EL RENO — Smoke rose Monday near the burial grounds of John Sipes Jr.'s Cheyenne ancestors. Sipes, of Norman, blessed the grounds near Fort Reno with a pipe and prayed for warriors lost years ago and for those fighting in Iraq today.
He did so as he passed a ceremonial pipe to James Blackberry Jr., 63, of Geary. Sipes, the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes historian, Blackberry and others gathered on land south of the North Canadian River which is today under jurisdiction of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. In 1874, camps of Cheyenne lined the sandy river banks in the Darlington Agency area. Modern times can disturb old burial grounds, so a blessing, appropriately timed near Veterans Day, was needed, Sipes said. How many people were buried in the 1870s camps may never be known, Sipes said. The burial grounds are on what is now agriculture department land. Eagle feathers and prayer were part of the Monday ceremony, which included Susan Hart from the office Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes Gov. Darrell Flyingman. "We don't only pray for just our people but for all people in the world," Sipes said. Sipes sat on a grassy patch between gravel roads. It is near the sacred Sun Dance grounds where Cheyenne people "died like flies," Sipes said. "They were burying bodies in the sand at the river," Sipes said. "The river shifted and there are scattered burials we want to bless." Bits of meat, corn, bread, dried fruit and water were buried near the surface with prayer and song from Bullit Watan, 33, of Weatherford, a Cheyenne and Arapaho and Creek Indian.
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John Sipes Jr. of Norman, left, and James Blackberry Jr. of Geary take part in a ceremony Monday to bless Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes burial grounds near Fort Reno. BY ROBERT MEDLEY, THE OKLAHOMAN