BLOG 39-THE BATTLE OF WOUNDED KNEE
THE BATTLE OF Wounded Knee
I shall not rest quiet in Montparnasse
I shall not lie easy at Winchelsea
You may bury my body in Sussex grass,
You may bury my tongue at Champmédy
I shall not be there, I shall rise and pass
Bury my heart at Wounded Knee.
In 1890 at the Battle of Wounded Knee federal troops fired on a group of Sioux and massacred from 150 to 370 men, women, and children. The Battle of Wounded Knee marked the end of Native American resistance to settlement. Wounded Knee, unincorporated community in South Dakota, on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. Wounded Knee was the site of two conflicts between the local Native American population and the United States government. In the late 1880s the Sioux began practicing a religion taught by Wovoka, a Paiute prophet who promised that performing the ritual ghost dance would result in the return of native lands, the rise of dead ancestors, the disappearance of the whites, and a future of eternal peace and prosperity. Nearby white settlers, frightened by the rituals, called for federal intervention. The U.S. Army believed Chief Sitting Bull to be the instigator of an impending rebellion, and he was arrested in December 1890. As he was being led away over the objections of his supporters, a gunfight erupted. Thirteen people, including Sitting Bull, were killed. His followers then fled, some to the camp of Chief Big Foot.
The Arapaho, Cheyenne, and Sioux fought white encroachment on their territory in the 1860s and 1870s; the fighting was ferocious on both sides. Among all the battles, only the Battle of the Little Bighorn is well known: On June 25, 1876, much of the 7th Cavalry Regiment under Lieutenant Colonel George Armstrong Custer was wiped out by a combined force of Sioux and Cheyenne under Sioux chiefs Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse. Within a year, however, most of the Sioux and Cheyenne surrendered, and some were relocated to Indian Territory. Other Native Americans fought on—Chief Joseph and the Nez Perce in the late 1870s, Geronimo and the Apaches as late as the 1880s. The warfare largely ended with the massacre at Wounded Knee, South Dakota, on December 29, 1890, when Sioux warriors, women, and children were slaughtered by the U.S. cavalry.
New religious movements among Native Americans have at times taken on the character of crisis cults, which respond to cultural threat with emotional rituals. In 1889 a Paiute prophet named Wovoka foretold the imminent end of the current world order. Casting himself in a messianic role that seemed to be influenced by Christian imagery, Wovoka promised that if Native Americans would conduct a ceremony known as the Ghost Dance, depleted animal populations and deceased relatives would be restored. For several years, many indigenous peoples in the western part of North America performed the ceremony, even after United States Army troops massacred Sioux ghost dancers at Wounded Knee on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota in 1890.
The 7th Cavalry pursued the Sioux to an encampment near Wounded Knee Creek. On December 29, 1890, a shot was fired within the camp and the army began shooting. Accounts of the precise events and the death toll vary considerably but it is likely that the soldiers killed between 150 and 370 Sioux men, women, and children, the great majority of whom were unarmed bystanders. Thirty-one U.S. soldiers were killed in action, many of them from fire by their own troops.
The second incident started on February 27, 1973, when armed supporters of the American Indian Movement seized and held Wounded Knee, demanding a U.S. Senate investigation of Native American problems. Federal law enforcement officers were sent to the site, and during gunfire exchanges, two Native Americans were killed and several people on both sides were injured. The siege ended 71 days later, when the Native Americans were promised that negotiations concerning their grievances would be considered. After one meeting with White House representatives and a promise of a second one, the Native Americans were informed that their treaty grievances should be referred to Congress. No further meetings took place.
A Bloody Revenge
A BLOODY REVENGE.
Sitting Bull's Men Remember Their Leader.
Troops Taken by Surprise and a Number Shot Down.
Los Angeles Times
December 30, 1890
Accounts of the conflict between Native Americans and United States soldiers at Wounded Knee, South Dakota, on December 29, 1890, vary. It is nonetheless known that the army killed hundreds of Sioux and, accidentally, many of their own men. These news dispatches reflect the prejudices many white Americans of the time felt toward the Sioux of Wounded Knee, who are referred to with such objectionable terms as “buck.” The dispatches blame the incident on the Sioux, but historians say it is unclear as to who fired the first shot. The article says almost nothing about the many innocent bystanders, women, and children who were killed that day.
