2008: Wounded Knee Massacre

Never Forget

December 29, 2008 marks 118 years since the massacre at Wounded

There were many many many massacres in the history of Indigenous
people of what is now the Americas. And we should take time to
remember them, no matter your nation.

So take some time today to remember the people who died at Wounded
Knee and many others.
A little history about Wounded Knee

By TIM GIAGO (NANWICA KCIJI)
Special to McClatchy Tribune

While Americans agonize over the contents of the Iraq Study Group report and weigh
the options of extricating U.S. soldiers from the middle of a civil war, the people of the
Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota will gather on a lonely hill overlooking the
demolished village of Wounded Knee — destroyed during the occupation of the
American Indian Movement in 1973 and never rebuilt — to commemorate and grieve the
massacre of their ancestors.

It was after a night so cold that the Lakota called it “The Moon of the Popping Trees,”
because as the winter winds whistled through the hills and gullies at Wounded Knee
Creek on the morning of Dec. 29, 1890, one could hear the twigs snapping in the frigid
air.

When a soldier of George Armstrong Custer’s former troop, the 7th Cavalry, tried to
wrest a hidden rifle from a deaf Lakota warrior after all of the other weapons had
already been confiscated from Sitanka’s (Big Foot) band of Lakota people, the
deafening report of that single shot caused pandemonium among the soldiers and they
opened up with their Hotchkiss machine guns upon the unarmed men, women and
children.

Thus began an action the government called a “battle” and the Lakota people called a
“massacre.” The Lakota people say that only 50 people of the original 350 followers
of Sitanka survived that morning of slaughter.

One of the survivors, a Lakota woman, was treated by the Indian physician Dr. Charles
Eastman at a makeshift hospital in a church in the village of Pine Ridge. Before
she died of her wounds, she told about how she had concealed herself in a clump of
bushes. As she hid there she saw two terrified little girls running past. She grabbed
them and pulled them into the bushes.

She put her hands over their mouths to keep them quiet, but a mounted soldier spotted
them. He fired a bullet into the head of one girl, then calmly reloaded his rifle and
fired into the head of the other girl. He then fired into the body of the Lakota woman.
She feigned death and, although badly wounded, lived long enough to relate her
terrible ordeal to Dr. Eastman. She said that as she lay there pretending to be dead,
the soldier leaned down from his horse, used his rifle to lift up her dress in order to
see her private parts, then snickered and rode off.

As the shooting subsided, units of the 7th Cavalry rode off toward White Clay Creek
near Pine Ridge Village on a search-and-destroy mission. When they rode onto the
grounds of Holy Rosary Indian Mission, my grandmother Sophie, a student at the
mission school, and the other Lakota children, were forced by the Jesuit priests to feed
and water their horses.

My grandmother never forgot that terrible day, and she often talked about how the
soldiers were laughing and bragging about their great victory. She recalled one soldier
saying, “Remember the Little Big Horn.”

The Massacre at Wounded Knee was called the last great battle between the United
States and the Indians. The true version of the events of that day were polished and
sanitized for the consumption of most Americans. Twenty-three soldiers of the 7th
Cavalry were awarded this nation’s highest honor, the Medal of Honor, for the murder of
nearly 300 innocent and unarmed men, women and children.

Although 25 soldiers died that day, historians believe that most of them died of friendly
fire when they were caught in the crossfire of the machine guns. Many Lakota have
tried in vain to have those medals revoked.

Before they died, the Lakota warriors fought the soldiers with their bare hands as they
shouted to the women and children, “Inyanka po, inyanka po! (Run, run).” The
elderly men, unable to fight back, fell on their knees and sang their death songs. The
screams and the cries of the women and children hung in the air like a heavy fog.

When I was a young boy I lived at Wounded Knee. By then the name of the village had
been changed to Brennan to honor a Bureau of Indian Affairs superintendent, but all
of the Lakota knew why the name was changed. Because although the government
tried various ways to conceal the truth, the Lakota people never forgot; they always
referred to the hallowed grounds as Wounded Knee, and they continued to come to the
mass grave to pray, even though it was roundly discouraged by the government.

As a child I walked along the banks of Wounded Knee Creek and I often had an uneasy
feeling, it was as if I could hear the cries of little children. Whenever I visited the
trading post where my father worked I would listen to the elders as they sat on the
benches in front of the store and spoke in whispered voices as they pointed at the hills
and gullies. Never did I read about that horrible day in the history books used at the
mission school I attended.

