St. Francis, Upper Cut Meat, Parmelee, He Dog, Milk's Camp, Antelope, Two Strike: these are the villages of despair. The roads are dusty, and the air is dry. Many houses are vacant, their insides charred and outsides worn by the harsh winds that whip the prairie. Others, occupied by as many as 25 people, lack electricity and running water. Stoves do not work. Woolen blankets hang where walls once stood. Children are bathed in large metal buckets. Dogs sniff the litter that is strewn in the streets. Some people live in shacks and old cars.

There is virtually no industry here; the grazing lands are leased by white ranchers, and seven of every 10 Sioux are jobless. Only three of 85 employable residents are working in Upper Cut Meat: a secretary, a policeman and a local councilman. In many cases the drinking problems are so severe that adults have relinquished their roles as parents, forcing young children to take responsibility for entire families.

Rosebud, situated between the mineral-rich Black Hills and the wide Missouri River, is not typical of America's 265 Indian reservations -- its 10,000 residents are poorer than most, its 20 villages and hamlets more isolated. But it is a chilling example of what can happen in this country when the most basic civil liberties and essential institutions do not exist or are allowed to deteriorate.

The court system is a sham, directed not by the Constitution but at the whim of politicians who have arrested judges for making unpopular decisions. The jail is crowded with citizens denied the right to lawyers and equal protection under the law. The health and welfare of the reservation is often endangered by doctors who arrive as a last resort and leave within a week or two.

This series of articles, based on an eight-week stay at Rosebud and hundreds of interviews conducted over a five-month period, is an examination of that massive institutional breakdown. At its surface is despair, but at its center is injustice. There is no justice at Rosebud: no social justice, no medical justice, no legal justice.

One day two years ago, a 12-year-old girl entered the Antelope medical clinic. She had arrived alone and needed antibiotics for a strep throat. Kathleen Marquart, an Alaskan Indian who works as a physician's assistant at the clinic, explained that she could not dispense the drugs without the girl's mother present.

The girl seemed surprised. She returned about 30 minutes later with a heavyset woman who reeked of alcohol. The woman was impatient, angry that she had been summoned. Marquart also noticed something else: a large red welt on the daughter's face, where the mother apparently had hit her.

After the medicine was dispensed, some clinic workers pulled Marquart aside. In this family, they explained, traditional roles had broken down. The mother was an alcoholic, and no other adult looked after the children. The 12-year-old, in essence, functioned as the parent: she did the cooking, cared for her younger siblings, made the clinic visits. She was even authorized to take home a prescription.

It had been a mistake to call in the mother, who was sometimes unpleasant to clinic workers and physically abusive to her children.

Since then, Marquart has seen many of these children. "These kids don't have the childhood where they feel joy," she said. "They don't smile spontaneously like other children. They don't play. They don't laugh. They're very serious about things. They're like little grownups. And their eyes are always watching, especially when their parents or anyone else in the family is drinking."

Teresa Archambault, who works as a family counselor on the reservation, said: "I've gone into homes where there were babies -- four or five years old -- taking care of babies . . . shaking up the milk, propping up the baby. And the mothers are just completely out of it . . . bombed out of their minds."

Often on Fridays, these children stock up on food from the cafeteria, according to Marie Waln, a cook in the He Dog school. A youngster will take extra sandwiches, "look around like a scared rabbit and hide them in his pocket because he knows that's all he's going to have till Monday morning . . . . Their folks are all alcoholics. They party all weekend. They leave these little kids alone. There's nothing to eat."

When they get back to school, "them little kids eat so fast they make themselves sick."

The worst time for some is the first weekend of the month, after welfare checks are distributed. Corrine Black Bear, an astute 17-year-old from St. Francis who aspires to be a doctor, said: "It's kind of tough because everybody starts drinking . . . 14-year-olds, even younger, 10-year-olds. Some kids even drink with their moms."

William Andrews, a counselor in the St. Francis Indian School, recalled a visit he had last Jan. 5 with a 13-year-old who complained about the situation in his home.

"You won't believe the madness that goes on there," the boy said, according to Andrews' consultation notes. "They drink every night, and when they get their checks, it's worse. Like last night, Z. got her check so she got everyone drunk." Amid the raucous partying and dancing, he said, people were bumping into two screaming toddlers who were being ignored on the floor.

