Wounded Knee, 1890 – 1973
On December 29, 1890 members of the U.S. 7th Cavalry Regiment opened fire on hundreds of Lakota men, women and children, killing over 150 people.
“The regrettable and tragic clash of arms at this site on December 29, 1890, the last significant engagement between Indians and soldiers on the North American Continent, ended nearly four centuries of warfare between westward-wending Americans and the indigenous peoples. Although the majority of the participants on both sides had not intended to use their arms—precipitated by individual indiscretion in a tense and confused situation rather than by organized premeditation—and although the haze of gunsmoke that hung over the battlefield has obscured some of the facts, the action more resembles a massacre than a battle. For 20th-century America, it serves as an example of national guilt for the mistreatment of the Indians.” – National Park Service.
Events at the site of the 1890 massacre again captured the nation’s attention on February 27, 1973 when nearly 200 activists from the American Indian Movement(AIM) seized the community of Wounded Knee on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. The siege lasted 71 days as activists briefly held 11 hostages and exchanged gunfire with FBI agents and U.S. marshals. The site was specifically chosen by AIM leaders Russell Means and Dennis Banks to protest living conditions, uninvestigated crimes against Indian people and the federal government’s violation of treaties. During the 71 day occupation, two AIM supporters were killed and a deputy marshal wounded.
Today, Wounded Knee and the Pine Ridge Reservation is one of the poorest places in America. According to the 2010 U.S. Census, Shannon County, S.D., which is contained within the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation is one of only five counties in the United States with poverty rates greater than 39 percent. The following historic images from the Associated Press, Library of Congress, Denver Public Library and The Denver Post’s archives span the 1890 Wounded Knee Massacre to the 1973 standoff.
Title: General Miles and staff Six military men on horseback on a hill overlooking a large encampment of tipis. 1891. Repository: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 #
Sitting Bull c1884. Sitting Bull was shot and killed when police tried to arrest him outside his house on the Standing Rock reservation on December 15, 1890. After his death, members of his Hunkpapa band followed Chief Spotted Elk to Wounded Knee. Palmquist & Jurgens, photographer. (Denver Public Library; Western History Collection) #
Red Cloud, Dakota Chief, seated holding peace pipe, wearing war bonnet, bust. Barry, D. F. (David Frances), photographer. (Denver Public Library; Western History Collection) #
Title: Devil's Tower. Distant view of Devils Tower and reflection of tower in stream in foreground. 1890. According to the National Park Service, over twenty tribes have potential cultural affiliation with the landmark. Among other names, The Lakota Sioux call Devils Tower "Bear Lodge." Repository: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 #
Title: At the Dance. Part of the 8th U.S. Cavalry and 3rd Infantry at the great Indian Grass Dance on Reservation Group portrait of Big Foot's (Miniconjou) band and federal military men, in an open field, at a Grass Dance on the Cheyenne River, S.D.--on or near Cheyenne River Indian Reservation. 1890. Repository: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 #
Seven Lakota scouts and four uniformed Euro-Americans posed behind an artillery piece or Hotchkiss gun, probably in the Pine Ridge Reservation near Wounded Knee, South Dakota. "Copr. Paul Wernert [i.e. Weinert] and gunners of Battery "E" 1st Artillery / photo. and copyright 1891 by the Grabill P. & V., Deadwood, S.D." (Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division) #
Title: "Grand review." U.S. troops after surrender of Indians at Pine Ridge Agency, S.D. Very distant view of a line of military men on horseback. 1891. Repository: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 #
"Scenes of 1891 - Battle of Wounded Knee." Buffalo Bill, Capt. Baldwin, Gen. Nelson A. Miles, Capt. Moss, and others, on horseback, on battlefield of Wounded Knee. Ca. 1890. (Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division) #
"Miniconjou chief Spotted Elk (aka. Bigfoot) lies dead in the snow after massacre at Wounded Knee. Trager and Kuhn, photographer/Northwestern Photo Co., Chadron, Nebraska. (Denver Public Library; Western History Collection) #
