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QA walk, sj and me, trade necklace 012When we tied the knot in our hometown of Seattle, Washington, on June 5, 1987, my (now deceased) wife, Sally Jo Davis, and I were short on funds. We surely couldn’t afford a fancy wedding. And we lacked the money to purchase anything near what could be called high-end wedding rings.

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Sally Jo and the author, at the Aurora Chapel of the Bells, with our minister, June 5, 1987.

Instead, we were married in a wedding chapel, the Chapel of the Bells, in the presence of just two of Sally Jo’s best girlfriends. And when it came to wedding rings, we visited a discount store called Jafco, where we settled for a couple of $50 wedding bands, just so we’d have something that was at least one level up from cigar-band wedding rings! We told ourselves at the time that we would eventually replace the rings with nicer ones, once we got on our feet, financially. (We had both seen our careers interrupted by the onset of various disabilities. But we overcame those, and were able to return to full-time employment. Sally Jo was working as an elementary school teacher; I was the head of word processing for a bank. We also played music in our folk duo, which we called Spirit Ridge.)

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Rosebud Sioux shield from the author’s collection.

This little story is about how we magically went about replacing those cheap Jafco rings with rings which held more meaning for us. We didn’t just go out and buy new rings after a few years; instead, we made an adventure out of it!

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Trade bead necklace assembled by the author, using antique trade beads.

I have, and Sally Jo had, some Native American blood. My Daddy was 1/8th Colville; plus he had Cherokee in him. — There are many Cherokees living in Oklahoma who share my last name, Bowles. The family story tells how we are related to those people. — At this point, I cannot recall what tribes Sally Jo’s family claimed to have descended from. But we each had about 1/16th-1/8th Native blood in us. — Not a lot. However, we were drawn to things Native American. We collected, and even made, Native-style crafts. We attended powwows quite regularly — as visitors rather than participants. (If you haven’t been to a powwow, please go! You will be welcomed, as long as your behavior is appropriately respectful.)

powwow highway

SJ and I had seen the 1989 movie, “Powwow Highway”, which told the tale of two young Native American men who undertake a journey in a beat-down 1964 Buick, visiting several sites which are very sacred to Native Americans, including the mountain known as Bear Butte, which is located in the Black Hills, near Rapid City, South Dakota. Sally Jo taught school in the 1970’s near Rapid City, on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. She had always wanted to put me in our white Ford Aerostar and take me east, cross-country, to visit Rapid City, and especially, to see the sights along the way. After seeing Powwow Highway, she could wait no longer. She was inspired to devise a wonderful plan. She decided we would turn the trip into our own Powwow Highway adventure! She related to me how we would drive all the way to Bear Butte, and how we would climb it, just as the two young men in the movie had done. Like them, and so many other visitors to the mountain, we would leave a gift behind. — Our gift would be our wedding rings!

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Bear Butte, from the highway.

Native Americans consider Bear Butte to be the most sacred spot on the continent. It is common practice to leave a gift behind, for the mountain. In the movie, one of the protagonists had nothing of value to leave, so he folded his Hershey bar wrapper into a design, and left that on the mountain. That was a very touching scene. — Our wedding rings would be a princely gift in comparison to that chocolate wrapper!

So in 1991, after toiling for several years at our day jobs, plus performing our music every weekend, Sally Jo and I took a break, and we began our trip on the Powwow Highway.

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Sally Jo and the “Spirit Ridge Mobile”. Photo by author.

I won’t take a long time to describe our trip from Seattle to Rapid City, and to Bear Butte. I will simply say that we had a wonderful road trip. In driving from Seattle to South Dakota, we leisurely traveled the back roads, through the beautiful western states of Idaho, Montana, and northeastern Wyoming, and on into South Dakota.

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We passed through many “old west” towns; we camped in scenic areas, we moteled-it a couple of nights, finding cheap lodging which surprisingly came with 1950’s-vintage swimming pools, which we took full advantage of. — Nothing feels better after being in a car for eight hours, in 80 degree heat, than a dip in a swimming pool; even one which was built in 1957. – We had a great road trip.

