Native Sun News: Rosebud Ambulance Service -- Then and Now
The following story was written and reported by Archie B. Beauvais. All content © Native Sun News.

Rosebud Ambulance Service personnel showcase their vehicles at the emergency room entrance at the old Rosebud Hospital which no longer stands. Historical photo courtesy of Floyd Reynolds.

ROSEBUD, SOUTH DAKOTA — Floyd Reynolds is reluctant to take center stage when it comes to describing the humble beginnings of the Rosebud Ambulance Service, but without his dedication and tireless work beginning in the late 1960s, the ambulance service would not be one of the premiere ambulance services in Indian country and in the state.

In this day and age, many of the institutions in Lakota country that were funded by the federal government’s manpower programs and Indian self-determination projects are beginning to show their age. In fact, many of the motivated and resourceful individuals who started such programs are either retired or not longer with us.

It is priceless when institutions rely on their archival information to tell the story of their creation and development as younger generations learn to appreciate the infrastructure that is in place today.

Reynolds said that above all, what gave him authority to take on his lifelong passion in forging the ambulance service was a Rosebud Sioux tribal council resolution which authorized its development. Without that, he said no one would even listen to his plans.

He spoke of Rosebud tribal members such as “Buzzie” Jordan, Ken Fisher and the late Clifford Marshall, who served as his assistant director, and countless other tribal members who worked as ambulance personnel and whose contributions are not necessarily recorded anywhere, but which are sometimes described by word of mouth.

Reynolds, a former RST council representative, health administrator and ambulance service director says he has a lot of photos, anecdotes and stories about what tragedies they witnessed over the years. He also had a lot of stories about the people who played a vital role in bringing the idea of an ambulance service to Rosebud.

He said the early ambulance service once had 64 workers, many of which were funded by tribal work experience programs, such as CETA, TWEP and JTPA. Many times they were overwhelmed by the number of calls and they had to prioritize the critical nature of each one. In keeping with the concept of oral tradition, Reynolds shared stories and photos of the Rosebud Ambulance Service with Baptiste “Beaux” Beauvais, a senior at Todd County High School who plans to study emergency medical services in college.

It seemed like few people understood what the ambulance service’s purposes were during its early days and Reynolds enjoyed the support of some of the people while others simply would not get behind the idea. At one point, when it successfully got off the ground, it was able to earn for-profit funds and those earnings were used to purchase more ambulances.

The need to debrief and deal with the trauma of seeing people mangled and hurt was something that he was fortunate enough to be able to accomplish. He said he was never incapacitated to the point that he could not do his job, but he did see others who “froze up” when faced with tragedy. The clinical director from the hospital helped ambulance personnel to work through the trauma of what they had seen.

He did say that he disappointed his family many times when he had to go on a call and which might disrupt a family function. Wife, Vonnie said she was also involved in medicine and was always supportive of his work and in fact, knew a lot of the detailed information on the history of the ambulance service.

The first Rosebud ambulance was a green station wagon and was referred to as the “Monster.” It was staffed with two drivers who would station themselves in the tribal vice-president’s office. The green station wagon did not respond to critical emergency situations as they were not trained. In fact, Reynolds said that at times people were known to abuse the service by using it to ride into town or to the store.

The first ambulance office was housed in the basement of the RST Natural Resources building, which still stands today. From there, it was transferred to a garage to the west of Natural Resources, which is now used by forestry. It was again moved behind the present day RST Transportation building and then to its present location north of the Rosebud hospital.

The drivers were able to earn 25 cents per mile as mileage payments and that likely influenced whether or not they would go on a run and, for the 60s that was a substantial amount even by today’s standards.

At other times, some of the janitors at the Rosebud hospital were used as ambulance drivers despite their lack of medical training. It was an interesting time as the ambulance service struggled to find its identity and purpose. The ambulance service even provided burial service and they would prepare the grave site much like undertakers do now days.

Even doctors and nurses were known to lend their services when they were short handed and would make an occasional “run” which is unheard in these days of proper protocol for medical personnel.

The 70s were exciting times as there a lot of changes taking place on the Rosebud. Reynolds said they responded to a cardiac arrest call in Mission and, as they drove by Arlo’s Bar on main street, someone shot out their side window, but they ignored it and went about their business. 1972 was a good year for the ambulance service as it received its first ambulance with a “raised roof,” which allowed the attendants more room to work. Prior to that, the ambulances were simply station wagons outfitted with lights and sirens. The service also got is first “Jaws of Life” which enabled them to extricate accident victims from their cars. Reynolds says he remembers talking to trapped victims and asking them to cover up so they wouldn’t get any glass or sparks on them. Today, that function has been assumed by the Mission Fire Department.

The early ambulance personnel were certified as first responders and then, later they received more training that made them emergency medical technicians.

Reynolds literally enjoyed a lifetime of building up the ambulance service and was helpful to other tribal ambulance services on the northern plains. He developed an early blueprint for developing an ambulance service where there was none and went before the tribal council on occasion to explain exactly why one was needed.

After getting his start in California, Reynolds came home to Rosebud and put his experience to work with the ambulance service and health care issues for over 40 years and now enjoys retirement.

Finally, he said he did experience jealousy from others who questioned his success and achievement in developing the ambulance service and he was at a loss to explain why.

When pressed to reveal just what it was that motivated Reynolds to be so passionate about creating an ambulance service where none existed, he simply said that it came from within him. It was something that he dedicated to his life to, and fortunately for countless Sicangu Lakota tribal members, many lives have been positively affected by his pioneering work in creating the ambulance service.

(Contact Dr. Archie Beauvais at: