Black Elk Peak in South DakotaSouth Dakota has been in the news for its pipeline and protests to the pipeline for quite a while. The state has a very contentious history for its indigenous peoples. It was home to the Wounded Knee Massacre in 1890, resulting in the death of at least 146 Sioux and 31 U.S. soldiers. Although South Dakota is probably most known for Mount Rushmore, there are many great places to visit when you’re in the area. 

Let’s take some time this week to look at some of the sacred places and historic churches in the state.

Black Elk Peak

Formerly known as Harney Peak, Black Elk Peak is the highest natural point in South Dakota. The rock formations look like owls. The Lakota Sioux consider this point a sacred spot. In 1855, the peak was called Harney Peak after U.S. General William S. Harney. Harney was a commander in the Black Hills area for many years and killed many Sioux. The tribes tried to get the name of the peak changed for many years, but it wasn’t until 2016 that the U.S. Board on Geographic Names officially made the change. Hikers can reach the summit by hiking. 

Mnikata Hot Springs

The Sioux and Cheyenne peoples have long appreciated the warm springs in this area. According to an art piece by Amos Bad Heart Bull, the site is considered sacred to Native Americans. The town has a lot of historic value, as well as being home to a VA hospital, which is also a National Historic Landmark. It’s a gateway to the Black Hills.

Craven Canyon

Craven Canyon is known for its petroglyphs, Native American rock carvings. One historian believes the carvings date back 8,000 years, making this site one of the oldest known places where Native Americans lived in the area. The canyon is only open to the public by hiking or horseback riding. The site is sacred to the Lakota and many Native Americans say they have a sacred feeling when there.

Wind Cave

Native Americans have known about this cave for centuries before it was discovered in 1991. It is a sacred place to many tribes. The wind is so strong at the cave entrance that it can suck a hat off your head. It has some of the most beautiful cave formations in the world. Boxwork is well-formed and abundant. Cave popcorn, frostwork and dripstone are all very prominent within the cave system. 

Renner Lutheran Church 

This Lutheran Church is said to be the oldest in operation in South Dakota. It was founded as Nidaros Church in the late 1860s. The first building was built south of Baltic, but in 1939 moved to Renner. The altar was constructed in 1886 and is part of the sanctuary today. It’s not one of the most spectacular pieces of architecture, but the congregation is friendly and welcoming. 

Wessington Springs United Methodist Church

This Methodist Church was built in 1913. It’s known for its stained-glass windows, which depict human life from conception to resurrection. The public is welcome to view these windows, which are full of scriptural meaning. Although the church doesn’t have the history that other places do, the windows are a beautiful tribute. 

Bear Butte

Bear Butte is another sacred site to Native Americans. Many Native American peoples make a trek to its summit to leave offerings and prayer cloths along the mountain. It is considered a place of prayer and peace. George Armstrong Custer camped near the butte to verify rumors of gold in the Black Hills. He violated a treaty, giving the area to indigenous peoples. Today, the National Trust for Historic Preservation lists Bear Butte as one of the 11 Most Endangered Places in America.

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