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This small flat area (2 square miles) in the middle of the Pine Ridge sandhills is home to me and my family. I grew up here. My great, great grandpa and grandma lived here raised a family and planted the over 100 year old cottonwood trees that still stand and provide shade for our horses and cattle and us. A long time ago in the early 1900's there was a whole community that lived here. My dad told me stories of dances and the old school house and how grandpa use to pull him and his siblings to school in their sleds with his horse. My grandpa used to call it "Coyote Flats" because when he was trying to make a living way back then by hunting and trapping he could always count on catching some coyotes up here. There were also stories of prairie fires and the bombing that use to go on here. Yes, that's right..... BOMBINGS!
Around 1942 the government confiscated this place and a couple of other areas on the Reservation to practice their bombing. In the process they uprooted dozens of Native families that had lived there forever. They were paid for what they had to leave but really it was just stolen....... AGAIN! They were paid sums like $5 for the chicken coop and not much more for their own homes...... basically just stolen! Typical government policy in their treatment of Native Peoples.
My dad told me a story of my grandpa, him and his cousin drove up there too put out a fire the bombers had started about then another bomber flew over and dropped a bomb right next to my grandpa's pick-up...... my dad was in there too! My grandpa always drove slow but this time I guess he put it into high gear! My dad gets a kick out of that story.
The army brought in bulldozers and right in the middle of the flat they tore up the land and made a bulls eye target so the bombers could see it from the sky. It's still there today! It's huge.... probably over 100 yards across each cross hair and with the land built up about 4 1/2 ft. then some big poles were put up with huge aluminum boxes attached. These were used for low flying planes to practice shooting their 50mm guns. For quite awhile after people called this "Reflector City". I still find the big empty shells laying around the place. I also have found live ammo that they use to just throw out because they had to stay out until all their ammo was used and so I guess many times they would just throw out the ammo to get rid of it. One time me and my rousins were out riding horse back and I was galloping along and rode into a pile of bombs that were laying in a pile..... all I could do was close my eyes and hope that nothing blew up....... Ha....... how many kids can say they use to play with bombs and live ammo..... at least in America?
In the late 60's and early 70's the National Guard started coming down and playing war. They parked a bunch of old cars about 4 miles away and would sit in their tanks and fire at the old cars. This was all only a couple hundred yards from our house. Helicopters were flying all over, there were hundreds of tents set up under the cottonwood trees my grandpa planted, there were guards tearing up the country building roads, and some setting up booby traps to practice how they would do it to the enemies I guess. I actually rode into a booby trap on my dirt bike one day and set off an explosion just twenty yards away..... some national guards came out of hiding and chewed me out for ruining their ambush and blowing up their bombs..... forget about me just about getting blown up...... damn!
Anyway, not instead of calling the big target a target my wife and I call it our giant Medicine Wheel. It's shaped just like a Medicine Wheel and the four corners point exactly north, east, south and west. In the center a little pitiful cottonwood started to grow. I really feel sorry for the tree. It's out in the middle of the prairie by itself and it barely survives in all the summer storms and winter blizzards we get not to mention the droughts it's survived. It's branches always get broken off. It's really amazing to me how it's exactly in the center of the cross hairs. This little cottonwood tree in the exact center of the Medicine Wheel........ seems more to me than just a coincident.
It gives me hope and courage to see that tree. Though all the turmoil and bad things that have happened to this sacred land it still hangs in there. I think of it as a metaphor for the way the Lakota People have suffered under the rule of the oppressors. We have a hard life sometimes but this is our land and home and we will always be here no matter what!
If you look close enough in the photo you can see the cottonwood tree kinda on the left of the scene and the Medicine Wheel all around it.