"Nobody cares. Those babies just lay there and cry," the boy said. "They come to me and say 'I'm hungry.' I go to the refrigerator, and there's nothing . . . . So I tell them. And they start really crying. I just didn't know what to do. I went outside, and went up to the phone booth, and I cried. I get so sad for them. Nobody takes care of them. I try, but I can't take care of them. I can't even take care of myself." Alcoholics Get Little Help

Willard Bordeaux, director of the tribe's alcohol treatment program, said 40 to 50 percent of Rosebud adults are chronic alcoholics, but the treatment program is able to counsel only about six or seven a month.

Most of the alcohol at Rosebud is sold by the reservation's only liquor store, which is owned and operated by the town of Mission. Last year, the store sold $717,000 in liquor, wine, and beer -- accounting for 85 percent of the town's income. The fact that Mission, which has the largest white population of any community on the reservation, does not return any of the liquor profits to the tribe is a sore point among many Indians here.

"I'd like to blow the damn thing off the Earth," said Marilyn White Horse, director of mental health for the reservation.

In remote Upper Cut Meat, only eight adults -- out of 85 -- do not drink, according to Seth Big Crow, the community representative. He said: "My wife don't drink. I don't drink. A lady up here don't drink. Another lady. A man and his wife over here don't drink. There are two over there that don't drink. And that's all."

The insidious effects of alcoholism reach down to the womb. Doctors here are encountering an increasing number of babies born with brain damage and other serious birth defects attributable to their mothers' constant drinking. One Rosebud woman has given birth to four babies with fetal-alcohol syndrome, which occurs when the fetus absorbs alcohol through the placenta.

Medical assistant Marquart remembered once trying to explain to a pregnant Parmelee woman that her drinking binges were harmful to her unborn child. The mother reacted angrily, refusing to accept that possibility. "She said, 'I'm drinking. My baby doesn't drink,' " Marquart said. "And I said, 'Everything you put into your body . . . . ' She got mad at me. She really got irate. She was saying, 'No, you're wrong. It's me that gets drunk. Not my baby.' "

Some Indians cannot afford liquor and instead drink the cleanser Lysol. One Lysol drinker told family counselor Archambault that his technique was to puncture the plastic container, strain the liquid through a piece of bread into a jar, mix it with water and then gulp it down. "You get a real quick high," he explained. When Archambault asked what the Lysol did to his throat and stomach, the man just laughed.

At the tribal courthouse, Chief Judge Trudell Guerue recalled the day he caught a strong whiff of Lysol and thought: oh, good, they finally scrubbed down the courtroom. Soon he discovered, however, that a band of prisoners had broken into the jail's cleaning closet the previous night and had guzzled Lysol from a large container. The smell became so intense that Guerue had to recess the proceedings.

On Election Day, 1981, Archambault said she was visiting a St. Francis residence when a woman entered the house and declared: "Well, they're passing out wine." The woman then explained how one candidate for tribal council was obtaining votes: "They take you up there. You vote. You come out. And they give you your wine."

For years some members of the 33-seat tribal council, which has vast governing power over virtually every aspect of reservation life, have been accused of exploiting the reservation's alcoholics. In 1977, the council rejected a proposal prohibiting the use of goods to obtain votes. One result is that the right to vote -- the fundamental instrument for change on the reservation -- is so disparaged that many agreed with Sonny Waln, director of the reservation's medical clinics, who said, "You never win an election here ; you buy an election . . . . You buy them with alcohol. You buy them with drugs. Whatever it takes to get the votes."

Ike Schmidt, a former council member from the Grass Mountain community, said he believes he lost his 1981 race for tribal chairman because he refused to trade liquor for votes during the campaign.

"There is a certain part of the community always drunk," Schmidt said. "You can go to them and flash booze in front of their eyes and they'll do anything, vote for anybody . . . . And these are the people that these politicians prey on because there's a lot of them . . . . St. Francis is No. 1. It's notorious. I'd say of a voting population of 1,200, if you really got out and hustled, you could buy anywhere from 250 to 300 votes."

Underlying the struggle for votes is the struggle for jobs -- as tribal program managers, secretaries, custodians -- the political patronage of the reservation. In some ways, Rosebud politics is like big-city machine politics, but the difference is the lack of private economy.

There was a time, in the late 1960s, when Rosebud was thriving. Millions of federal dollars were poured into the reservation for training programs, housing projects and other construction. Small industry provided jobs for hundreds of workers.

IBM invested in Rosebud Electronics, which produced cable harnessing and employed more than 80 people at its peak. Rosebud Manufacturing, a kitchen cabinet firm, had some 30 workers. More than 100 people worked for Lakota Products, which produced furniture. There was an art company, a cheese plant, a sign-making company and a printing firm.

