Ultimate Guide to the Lakota Culture in the Black Hills
The Oglala Lakota
The Oglala Lakota are by far the largest of the Lakota Bands, with many of its members residing in the Pine Ridge Reservation, primarily in the southwest region of South Dakota. It is the 8th largest reservation in the country. Many of the Oglala Lakota reside in Rapid City, which I now call home. The Native American population makes up 9% of the state. This makes South Dakota one of the most populous as a percentage of the nation.
The Black Hills are sacred to the Oglala and many other Native Americans. It's here that the Lakota believe they were born, emerging out of Wind Cave to the south of Custer State Park. A visit to the cave is possible, as its current status is that of a National Park. The subject of the Lakota and the Black Hills can be particularly challenging to write about due to the complexity of the issues surrounding ownership, treaties, and the rawness of wounds that resonate throughout this unique part of the world.
As the population goes, the Pine Ridge Reservation has approximately 27,000 residents, according to recent surveys. The members of the Oglala Tribe reach about 36,000. The best way to appreciate Indigenous people is through cultural immersion. Right now, this is only possible through a guide, like on our Tours of Pine Ridge Reservation.
Of the Oglala, there are several heroes and people of significance. Some of the most recognizable names are Chief Crazy Horse, Chief Spotted Elk, Chief Red Cloud, and in more recent times, Olympic Gold Medalist Billy Mills.
The last Ghost Dance recorded was held here in the Badlands in 1890, but rumors are that they continue. Some of the most significant and tragic events on Pine Ridge are the Wounded Knee Massacre, where between 150-300 Lakota were killed along with 25 U.S. soldiers. This is one of the most disgraceful engagements of the U.S. Army, leading to the murder of hundreds of Lakota men, women and children.
There are many different ways to experience Native American Culture, which you can see on our main page. As for shopping, we recommend you travel with us to the actual artists to support residents of Pine Ridge. You'll find great pieces of authentic Native American Art and celebrations of Native American Culture. In addition, the annual Pow-Wow is a great time to come to South Dakota and experience the Lakota ceremony firsthand.
Pioneer Life in the Black Hills and Badlands
Settlers began to come out to the open prairies and Black Hills of South Dakota in the early 1800s, but there were very few at that time. When South Dakota was declared a territory in 1861, the settler population was no more than 1000, and the Lakota was around 25,000. However, the Homestead Act of 1862 was when the Dakotas saw many people making their way west.
A torrent came after Custer found gold in French Creek in 1874. Word got out quick, and the area exploded with miners, homes, bars, and brothels.
Life for those who settled in the Prairies was hard, often building sod houses and dealing with harsh weather. It's not uncommon to have 75 miles an hour wind out there and temperatures dropping to a record low in the Badlands of -44 degrees Fahrenheit. The 160 acres provided to the homesteaders needed to be more.
The soil was poor, and the weather didn't help. Congress granted over 600 acres for the homesteaders, which led to the shift from farming to ranching. Agriculture is still the most significant economic driver in the State of South Dakota. If you'd like an authentic sod home, visit the Prairie Homestead from I-90 at the east entrance to the Badlands National Park.
Eventually, more land was stolen to accommodate settlers, reducing the original Red Cloud Agency by over 90%. Clearly unfair, the Lakota were left with primarily desolate land disconnected from significant towns.