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"I am a Keeper of the White Buffalo Calf Pipe of the Lakota Nation,
also known as Turtle Island. We have lived since time of creation in the sacred Black Hills,
our Ancestral homeland and the heart of everything that is.

The Black Hills of South Dakota have been sacred land to the Lakota people for hundreds of years, ages beyond what Americans can imagine. "Ownership" (Lakota would likely call it stewardship) of the land is still contested by members of the tribe, who believe that the Black Hills and the lands of the Wind Cave National Park was given to them to watch over. After the last of the frontier in the United States began to disintegrate in the late 19th century, and the native animal herds began to die, a need formed for an area where prairie land could be preserved. That led to the formation of Wind Cave National Park, and the preservation of the sacred site of the Lakota people.

Located near Hot Springs, South Dakota, Wind Cave National Park is famous for its boxwork, which is a type of unusual cave formation comprised of thin calcite fins that look somewhat like honeycombs. The cave which has the boxwork formations is one of the world's most longest and most complex caves. Also featured in the park is 28,295 acres of mixed-grass prairie and pine forest. The vast prairie is one of the last remaining large areas of such land that used to make up the entire American frontier. It is home to bison, elk, coyotes, and other wildlife. The park itself was officially established as a United States National Park on January 9, 1903. It was further designated a National Game Preserve on August 10, 1912.

"Ancient ones say that less than 500 years ago life was so abundant here
that flocks of birds blotted out the sun. It took four days for one herd of buffalo to pass.
Where is the abundance of life today?"1

Arvol Looking Horse

History of Wind Cave National Park

Lakota legend speaks of holes and chasms in the earth that blow wind in the sacred Black Hills, but the Wind Cave itself was offically recorded as being discovered by Americans in 1881 by Jesse and Tom Bingham. Reportedly, they heard a whistling sound and were drawn to the cave. The story says that wind was gusting from the cave and blew Tom's hat off of his head. When Jesse returned to show the cave to others, the wind had mysteriously changed directions and sucked his hat into the cave. This interesting occurance has been explained by differing atmospheric pressures between the depths of the cave and the surface.

Charlie Crary was said to be the first person to enter the cave, and he did so later in 1881. Him, along with other explorers, noted the boxwork formations for which the cave would later be known.

Shortly after being initially explored, mining companies moved into the area. J.D. McDonald's South Dakota Mining Company was the most noteable, founded near the Wind Cave in 1890. Mining itself was unprofitable, but the family decided to give tours through the cave. They made money by selling pieces of the beautiful cave formations. They broke through cave walls to create an entrance and they enlarged the passageways of the cave as well. The family also attempted to map the entirity of the cave and tried unsuccessfully to find its end.

In 1891, as business improved, "Honest John" Stabler forged a partnership with the McDonald family and together created the Wonderful Wind Cave Improvement Company.2 Passages were chipped away at further and wooden staircases were installed. A hotel was erected near the cave and a coach gave lifts to the cave.

Late in 1893, things weren't so "wonderful" for the project anymore. Alvin, J.D.'s son, caught typhoid fever and died later that year at 20. J.D. then began accusing Stabler of hiding profits. During this time, Peter Folsom took over the mining claim on the cave. Folsom and Stabler went to court against McDonald and both sides tried to prove that the other had to right to the cave. In December of 1899, the Department of the Interior ruled that neither party had legal right to it. In 1901, the land around the cave was withdrawn from homesteading.

On January 3, 1903, Theodore Roosevelt signed the bill that created Wind Cave National Park. It was the seventh national park to be so created and the first to assure the protection of a cave. At this time, the park lands were small. This changed in 1912, when the American Bison Society was looking for a location to put a bison herd. Due to the prairie lands of the park, a game preserve was created around the Wind Cave. It became managed by the United States Biological Survey. In 1913, the animals were established there: fourteen bison from the New York Zoological Society, twenty-one elk from Wyoming and thirteen pronghorn from Alberta, Canada.

The Civilian Conservation Corps became instrumental in modifying the park in the 1930s. From July 16, 1934 until October 3, 1939, they operated a camp there. They built roads, an entrance to the cave, concrete stairs in the passageways and other structures which remain today.

In July of 1935, the game preserve and the national park were united. At first, animals were isolated in small spaces. However, authorities finally realized that they needed more room to forage and establish territory. Fences in the park were removed. In 1946, 16,341 acres were added, enlarging the park to nearly its current size.