"Burial of the dead at the battle of Wounded Knee, S.D." U.S. Soldiers putting Indians in common grave; some corpses are frozen in different positions. South Dakota. c1891 Jan. 17. Northwestern Photo Co. (Trager & Kuhn) Chadron, Neb. (Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division) #
"Scene after the battle." Jan. 1891. View southwest from center of council circle after the fight at Wounded Knee Creek, Pine Ridge Reservation, South Dakota, shows men holding moccasins and other souvenirs among the frozen bodies of Native American Lakota Sioux on the snow covered ground. (Denver Public Library; Western History Collection) #
1891 January 3. The Medican [i.e. Medicine] Man. View of the slain frozen body of a Native American Lakota Sioux medicine man, Wounded Knee Creek, Pine Ridge Reservation, South Dakota. The body has clenched arms and is posed with a rifle. (Denver Public Library; Western History Collection) #
A young Oglala girl sitting in front of a tipi, with a puppy beside her, probably on or near Pine Ridge Reservation. 1891. Grabill, John C. H., photographer. (Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division) #
Title: U.S. School for Indians at Pine Ridge, S.D. Small Oglala tipi camp in front of large government school buildings in open field. 1891. Repository: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 #
Title: Indian chiefs who counciled with Gen. Miles and setteled [sic] the Indian War -- 1. Standing Bull, 2. Bear Who Looks Back Running [Stands and Looks Back], 3. Has the Big White Horse, 4. White Tail, 5. Liver [Living] Bear, 6. Little Thunder, 7. Bull Dog, 8. High Hawk, 9. Lame, 10. Eagle Pipe Group portrait of Lakota chiefs, five standing and five sitting with tipi in background--probably on or near Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. 1891. Repository: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA #
Title: "Home of Mrs. American Horse." Visiting squaws at Mrs. A's home in hostile camp Oglala women and children seated inside an uncovered tipi frame in an encampment--most are looking away from the camera--probably on or near Pine Ridge Reservation. 1891. Repository: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 #
Title: Villa of Brule A Lakota tipi camp near Pine Ridge, in background; horses at White Clay Creek watering hole, in the foreground. 1891. Repository: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 #
In full tribal regalia, Dewey Beard, left, and James Pipe-on-Head, survivors of the wounded knee creek massacre of 1890 in South Dakota, arrived in Washington on March 4, 1938, to testify in behalf of a bill to pay $1,000 to each of the survivors of the bloody fight in which 290 members of the Sioux Indian band were slain. They were greeted by John Collier, center, Commissioner of Indian Affairs. (AP Photo) #
Church at Wounded Knee, South Dakota. Nov. 1940. Vachon, John, 1914-1975, photographer. (Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division)#
Typical of homes of Indians on the Pine Ridge reservation in southwest South Dakota, shown Feb. 28, 1956, is this log cabin with the tent alongside it. The cabin belongs to Grandma Dirt Kettle, who is more than 100 years old. It is in better condition than many cabins, with a tar paper instead of a dirt roof, and it has two rooms. Relatives of Grandma Dirt Kettle live in the tent. The aged woman refused to have her picture taken. She remembers the Custer battle of the Little Bighorn in 1876 and the massacre at Wounded Knee in 1890. Wrecks of cars like the one on the right are seen frequently on the reservation. It is the second largest in the country - 55 by 75 miles of arid plains. (AP Photo) #
FEB 2 1968 - Woman carry home the groceries in this Indian country scene in South Dakota. Note the contrasting skirt lengths of the two Indian women. (Dave Buresh/The Denver Post) #
FEB 2 1968 - Scenes like this are common on the Sioux Indian reservations of South Dakota. The woman pictured lives in the white shack. (Dave Buresh/The Denver Post) #
Harlington Wood, Assistant U.S. Attorney General, third row center without hat, is escorted into the village of Wounded Knee by militant Indians of the AIM group, March 13, 1973. Second row, left, wearing mackinaw is Russell Means, one of the AIM leaders and Carter Camp, another leader walks beside Wood. Wood was sent to the reservation in an effort to find a solution to the problem. (AP Photo) #
