Sitting Bull, Where Do You Lie?
Sitting Bull was a defiant foe of the 19th century White Man. Neither North nor South Dakota wanted him while he was alive. However, attitudes have changed, and Sitting Bull is now a point of pride in the Dakotas, many, many years too late for him to appreciate it.
Two towns on either side of the Dakota border claim to have Sitting Bull's bones. Which to believe?
Fort Yates, North Dakota, has the scythe of history on its side. In 1890, Sitting Bull was shot in Fort Yates and buried near the spot. However, Fort Yates loses points for presentation. The dirt road leading to the grave site is marked by a sad, hand-painted sign nailed to a wooden post. It lists precariously toward a gully. The grave itself is at the far end of a small, dusty parking area. It's covered by a thick slab of concrete and a big rock.
Is Sitting Bull still in this grave? Not according to the folks downriver in Mobridge, South Dakota.
Mobridge freely admits that several of its citizens drove to Fort Yates on April 8, 1953, and stole Sitting Bull's bones. They dug up the grave with a backhoe and scurried back across the border before Fort Yates had finished breakfast. Fort Yates said that all Mobridge got were some horse bones, or maybe the bones of a White Man who was buried on top. Sitting Bull, they said, was buried deep -- in quicklime -- so that he would decay quickly. Fort Yates then installed the slab of concrete and the big rock, suggesting that there was still something beneath them worth stealing.
Mobridge could care less. Whatever bones they got they encased in a steel vault embedded in a 20-ton block of concrete, then buried the whole thing on top of a very visible bluff overlooking the Missouri River. They built billboards directing tourists to the site and erected a granite pedestal over it, topped by a seven-ton bust of Sitting Bull, executed by the designer of Crazy Horse Mountain, Korczak Ziolkowski. Take that, North Dakota.
The reason for this squabbling eludes us, since, from a tourism perspective, the Mobridge site is just as empty as the one in Fort Yates.