I wrote this Last Windrow classic back in 1992. We were attending a family reunion at my wife’s father’s homeland near Agar, S.D.
I want to dedicate this column to my friend and college roomate, Butch O’Neal, of Eagle Butte. I learned much from Butch about his people and the land he and his family loved. Enjoy!
“Last week my wife, daughter and I had the chance to attend a family reunion in Onida, S.D. Little did I think that we would be wearing windbreakers on the Fourth of July in the middle of South Dakota, but we did!
While we were visiting, we had the chance to take the drive up the west Missouri River road to the village of Mission Ridge. This is the area in which the film “Dances With Wolves” was filmed.
I would say that if you were in this part of the country, you would be doing yourself an injustice if you did not attempt to drive this wonderful trail. I hesitate to tell you of it because I’m afraid that too many cars and people would ruin the tremendous open vistas of true western landscape that this part of America possesses.
I can’t help but put some of my thoughts to poetry about this place, but nothing I write can truly say what this piece of land itself placed inside my head.
‘The Trail To Mission Ridge’
High upon the South Dakota plain,
High, where the golden eagle eyes its prey,
High, where the Dakota wind moves across the endless grasses,
Winds the timeless trail to Mission Ridge.
If one leans near the earth you hear the hoof beats
Of the once mighty thundering buffalo herd.
A sound not unlike the rumble of distant thunder,
To hear it you must but listen and not speak a word.
The earth will tremble beneath your feet,
The dust will rise to unseen heights above.
The giant beasts, with cows and calves throbbing among them,
Drive their hooves forward into the prairie sod.
Prairie dogs scurry for unseen burrows,
Larks flit hurriedly aloft.
Nothing standing is left standing,
As the brown and ruddy tide passes by and moves off.
If one stands without a sound,
You can hear the shouts on this hallowed ground,
Of Lakota hunters, spears and bows in hand,
As they ride up and alongside the moving band.
Horses, faces painted for the sacred hunt,
Sweat pouring down their flanks and chests,
Breathing in the hot western wind in bursts as they stride,
Muscles and veins straining out against their pinto-ed hides.
Galloping over sun-drenched hills and valleys,
Fast along sagebrush crested rims.
Yelps of hunters chasing hunted.
Grunts and groans among those to be killed.
You can hear it, you really can!
If you listen to this vast and open land.
Times long ago are forever remembered,
In stories told by an aged Indian man.
The trail to Mission Ridge is lonely,
Only to those who cannot see.
Feel the wind across your face and listen,
The sound is there for all time yet to be.
On the trail to Mission Ridge.”
See you next time. Okay?