Indians on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation at Wounded Knee, S.D. watch U.S. Marshals on the ridge beyond as both slides remained at a standoff on March 3, 1973 in Wounded Knee. (AP Photo) #
A member of the American Indian Movement (AIM) at Wounded Knee, S.D., March 8, 1973 raises his rifle and cheers after receiving news that federal authorities had extended the cease fire for further negotiations to end the standoff. AIM was occupying the village that was the site of the 1890 Wounded Knee massacre. (AP Photo) #
FEB 23 1973 - Sen. George McGovern Talks With Reporters After Arriving In Pine Ridge. McGovern and fellow democratic Sen. James Abourezk came to meet Indian militants. (Dave Buresh/The Denver Post) #
MAR 3 1973 - Four Persons Removed from The Jail at Pine Ridge, S.D. The four, arrested Friday night, were taken Saturday to the jail at Rapid City, S.D. (Dave Buresh/The Denver Post) #
MAR 2 1973 - A Federal Marshal Confiscates Weapons from A car stopped at Road Block Seven Miles from Wounded Knee, S.D. Sen. George McGovern. D.S.D. reported that weapons were very much in evidence in the village and the damage that had been done was 'incredible.' (Dave Buresh/The Denver Post) #
Russell Means, right, leader of the militant AIM group holding the village of Wounded Knee, S.D. on the Pine Ridge reservation, beats the drum at a meeting of the Indians, Friday, March 10, 1973. Man at left is not identified. (AP Photo) #
Russell Means, one of the AIM leaders in Wounded Knee, South Dakota on March 12, 1973, explains to followers what is expected of them now that they are a new sovereign nation. (AP Photo) #
Dennis Banks, field director of the American Indian Movement takes the lead of an estimated 150 Indians who joined in a march around the parking lot of the county jail, Feb. 12, 1973 in Rapid City, South Dakota, where 40 Indians are held on riot charges. (AP Photo/Jim Mone) #
Two armored personnel carriers wait in the darkness near Bureau of Indian Affairs headquarters on Feb. 28, 1973 in Wounded Knee. Federal marshals spent part of the day Wednesday where a group Indians have hostages (AP Photo) #
Dennis Banks, one of leaders of the American Indian Movement, shows depleted food supply at Wounded Knee, South Dakota, March 25, 1973. AIM has controlled the village for almost four weeks. (AP Photo/Fred Jewell) #
Sens. James Abourezk, left, and George McGovern listen to Sefert Youngbear, center, during negotiations, Thursday, March 2, 1973 in Wounded Knee, South Dakota, as Russell Means, right and Crow Dog, second from right, listen. Meanwhile, federal marshals maintain their posts outside the town. (AP Photo/Jim Mone) #
A general view of Wounded Knee, South Dakota on March 27, 1973 during negotiations between members of the American Indian Movement and Federal Agents. (AP Photo) #
View of the church at Wounded Knee, South Dakota on March 27, 1973. In foreground is a make-shift barricade constructed by supporters of AIM during their seizure of the hamlet. (AP Photo) #
Scenes at the small hamlet of Wounded Knee, South Dakota on March 27, 1973 where negotiations between officials of the U.S. Government and the American Indian Movement (AIM) remain deadlocked. (AP Photo) #
Rocky Madrid, a white medic, lies wounded in a make shift hospital in Wounded Knee, South Dakota on March 18, 1973, after being shot in the stomach during exchange of gunfire between AIM Native Americans and federal lawmen. (AP Photo/Jim Mone) #
Harlington Wood, Assistant U.S. Attorney General, (white shirt) is escorted by armed members of AIM into the village of Wounded Knee, South Dakota, March 13, 1973 to meet with leaders. Wood was sent to the village held for the last two weeks by the militants in an effort to work out a solution to the problem. (AP Photo) #
Local concerned Oglala Sioux keep watch at roadblock near Wounded Knee, South Dakota on March 27, 1973 to prevent supplies from reaching members of the American Indian Movement who hold the village. The blockade was ordered on March 26 by the Oglala Sioux Tribal President Dick Wilson. (AP Photo/Fred Jewell) #
Assistant U.S. attorney general Kent Frizzell, right, listens to AIM Indian as other AIM leaders sit by in tepee prior to signing of peace settlement, April 5, 1973 in Wounded Knee, South Dakota. Kneeling is Wallace Black Elk and to his left are AIM leaders Russell Means, Dennis Banks and Carter Camp, in that order. (AP Photo/Jim Mone) #
