The Tulare (Spink County, SD) Petroglyph Rock

In the small town of Tulare (SD)IMG_2215, in front of the Municipal Building, there is a large rock with carvings.  The carvings probably date somewhere in 1000-1900 A.D.  I don’t know much about the rock, but I have stopped by to visit.  I think the rock is on the National Register of Historic Places (#05000590), but I’m not sure.

The rock was original on a hilltop overlooking the Turtle River.  EuroAmerican settlers moved it to town after their arrival.  The white paint (now faded) in the figures was added at about that time also. 

The boulder has carvings on both side, made with a pecking technique; small chips were removed with a blunt rock hammer to create the figures. Pecked boulder art like this is typical of the eastern Dakotas and Lake Traverse area (although most examples have been moved into private collections).

Symbols on the stone include a variety of tracks (bison, deer, turkey), a bear paw, an arrow, hands, an arm and a design that looks like a horseshoe (this may be an animal track, or an eye). 

The symbols on this rock have multiple meanings; I’ve seen some around, but this Wasicu is real careful about not offering public interpretations of his neighbors culture. I’m pretty sure, however, that this boulder marked a sacred place.  A collection of tracks can indicate a connection between worlds, a place where spirits can move from one realm to the next.  When the settlers moved this rock, they committed an irreversible act of desecration.  The rock needs to be in a very specific place. 

Some literature:

Mallery, G. “Picture Writing of the American Indians.” Annual Report of the Bureau of Ethnology, Smithsonian Institute, Washington, DC (1888). [Get both volumes].

Sundstrom, L. Storied Stone: Indian Rock Art in the Black Hills Country. Univ of Oklahoma Press, 2004.

For professional archaeologists, here is a reference you want:  Sundstrom, Linea. Fragile Heritage: Prehistoric Rock Art of South Dakota. Vermillion: South Dakota Historical Society, 1993.  There is a copy at the South Dakota Archaeological Research Center.