DSC_3516 First, the background, a bit of little known history: Back in the early and mid 1800s Native Americans, often at gunpoint, “agreed” to numerous treaties that gave away much of what is now america in return for some modest payments, provisions, etc.. Those obligations were so modest that the country could easily pay them… But during the Civil War, the country conveniently “forgot” to pay the Dakota people the modest compensation due them. This led to starvation, as the Dakota had been forced to give up the lands that had sustained them for generations. No doubt noting that the aforementioned Civil War had what was left of the United States military otherwise occupied, a minority of the desperate Dakota staged an uprising that resulted in the loss of both native american and white settler lives alike. But like the larger civil war which often pitted brother against brother, the battles lines were none too clearly drawn- Many Dakota refused to join the rebellion and in fact protected white settlers, and at least one white orphan who had been adopted by the Dakota was accused, convicted, and hanged with the captured Dakota prisoners of war. DSC_3495When the brief battles were over, more than 300 alleged Dakota warriors were captured and convicted in a sham trial. President Lincoln commuted the sentences of most of the 300 to long imprisonment, but 38 were hanged in the largest public hanging in american history in Mankato, Minnesota the day after christmas 1862. Within hours of their death their makeshift graves were robbed and their bodies dragged off by local doctors for use as cadavers, and 2 additional Dakota that had been convicted in absentia were later caught and hung. DSC_3528They may have been the lucky ones… The rest of the Dakota, women, children, and elders included, were marched nearly one hundred miles to Fort Snelling at the junction of the Minnesota and Mississippi Rivers. They were then put aboard overcrowded riverboats with inadequate rations and kidnapped on a long slow trip to the barren bluffs of the Missouri River in what is now South Dakota. To this day, there is still no exact count of how many starved and froze to death that brutal Dakota winter. DSC_3377Lost to formal history, the story of this horrible tragedy was passed on from Dakota elders to their youth for over a century. But a few years back Dakota elder, Vietnam vet, and farmer Jim Miller had a vision of a memorial horse ride to honor the memory of the victims of the 1862 conflict. The idea spread by word of mouth, and like most worthwhile ideas, came to fruition without need for much of promotion.` Every year a group of riders on horseback leaves the the Lower Brule Tribal Nation on the Missouri River near where the surviving Dakota were crudely and rudely dumped. Over two weeks they ride back, regardless of the winter weather, 325 miles to the site of the hanging. DSC_3359Why? It’d be simpler and “safer” to just do the usual symposia on the history of the tragic conflict at an appropriate higher education facility with no risk of frostbite nor falls on icy roads and fields. Just like it’d be simpler and safer if we motorcyclists would give up our motorcycles and confine ourselves for our travels in what “normal” people call cars and we call “cages”. Better yet, why not eliminate most all risk by simply delivering us straight from the nursery to the nursing home? Truth is, in such a “protective” environment we’d die young from obesity and just plain lack of exercise. DSC_3259So a lot of us have fallen off our bikes, and are in most cases are better and smarter for it. Balancing a bike, working out what gear to be in and when, etc. challenges our brains and bodies and improves our skills and strength, In fact, a growing body of research suggests that exercising the brain by these motorcycling problem solving exercises helps stave off dementia and old age in general. The Dakota 38+2 riders have fallen a few times too- leader Jim Miller himself missed the first half of this years ride due to his horse falling a few days before the ride, and two horses and riders have fallen on this years icy ride. And the riders have had good weather this year- In past years rides they’ve ridden through blizzards. DSC_3275Now contrast this with the animal rights activists in New York City who want to ban Central Park’s horse drawn cabs, on grounds that trotting is cruel to the horses. Leave a horse or a human with nothing to do in a supposedly “safe” environment and we get fat and/or into trouble. Thus it’s no surprise that native youths on the barren reservations in the Dakotas where unemployment exceeds 50% are often drawn into alcoholism, drug abuse, and crime. Same with many of us motorcyclists, with more than a few recovering alcoholics and addicts and ex-cons amongst us… Even the BMW riders. The Dakota 38+2 riders are our brothers and sisters of different mothers, many riding to recover from PTSD, substance abuse, etc.. That’s also why the ride makes a special effort to put young folks in the saddle, and tell the story of the Dakota’s proud history, survival, and future.

DSC_3306 But while we may fall, we usually survive and get back in or on the saddle… Because we literally “ride to live”!

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