Constant watch is maintained on government movements by members of the American Indian Movement at Wounded Knee, South Dakota on March 23, 1973. Militant AIM members took over the tiny hamlet over three weeks ago. (AP Photo/Fred Jewell) #
A unidentified Native American member of AIM sits in bunker with his rifle in front of church in Wounded Knee, South Dakota, March 2, 1973, that is still occupied by the Indians. Town of Wounded Knee is still in control of AIM. (AP Photo/Jim Mone) #
Harlington Wood, right, of the U.S. Attorney General's office, is escorted by armed AIM supporters from car to conference with AIM leaders in Wounded Knee, South Dakota, March 19, 1973, as efforts to end the occupation of Wounded Knee continue. (AP Photo) #
AIM leader Carter Camp, white shirt, and attorney William Kunstler, to Camp's right, join AIM Indians in celebrating the pullout of federal lawmen from roadblocks in Wounded Knee, South Dakota , March 10, 1973, which have surrounded Wounded Knee for over a week following takeover of the town by AIM Indians. (AP Photo) #
Blanketed against Wednesday's high wind, members of the American Indian Movement head toward bunkers at Wounded Knee, South Dakota, March 22, 1973. AIM and government negotiations remained deadlocked on Wednesday. (AP Photo/Fred Jewell) #
American Indian Movement leader Russell Means, who is challenging incumbent Oglala Sioux Tribal President Richard Wilson in Thursday's election on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, laughs at news report which quoted Wilson as saying he will give AIM 10 days to get off the reservation after he is reelected "or else". (AP Photo/Jim Mone) #
MAR 5 1973 - Members Of American Indian Movement Perform An Indian Ceremony Sunday at a Tepee. The tepee was later moved to site away from Wounded Knee where Indian representatives and federal officials met. (Dave Buresh/The Denver Post) #
AIM leader Russell Means, left and assistant U.S. attorney general Kent Frizzell sign settlement of the Wounded Knee problem April 5, 1973 in South Dakota. Looking on left is Frizzells assistant Richard Helstern and AIM leader Dennis Banks. (AP Photo) #
APR 5 1973 - Hank Adams, Negotiator for Wounded Knee Indians. (Barry Staver/The Denver Post) #
MAR 3 1973 - Dennis Banks, Aim national field director, tells women residents of Wounded Knee, S.D., that they are in the middle of a war, one he promised the Indians eventually will win. (Dave Buresh/The Denver Post) #
American Indian Movement leader Dennis Banks holds an envelope addressed to the Justice Department containing ashes of federal proposal for Indians to evacuate Wounded Knee, March 5, 1973 in Wounded Knee, SD. AIM leaders burned the document. Russell Means, center, and Carter Camp look on. (AP Photo) #
Two men who said the were Vietnam veterans rest in a bunker at Wounded Knee, South Dakota on March 13, 1973, after joining up with the militant Oglala Sioux Indians holding the village. There have been a number of outsiders that have joined the American Indian Movement in the past few days. (AP Photo) #
Supporter of American Indian Movement keeps watch from church bell tower at Wounded Knee, South Dakota, March 22, 1973. Militant AIM members have held the small hamlet for over three weeks. (AP Photo/Fred Jewell) #
Russell Means, left, leader of the American Indian Movement (AIM) at Wounded Knee, March 9, 1973, exchanges a handshake with Bishop James Armstrong of the United Methodist Church, right, after Armstrong presented a proposal for further negotiations with the government. Dennis Banks, another AIM leader looks on. (AP Photo) #
Russell Means, left, leader of the American Indian Movement, answers questions about the occupation of Wounded Knee, S.D., Sunday, April 9, 1973 at a Washington news conference. Also at the conference are Chief Terronez Bad Cob, center, 2nd Leonard Crow Dog. Means will testify on Monday before the House Indian Affairs subcommittee. (AP Photo/Charles Gorry) #
A young Indian girl wearing a sweatshirt proclaiming "My hearts in Wounded Knee," stands in front of the casket of Lawrence Lamont during funeral on May 4, 1973 in Wounded Knee. Lamont died last week in Wounded Knee during a shooting confrontation between militant AIM Indians and federal lawman. On the casket is picture of Lamont in his Military Uniform. (AP Photo)
On the day before, a detachment of the U.S. 7th Cavalry Regiment commanded by Major Samuel M. Whitside intercepted Spotted Elk's band of Miniconjou Lakota and 38 Hunkpapa Lakota near Porcupine Butte and escorted them five miles westward (8 km) to Wounded Knee Creek, where they made camp.