Omaha (Neb.,) Dec. 29.—A Bee special from Pine Ridge says that a battle was fought last night between the hostiles and troops on Porcupine Creek. A number were killed on both sides. Capt. Wallace and other officers of lower rank of the Seventh Cavalry, are among the killed.
Chicago, Dec. 29.—The rumor received in this city this afternoon that a serious fight had occurred when the troops tried to disarm Big Foot's band, is confirmed by the receipt of the following telegram by Col. Corbin from Gen. Miles at a late hour tonight.
RAPIDCITY (S. D.,) Dec. 29.
Col. Forsythe reports that while disarming Big Foot's band a fight occurred. Capt. Wallace and a few soldiers were killed. Lieut. Garlington and fifteen men were wounded. This again complicates the surrender of all the Indians, which would have taken place in a short time had this not occurred. Forsythe had two battalions and a Hotchkiss gun.
Quite a large number of young warriors have been away from the band, which was leaving the Bad Lands: also quite a number of Two Strike's band, going toward Forsythe. The troops are in close proximity.
A special dispatch from the scene of the battle gives the following partial list of casualties:
Killed—Capt. Wallace, K troop; private Cook, B troop.
Wounded—Father Crafts, Catholic missionary, probably fatally; Privates Stone, Sullivan, Smith, Davis, Hazelwood, Toohey, Adams, B troop; Lieut. Garlington, Lieut. Kinzie, Interpreter Wells, Sergt. Lloyd, Sergt. Camell, Sergt. Dyer, Corp. Newell and Trumpeter Choedenson....
The correspondent expresses the belief that not one of Big Foot's band will be left alive tonight.
Lincoln (Neb.,) Dec. 29.—The State Journal has from its special correspondent the following story of the fight between the troops and Big Foot's Indians at the camp at Wounded Knee:
At 8 o'clock this morning the troops were massed about the Indian village, the Hotchkiss guns overlooking the camp, not fifty yards away. Col. Forsythe ordered all the Indians to come forward, away from the tents. They came and sat in a half-circle until counted. The dismounted troops were then thrown around them, Company K, Capt. Wallace, and Company B, Capt. Varnum.
The order was then given to twenty of the Indians to go and get their guns. They returned with only two guns. A detachment of troops at once began to search the villages, finding thirty-eight guns. As this task was about completed, the Indians, surrounded by Companies K and B, began to move. All of a sudden they threw their blankets to the ground, whipped up the rifles and began firing rapidly at the troops, not twenty feet away. The troops were at great disadvantage, fearing to shoot their own comrades. The Indian men, women and children then ran to the south, the battery firing rapidly as they ran. Soon the mounted troops were after them, shooting them down on every hand. The engagement lasted fully an hour and a half. To the south many took refuge in a ravine, from which it was difficult to dislodge them. I should estimate the killed and wounded, from what I saw on the field and vicinity, at fifty. Just now it is impossible to state the exact number. The soldiers are shooting them down wherever found.
The field was one of great confusion, horses running in every direction and the men, for a few moments, frantic owing to the unfortunate way they were placed. Capt. Wallace was the only officer killed. In the first mad rush of the Indians, those of them who had not guns attacked the troopers with knives, clubs and tomahawks and poor Capt. Wallace was struck down with a blow from a hatchet on the head. Father Craft, a Catholic missionary, received a bullet wound which will probably result fatally. Lieut. Garlington of Arctic exploration fame, received a serious wound in the arm. A number of noncommissioned officers and privates were wounded, probably twenty-five or thirty in all. Several of these are likely to die. I cannot at this time give the names of all the wounded. As the dispatch is being written the troops are still pursuing the Indians in every direction.
The correspondent says that the Indians must have been mad to have attacked the number of soldiers who were gathered about them, there being only 120 bucks. The treacherous deed coming at the time it did was a surprise, and the correspondent doubts if any of the indians will be left alive to tell the tale when the soldiers get through their day's work. The members of the Seventh Cavalry have once more shown themselves heroes in deeds of daring. Single conflicts of great bravery were seen all over the field.
