S.D. Just outside Sturgis is the Sacred Mato Paha or Bear
Butte Mountain. Bear Butte, a 4,426-foot mountain, rests on the
northernmost part of the Black Hills. It has been a sacred site
to the Northern Plains Indians for thousands of years.
Bear Butte Mountain attracts visitors from all over the world. Bear
Butte is still a place for traditional American Indian ceremonies.
When hiking up the mountain on designated trails, its common
to see trees bestowed with sacred tobacco offerings wrapped in colorful
cloth as representations of prayers to the Creator.
to a Lakota story, long ago a giant bear and a water monster similar
to a dinosaur, battled for many days and nights. Because of the
fierce battle, valleys filled with blood. The giant bear was wounded
by the sea monsters jagged teeth and the bear crawled away
to die. The ground erupted, darkness covered the earth, and fire,
ashes, water and mud went into the sky.
story continues with the bears body disappearing, and in place
of the bear was a hill in the shape of the bears sleeping
body which continued to rumble and smolder.
the native Lakota, Bear Butte has long been a place to hold council
meetings and ceremonies such as vision quests and Sun dances. In
the mid-1800s the father of Crazy Horse, a great holy man, climbed
Bear Butte to seek spiritual guidance on a vision quest.
has been said that Wakantanka appeared before the holy man in the
form of a bear and gave him power to overcome obstacles and defeat
his enemies. Crazy Horses father asked that the same gifts
also be given to his son. After this bestowment, the mountain was
known as Bear Butte or Mata Paha.
history of Bear Butte is rich, as well as literal, artifacts dating
back 10,000 years have been discovered near it. Tipi rings have
been found along Bear Buttes perimeter, as well as rocks the
Sioux once placed along the mountains summit to establish
claims to the land, to mark distance
or to offer prayers.
note a profound spiritual connection when visiting the site.
Jandreau, who was born and raised on the Lower Brule Sioux in South
Dakota is the first American Indian park manager at Bear Butte State
park. Jandreau admits that although the sites of Bear Butte are
majestic, the profound connection to spiritual matters are much
cannot take away the spirituality of this mountain, which is its
true draw. That is its true magnificence. For everybody that comes
here, I believe it is different. No two people that come here have
the same experience.
said Bear Butte is open to anyone who wishes to visit.
medicine men that practice here and bring their people here to worship
will all tell you that this mountain is not exclusive to only Indian
people praying. Anybody who comes in the right mind and the right
heart with prayer on their lips, with humbleness is welcome. When
you go to that area with that humbleness then we are all truly equal.
Butte has long been the subject of preserving sacred sites by American
Indian artists. Award-winning American Indian musician Michael Bucher,
Cherokee, whose song off his Seven album entitled Dirty
Water fights for the preservation of the site.
went to Bear Butte Mountain and climbed along the trails to look
at the view and to feel the sanctity of the place. You can see buffalo
at the base of Bear Butte and see prayer flags all over the trees.
They are tobacco cloth offerings. Some of the multi-colored ribbons
are old and faded and some of the flags are on trees that have been
uprooted by the weather. It all adds to the holiness of the place
that so many prayers for hundreds of years have been prayed there,
Bucher and Jandreau said that though visitors may go for the simple
beauty of Bear Butte or to hike the trails that were once traversed
by Indian people so many years ago, visitors leave with much more
than they may have anticipated.
that comes off this mountain, it doesnt matter if they are
Indian or non-Indian or what tribe they are from, when they come
away from this mountain, and go to see that medicine man interpreter
about their vision, none of them will ever be the same, Jandreau
said. People who come here are changed spiritually and morally.
They may not know it when they drive out of the gate, but that stays