To most people Lame Deer, Montana, is just a dot on a map. It is just a four-way stop at the intersection of state Highway 212 and Highway 29, where most people just stop, look both ways, and keep on going. But to the people who live there, it is the best place in the world. The houses are all painted bright colors like shocking pink, burnt orange, cobalt blue, or even a brilliant lavender. Even though they are probably the discontinued paints that the local tribal Housing Authority got on sale, they make the town look cheery and happy. Even though some people might think it is in the middle of nowhere, because it is over two hours from the nearest Walmart, Burger King and Starbucks, that is just the way the town likes it. Fewer than 1000 people live there, and there is not even one stop light on your way in or out.
A stranger to Lame Deer may drive through and wonder why anyone would ever choose to live in this little no-nothing town. Driving through town you can see the poverty.
It has a small trading post that counts as our grocery store, and only one gas station that runs out of gas at the end of every month. Many of the houses are little beat up shacks, and some even have outhouses instead of indoor plumbing. Some of the houses have mismatched siding, and some just have plywood.
There is no movie theatre, swimming pool, or bowling alley. If you’re looking for something to do, just look out into the hills. In Lame Deer, everyone enjoys hunting and fishing, and you can hunt any time of the year, at least for Cheyenne tribal members. That is because lots of people use the meat to feed their families throughout the year. Many familes make dry meat out of the deer just like their ancestors did. Dry meat is when you take the meat, clean it and cut it in very thin long pieces and hang it out so it dries out like jerky.
Families also go out and pick june berries, buffalo berries, wild plums and choke cherries. Picking berries is a favorite pastime in the summer. People still make jam, choke cherry patties, and traditional pudding out of what they gather. Dry meat and berry pudding are considered delicacies. Free time is also spent riding horses, and it is not out of the ordinary to see little kids riding bareback and barefoot through town. You can’t help but feel good when you see their smiling faces.
Lame Deer is the heart of the Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation. It is the land that connects the people to their ancestors. In the 1800’s the Cheyenne were moved to Indian country in Oklahoma. All they wanted to do was return to their homeland. They left Oklahoma but were captured and imprisoned at Ft. Robinson, Nebraska. There, they were starved and given no water for 5 days.
On the 5th day, they decided to break out and return home. They knew they would probably die, but they chose to go anyway. Many were shot outside the Ft. Robinson barracks, but many escaped. They left on foot with no blankets, not having eaten for 5 days, in the middle of winter. They walked all the way back to Montana, being chased by the cavalry the entire way.
Once they got home, the federal government decided to let them stay, because of their ordeal. Cheyenne today know that their ancestors struggled, and many died, so that they could continue to live on these lands around Lame Deer, Montana. Cheyenne today love this place, even though it is hard and there is lots of poverty. They understand the suffering of their ancestors and want to honor their ancestors by living a good life in this place.