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Bad Lands

Badlands are places on Earth where severe erosion by wind and/or water has sculpted soft rock layers in to spectacular forms. Badlands National Park in southwestern South Dakota was established as a national monument in 1939 and a national park in 1978.

In marching across the Bad Lands, we found a great scarcity of both fuel and water… – Annie Tallent, The Black Hills or, the Last Hunting Ground of the Dakotahs, 1899

In 1872, W.H.H. Beadle, included the following about the Badlands in his annual report submitted as Surveyor-General of the United States, a position he had been appointed to in 1869 by President Ulysses S. Grant. In 1879, Beadle was appointed as Superintendent of Public Instruction for Dakota Territory, and served in this capacity during the time of De Smet Little House books.

…The part known as the Bad Lands, west of the Missouri and extending into Wyoming, belongs to the tertiary group of the Cenozoic system. There is a desolate geological sepulcher. The fossils are most interesting and remarkable. The surface has been cut by aqueous agencies into columns and buttresses, monumental domes, and massive walls with cathedral majesty. These are filled with fossil skulls, jaws, teeth, and thigh-bones of various mammals of which scarce a single species is familiar to the anatomist of the present day. The region is its other characteristics is forbidding. The water is brackish and very bad. The earth is burned by the sun in summer, arid, ashy, and almost of chalky whiteness. It is a treeless waste, in the winter the abode of snow and tireless storms, a edomain of death and desolation.

The Badlands are mentioned in the These Happy Golden Years stories Laura’s uncle, Thomas Quiner, tells the family about his 1874 trip through the Badlands as a member of the Gordon party to the Black Hills of Dakota Territory, two years after Beadle wrote the above description. They went in search of gold in the Black Hills as reported by General George Armstrong Custer’s party earlier in the year. Although Custer route to the Black Hills didn’t take them through the Badlands (they left from Bismarck, North Dakota), Uncle Tom’s journey began across the Missouri River from Sioux City, Iowa, and he went through the Badlands from the south, since they followed White River.

Published accounts of the later trip by members of the group include Pioneers of the Black Hills or Gordon’s Stockade Party of 1874, by David Aiken, and The Black Hills: Or, The Last Hunting Grounds of the Dakotahs, by Annie Tallent. Uncle Tom is mentioned in both books. You can read Tallent’s chapter about the Badlands experience HERE.

The badlands cover a million acres, with Badlands National Park established in 1978 comprising 244,000 acres. The Highway 240 Badlands Loop Road is a popular side-trip for Little House fans traveling between De Smet and Keystone on Interstate 90. The drive takes you through the northern part of the park. See the Park’s website at for more information. The photo above was taken while driving the Loop Road in January 2005.


Bad Lands (THGY 13)