On the Plains They Sure Don't Call the Wind Mariah

08/25/2010 04:58 pm ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011
  • Tim Giago Founder, Native American Journalists Association

John Raitt, Broadway legend and father of singer Bonnie Raitt, used to belt out an old song that suggested there are places where "They call the wind Mariah."

Out on the Great Plains the locals have many other names for the wind and not a one of them is Mariah. In fact, many of the really choice names for the howling winds begin with the letter "F."

A friend of mine has a home a few miles Northeast of Rapid City. He has a metal carport next to his house. The wind blew so hard that the carport was nearly ripped from its base and on one particularly windy night the mobile homes around his house, including his own, lost pieces of their roofs and anything else that wasn't really secured. He said that to sit in his house on terribly windy days and listen to the wind trying to tear his house apart was truly a frightening experience.

On the Plains there are no barriers to slow the wind down. The landscape is just wide-open and the wind is wild and free to do its damage. The joke goes that one day the wind stopped suddenly and 100 Lakota warriors fell on their faces. It makes me wonder how they kept their tipis from blowing away.

A childhood friend of mine used to live in the Pine Ridge Reservation community of Wanblee. One day at school he told some of us that there was a big storm at Wanblee. He called it a cyclone, but I think that in the old days tornadoes were called cyclones in the West. Anyhow, he said the wind blew so hard that it took a large piece of straw and drove it into a telephone pole like a nail.

I told my father what the boy said and my father said it was true. He worked in Chris Dahm's Store in Kyle and many of his Lakota customers came from Wanblee and he said they told him about it. My father's name was also Tim and he and Chris Dahm had the distinction of having two boys named after them: Tim and Chris Red Wolf.

One summer, before I was old enough to start school, my father and mother ran outside tracking down all of their children because a big storm was brewing. They finally got us all into the house and luckily the house had a basement. Shortly after we were all herded into the basement a cyclone (tornado) hit Kyle.

I tried to climb up to one of the basement windows to look at the tornado and my dad grabbed by the seat of my pants and hauled me back down and looked like he was about to smack me a good one and I heard my mom say, "Don't hit him on the head because he's crazy enough already." I don't recall my father ever striking me, but Mom used to say things like that all of the time.

The cyclone tore the roof off of the bus garage at Kyle Day School (now Little Wound School) and carried it past our house, which was about a mile from the school. Later I heard my father say that we were "damned lucky it didn't crash right on top of our house."

A Catholic priest named Father Sialm was the pastor of the church in Kyle and his house was right next to the church. He always parked his Model-A sedan next to his house. After the horrible wind finally died down my father went outside to inspect the damage and spotted Father Sialm standing in front of his house apparently puzzled about his car. It wasn't parked in front of his house anymore.

They spotted it about one mile away near the road to Allen. Father Sialm later said that he always set the hand brake and kept the car in gear because there was a slight incline in the front of his house. It seems that the wind had pushed or lifted his car nearly one mile from his house and it was still sitting on its wheels. Father Sialm walked down to his car, started it, and drove it back to the house.

Down the road from us Johnny and Billy Bear lost a wooden shed and all of their chickens. They later joked that their chickens probably landed in Allen, about 15 miles away.

After the storm I went outside and inspected the telephone poles hoping to see a straw driven all the way through them like a big nail. I figured my friend was pretty lucky to find one because I didn't see a one.

In some places they may call the wind Mariah, but my dad and Father Sialm had other names for it that day.

© 2010 Native Sun News

Tim Giago, an Oglala Lakota, is the editor and publisher of Native Sun News. He was a Nieman Fellow at Harvard with the Class of 1990. His weekly column won the H. L. Mencken Award in 1985. His book Children Left Behind was awarded the Bronze Medal by Independent Book Publishers. He was the first Native American ever inducted into the South Dakota Newspaper Hall of Fame in 2007. He can be reached at