Bear Butte is a geological feature located in western South Dakota that was established as a State Park in 1961. An important landmark and religious site for the Plains Indians tribes long before Europeans reached South Dakota, Bear Butte is called Mato Paha, or Bear Mountain, by the Lakota, or Sioux.
Bear Butte is considerd a lone mountain formed millions of years ago by the intrusion of igneous rock and is today one of the more popular South Dakota parks. In 2011, the National Trust for Historic Preservation included Bear Butte on its list of the 11 Most Endangered Places.
The state park includes a campsite south of South Dakota Highway 34 where horseback riding, fishing, and boating are permitted. On the summit side of Highway 34, a moderately sized herd of buffalo roams the base of the mountain. An education center and a summit trail are available. Official park policy advises visitors to Bear Butte to respect worshipers and to leave religious offerings undisturbed. During the summer months, visitors to Bear Butte State Park may see Native Americans camping at the base of the mountain, meditating, or performing prayer ceremonies. Colorful pieces of cloth and small bundles representing offered prayers are often seen hanging from the limbs of trees or lying next to the trails. Park fees are waived for those undertaking religious activities.
To the Cheyenne, it is Noahvose, the place where Maheo (God) imparted to Sweet Medicine (a mythical hero) the knowledge from which the Cheyenne derive their religious, political, social, and economic customs. The mountain is sacred to many indigenous peoples, who make pilgrimages to leave prayer cloths and bundles tied to the branches of the trees along the mountain's flanks. Other offerings are often left at the top of the mountain. The site is associated with various religious ceremonies throughout the year. The mountain is a place of prayer, meditation, and peace.
Human artifacts have been found on or near Bear Butte that date back 10,000 years, indicating a long and continuous interest in the mountain. The Cheyenne and Lakota people have maintained a spiritual interest in Bear Butte from their earliest recorded history. Notable visitors like Red Cloud, Crazy Horse, and Sitting Bull made pilgrimages to the site. In 1857, a council of many Indian nations gathered at Bear Butte to discuss the growing presence of white settlers in the Black Hills. Bear Butte State Park, also features a plaque and bust commemorating Frank Fools Crow, a Lakota Sioux ceremonial chief and Yuwipi medicine man who died in 1989. Frank Fools Crow promoted global racial harmony, and the belief that everyone shares the Earth.