Hundreds of other Indians worked on construction crews that built or renovated federal housing projects on the reservation.

But within a few years almost all the industry was gone. Some firms closed or left the reservation because of meddling by tribal politicians, who tried to dictate who would be hired or who changed the terms of agreements made with earlier tribal governments.

"Another in a growing list of Rosebud Reservation-based industries bit the dust this week . . . ," reported The Todd County Tribune on Dec. 7, 1972, after Rosebud Manufacturing moved off the reservation because its owner, who had been given a free home by one tribal chairman, had it taken away by another.

Today there are only sorry reminders of that too-brief bustling era. Cleve Neiss, a tribal council member, took a visitor to a several-acre plot near St. Francis, originally designed and equipped as an industrial park. Now it is used for softball games. "Two and a quarter million dollars," Neiss said. "That's the most expensive baseball field -- probably more than Wrigley Field . . . . "

According to 1983 statistics compiled by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, 3,522 of the 4,663 adults on the reservation are out of work -- a staggering unemployment rate of nearly 76 percent. "There are so few jobs," said veteran tribal council member Frank LaPointe, "that whoever controls the jobs is controlling whatever goes on."

While the tribal government's history of mismanagement, corruption and ineffectiveness has increased cynicism of tribe members, the federal government has always been viewed with far more hostility. Stolen land, broken treaties -- that is where the injustice began.

For the last 100 years the Rosebud tribe and seven other Sioux tribes have engaged the United States in a fight to regain their most precious natural resource: the 6,000 square miles of gold-rich territory known as the Black Hills, an area that includes a national park and the Mount Rushmore busts of four presidents. In 1980, the long legal battle ended with the Supreme Court ruling that the land had been taken from the Indians illegally. But the court said the tribes were not entitled to the return of the land, only $105 million in compensation.

The money sits untouched in a bank; the Sioux have refused to accept it.

"If there's one thing every Indian can recall," said Terry Pechota, a Rosebud Indian who practices law in Rapid City, "it's their grandfather and grandmother talking about the 'Hills,' that 'It'll all be better when the Black Hills claim is settled.' Now, it'll be $300 a person. A pittance."

With so little to look forward to, many here turn to alcohol -- and violence.

"What's there to lose?" asked Judge Larry Salway, a recovered alcoholic. "For a few minutes or hours he's the warrior again. He's driving the prairies again. He goes out and destroys people's property or beats his wife or abuses his kids. He's in another world."

"There is an undercurrent of violence that exists at Rosebud that is unusual at other reservations . . . with internal disputes . . . a real killing spirit," said Suzan Shown Harjo, director of the National Congress of American Indians. "The fights are vituperative and final. They are turf-based. There are a lot of strong personalities. They carve out areas of life that no one should step into. People have conflicts that are quite severe, but they use each other as a target instead of the real enemy because the enemy is elusive."

An examination of 300 criminal cases filed in the tribal court last February and March showed that 195, or two-thirds of the incidents, involved alcohol. Frank Adakai, head of the Rosebud police department, estimated that at least 95 percent of the incidents that his officers responded to were alcohol-related.

Many Rosebud residents complain that the police make too many arrests involving alcohol. Last year the tribal council went so far as to remove the public intoxication law from the books. Police began charging alcoholics with other crimes, such as disorderly conduct or possession of an open container of an alcoholic beverage. Since few defendants can afford the hefty fines levied for the alcoholism charges -- often over $100 -- the jail often overflows with drunks, some serving sentences of weeks or months, a penalty unheard of in most large cities.

Those arrested range from the very young to the very old. An elderly couple, Noah and Victoria Fast Horse, were jailed last May 5 for having an open container of peppermint vodka in their car. The woman, in her 80s, had to be helped into her cell because she used a walker.

Calvin Eagleman, 50, of the Two Strike community, said he has been arrested more than 10 times for drunkeness and has spent countless days in jail. The alcoholics are arrested, he said, because "they're easy to catch, just like a tame horse. They grab them . . . . They pick on them."

"It's known that not everyone is treated equally," said Gerald Gunhammer, a lifelong Rosebud resident who serves as senior investigator for the police force. "There's an unwritten set of laws: you got the set for the elite, and you got those for the normal people and for the drunks. Each set is handled differently . . . . Everyone knows it depends on who you are, and what you can do."

The jail, managed by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, is a rundown, unsanitary facility with a leaky roof and infrequent hot water. It is routinely packed far beyond capacity. On one weekend Ken White, the head jailer, said it held 180 prisoners in space meant for 30.