On the morning of December 29, the troops went into the camp to disarm the Lakota. One version of events claims that during the process of disarming the Lakota, a deaf tribesman named Black Coyote was reluctant to give up his rifle, claiming he had paid a lot for it. A scuffle over Black Coyote's rifle escalated and a shot was fired which resulted in the 7th Cavalry's opening fire indiscriminately from all sides, killing men, women, and children, as well as some of their own fellow soldiers. Those few Lakota warriors who still had weapons began shooting back at the attacking soldiers, who quickly suppressed the Lakota fire. The surviving Lakota fled, but U.S. cavalrymen pursued and killed many who were unarmed.
By the time it was over, at least 150 men, women, and children of the Lakota had been killed and 51 wounded (4 men, 47 women and children, some of whom died later); some estimates placed the number of dead at 300. Twenty-five soldiers also died, and 39 were wounded (6 of the wounded would later die). At least twenty soldiers were awarded the Medal of Honor. In 2001, the National Congress of American Indians passed two resolutions condemning the awards and called on the U.S. government to rescind them. The site of the massacre has been designated aNational Historic Landmark.
The Ghost Dance
In the years prior to the massacre, the U.S. Government had continued to seize the Lakota's lands. The once large bison herds (an indigenous peoples' Great Plains staple) had been hunted to near-extinction by European settlers. Treaty promises to protect reservation lands from encroachment by settlers and gold miners were not implemented as dictated by treaty. As a result, there was unrest on the reservations. It was during this time that news spread among the reservations of a Paiute prophet named Wovoka, founder of the Ghost Dance religion. He had a vision that the Christian Messiah, Jesus Christ, had returned to earth in the form of a Native American.
The Messiah would raise all the Native American believers above the earth. During this time the white man would disappear from Native lands, the buffalo herds and all the other animals would return in abundance, and the ghosts of their ancestors would return to earth — hence the word "Ghost" in "Ghost Dance." They would then return to earth to live in peace. All this would be brought about by performance of the "Ghost Dance." Lakota ambassadors to Wovoka, Kicking Bear and Short Bull taught the Lakota that while performing the Ghost Dance, they would wear special Ghost Dance shirts as seen by Black Elk in a vision. Kicking Bear said the shirts had the power to repel bullets.
European Americans were alarmed by the sight of the many Great Basin and Plains tribes performing the Ghost Dance, worried that it might be a prelude to armed attack. Among them was the US Indian Agent at the Standing Rock Agency where Chief Sitting Bull lived. US officials decided to take some of the chiefs into custody in order to quell what they called the "Messiah Craze." The military first hoped to have Buffalo Bill — a friend of Sitting Bull — aid in the plan to reduce the chance of violence. Standing Rockagent James McLaughlin overrode the military and sent the Indian police to arrest Sitting Bull.
On December 15, 1890, 40 Indian policemen arrived at Chief Sitting Bull's house to arrest him. Crowds gathered in protest, and the first shot was fired when Sitting Bull tried to pull away from his captors, killing the officer who had been holding him. Additional shots were fired, resulting in the death of Sitting Bull, eight of his supporters, and six policemen. After Sitting Bull's death, 200 members of his Hunkpapa band, fearful of reprisals, fled Standing Rock to join Chief Spotted Elk (later to be known as "Big Foot") and his Miniconjou band at the Cheyenne River Indian Reservation.
Former Pine Ridge Indian agent Valentine T. McGillycuddy was asked his opinion of the 'hostilities' surrounding the Ghost Dance movement by General Leonard W. Colby commander of the Nebraska National Guard (portion of letter dated Jan. 15, 1891):
"As for the "Ghost Dance" too much attention has been paid to it. It was only the symptom or surface indication of a deep rooted, long existing difficulty; as well treat the eruption of small pox as the disease and ignore the constitutional disease."
"As regards disarming the Sioux, however desirable it may appear, I consider it neither advisable, nor practicable. I fear it will result as the theoretical enforcement of prohibition in Kansas, Iowa and Dakota; you will succeed in disarming and keeping disarmed the friendly Indians because you can, and you will not succeed with the mob element because you cannot."
"If I were again to be an Indian Agent, and had my choice, I would take charge of 10,000 armed Sioux in preference to a like number of disarmed ones; and furthermore agree to handle that number, or the whole Sioux nation, without a white soldier. Respectfully, etc., V.T. McGillycuddy.
P.S. I neglected to state that up to date there has been neither a Sioux outbreak or war. No citizen in Nebraska or Dakota has been killed, molested or can show the scratch of a pin, and no property has been destroyed off the reservation."
