. 🙂 Thanks for reading and commenting. Hope all is well.


      • Oh, for sure I understand the seriousness of going out without water, especially there… the laugh came at the very end with the reference to Jo’s daily walk…

        Even here we have four or so months on the coast when water is a critical concern, and I often worry about another earthquake hitting at the end of the dry season.. people would suffer even more….

  7. thirdeyemom says:

    I loved our visit to the Badlands. We went to hike at sunset and it was unforgettable. Lovely post Janet!

  8. thirdeyemom says:

    Sad history isn’t it Janet. Thanks for sharing

  9. de Wets Wild says:

    Thanks for sharing the often missed beauty of such harsh landscapes with us, Janet!

  10. JANE says:

    Hi Janet. I enjoyed learning about natural and human history from your post, and am equally impressed by the conversations you inspired. All thought provoking and interesting.

    • Thanks for being part of the conversation, Jane. That’s one of the things I enjoy about blogging and if I just get “likes” and no comments, I always wonder what I could have done better. 🙂 Enjoy midweek.