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Pine Ridge Indian Reservation

Wazí Aháŋhaŋ Oyáŋke

Pine Ridge Agency
Flag of Pine Ridge Indian Reservation
Pine Ridge Rez
("Wapaha kiŋ kekah'boyaŋhan" and "Lakota Flag Song" used for some occasions)
Location in South Dakota
Location in South Dakota
Tribe Oglala Sioux
Country United States
States South Dakota (99%)
Nebraska (1%)
Counties Bennett (all)
Jackson (part)
Oglala Lakota (all)
Sheridan (part)
Headquarters Pine Ridge
 • Total 8,984.3 km2 (3,468.86 sq mi)
 • Total 19,779
 • Density 2.20151/km2 (5.70187/sq mi)
Time zone UTC-7 (MST)
 • Summer (DST) UTC-6 (MDT)

The Pine Ridge Indian Reservation (Lakota: [Wazí Aháŋhaŋ Oyáŋke] Error: {{Lang}}: text has italic markup (help)), also called Pine Ridge Agency, is an Oglala Lakota Indian reservation located in the U.S. state of South Dakota. Originally included within the territory of the Great Sioux Reservation, Pine Ridge was created by the Act of March 2, 1889, 25 Stat. 888. in the southwest corner of South Dakota on the Nebraska border. Today it consists of 3,468.85 sq mi (8,984.3 km2) of land area and is one of the largest reservations in the United States.

The reservation encompasses the entirety of Oglala Lakota County and Bennett County, the southern half of Jackson County, and a small section of Sheridan County added by Executive Order No. 2980 of February 20, 1904. Of the 3,142 counties in the United States, these are among the poorest. Only 84,000 acres (340 km2) of land are suitable for agriculture. The 2000 census population of the reservation was 15,521; but a study conducted by Colorado State University and accepted by the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development has estimated the resident population to reach 28,787.

Pine Ridge is the site of several events that mark milestones in the history between the Sioux of the area and the United States (U.S.) government. Stronghold Table—a mesa in what is today the Oglala-administered portion of Badlands National Park—was the location of the last of the Ghost Dances. The U.S. authorities' attempt to repress this movement eventually led to the Wounded Knee Massacre on December 29, 1890. A mixed band of Miniconjou Lakota and Hunkpapa Sioux, led by Chief Spotted Elk, sought sanctuary at Pine Ridge after fleeing the Standing Rock Agency, where Sitting Bull had been killed during efforts to arrest him. The families were intercepted by a heavily armed detachment of the Seventh Cavalry, which attacked them, killing many women and children as well as warriors. This was the last large engagement between U.S. forces and Native Americans and marked the end of the western frontier.

Changes accumulated in the last quarter of the 20th century; in 1971 the Oglala Sioux Tribe (OST) started Oglala Lakota College, a tribal college, which offers 4-year degrees. In 1973 decades of discontent at the Pine Ridge Reservation resulted in a grassroots protest that escalated into the Wounded Knee Incident, gaining national attention. Members of the Oglala Lakota, the American Indian Movement and supporters occupied the town in defiance of federal and state law enforcement in a protest that turned into an armed standoff lasting 71 days. This event inspired American Indians across the country and gradually led to changes at the reservation, with a revival of some cultural traditions. In 1981 the Lakota Tim Giago started the Lakota Times at Pine Ridge; he published it until selling it in 1998.

Located at the southern end of the Badlands, the reservation is part of the mixed grass prairie, an ecological transition zone between the short-grass and tall-grass prairies; all are part of the Great Plains. A great variety of plant and animal life flourishes on and adjacent to the reservation, including the endangered black-footed ferret. The area is also important in the field of paleontology; it contains deposits of Pierre Shale formed on the seafloor of the Western Interior Seaway, evidence of the marine Cretaceous–Paleogene boundary, and one of the largest deposits of fossils of extinct mammals from the Oligocene epoch.

Flora and fauna

Buffalo Herd grazing South Dakota
A herd of bison (tȟatȟáŋka) grazing on the mixed grass prairie, c. 1948. The Oglala today maintain a herd on the reservation.


The mixed grass prairie contains both ankle-high and waist-high grasses, and fills a transitional zone between the moister tall-grass prairie to the east and the more arid short-grass prairie to the west.