General Miles' Telegram
General Miles sent this telegram from Rapid City to General John Schofield in Washington, D.C. on December 19, 1890:
"The difficult Indian problem cannot be solved permanently at this end of the line. It requires the fulfillment of Congress of the treaty obligations that the Indians were entreated and coerced into signing. They signed away a valuable portion of their reservation, and it is now occupied by white people, for which they have received nothing."
"They understood that ample provision would be made for their support; instead, their supplies have been reduced, and much of the time they have been living on half and two-thirds rations. Their crops, as well as the crops of the white people, for two years have been almost total failures."
"The dissatisfaction is wide spread, especially among the Sioux, while the Cheyennes have been on the verge of starvation, and were forced to commit depredations to sustain life. These facts are beyond question, and the evidence is positive and sustained by thousands of witnesses."
The fight and ensuing massacre
Spotted Elk lies dead after the Massacre of Wounded Knee, 1890
On December 28, 1890, Chief Spotted Elk of the Miniconjou Lakota nation and 350 of his followers were intercepted by a 7th Cavalry detachment under Major Samuel M. Whitside southwest of the badlands near Porcupine Butte. John Shangreau, a scout and interpreter who was half Sioux, advised that they not be disarmed immediately, as it would lead to violence. The troopers escorted the Lakota about five miles westward (8 km) to Wounded Knee Creek where they made camp. Later that evening, Col.James W. Forsyth and the rest of the 7th Cavalry arrived, bringing the number of troopers at Wounded Knee to 500. In contrast, there were 350 Native Americans, of whom all but 120 were women and children. The troopers surrounded Spotted Elk's encampment and set up four rapid fire Hotchkiss-designed M1875 Mountain Guns.
At daybreak on December 29, 1890, Col. Forsyth ordered the surrender of weapons and the immediate removal and transportation of the Indians from the "zone of military operations" to awaiting trains. A search of the camp confiscated 38 rifles and more rifles were taken as the soldiers searched the Indians. None of the old men were found to be armed. Yellow Bird harangued the young men who were becoming agitated by the search and the tension spread to the soldiers.
Specific details of what triggered the fight are debated. According to some accounts, a medicine man named Yellow Bird began to perform the Ghost Dance, reiterating his assertion to the Lakota that the ghost shirts were bulletproof. As tension mounted, Black Coyote refused to give up his rifle; he was deaf and had not understood the order. Another Indian said: "Black Coyote is deaf." (He did not speak English). When the soldier refused to heed his warning, he said, "Stop! He cannot hear your orders!" At that moment, two soldiers seized Black Coyote from behind, and in the struggle (allegedly), his rifle discharged. At the same moment Yellow Bird threw some dust into the air, and approximately five young Lakota men with concealed weapons threw aside their blankets and fired their rifles at Troop K of the 7th. After this initial exchange, the firing became indiscriminate.
Soldiers pose with three of the four Hotchkiss-designed M1875 Mountain Gunsused at Wounded Knee. The caption on the photograph reads: "Famous Battery 'E' of the 1st Artillery. These brave men and the Hotchkiss guns that Big Foot's Indians thought were toys, Together with the fighting 7th what's left of Gen. Custer's boys, Sent 200 Indians to that Heaven which the ghost dancer enjoys. This checked the Indian noise, and Gen. Miles with staff Returned to Illinois."
According to commanding Gen. Nelson A. Miles, a "scuffle occurred between one warrior who had [a] rifle in his hand and two soldiers. The rifle was discharged and a battle occurred, not only the warriors but the sick Chief Spotted Elk, and a large number of women and children who tried to escape by running and scattering over the prairie were hunted down and killed."
At first the struggle was fought at close range; fully half the Indian men were killed or wounded before they had a chance to get off any shots. Some of the Indians grabbed rifles they had been hiding and opened fire on the soldiers. With no cover, and with many of the Lakota unarmed, this phase of the fighting lasted a few minutes at most. While the Indian warriors and soldiers were shooting at close range, other soldiers used the Hotchkiss guns against the tipi camp full of women and children. It is believed that many of the troops on the battlefield were victims of friendly fire from their own Hotchkiss guns. The Indian women and children fled the camp, seeking shelter in a nearby ravine from the crossfire. The officers had lost all control of their men. Some of the soldiers fanned out to run across the battlefield and finished off wounded Indians. Others leaped onto their horses and pursued the Lakota(men, women and children), in some cases for miles across the prairies. By the end of the fighting, which lasted less than an hour, at least 150 Lakota had been killed and 50 wounded. Historian Dee Brown, in Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, mentions an estimate of 300 of the original 350 having been killed or wounded and that the soldiers loaded 51 survivors (4 men and 47 women and children) of the massacre onto wagons and took them to the Pine Ridge Reservation. Army casualties numbered 25 dead and 39 wounded.
