Gary Montana is making a journey across the plains of South Dakota.
Each day he rides a horse through snow and wind.Every night the temperature is below zero. Sometimes he sleeps in a community center, sometimes in a barn. Sometimes he sleeps in a tent. He is fasting for days at a stretch and sleeping only a few hours at night before rising to chop wood and pray and begin the day's ride.
He is on his way to Wounded Knee.
The physical journey has been difficult. But it's necessary, Montana said, in order to know what happened to his ancestors 100 years ago. To know what they suffered. To know what they lost.
By taking vows and making this journey, Montana and the other riders believe they can begin to heal the pain of the Lakota (Sioux) people.
He started his ride with about 40 others near Bullhead, on the Grand River, on Dec. 15. At Cherry Creek, on Dec. 22, 1990, about 150 riders joined Montana and the others. Arvol Looking Horse, keeper of the pipe for the Lakota nation, led them in the making of the vows ceremony. The new riders dedicated themselves for the final week of the journey.
By following where his ancestors walked, Montana suffers with them.
It was 100 years ago - Dec. 15, 1890 - when Gary Montana's great great uncle Sitting Bull was killed by the Indian police who came to arrest him. After Sitting Bull's death, some of his Hunkpapa band fled south, Montana explained. Near Cherry Creek, the Hunkpapa joined with another Lakota band led by Sitanka - or Big Foot as whites called him. There, Sitanka's band shared food and shelter with the Hunkpapa.
By Dec. 22, 1890, Sitting Bull's death was sending confusion, fear and rumor swirling over the Dakota plains. Federal officers demanded that Sitanka's band leave winter camp and report to the fort. Instead, Montana said, they fled toward the Pine Ridge reservation.
Montana said Sitanka's people were afraid, so afraid that they walked through the bitter weather for five days and five nights without resting. "They weren't riding horses. Sitanka had pneumonia," Montana said.
On Dec. 27, 1890, Sitanka learned that the Seventh Cavalry was camped at Wounded Knee. Knowing that this was the same division that Custer lead into battle at the Little Big Horn a few years before, some of his people suggested taking a wide path around their camp.
But Sitanka said he was too ill to travel much farther. He would go straight through Wounded Knee to the Pine Ridge Indian agency. Thus he allowed his band to be intercepted by the soldiers on Dec. 28.
The morning of the 29th, while the soldiers tried to disarm the Sioux and the Sioux tried to hide a few of their hunting rifles, a fight broke out.
The soldiers opened fire. They killed at least 200 men, women and children at Wounded Knee that day. Historians say Sitanka was one of the first to die, as he lay sick and unarmed in the snow. Soldiers shot his daughter in the back as she ran to help him. Her body fell over his.
"Sitanka was my great great grandfather," explained Montana.
After the massacre at Wounded Knee, the Indian wars were over. The Lakota gave up hunting and roaming over the land they held sacred. They lived on the reservations, and they lived in poverty. Even today, Wounded Knee is in the poorest county in the United States.
"I was born on the Standing Rock reservation in my grandmother's log cabin. It had a dirt floor," said Montana.
His family, he said, had more problems than money."My mother couldn't care for her six children. We were all separated by adoption."
When he grew up, Montana joined the Navy. He went to law school, married a woman from the Cheyenne River tribe, had children and moved to Utah to be the Ute tribal attorney.
But every summer he returned to South Dakota for the sundance ceremonies. He taught his children the rituals of their ancestors. And he found himself longing to be with the Lakota people more often.
The closer he gets to Wounded Knee, and to the Wiping of the Tears ceremony that will take place there on the 100th anniversary of the massacre, the less Gary Montana thinks about his life in Utah.
"We believe that if we suffer enough, our prayers will be heard," he said.
Montana's prayer is for healing. First the individual heals, he explained. Then the family heals. In this way the entire Lakota nation can eventually be healed.
"This is a spiritual journey for me."