When John W. Fritz, a deputy assistant secretary of the interior, toured the jail on Aug. 25, 1983, he expressed "disbelief" that federal officials had allowed jail conditions to deteriorate for so long, according to an internal memorandum written by police chief Adakai. "His only question," the memo stated, was: " 'What have they been doing, and why has this type of condition been permitted to exist?' "

A new jail is being built and is to open this fall. Violence Widely Accepted

Last Feb. 9, an 11-year-old St. Francis boy casually mentioned to counselor William Andrews that he had witnessed a drunken fight that resulted in a murder. The victim, Vernon White Hawk, was beaten to death with a baseball bat in front of a crowd. The boy's description of the murder was complete with sound effects and imitations of the bashing.

"He spun around and wobbled and fell to the ground like a chicken," the boy said, according to Andrews' notes.

No one was convicted. What shocked Andrews most, however, was the matter-of-fact manner in which the boy discussed the crime, and the sense that violence was the norm.

"This absence of limits scares the hell out of me," Andrews said. "There are not the kinds of consequences, the kinds of controls, that there should be."

Tribal council member George Whirlwind Soldier, of St. Francis, said of Rosebud: "There is a kind of pecking order, and the deciding factor is violence -- who's stronger than the next."

Rick Young, 23, a St. Francis man, recalled the boisterous and unrestrained summer nights at Beads Dam, a popular hangout near St. Francis where as many as 100 carloads of teen-agers would congregate to drink and party. He said at times he saw groups of men carry young women into the woods, hold them down and take turns engaging in sexual intercourse. Sometimes, Young said, the women appeared to be struggling to escape. At other times they had passed out from drinking and did not resist. The men called it "training," according to Young. He believes it was rape.

"One time there must have been about 10 guys and one girl," said Young, recalling an incident several years ago. "She was awake . . . . They took her clothes off . . . . Four guys holding her. One guy on a leg and a hand. I seen that happen . . . .

"I looked, but I couldn't do nothing because there was too many guys there. So I went back over to where everybody's parked and just tried to forget about it. I did forget about it. Then, every time I went to the bathroom, I'd go that way and you could still see them. Everybody knew. They were going around saying, 'Hey, man, go on back there. There's a girl back there . . . . They're 'training' somebody back there.' That's what they mean: one guy after another."

Marilyn White Horse, the mental health director, said she has heard about "training" from women she has counseled. Most sought a medical examination, she said, but were afraid to take further action.

"Sometimes it's not recorded in the chart as a rape because of the fear," White Horse said. "They're threatened sometimes, even with their lives, if they report anything of that nature. No one follows it through in court . . . . It's just a fear of being assaulted or beat up or whatever."

Council member LaPointe said: "I think some people have just lost any hope for tribal justice . If you can't somehow stop violence from happening, then you don't believe in that system. Maybe you resort to violence yourself." Victims Often Charged -

On Feb. 7, three Rosebud Indians entered tribal court and filed criminal assault charges against a woman from the Antelope community. The woman was arrested and jailed. The next morning at arraignment, tribal prosecutor Charles Elk Looks Back noticed that the woman was breast-feeding an infant. He wondered how she could have assaulted three people.

He soon discovered that she was the victim, not the criminal. The three who had filed charges against her were the ones who had held her down and beat her. They had merely won the race to the courthouse. Because the tribal prosecutor's office can investigate few of the thousands of cases before they reach court -- and because there are no attorneys -- the woman had no one to whom to tell her side of the story until she reached court.

It was a familiar pattern in a courthouse that has the trappings of justice but none of the substance.

In another case, a 19-year-old woman was attacked and sexually assaulted, then sent to jail after her attacker filed charges against her. According to the woman's court affidavit and recollections in a recent interview, the man -- a friend of her estranged husband -- assaulted her on Dec. 19, 1982 in a parked van outside Mission. He tried to remove her jeans as she struggled to free herself. Then, he pushed her to the floor, hit her in the stomach and refused to allow her to go. He finally relented and drove her back to town.

Furious and having no faith that the police would assist her, the victim decided to take matters into her own hands. The following night, she and her brother found the man playing volleyball in a Mission gym. She went in waving an air gun, warning him never to touch her again. By the time the woman filed a complaint against the man for assault and attempted rape, he had lodged charges against her for the threats against him in the gym.

Fearing arrest, the woman fled the reservation, sneaking back occasionally to visit her family.