Arriving in Rapid City, we checked into a motel, then spent the remainder of the day visiting the few highlights the city had to offer. We did attend a really great Native American cultural presentation, where we met a coyote which played a wolf pup in the movie, “Dances With Wolves”. That was exciting!

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Black Hills gold wedding ring.

Returning to our motel, we made veggie fajita burritos in our little kitchenette, and drew up our plans for the Bear Butte climb, which would happen the following day. Sally Jo pulled out a navy blue shoestring from her suitcase, saying we could use it to tie our wedding rings together. Then, we could use the shoestring to hang them from a pine tree. — I still didn’t know what we were going to do to replace the rings. That’s when Sally Jo revealed the rest of her plan. We would return to Rapid City after our hike, visit some jewelry stores, and purchase – what else? Black Hills gold wedding rings! (Black Hills gold jewelry is so pretty. It comes in colors. Copper and silver are added to the gold, to create beautiful hues not normally seen in gold. And Black Hills gold jewelry has iconic decoration, such as grapevines, which are embossed or added to its surface.)
I thought this was a great idea. Sally Jo had a Black Hills gold pendant which I had often admired, which she purchased back in the day, when she taught on the reservation. It made sense on several levels to buy our rings right there in the Black Hills. I couldn’t wait to get to sleep, so that we could get up early and continue our adventure.

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Up on Bear Butte. Photo by author.

I kept a hike journal for about fifteen years, in which I chronicled nearly every hike Sally Jo and I accomplished during that time period. Here is an excerpt, slightly abridged, from that journal, describing our Bear Butte hike:

“July 10, 1991:

(Approximately four miles round trip.) This was a very special hike. We started our morning hike under sunny skies. The sky in South Dakota seems to go on forever! We took the Ceremonial Trail which wound around the butte. This was an easy, enjoyable hike, with a well-defined trail. As visitors to Bear Butte leave mementos behind, we saw many colorful Native American prayer flags tied to pine tree branches.”

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Our old wedding rings are right in the center of the photo, on the blue shoestring. Photo by author.

“When we reached the top, we tied our old, cheap wedding bands together with a shoelace and hung them from a branch, where they can jingle in the wind, hopefully for many years to come.”

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American Bison, which I referred to as buffalo, in our hike journal.

“From the top of Bear Butte, we saw buffalo grazing below in the green meadows. We also had views of the beautiful farmland spread out before us.”

Sally Jo and I shared some very spiritual, inspirational and romantic moments on Bear Butte. Visiting such a culturally and historically significant site was a moving experience, one which left a permanent mark upon us. — Much more so than had we visited Mount Rushmore. — Which we totally, purposefully, skipped. — I need only to close my eyes and think back, to see and feel things I saw and felt that day, with my wife.

Later, we hiked back down to the trailhead, hopped in the “Spirit Ridge Mobile”, as I called it, and as planned, we made the short drive to Rapid City, where we found a department store. We bought authentic, hand-soldered, Landstroms Black Hills gold wedding rings, made right in the Black Hills.

I noted this in our hike journal, after our adventure: “We feel more married!”

It’s so difficult to wrap my brain around the fact that Sally Jo is no longer in the world. Writing about her, and our adventures, keeps her memory alive for me. – If you know an older person, or even a younger person, who has lost someone very close to them, please don’t be afraid to bring up their loved one to them. Talking about our loved ones who have passed away is how we keep them alive in our hearts. Sally Jo is alive in my heart, and, symbolically, in our old wedding rings which jingle merrily, when the timeless wind blows on Bear Butte.

[Here is a video of a song I wrote entitled “Spirit Ridge (Revisited)” which Sally Jo and I recorded, which addresses Native American issues. Video created by Peter Garami.]

Bonus Coverage:

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The Bad Lands of South Dakota. Photo by author.

On our way back to our home in Seattle, we journeyed to the Bad Lands. I highly recommend you make the trip. There are so many beautiful places to visit right here in America.

For your further reading:

Wikipedia entry (which I did not quote from!)  regarding Bear Butte: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bear_Butte

Roger Ebert’s “Powwow Highway” movie review. http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/powwow-highway-1989