"What's left of Big Foot's band": John Grabill, 1891
"... then many Indians broke into the ravine; some ran up the ravine and to favorable positions for defense."
"I did not know then how much was ended. When I look back now from this high hill of my old age, I can still see the butchered women and children lying heaped and scattered all along the crooked gulch as plain as when I saw them with eyes young. And I can see that something else died there in the bloody mud, and was buried in the blizzard. A people's dream died there. It was a beautiful dream ... the nation's hope is broken and scattered. There is no center any longer, and the sacred tree is dead."
"There was a woman with an infant in her arms who was killed as she almost touched the flag of truce ... A mother was shot down with her infant; the child not knowing that its mother was dead was still nursing ... The women as they were fleeing with their babies were killed together, shot right through ... and after most all of them had been killed a cry was made that all those who were not killed or wounded should come forth and they would be safe. Little boys ... came out of their places of refuge, and as soon as they came in sight a number of soldiers surrounded them and butchered them there."
"I know the men did not aim deliberately and they were greatly excited. I don't believe they saw their sights. They fired rapidly but it seemed to me only a few seconds till there was not a living thing before us; warriors, squaws, children, ponies, and dogs ... went down before that unaimed fire." (Godfrey was a Lieutenant in Captain Benteen's force during the Battle of the Little Bighorn)
View of canyon at Wounded Knee, dead horses and Lakota bodies are visible.
Civilian burial party, loading victims on cart for burial
Following a three-day blizzard, the military hired civilians to bury the dead Lakota. The burial party found the deceased frozen; they were gathered up and placed in a mass grave on a hill overlooking the encampment from which some of the fire from the Hotchkiss guns originated. It was reported that four infants were found alive, wrapped in their deceased mothers' shawls. In all, 84 men, 44 women, and 18 children reportedly died on the field, while at least seven Lakota were mortally wounded. General Nelson Miles denounced Colonel Forsyth and relieved him of command. An exhaustive Army Court of Inquiry convened by Miles criticized Forsyth for his tactical dispositions, but otherwise exonerated him of responsibility. The Court of Inquiry, however, was not conducted as a formal court-martial.
The Secretary of War concurred with the decision and reinstated Forsyth to command of the 7th Cavalry. Testimony had indicated that for the most part, troops attempted to avoid non-combatant casualties. Miles continued to criticize Forsyth, whom he believed had deliberately disobeyed his commands in order to destroy the Indians. Miles promoted the conclusion that Wounded Knee was a deliberate massacre rather than a tragedy caused by poor decisions, in an effort to destroy the career of Forsyth. This was later whitewashed and Forsyth was promoted to Major General.
The American public's reaction to the battle at the time was generally favorable. Many non-Lakota living near the reservations interpreted the battle as the defeat of a murderous cult; others confused Ghost Dancers with Native Americans in general. In an editorial response to the event, the young newspaper editor L. Frank Baum, later the author of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, wrote in the Aberdeen Saturday Pioneer on January 3, 1891:
Soon after the event, Dewey Beard, his brother Joseph Horn Cloud and others formed the Wounded Knee Survivors Association, which came to include descendants. They sought compensation from the US government for the many fatalities and injured. Today the association is independent and works to preserve and protect the historic site from exploitation, and to administer any memorial erected there. Papers of the association (1890–1973) and related materials are held by the University of South Dakota and are available for research. It was not until the 1990s that a memorial to the Lakota was included in the National Historic Landmark.
More than 80 years after the battle, beginning on February 27, 1973, Wounded Knee was the site of the Wounded Knee incident, a 71-day standoff between militants of theAmerican Indian Movement—who had chosen the site for its symbolic value—and federal law enforcement officials.
Drexel Mission Fight
The 'Bloody Pocket'; location of theDrexel Mission Fight.
Historically, Wounded Knee is generally considered to be the end of the collective multi-century series of conflicts between colonial and U.S. forces and American Indians, known collectively as the Indian Wars. It was not however the last armed conflict between Native Americans and the United States.