Biologists have identified more than 400 different plant species growing in Badlands National Park. Each plant species is adapted to survive the conditions prevalent in the mixed-grass prairie ecosystem. The climate here is one of extremes: hot, cold, dry, windy and stormy with blizzards, floods, droughts, and fires. Grasses dominate the landscape. The short-grass and tall-grass prairies intergrade just east of an irregular line that runs from northern Texas through Oklahoma, Kansas, and Nebraska, northwestward into west-central North Dakota and South Dakota. The perimeter is not well defined because of the array of short-stature, intermediate, and tall-grass species that make up an ecotone between the short-grass and tall-grass prairies (Bragg and Steuter 1996). In general, the mixed-grass prairie is characterized by the warm-season grasses of the short-grass prairie to the west and the cool- and warm-season grasses, which grow much taller, to the east. Because of this ecotonal mixing, the number of plant species found in mixed-grass prairies exceeds that in other prairie types. Since 2000, hemp has grown wild here, following a failed attempt in growing it commercially, as a local ordinance allows. The attempt was shut down by the DEA and several other agencies.


The mixed grass prairie is home to a variety of animals. In Badlands National Park, scientists have recorded the presence of 37 mammal species, nine reptile species, six amphibian species, 206 bird species, and 69 butterfly species. The rare swift fox and endangered black footed ferret are among two of the various mammal species found in the Badlands region. Both species feed on the black-tailed prairie dog.



Pine Ridge Reservation Road System FDOT
Major roads through Jackson and Oglala Lakota Counties
  • I-90 passes east to west through Jackson County and Pennington County just north of the reservation with multiple exits in both counties
  • US 18 is an east–west U.S. highway which passes through the reservation. The western terminus is in Orin, Wyoming at an interchange with Interstate 25. Its eastern terminus of U.S. 18 is in downtown Milwaukee, Wisconsin. However, U.S. 18 runs concurrent with other U.S. routes from its western terminus to Mule Creek Junction, Wyoming. U.S. 18 is one of the original United States highways of 1926.
  • SD 44, also known as the "Rimrock Highway" or "Rimrock Drive" connects Rapid City, South Dakota with U.S. Highway 385 at Pactola Junction, just north of Pactola Lake. One of the most scenic drives in the Black Hills, SD 44 follows Rapid Creek, a blue-ribbon trout fishery, much of the way, and also follows much of the alignment of the old Rapid City, Black Hills and Western Railroad, also known as the Crouch Line. SD 44 passes through the Jackson County portion of the reservation
  • SD 73 (not shown on FDOT map) is a state route that runs north to south through the Jackson County portion of the reservation. It begins at the Nebraska border north of Merriman, Nebraska, as a continuation of Nebraska Highway 61. It runs to the North Dakota border, where it continues as North Dakota Highway 49. It is 250 miles (402 kilometers) in length.
  • SD 407 (not shown on FDOT map) is a short state highway in Oglala Lakota County which turns into Nebraska Highway 87 (N-87), SD 407-N-87, serves as a connector route between U.S. Route 18 (U.S. 18) in Pine Ridge, South Dakota and U.S. 20 in Rushville, Nebraska.


Pine Ridge Airport, owned by the Oglala Sioux Tribe, is located two miles (3 km) east of the town of Pine Ridge. The unattended airport has four asphalt runways; runways 12&30 are 5,000 ft × 60 ft (1,524 m × 18 m), runways 6&24 (currently closed) are 3,003 ft × 50 ft (915 m × 15 m). The airport is in poor repair and is used predominately for government flights. The nearest commercial airport to Pine Ridge is Chadron Municipal Airport (CDR / KCDR) in Chadron, Nebraska approximately 30 miles (48 km) south. The nearest major airport is Rapid City Regional Airport, in Rapid City, South Dakota approximately 80 miles (130 km) NE. The closest international airport is Denver International Airport in Denver, Colorado approximately 240 miles (390 km) SW.

Public transportation

On January 30, 2009, the Oglala Sioux Tribe of Pine Ridge held the grand opening of their public transportation system, a bus service with multiple vehicles to cover the entire reservation.


Allen, South Dakota
Allen, South Dakota, on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, has the lowest per capita income in the country.

