Badlands National Park

Badlands National Park

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Badlands National Park
IUCN category II (national park)
Badlands National Park
Map showing the location of Badlands National ParkLocation in the United StatesShow map of the United StatesShow map of South DakotaShow all
LocationSouth Dakota, United States
Nearest cityRapid City, South Dakota
Coordinates43°45′N 102°30′WCoordinates43°45′N 102°30′W
Area242,756 acres (982.40 km2)[1]
EstablishedJanuary 29, 1939 as a National Monument
November 10, 1978 as a National Park
Visitors1,008,942 (in 2018)[2]
Governing bodyNational Park Service
WebsiteOfficial website 
 
Southwestern South Dakota
Sculptures
Mount Rushmore (National memorial)Crazy Horse
Geologic and natural history
Badlands (National park)Mammoth SiteNeedlesSpearfish Canyon
Mountains
Black HillsBear Butte (National Historic Landmark)Black Elk Peak
Caves
Wind Cave (National park)Jewel Cave (National monument)
Forests and wildernesses
Custer (State Park)Black Hills (National Forest)Black Elk (Wilderness)Buffalo Gap (National Grassland)
Lakes
SylvanPactola
Scenic byways
Peter Norbeck Scenic BywaySpearfish Canyon
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Badlands National Park (LakotaMakȟóšiča[3]) is an American national park located in southwestern South Dakota. The park protects 242,756 acres (379.3 sq mi; 982.4 km2)[1] of sharply eroded buttes and pinnacles, along with the largest undisturbed mixed grass prairie in the United States. The National Park Service manages the park, with the South Unit being co-managed with the Oglala Lakota tribe.[4]

The Badlands Wilderness protects 64,144 acres (100.2 sq mi; 259.6 km2) of the park as a designated wilderness area,[5] and is one site where the black-footed ferret, one of the most endangered mammals in the world, was reintroduced to the wild.[6] The South Unit, or Stronghold District,[4] includes sites of 1890s Ghost Dances,[7] a former United States Air Force bomb and gunnery range,[8] and Red Shirt Table, the park’s highest point at 3,340 feet (1,020 m).[9]

Authorized as Badlands National Monument on March 4, 1929, it was not established until January 25, 1939. Badlands was redesignated a national park on November 10, 1978.[10] Under the Mission 66 plan, the Ben Reifel Visitor Center was constructed for the monument in 1957–58. The park also administers the nearby Minuteman Missile National Historic Site. Movies such as Dances with Wolves (1990) and Thunderheart (1992) were partially filmed in Badlands National Park.[11]

Contents

History[edit]

Native Americans[edit]

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For 11,000 years, Native Americans have used this area for their hunting grounds. Long before the Lakota were the little-studied paleo-Indians, followed by the Arikara people. Their descendants live today in North Dakota as a part of the Three Affiliated Tribes. Archaeological records combined with oral traditions indicate that these people camped in secluded valleys where fresh water and game were available year-round. Eroding out of the stream banks today are the rocks and charcoal of their campfires, as well as the arrowheads and tools they used to butcher bison, rabbits, and other game. From the top of the Badlands Wall, they could scan the area for enemies and wandering herds. If hunting was good, they might hang on into winter, before retracing their way to their villages along the Missouri River. The Lakota people were the first to call this place “mako sica” or “land bad.” Extreme temperatures, lack of water, and the exposed rugged terrain led to this name. French-Canadian fur trappers called it “les mauvaises terres pour traverser,” or “bad lands to travel through.”[12] By one hundred and fifty years ago, the Great Sioux Nation consisting of seven bands including the Oglala Lakota, had displaced the other tribes from the northern prairie.

The next great change came toward the end of the 19th century as homesteaders moved into South Dakota. The U.S. government stripped Native Americans of much of their territory and forced them to live on reservations. In the fall and early winter of 1890, thousands of Native Americans, including many Oglala Sioux, became followers of the Indian prophet Wovoka. His vision called for the native people to dance the Ghost Dance and wear Ghost shirts, which would be impervious to bullets. Wovoka had predicted that the white man would vanish and their hunting grounds would be restored. One of the last known Ghost Dances was conducted on Stronghold Table in the South Unit of Badlands National Park. As winter closed in, the ghost dancers returned to Pine Ridge Agency. The climax of the struggle came in late December 1890. Headed south from the Cheyenne River, a band of Minneconjou Sioux crossed a pass in the Badlands Wall. Pursued by units of the U.S. Army, they were seeking refuge in the Pine Ridge Reservation. The band, led by Chief Spotted Elk,[13] was finally overtaken by the soldiers near Wounded Knee Creek in the Reservation and ordered to camp there overnight. The troops attempted to disarm Big Foot’s band the next morning. Gunfire erupted. Before it was over, nearly three hundred Indians and thirty soldiers lay dead. The Wounded Knee Massacre was the last major clash between Plains Indians and the U.S. military until the advent of the American Indian Movement in the 1970s, most notably in the 1973 standoff at Wounded Knee, South Dakota.

Wounded Knee is not within the boundaries of Badlands National Park. It is located approximately 45 miles (72 km) south of the park on Pine Ridge Reservation. The U.S. government and the Oglala Lakota Nation have agreed that this is a story to be told by the Oglala of Pine Ridge and Minneconjou of Standing Rock Reservation. The interpretation of the site and its tragic events are held as the primary responsibility of these survivors.

Fossil hunters[edit]

False-color satellite image of the park (click to enlarge)

The history of the White River Badlands as a significant paleontological resource goes back to the traditional Native American knowledge of the area. The Lakota found large fossilized bones, fossilized seashells and turtle shells. They correctly assumed that the area had once been under water, and that the bones belonged to creatures which no longer existed.[14] Paleontological interest in this area began in the 1840s. Trappers and traders regularly traveled the 300 miles (480 km) from Fort Pierre to Fort Laramie along a path which skirted the edge of what is now Badlands National Park. Fossils were occasionally collected, and in 1843 a fossilized jaw fragment collected by Alexander Culbertson of the American Fur Company found its way to a physician in St. Louis by the name of Hiram A. Prout.

In 1846, Prout published a paper about the jaw in the American Journal of Science in which he stated that it had come from a creature he called a Paleotherium. Shortly after the publication, the White River Badlands became popular fossil hunting grounds and, within a couple of decades, numerous new fossil species had been discovered in the White River Badlands. In 1849, Dr. Joseph Leidy published a paper on an Oligocene camel and renamed Prout’s Paleotherium, Titanotherium prouti. By 1854 when he published a series of papers about North American fossils, 84 distinct species had been discovered in North America – 77 of which were found in the White River Badlands. In 1870 a Yale professor, O. C. Marsh, visited the region and developed more refined methods of extracting and reassembling fossils into nearly complete skeletons. From 1899 to today, the South Dakota School of Mines has sent people almost every year and remains one of the most active research institutions working in the White River Badlands. Throughout the late 19th century and continuing today, scientists and institutions from all over the world have benefited from the fossil resources of the White River Badlands. The White River Badlands have developed an international reputation as a fossil-rich area. They contain the richest deposits of Oligocene mammals known, providing a glimpse of life in the area 33 million years ago.

List of fossil animals[edit]

For a more complete list of fossil animals discovered in the formations that make up Badlands National Park and surrounding areas, see Category:White River Fauna.

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