The Drexel Mission Fight was an armed confrontation between Lakota warriors and the United States Army that took place on thePine Ridge Indian Reservation the day after the battle on December 30, 1890. The fight occurred on White Clay Creek approximately 15 miles north of Pine Ridge where Lakota fleeing from the continued hostile situation surrounding the battle at Wounded Knee had set up camp.
Company K of the Seventh Cavalry — the unit involved in the battle — was sent to force the Lakotas' return to the areas they were assigned on their respective reservations. Some of the 'hostiles' were Brulé Lakota from the Rosebud Indian Reservation. The Seventh Cavalry was pinned down in a valley by the combined Lakota forces and had to be rescued by the Ninth Cavalry, anAfrican American regiment nicknamed the Buffalo Soldiers.
Among the Lakota warriors was a young Brulé from Rosebud named Plenty Horses who had recently returned from five years at the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania. A week after this fight, Plenty Horses would shoot and kill Army Lieutenant Edward W. Casey, commandant of the Cheyenne Scouts (Troop L, Eighth Cavalry). The testimony introduced at the trial of Plenty Horses and his subsequent acquittal also helped abrogate the legal culpability of the U.S. Army for the Wounded Knee Massacre.
Medal of Honor controversy
For this 1890 offensive, the Army awarded twenty Medals of Honor, its highest commendation. While recently, in the governmental Nebraska State Historical Society's Summer 1994 quarterly journal, Jerry Green construes that, pre-1916 Medals of Honor were awarded more liberally, however "the number of medals does seem disproportionate when compared to those awarded for other battles." Quantifying, he compares the three awarded for the Battle of Bear Paw Mountain's five-day siege, to the twenty awarded for this short and one-sided action.
Native American activists have urged the medals be withdrawn, as they say they were "Medals of Dishonor". According to Lakota tribesman William Thunder Hawk, "The Medal of Honor is meant to reward soldiers who act heroically. But at Wounded Knee, they didn't show heroism; they showed cruelty." In 2001, the National Congress of American Indians passed two resolutions condemning the Medals of Honor awards and called on the U.S. government to rescind them.
Some of the citations on the medals awarded to the troopers, at Wounded Knee, state that they went in pursuit of Lakota who were trying to escape or hide. Another citation was for "conspicuous bravery in rounding up and bringing to the skirmish line a stampeded pack mule." 
Medal of Honor Citations, Wounded Knee
Two of the citations, of the twenty Medals of Honor awarded at Wounded Knee:
GRESHAM, JOHN C. Rank and organization: First Lieutenant, 7th U.S. Cavalry. Place and date: At Wounded Knee Creek, S. Dak., 29 December 1890. Entered service at: Lancaster Courthouse, Va. Birth: Virginia. Date of issue: 26 March 1895. Citation: Voluntarily led a party into a ravine to dislodge Sioux Indians concealed therein. He was wounded during this action.
SULLIVAN, THOMAS Rank and organization: Private, Company E, 7th U.S. Cavalry. Place and date: At Wounded Knee Creek, S. Dak., 29 December 1890. Entered service at: Newark, N.J. Birth: Ireland. Date of issue: 17 December 1891. Citation: Conspicuous bravery in action against Indians concealed in a ravine.
Wounded Knee hill, location of Hotchkiss guns during battle and subsequent mass grave of Native American Dead.
A church was built on the hill behind the mass grave in which the victims had been buried. In 1903, descendants of those who died in the battle erected a monument at the gravesite. The memorial lists many of those who died at Wounded Knee along with an inscription that reads:
"This monument is erected by surviving relatives and other Ogalala and Cheyenne River Sioux Indians in memory of the Chief Big Foot massacre December 29, 1890. Col. Forsyth in command of US troops. Big Foot was a great chief of the Sioux Indians. He often said, 'I will stand in peace till my last day comes.' He did many good and brave deeds for the white man and the red man. Many innocent women and children who knew no wrong died here."
Beginning in 1986, the group named "Big Foot Memorial Riders" was formed to continue to honor the dead. The ceremony has attracted more participants each year and riders and their horses live with the cold weather, as well as the lack of food and water, as they retrace the path that their family members took to Wounded Knee. They carry with them a white flag to symbolize their hope for world peace, and to honor and remember the victims so that they will not be forgotten.