Melvin Martin: The Kansas City Roll in Rapid City
I have again received numerous emails from concerned individuals across the United States inquiring about the severity of Indian-white race relations in Rapid City, South Dakota. Because of the sheer volume of these emails I was only able to reply to the most critical of these inquiries.

Several of the emails had a peculiar commonality in that the question was put forth as to the strangest of my racial experiences in Rapid City. Here, before I proceed any further, it will come as no understatement on my part to say that a few of the more bizarre incidents would easily qualify for instant inclusion into Ripley´s Believe It or Not or at the very least the News of the Weird (one of the more gracious email correspondents declared that my reply to her belonged on

Although these events are structured as pure anecdote, that old adage about truth being so much stranger than fiction certainly applies to just this one:

The Kansas City Roll

From 1995-1998, I worked as a caseworker/client advocate for a private social services agency in Rapid City. 90% of this program´s clients were Indians, so I came to know hundreds of local Indian people within a matter of months. Almost all of these individuals complained to me of the myriad forms of racial mistreatment that they had encountered in Rapid City. When I left Rapid City in 1971 for the military, then college, then work at places outside of South Dakota, I knew that the racism was bad, but it was not until I returned after a 24-year absence that I gradually came to know how actually horrific things were for Rapid City´s Indian populace.

Aside from the awful descriptions of employment and housing discrimination that a multitude of my social services clients related to me, of particular personal concern, since I lived in downtown Rapid City, were the many stories of bad treatment by retail clerks, hotel workers and wait staff at downtown businesses. I was even asked (and in several instances, people pleaded with me) to personally investigate these businesses since I was viewed as something of an authority figure in a position to help the Indian community.

I made a list of all of the businesses in downtown Rapid City that my clients had brought to my attention as discriminatory, and I formulated a plan to simply see for myself the extent of the racist practices and procedures that were carried out against Indians simply for being Indian.

I had last worked for a marketing agency in Texas prior to returning to Rapid City in March of 1995, so I still had in my possession a few western-style blazers, some Wrangler dress pants, a $400 pair of cowboy boots and a black Stetson--my intent was to visit all of the businesses on my list as an "Indian from Oklahoma."

My first stop was at a restaurant that had a counter where dozens of my clients had told me that they were so ignored by the staff there that after a ten

to twenty minute or even a half-hour wait without being served that they just got up and left. The same thing happened to me at this place, I sat down at the counter and was completely ignored (and it wasn´t even the busiest time of the day there). Without a protest of any sort, I walked out.

In the course of at least two hours I visited fifteen more businesses where I was made to wait or was totally ignored by the non-Indians working there. I was not only deeply offended by the consistency of the obviously race-based maltreatment, but there was something happening that had happened to me before. When I was in the army in Germany in the `70s, I was stationed at a city that had a truly unpleasant history of malicious treatment towards U.S. military personnel who patronized area bars, eateries, hotels, and assorted businesses. I could see the German locals´ point of view here: in the waning days of WWII, the city had been bombed back to the Stone Age on one occasion by a combined force of American and British heavy bombers, and the devastation that took place had transformed the city into another Hiroshima. So, the Germans in Heilbronn actively and aggressively hated any and all American soldiers.

Some of the more enterprising troops there had devised a method of instantaneously receiving better treatment on the local economy by utilizing the Kansas City Roll. This particular ploy consisted of wrapping a German mark (that the euro has since replaced) of a high denomination, either a 500 or a 1000 Deutsche Mark, around a thick cluster of much smaller currency notes. You get the picture? An instant rich guy! The kind of guy that the Germans quickly snapped to!

Later that day in Rapid City, I went to a bank and exchanged a fifty-dollar bill for the equivalent amount in one dollar bills. I then attached a $100 bill to the batch of ones with a large rubber band and voila!--a Kansas City Roll!

I then went back to at least twelve of the downtown Rapid City businesses where I had been refused service, but this time with my KC Roll front and center.

And I have to tell you, brothers and sisters, I had never seen so many previously hostile people practically drool to either serve or assist an Indian in all my travels!

Melvin Martin is an enrolled member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe of South Dakota. He can be contacted at

Related Stories:
Melvin Martin: Not much change in Rapid City (7/24)
Melvin Martin: Rapid City, you've done it again! (7/16)
Melvin Martin: So what else is new in Rapid City? (6/15)
Melvin Martin: Even more truths about race in Rapid City (5/19)
Melvin Martin: More truths about race in Rapid City (5/4)
Melvin Martin: The truth about race in Rapid City (3/31)