Two ironies still haunt me. Six days after the bloody massacre the editor of the
Aberdeen (S.D.) Saturday Pioneer wrote in his editorial, “The Pioneer has before
declared
that our only safety depends upon the total extermination of the Indians. Having
wronged them for centuries, we had better, in order to protect our civilizations, follow it
up
by one more wrong and wipe these untamed and untamable creatures from the face of
the earth.”

The author of that editorial was L. Frank Baum, who later went on to write that famous
children’s book, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. In calling for genocide against my
grandmother and the rest of the Lakota people, he placed the final punctuation upon a
day that will forever live in infamy amongst the Lakota.

And finally, as the dead and dying lay in the makeshift hospital in the Episcopal Church
in Pine Ridge Village, Dr. Eastman paused to read the sign above the entrance
that read, “Peace on Earth, Goodwill to Men.”

Tim Giago, an Oglala Lakota, is the founder and first president of the Native American
Journalists Association. najournalists@ rushmore. com

Military Department of the Missouri Telegraph dispatch to Washington, D.C. on Dec.
19, 1890
Commanding General Nelson A. Miles
“The difficult Indian problem cannot be solved permanently at this end of the line. It
requires the fulfillment of Congress of the treaty obligations which the Indians were
entreated and coerced into signing… Congress has been in session now for several
weeks, and could in a single hour confirm the treaty and appropriate the funds for its
fulfillment; and, unless the officers of the army can give positive assurance that the
Government intends to act in good faith with these people, the loyal element will be
diminished, and the hostile element increased.”

Black Elk
Lakota
“… My people looked pitiful. There was a big drought, and the rivers and creeks
seemed to be dying. Nothing would grow that the people had planted, and the Wasichus
had been sending less cattle and other food than ever before. The Wasichus had
slaughtered all the bison and shut us up in pens. It looked as if we might all starve to
death. We could not eat lies, and there was nothing we could do….”

L. Frank Baum
Editor and Publisher, The Aberdeen Saturday Pioneer
December 1890
“Sitting Bull, most renowned Sioux of modern history, is dead. He was an Indian with a
white man’s spirit of hatred and revenge for those who had wronged him and his…
With his fall the nobility of the Redskin is extinguished and what few are left are a pack
of whining curs who lick the hand that smites them. The Whites, by law of conquest,
by justice of civilization, are masters of the American continent, and the best safety of
the frontier settlements will be secured by the total annihilation of the few remaining
Indians….”

Commanding General Nelson A. Miles
“I was in command when what is known as the Messiah Craze and threatened uprising
of the Indians occurred… During this time the tribe, under Big Foot, moved from
their reservation to near Red Cloud Agency in South Dakota under a flag of truce.
They numbered over 400 souls. They were intercepted by a command under Lt. Col.
Whiteside, who demanded their surrender, which they complied with, and moved that
afternoon some two or three miles and camped where they were directed to do,
near the camp of the troops.”

Black Elk
Lakota
“It was now near the end of the Moon of Popping Trees and I was 27 years old.
(December 1890) We heard that Big Foot was coming down from the Badlands with
nearly
four hundred people. Some of these were from Sitting Bull’s band. They had run away
when Sitting Bull was killed, and joined Big Foot on Good River. There were only
about a hundred warriors in his band, and all the others were women and children and
some old men. They were all starving and freezing, and Big Foot was so sick that
they had to bring him along in a pony drag. When they crossed Smoky Earth River,
they followed up Medicine Root Creek to its head. Soldiers were over there looking for
them. The soldiers had everything and were not freezing and starving. Near Porcupine
Butte the soldiers came up to the Big Foots, and they surrendered and went along
with the soldiers to Wounded Knee Creek.”

Commanding General Nelson A. Miles
“During the night Colonel Forsyth joined the command with reinforcements of several
troops of the 7th Calvary. The next morning he deployed his troops around the
camp, placed two pieces of artillery in position, and demanded the surrender of the
arms of the warriors. This was complied with by the warriors going out from camp and
placing the arms on the ground where they were directed. Chief Big Foot, an old man,
sick at the time and unable to walk, was taken out of a wagon and laid on the
ground.”

Dewey Beard
Lakota
“… I did not sleep that night – did not lie down till morning – was afraid – could not rest
or be quiet or easy. There was great uneasiness among the Indians all night; they
were up most of the night – were fearful that they were to be killed….”

