Native Trails

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ceremonial buffalo skull at Dancing Leaf Cultural Learning Center in Nebrasks's Sandhills

Les and Jan Hosick started Dancing Leaf Cultural Learning Center in Stockville, NE in 1987, and moved to their present location in 1998. The Hosicks converted a 115 acre former Boy Scout camp into a tribute to the prehistoric peoples who inhabited the loess hills and canyons surrounding Medicine Creek near Wellfleet, Nebraska.

les hosick in dancing leaf cultural learning center in the sandhills of Nebraska
Les describes some of his fossils
They turned the old Boy Scout trading post into a museum filled with fossils, artwork and artifacts, the earliest dating far beyond man's time on this planet.

They had both grown up in this area an knew it was a treasure trove of fossils ranging from mastodon teeth and jaw bones, mammoth teeth and tusks on into the earliest human inhabitants' traces, arrowhead, spear heads, pots and so much more. There is much to see and do.

 You can spend a few hours, overnight or several days. Dancing Leaf offers you a choice. Get a day pass and see the museum, Earth Lodge Tour, Medicine Wheel Tour or spend outdoor time canoeing on spring fed Opal Lake, hiking the trails or even take a Guided Plant Hike. For longer visits, you can bring your own tent or RV or rent one of the comfortable furnished cabins. You can even rent the earth lodge and spend the night as the primitive people did. If you stay over for a meal, you will get to sample some buffalo stew much like the Native Americans enjoyed.


rental cabin at dancing leaf cultural learning center in the sandhills of Nebraska
One of the rental cabins at Dancing Leaf
Both Les and Jan are passionate amateur anthropologists and the museum, although small in size, is huge in impact. A tour at Dancing Leaf covers a lot of territory. Les led us from the days when this part of Nebraska was a giant inland sea to the time of the earliest native people, called the Upper Republican Culture and believed to be the ancestors of the Pawnee Indians, and the impact of the European settlers on their way of life by means of fossils and artifacts.

I learned more about the people who once worked and struggled in this land in an hour than I had in four years as an anthropology major in college.

entrance to earth lodge at dancing leaf cultural learning center in the sandhills of Nebraska
Entrance to the earth lodge
For the most part, the fossils and artifacts are not behind glass cases but right out there where they can be touched and handled. Les brought these early people to life for us. After listening to him, you no longer though of the native people as ignorant savages.

He explained the complexity of their knowledge. One thing he said particularly amazed me. He said, "The way we keep track of time, every minute, day, week, month, year are a function of time all of that is our way of keeping track of the passing of time. It is amazing to see that these people knew what they knew about the sky. What our modern computers show, they knew from their medicine wheel. Things savages could not possibly know. They knew that each 18.6 years the moon repeats its cycle. They knew that the planets repeated their cycle."

sacred symbols at earth lodge at dancing leaf cultural learning center in the sandhills of Nebraska
Sacred symbols within the earth lodge
Yes, touring the museum with Les is pretty amazing. He takes you  through the changes that occurred causing Paleo-Indians to settle here in Nebraska and begin farming. Bowls and pottery show this era. Then when the Europeans introduced horses about 500 years ago, the Native Americans once more reverted to a nomadic existence to provide grazing for the horses. The record is all there in Dancing Leaf Museum written clearly in fossils and artifacts left by these native people.

Going beyond the treasures in the museum, Dancing Leaf has its own medicine wheel. It's constructed just as the native people would have built it and is a marvelous engineering feat when you consider the fact these people didn't even have a written language.

For me the highlight of the tour was when Les led us to the Earth Lodge. It is a marvel. Built as an exact replica of what archeologists believe the Paleo-Indians lived in around 800-1,300 years ago would have built. The structure is rounded and covered with a healthy looking sod with a long, narrow entrance tunnel leading into the lodge area. Les explained,  "Extended families, maybe three or four generations lived together in these structures."

earth lodge at dancing leaf cultural learning center in the sandhills of Nebraska
Inside the earth lodge
It was a warm day in May 2014 when I entered the lodge. The temperature inside was several degrees cooler than outside. Looking around at the raw branches supporting the lodge, the buffalo skull and tortoise shell placed symbolically at the back center of the lodge, the overhead opening and the hides covering the sleeping area built in around the lodge, I felt I was back in time to 1300 or 1400 BC.  Dancing Leaf Cultural Learning Center is the next best thing to a time machine.

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