Notable leaders and residents

  • Albert Afraid of Hawk (1879-1900, Oglala). In 1898, he became a member of Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show. He attended the American Indian Congress in Omaha, Nebraska, where all his known photographs were taken. In 1900, Afraid of Hawk traveled with the Wild West Show to Danbury, Connecticut. One evening he was taken ill and treated at Danbury Hospital, where he was believed to have food poisoning; he died on June 29, 1900. He was buried at Wooster Cemetery. 112 years later, his story was investigated and his grave site was discovered by Robert Young, an employee of Wooster. His family came to supervise the ceremonial disinterment of his remains, covered in a bison robe. They were transported for burial and finally taken across the reservation by horse and wagon to Saint Mark's Episcopal Cemetery in Rockyford, South Dakota.
  • American Horse Wašíčuŋ Tȟašúŋke (1840 – December 16, 1908, Oglala Lakota), a chief during the Sioux Wars of the 1870s.
  • Amos Bad Heart Bull, a ledger artist and tribal historian
  • Alice Blue Legs, (1925-2003) master quillworker who worked to revive and preserve the art
  • Tokala Clifford, actor.
  • Chief Crazy Horse, war chief of the Oglala, c. 1870
  • SuAnne Big Crow, led the Pine Ridge High School basketball team to state championship in 1989
Pat Cuny-Oglala Lakota
Pat Cuny served in the 83rd Infantry Division in WWII.
Ed McGaa Oglala Lakota-USMC
U.S.M.C. pilot Ed McGaa (Eagle Man) and his co-pilot unfurl the US flag on their F-4B Phantom fighter jet.
  • Pat Cuny (Oglala), as a soldier in the 83rd Infantry Division, he fought in the Battle of the Bulge and took part in the liberation of Langenstein concentration camp in Nazi Germany.
  • Ed McGaa (Eagle Man), author, attorney and veteran U.S. Marine Corps F-4B Phantom fighter pilot in Vietnam; flew 110 combat missions, received eight Air Medals, two Crosses of Gallantry, and a recommendation for the Distinguished Flying Cross.
  • Cecilia Fire Thunder, first woman elected as president of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, 2004; promotes women's issues and revival of the Lakota language.
  • Tim Giago started the first independent Native American newspaper, Lakota Times (now Indian Country Today); received a 1991 Nieman Fellowship at Harvard University, and is a contributing writer to the Huffington Post.
  • Brady Jandreau, former rodeo rider and star of The Rider (2018)
  • Kicking Bear (Oglala), became a chief of the Miniconjou Lakota Sioux tribe. He fought in several battles during the Great Sioux War of 1876, including the Battle of Little Big Horn. Also a holy man, he was active in the Ghost Dance religious movement of 1890. He traveled with fellow Lakota Arnold Short Bull to visit the leader Wovoka, a Paiute holy man residing in Nevada.
  • Eddie Little Sky, actor.
  • Little Wound (Tȟaópi Čík'ala: 1835–1899, Oglala). Following the death of his brother Bull Bear II in 1865, he became chief of the Kuinyan branch of the Kiyuksa band (Bear people).
  • Chief Long Wolf (1833–1892), warrior of Battle of the Little Bighorn and the Sioux Wars. He died at age 59 of bronchial pneumonia while taking part in the European tour of Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show. He was buried at West Brompton's cemetery with a 17-month-old Sioux girl, White Star Ghost Dog, believed to have died after falling from her mother's arms while on horseback. 105 years later, Elizabeth Knight, a British woman, traced his family and campaigned with them to have his remains returned to his homeland. In 1997, Long Wolf's coffin was moved to a new plot at Saint Ann's Cemetery in Wolf Creek. White Star Ghost Dog's coffin was also reinterred there.
  • Old Chief Smoke (Šóta; 1774–1864), an early Oglala chief and Shirt Wearer
  • Black Elk (Heȟáka Sápa; 1863–1950), an Oglala holy man, and second cousin to Crazy Horse
  • Chief Red Cloud (1822–1909, Oglala), a chief, respected warrior and statesman. From 1866 to 1868, he succeeded in closing the Bozeman Trail, which passed through prime bison hunting grounds. At Pine Ridge, Red Cloud worked to establish a Jesuit school for Native American children. The Red Cloud Agency was established in Nebraska in 1873.
  • Philip N. Hogen, United States Attorney for the District of South Dakota 1981–1991.
  • Ola Mildred Rexroat, the only Native American pilot in the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP).
  • Sean Sherman, food educator, caterer, author of The Sioux Chef's Indigenous Kitchen
  • Chief Spotted Elk, called Big Foot by the U.S. soldiers. His band of Miniconjou Sioux were massacred at Wounded Knee in 1891.
  • Touch the Clouds, Oglala chief
  • JoAnn Tall, environmental activist at Pine Ridge, honored in 1993 for her opposition to uranium mining on the reservation.
  • Theresa Two Bulls, first American Indian woman elected to the South Dakota legislature; served as state senator (2004–2008) and president of Oglala Sioux Tribe (2008–2010)
  • Richard Wilson (April 29, 1934 – January 31, 1990), tribal chairman from 1972 to 1976 during the Wounded Knee Incident; accused of violently suppressing political opposition.
  • John Yellow Bird Steele, elected president of the Oglala Sioux Tribe six times from 1992 to 2010
  • Young Man Afraid Of His Horses (Tȟašúŋke Kȟokípȟapi) (1830–1900). His name means "They fear his horse" or "His horse is feared," meaning the warrior was so renowned that the sight of his horse inspired fear.
  • Charles Trimble (Oglala Lakota Nation), activist and former Executive Director of the National Congress of American Indians (1972–1978)
  • William Mervin "Billy" Mills, also known as Makata Taka Hela, is the second Native American to win an Olympic gold medal and the only American ever to win the Olympic gold in the 10,000 meter run.

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