Traditional Culture
  Since Time Immemorial
Homeland of the Lakota
All My Relations
Camp Life & Seasonal Round
References Cited

  Contemporary Culture
  Arts and Artists
Tribal Government
Tribal Colleges
Self-Determination and Sovereignty
Recommended Web Sites and Bibliography

  Relationship with the U.S.
  Fur Trade
Making Treaties
The Shrinking Reservation
References Cited

Leonard Little Finger,
educator and grandfather,
brings you the Wind Cave
story on this page.
Buffalo Gap from the west,
near Wind Cave National Park
Jerry Schumacher photo


Map showing location of Wind Cave National Park

Pierre > Culture > Homeland of the Lakota
Landscape near Wind Cave National Park.
(located in the southeast Black Hills, in the southwest corner of South Dakota)
National Park Service photo.
The story of Wind Cave
From the "Flying River Band"
of Mniconjou-Teton band

“My grandfather, John Little Finger, who survived Wounded Knee Creek Massacre of 1890, told me this story. His grandfather Sitanka, Chief Big Foot, was the leader of this Band of MniconjouTeton, of the OcetiSakowin Orate or People of the Seven Council Fires. Later, this nation became more commonly known as the Great Sioux Nation. The origin of this Band goes back to a people known as the Wakpa Kinyan Se or Flying River Band. Their name comes from the rapid flow of the creek which flows out of the Black Hills, now known as Rapid Creek. The flow seems as if it is ‘Flying’, and was their base camp" (Leonard Little Finger: 2003).

In the beginning of time when all things were created, Maka or Mother Earth was created for all living beings. This was a time of all created to live in harmony with one another. In this time, there existed no evil. Life in this time was of endless harmony and happiness of all created. A Lakota word, Wicozani, expresses this life. It means a complete wholeness of well-being including: spiritual, physical, mental, and economic well-being, with economic well-being understood as having adequate food, shelter, and clothing.

Then one day, a trickster came to this world to persuade one of the two-legged beings to come out of this world by attempting to convince him that there was a better world to live in. He came with his message to a man known as Tokahe or the first. Pte or Buffalo, the holy man of the people, tried to warn Tokahe of the dangers that existed should he follow the trickster into this new world. Pte was a man of great wisdom or woksape. His power of wisdom and knowledge was the guidance of the two-legged, but the power of the trickster was so convincing to Tokahe that he followed the trickster into this new world. He accompanied the trickster as he was led into this new world through an entrance that is located in the Black Hills or He’ Sapa. This entrance was to become known as Washun Niya, or later as Wind Cave. This is translated as a “Breathing Hole" from Mother Earth. This area is known today as the oldest existing mountain range in the world.

After some time, Tokahe returned from this new world. Tokahe, had great praise for all the things that he experienced in his journey attempting to convince the others that they should follow him back to this new world. He wanted them to see with their own eyes of all that was greater in this new world.

Pte, the holy man, being gifted with wisdom had the power to foresee the future. Within this ability, he saw only those things that would cause great hardship and suffering for the people in this new world. But, despite the warnings, Tokahe was able to convince the people, as he was by the trickster, to follow him into the new world through Washun Niye. The responsibility of a holy man requires one to place the concerns of the people served, first, and to self, secondly. It often creates hardship for them. As such, Pte accepted this great responsibility, and followed them into this new world. He knew that the needs of the people for Wicozani or wholeness of well-being must be provided. In the new world experiences, their needs for Wicozani would be difficult, and harder to obtain. In this new world, their survival needs would be far greater, particularly for food, shelter, and clothing. Thus, Pte, changed himself into a great shaggy beast. A being who could provide those needs for the people in this new world.

This being became an animal to be known as Pte or later, Tatanka, meaning buffalo in the Lakota language. In this way, Pte could help them survive in this harsh new world. As Pte or Tatanko, he could provide food, shelter, clothing, ceremonial objects, and every day objects. In total, he could provide over 60 different items. The only requirement, was for the people to never forget where they came from, and to acknowledge the past.
Bison on Wind Cave National Game Preserve
National Park Service photo.

Acknowledging the Past, and the Circle of Life

As the ages of the people came forward, this acknowledgment continues. In sacred pipe prayers, thanksgiving is offered to our Creator, Wakan Tanka, for all beings created for the Oceti Sakowin Oyate, or now to to all as "The Great Sioux Nation". Secondly, Pte or Tatanka, from whom the people are also known as the Buffalo Nation is recognized for giving life so life may continue.

In the circle of life understanding of the Oceti Sakowin Oyate, there are 4 seasons. Although there is daily prayer, this is a time for special prayers beginning when the day is equal to night, known to others as Spring Equinox and ends with the longest day or Summer Solstice. This is the belief of the People of the Seven Council Fires from the past when they lived in the old world. During this time, the He’ Sapa or Black Hills become the prayer sites. At those sites, from time immemorial, the people gather with their pipes to offer their prayers. Thus, the Black Hills are sacred to the people.

My Grandfather Remembered

Waka Kiyan Se’ or Flying River Band, whose home base was within the Black Hills, would follow the sacred prayer journey to the special prayer sites. As a child, John Little Finger, relates that he accompanied the people on this special journey. Washun Niye, from which Mother Earth breaths, was one of the sites they went to. In preparation for a ceremony, the women would prepare a hide of a Pte or Tatanka.

The dried hide would be carried to this site in this sacred prayer journey. Acknowledgment to Pte was given, by returning the hide to the old world. Upon completion of the prayers, the hide would be dropped into the hole. My grandfather, John Little Finger, remembered this as he stood within the circle of the Wakpa Kinyan Se’ Band of Mniconjou, along with his family. He watched as the hide of Pte was dropped into the hole. Washun Niye carried the hide downward in a spiraling and circular motion as it traveled downward soon to be enveloped in the darkness where the old world was. The Power of the Circle which has no ending was affirmed.

Bison grazing
Jeffrey G. Olson photo
Background: Single sunflower. Jeffrey G. Olson photo