Thunder Butte, in South Dakota, has featured prominently in my family's history since 1913. Also known as "Wakinyan Paha" to the Lakota, its religious and cultural significance to the Lakota goes back much further in time, still. Rising from the dry, rolling prairie grasslands in Ziebach County, in northwestern South Dakota, the butte is located on the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation. From the top of the butte, you can see for miles in every direction. There are not many people here, although the land is alive with the memory of those who walked here before us. Taking in the quiet of the plains as they reach to the horizon, you can well imagine the way the world was before we were here, and what it may look like long after we have moved on.
Not exactly West River country and about 120 miles as the crow flies from Thunder Butte, but here is massive tornado caught on video by tornado chasers near Bowdle, South Dakota. Extreme weather is a feature of life on the South Dakota plains, and something that folks near Thunder Butte have to contend with from time to time, too. This particular twister evokes cries of, "Oh my God! Oh my God!"
I've heard various stories over the years about how Thunder Butte got its name. Here's one from Herman Slides Off that is related on the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe website:
"The name Thunder Butte was given to the butte after a mysterious thunder storm originated from the butte. The incident was witnessed by an Indian hunting party. The group camped a few miles west of the butte and early one morning a small, dark cloud was forming on the top of the butte. And as the cloud grew larger, loud thunder was heard until a thunder storm moved out from the butte. Such incidents were witnessed by the Indians between 1850 and as late as 1910. The butte was also known as a sacred place then. Signs of important forthcoming events could be seen on one side of the butte at certain times of the day. Examples of these signs were the coming of enemies or of a hard winter, the location of buffalo herds, and also signs of forthcoming individual mishaps."
Of course, Thunder Butte still is known as a sacred place today by the Lakota who live in the area.