Philip F. Wells
Interpreter for General Forsyth
“I was interpreting for General Forsyth… The captured Indians had been ordered to
give up their arms, but Big Foot replied that his people had no arms. Forsyth said to
me, ‘ Tell Big Foot he says the Indians have no arms, yet yesterday they were well
armed when they surrendered. He is deceiving me. Tell him he need have no fear in
giving up his arms, as I wish to treat him kindly…’ Big Foot replied, ‘They have no guns,
except such as you have found. I collected all my guns at the Cheyenne River
Agency and turned them in. They were all burned.’ They had about a dozen old-
fashioned guns, tied together with strings – not a decent one in the lot….”

Joseph Horn Cloud
Lakota
“While this was going on, the same officers said to the Indians, ‘I want you all to stand in
a rank before the officers… I want the same number of soldiers to stand in front
of the Indians and take the cartridges out of the guns and cock them and aim at their
foreheads and pull the triggers. After this you will be free.’ Some of the Indians were
getting wild at such talk and some said, ‘Now he sees that we have nothing in our
hands, so he talks this way.’ Others said, ‘We are not children to be talked to like this.’ A
man cried out:’Take courage! Take courage!’ Big Foot spoke up, ‘Yes, take courage.
There are too many children and old people.'”

Philip F. Wells
Interpreter for General Forsyth
“During this time a medicine man, gaudily dressed and fantastically painted, executed
the maneuvers of the ghost dance, raising and throwing dust into the air. He
exclaimed, ‘Ha! Ha! as he did so, meaning he was about to do something terrible, and
said, I have lived long enough,’ meaning he would fight until he died. Turing to the
young warriors, who were squatted together, he said, ‘Do not fear, but let your hearts
be strong. Many soldiers are about us and have many bullets, but I am assured their
bullets cannot penetrate us. The prairie is large, and their bullets will fly over the
prairies and will not come toward us. If they do come toward us, they will float away like
dust in the air.’ Then the young warriors exclaimed, ‘How!’ with great earnestness,
meaning they would back the medicine man… Whiteside then said to me, ‘Tell the
Indians it is necessary they be searched one at a time.’ The old Indians assented
willingly by answering, ‘How!’ and the search began. The young warriors paid no
attention to what I told them, but the old men – five or six of them – sitting next to us,
passed through the lines and submitted to search.”

Dewey Beard
Lakota
“…Most of the Indians had given up their arms; there were a few standing with their
guns, but the soldiers had not been to them. The knives were piled up in the center of
the council; some young men had their guns and knives, but they had not been asked
yet for them. There was a deaf Indian named Black Coyote who did not want to give
up his gun; he did not understand what they were giving up their arms for… The
struggle for the gun was short, the muzzle pointed upward toward the east and the gun
was discharged. In an instant a volley followed as one shot, and the people began
falling….”

Philip F. Wells
Interpreter for General Forsyth
“…I heard someone on my left exclaim, ‘Look out ! Look out !’ Turning my head and
bringing my arms to port, I saw five or six young warriors cast off their blankets and pull
guns out from under them and brandish them in the air. One of the warriors shot into
the soldiers, who were ordered to fire into the Indians… I heard a shot from the midst
of the Indians. As I started to cock my rifle, I looked in the direction of the medicine man.
He or some other medicine man approached to within three or four feet of me with
a long cheese knife, ground to a sharp point and raised it to stab me. The fight
between us prevented my seeing anything else at the time. He stabbed me during the
melee and nearly cut off my nose. I held him off until I could swing my rifle to hit him,
which I did. I shot and killed him in self-defense and as an act of war as soon as I
could gain room to aim my rifle and fire….”

Charles W. Allen
Editor of Chadron Democrat
“… The fighting continued for about half an hour, then was continued in skirmish for
another hour. When the smoke cleared away from in front of the tent where it began,
there were 45 dead Indians with their impregnable ghost shirts on laying dead on a
space of ground about 200 yards in diameter.”

Dewey Beard
Lakota
“…I was badly wounded and pretty weak too. While I was lying on my back, I looked
down the ravine and saw a lot of women coming up and crying. When I saw these
women, girls and little girls and boys coming up, I saw soldiers on both sides of the
ravine shoot at them until they had killed every one of them… Going a little further, (I )
came upon my mother who was moving slowly, being very badly wounded… When (I)
caught up to her, she said, ‘My son, pass by me; I am going to fall down now.’ As
she went up, soldiers on both sides of the ravine shot at her and killed her… (I) heard
the Hotchkiss or Gatling guns shooting at them along the bank. Now there went up
from these dying people a medley of death songs that would make the hardest heart
weep. Each one sings a different death song if he chooses. The death song is
expressive of their wish to die. It is also a requiem for the dead. It expresses that the
singer is anxious to die too….”

