Myth & Lore

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The Naming of the White River & Badlands
From Legends of the Mighty Sioux:

White River Valley in the Badlands, South Dakota, USA

When the Sioux people first visited the bare, lifeless, and sharp hills and the deep, broken cuts in the earth along a river in western Dakota, they said to themselves "Mako sica," which means bad land. Few things grew or lived there, and it was almost impossible to cross the Badlands. Finally the Indians found a natural opening, now known as Big Foot Pass. This was because Chief Big Foot led his band of four hundred warriors through the Pass in 1890 when the United States soldiers thought that every route was guarded. It was this same band that went on from the Badlands to the Pine Ridge Reservation. Here Big Foot and his band were killed in the Battle of Wounded Knee, which was the last big fight between the whites and the Indians in the United States.

Through the Badlands, which is now a National Monument, flows an unusual river. It rises in Nebraska and crosses the western part of South Dakota to the Missouri River. When the Indians found the river it looked as if it were smoking, for a white fog seems to rise from the valley through which the river flows. The haze of soft white smoke can often be seen early in the morning, and the Indian name, meaning White Smoking River, has been changed to its present name of White River.

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