This year’s edition of the Big Foot ride began Thursday
from a camp on the Grand River where American Indian Chief Sitting Bull was
killed 115 years ago. In two weeks, riders plan to arrive at the site of the
Wounded Knee Massacre.
Those who have been on the ride before say it is among the saddest and most fulfilling experiences of their lives.
By the time they reach Wounded Knee on Dec. 29, the 23 riders that left
Thursday will be more than 125 strong, organizers say.
Sina Shaw has been on the ride before. “Our leaders fought so hard. We do this so our children’s children’s children know we’re worth something,” Shaw said.
Included among the riders are a half-dozen children.
The memorial ride began in 1986 when Birgil Kills Straight and four other
Lakota riders decided to follow the December 1890 trek across South Dakota taken
by Minneconju leader Big Foot and his followers.
They fled the Standing Rock reservation when Sitting Bull was arrested and
killed and had hoped to spend the winter in safety with the Oglalas in the
Badlands. They were intercepted by the Seventh Cavalry outside Wounded Knee, and
an estimated 300 were massacred when the encounter erupted into violence.
As the riders left Thursday, each spent a moment at a monument to Sitting
Bull. Each rider declared who he or she would ride for, a loved one, or for the
After Sitting Bull was killed, his followers fled to Pine Ridge, more than
200 miles on foot in the cold of early winter. After they arrived, many found
death at the hands of the U.S. Army.
The riders who left the camp Thursday will feel some of the cold the original
riders felt – even though they have insulated caps, coats and warm food and
shelter awaiting them at the end of each day.
Ron His Horse Is Thunder, the new Standing Rock Sioux chairman and descendant
of Sitting Bull, has ridden from Sitting Bull’s death marker to Wounded Knee
every year. But not this one.
His mouth and lip remain swollen from dental surgery.
His Horse Is Thunder saw the riders off on their journey.
“You will feel pain on this ride,” he told them. “When it is over, you will
be wiser. You will be better Lakota.”