"Seems like everything around here is backwards," her mother said. "Especially for the women."

At one point, the woman visited the mental health department. Director White Horse recalled that she had never seen anyone so gripped by fear -- fear of her attacker, fear of the police and the court.

"She kept tossing, looking out the window," White Horse said. The woman felt there was nowhere she could go.

White Horse, who helps run the White Buffalo Calf Woman's Society, the reservation's shelter for battered women, said it was not the first time she had seen the unfairness of tribal justice. She said one tribal judge used to telephone the shelter at the behest of husbands whose wives had sought refuge there. He would order the abused women to return home at once. There was no hearing, no subpoena.

In one case, a woman was so frightened of going back home that White Horse helped her leave the reservation. Rosebud to her had become a world without the usual controls; she even left her four kids behind. "She was beaten so bad," White Horse said. Home Always Beckons -

At the dawn of the space age in the early 1960s, there was a joke heard around the Rosebud reservation.

Q: How would an astronaut get back from outer space?

A: Send up an Indian. He'll find his way home.

A whole generation of Rosebud Indians now in their 30s and 40s left the reservation for a while: Matthew War Bonnet moved to Chicago; Lorenzo Black Lance to Hyattsville, Md.; Tony Iron Shell to Seattle; Bruce Pretty Bird to Rapid City, S.D.; Tillie Black Bear to Omaha; George Whirlwind Soldier to New York.

Whirlwind Soldier said he spent years searching for something he found only after returning to the reservation. As a child, he sat at the knee of Lame Deer, a Rosebud medicine man. Later, he endured the St. Francis Mission School, where students were punished by the Catholic priests if they spoke Sioux. Then he entered a Benedictine monastary in eastern South Dakota hoping to become a monk. In the late 1960s, he moved to New York, where he began attending services at a Staten Island synagogue and considered converting to Judaism. But Rosebud drew him back. "I always wanted to come back," he said. "I was looking for something that I could become, that I could bring back and use here."

Today, Whirlwind Soldier holds tribal office, has a job in a medical clinic and has raised a family with his wife, Cindy. But he worries that his three children -- Ember, Hope and Tate -- may choose to leave.

"Here I'm trying to build a house and get land," he said. "They'll be leaving. They'll probably get educated and move away. They're a generation that's lost touch with the land."

For Whirlwind Soldier and others here, Rosebud is a place of perplexing contradictions. The dream is Indian self-reliance, but the reality is that there is no industry or economic base to support it. The dream is to keep families strong, but some Rosebud families are entering their fourth generation on welfare. The dream is to retain the old culture, the old ways, yet every day middle-class American values intrude through television.

"The exposure to the American dream, through television and movies, has added a layer of frustration to the people who might aspire to that and has made them less comfortable with their traditions," Harjo said.

Older Indians remember other times: Ben Reifel, a former member of Congress who was born in the Cut Meat community in 1906, remembers when everyone was poor and no one seemed too unhappy. Moses Big Crow, 66, a Black Pipe man who has been blind for 18 years, said there used to be a kind of equanimity to reservation life, a sense of order and fairness. There seemed no need for courts or elected governments: tribal leaders were seen as just.

"People were in awe of them," he said. "What they said was the law."

Cato Valandra, 63, who served as tribal chairman during the 1960s, said he remembered the short-stemmed pink prairie roses that grew in bunches -- near his home in Grass Mountain, in the Crazy Horse Canyon, along the Little White River in Spring Creek, in the hills near He Dog. "You could go any place you wanted, and there were wild roses."

You could go to St. Francis today and find Teresa Archambault, 45, a Rosebud Indian who returned to the reservation in 1972 after living in Denver for eight years. To her, Rosebud is simply "somewhere where I have to exist."

Her parents were migrant workers who were trucked off the reservation to pick berries and vegetables. She came back because her husband wanted to. Both work, he as a tribal bureaucrat, she as a family counselor, and they have sent their 18-year-old daughter, Ida, to college in Nebraska.

Archambault spends her days with those left behind, with girls like the 13-year-old who treats her infant daughter like a baby doll, cuddling it, dressing it up.

Archambault lives within sight of a block that is known as "Ten-Seventy Street," the universal police code-name for trouble. She used to peer out her window and see men and women staggering around, beatings, fights, drunken brawls. "When I first moved here I cried for a whole month," Archambault said. Now she simply keeps her curtains closed. "I block out everything around me, and I have been able to live better that way. I just want to wipe it all out of my mind because it's something that I can't change."

NEXT: The hospital