In the 50s and 60s, the wildlife were growing out of control. Herds had exhausted the food supply with no large predators to control populations. Rangers began to estimate the carrying capacity of the area, which is the amount of animals that can exist in a location without damaging the lands. Balance had to be achieved. Herd sizes were reduced by moving excess animals to other parks. Grassland was reseeded with native plants.

Throughout the 70s and 80s, more attention was payed to the whole of the environment of the park. Authorities realized that conditions on the surface often influenced the cave, particularly in terms of water movements. If altered, formation within the cave could be changed. Considering this, they began to recognize the importance of surveying unexplored areas of the cave yearly.

The Land

The erosion and weathering patterns of rock are the most important aspects of land formation in Wind Cave National Park. The oldest rocks are exposed in the northwest area of the park. These are schists and pegmatites. Schists are metamorphic rocks which form under the heat and pressure of an early episode of mountain building, which occured about 2 billion years ago. They have foliation, bands of color, which is caused by the growth of mica crystals. Pegmatites are made of large quartz crystals, pink feldspar, mica, and black tourmaline. It is an igneous rock, like granite. It was formed by the hardening of magma and hot fluid. The pegmatite intrudes into the schists in some locations, showing that the pegmatite is younger, but still about 1.7 billion years old.

In the southeast area of the park, younger layers of sedimentary rock are on the surface. The span from the time of the origins of sea life, around 600 million years ago, through the ages of the dinosaur, 60 million years ago. Throughout these ages, the seas covered and receded over the land that is now Wind Cave National Park many times. Deposition of sediment alternated with erosion. 65 million years ago, another mountain building age occured, raising what is now called the Black Hills.

Since that time long ago, the winds and uplifts of the layers of rock have altered the Black Hills. Sediments from erosion fill the valleys of the park and spilled to the east, forming the layers of The Badlands. Rocks resistant to erosion are now plateaus made of pegmatite, limestone and sandstone. The more weak rock, like schists or shales, form valleys. Such examples of these valleys are Beaver Creek Canyon, Wind Cave Canyon, and Red Valley. The schists and pegmatites are along Highway 87.

The Pahasapa Limestone, which is that the Wind Cave formed in, was deposited in warm, shallow seawater approximately 350 million years ago. It is made mostly of calcium carbonate sea shell fragments. Along with this limestone, gypsum (calcium sulfate) crystallized out of the sea and formed masses within the limestone. These masses were unstable, and their volume fluxuated with the absorbtion or expulsion of water. Fracturing occured within the limestone because of this. Like toothpaste, gypsum squeezed into the fractured cracks and hardened. Later, water with ionized carbonate converted this gypsum to calcite, which would form the basis for cave formation and boxwork to appear.

Receding oceans allowed water into the area. Sulfur was chemically freed to form sulfuric and sulfurous acid. These acids dissolved in the receding ocean water to erode at the limestone and create the first cave passageways about 320 million years ago. Afterwards, the seas covered the area again. About 300 million years ago, red clay, sandstone and limeston of the Minnelusa Formation were deposited over the Pahasapa Limestone. This sediment washed into these new passageways, which can still be seen in the higher levels of the cave. The process of advancement and retreat of the seas continued for another 240 million years. Development of the cave was slow; water flowed the cave gently, giving it plenty of time the work through small cracks, creating the incredibly complex maze of a cave that exists now.

The slow nature of this process would prove vital for boxwork formation. At the edges of the old gypsum masses, limestone dissolved leaving the previously deposited crack fillings standing exposed. These crystalline fins are called boxwork. Had the water flowed through the cave faster, it is certain that this would have been eroded in time.

The water that made this process possible began draining from the cave around 50 million years ago. Today, the water level is about 500 feet below the surface in an area called "the Lakes." Water does still change the cave, as park officials found out. Slow seeping of the water creates frostwork and popcorn formations on the walls and ceiling of the cave.

Wind Cave is over 300 million years old, making it one of the oldest in the world. There are over 80 miles of known cave, which fits under just one square mile of land. Research on the cave continues today; much remains to be discovered about it.

We the people
who were here first on this Turtle Island
the Great Spirit blessed us with
and trusted us to care for
are not dogs of whore
but birds of Spirit;
we have a love affair with Maka
Mother Earth;
we roam free
for what is a bird if it is not free,
free to fly
free to be itself ...3

U.S. National Parks and Monuments


1 Message from Arvol Looking Horse from http://www.thunderpeople.com/html/native.htm
2 It took me several minutes to catch my breath after laughing at the ridiculousness of that name (and the project).
3 End poem excerpt from Landlord from http://www.thunderpeople.com/html/poetry.htm

*Photographs* of the amazing boxwork:

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