American Horse
Lakota
“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
what 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.”

Thomas H. Tibbles
Omaha World Herald
“Though the active attack lasted perhaps twenty minutes, the firing continued for an
hour or two, whenever a soldier saw a sign of life. Indian women and children fled into
the ravine to the south, and some of them on up out of it across the prairie, but the
soldiers followed them and shot them down mercilessly. ”

Corporal Paul H. Weinert:
Awarded Medal of Honor for role at Wounded Knee
“They kept yelling at me to come back, and I kept yelling for a cool gun – there were
three more on the hill not in use. Bullets were coming like hail from the Indians’
Winchesters. The wheels of my gun were bored full of holes and our clothing was
marked in several places. Once a cartridge was knocked out of my hand just as I was
about to put it in the gun, and it’s a wonder the cartridge didn’t explode. I kept going in
farther, and pretty soon everything was quiet and at the other end of the line.”

Cavalryman
“Slowly, for the sake of the wounded, the long column left the battlefield where the reds
were lying as dark spots in the winter night and their sign of peace, the white flag,
was moving gently with the wind.”

Black Elk
Lakota
“It was a good winter day when all this happened. The sun was shining. But after the
soldiers marched away from their dirty work, a heavy snow began to fall. The wind
came up in the night. There was a big blizzard, and it grew very cold. The snow drifted
deep in the crooked gulch, and it was one long grave of butchered women and
children and babies, who had never done any harm and were only trying to run away.”

Commanding General Nelson A. Miles
“…A detachment of soldiers was sent into the camp to search for any arms remaining
there, and it was reported that their rudeness frightened the women and children. It
was also reported that a remark was made by one of the soldiers that “when we get the
arms away from them we can do as we please with them,” indicating that they
were to be destroyed. Some of the Indians could understand English. This and other
things alarmed the Indians and [a] scuffle occurred between one warrior who had [a]
rifle in his hand and two soldiers. The rifle was discharged and a massacre occurred,
not only the warriors but the sick Chief Big Foot, and a large number of women and
children who tried to escape by running and scattering over the prairie were hunted
down and killed.”

Thomas H. Tibbles
Omaha World Herald
“Nothing I have seen in my whole… life ever affected or depressed or haunted me like
the scenes I saw that night in that church. One un-wounded old woman… held a
baby on her lap… I handed a cup of water to the old woman, telling her to give it to the
child, who grabbed it as if parched with thirst. As she swallowed it hurriedly, I saw it
gush right out again, a bloodstained stream, through a hole in her neck.”
Heartsick, I went to… find the surgeon… For a moment he stood there near the door,
looking over the mass of suffering and dying women and children… The silence they
kept was so complete that it was oppressive… Then to my amazement I saw that the
surgeon, who I knew had served in the Civil War, attending the wounded… from the
Wilderness to Appomattox, began to grow pale… ‘This is the first time I’ve seen a lot of
women and children shot to pieces,’ he said. ‘I can’t stand it’….
Out at Wounded Knee, because a storm set in, followed by a blizzard, the bodies of the
slain Indians lay untouched for three days, frozen stiff from where they had fallen.
Finally they were buried in a large trench dug on the battlefield itself. On that third day
Colonel Colby… saw the blanket of a corpse move… Under the blanket, snuggled up
to its dead mother, he found a suckling baby girl.”

Commanding General Nelson A. Miles
Army investigations of Wounded Knee
“I would like to send a delegation to Washington to receive assurance of the higher
authority of good intentions of the Government towards them. This will answer a
double purpose, namely, satisfy them, bridge over the transition period between war
and peace, dispel distrust and hostility, and restore confidence; it will also be a
guarantee of peace while they are absent.”

Black Elk
Lakota
“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 along the crooked gulch as plain as when I saw them with eyes still 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…”

Personal accounts of Wounded Knee taken from interviews by Eli S. Ricker, Black Elk
Speaks as well as reports and testimony relating to the Army investigation of the
Battle of Wounded Knee and the Sioux Campaign of 1890-91.

Maj. Gewi Redhawks Jones Jr.
Commanding Indian Battalion
Thomas Legion.
Dept. of East Tenn. and Western North Carolina