Source: Los Angeles Times, December 30, 1890.
Wounded Knee Survivors' Statements
In the 1930s government investigators collected statements from some of the survivors of the 7th Calvary’s 1890 attack on Native Americans camped at Wounded Knee Creek on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. The statements, published in 1940 by James H. McGregor, a retired superintendent of the United States Indian Service, provide a poignant footnote to the last official battle in the American Indian wars.
From The Wounded Knee Massacre from the Viewpoint of the Survivors
Louise Weasel Bear
You can see me, I am sick and I hurt every day. The soldiers nearly kill me. I never done them any harm or any other white man. That Massacre was very wrong to the Indians and Big Foot [leader of the encampment] didn't want to fight the soldiers. He always had a white flag so that they would know he was for peace and for the treaty.
The soldiers did not fire in our camp till the guns were put down at Big Foot's teepee. Before they shot us some of them came to our tents and wagons and the women. They took our knives and axes. After this they killed us and our children. We tried to run but they shot us like we were buffalo. I know there are some good white people, but the soldiers must be mean to shoot children and women. Indian soldiers would not do that to white children.
Mrs. Mousseau (Medicine Woman)
These people have told the whole history of the event. The only thing I can add to that is that I was shot, and the white men were so thick here like a whole pile of maggots. One white man with a Roman nose seemed to have a whole lot to do with me. Every now and then he felt me around the waist to see if I had any knives. I threw my blanket back and showed them I didn't have anything. They took everything away from us that had a sharp point, any metal that had a sharp point, then fired on us. I had my brother with me. The smoke was awful thick. We were making our getaway. We had a child with us. The child was dead; my mother was packing it although it was dead. Right below here was where I was shot, right on this little bench here. All of those are my relatives, my nephews and I had an uncle here. All up and down here it looked as though something was sacked up and spread all over here. There was some smoke and all of the women were headed down toward the store. My right arm was broken and I can just use my left hand now. I hardly remember anything. I was quite excited. The soldiers followed us up and kept firing. My mother and I kept going until we got to the spot these people had referred to, the end of the ravine; when we got there we were charged by the Army, they came in two squads.
After my mother and I passed that place, here these men were surrounded, if we had remained there we probably would have been killed. I just went over these ridges. My arm was not cared for, I had nothing to eat, it was bleeding but I just kept on moving. We followed on down to Wounded Knee Creek. Mother and I stayed there and there was quite a snow storm that night; we didn't have any bedding. There was a shack on the old mail route over here that time, that is where we went. We stayed there two days. We didn't have anything to eat or drink and we were found in that condition by the Indian Scouts and were taken to the Agency.
Bertha Kills Close to Lodge
I was 17 years old at the time of the Massacre and I was a member of the Big Foot band that was en route here. The object of coming over here was to visit relatives and to make a general visit and that is all I know anything about, I was not interested in anything else. I came over here for that purpose. Arriving here I saw the soldiers were camped here on east and we were camped on the west side below from here. The following morning some men announced we were to break camp. In the meantime while they were calling they were issuing hardtack and we were packing up ready to travel. I was standing against the wagon looking this way when the men were called to the center. I noticed that all the men gathered together in the center. I also noticed that the soldiers were all along the ridge and right in here some were loading guns. Seems as though they were taking guns on down to the center. They also came over to where I was standing and my father had a gun and they took that, came along on the edge of camp over to where they were stacking the arms. Shortly after that there was some more soldiers came over to where I was and they searched our wagon, throwing down our dishes what we had packed in the wagon and took our knives, axes and awls and anything that could be used for a weapon. Shortly after that they left starting this way. The children dropped some of the hardtack and I stooped over to pick some up and just about that time, what appeared to me was a severe hail stone just rattled right under the wagon. Right after that I started in a southeastern direction, and as I went on I could see men that were shot down by the soldiers but the smoke got so severe I couldn't see much so I went on a little way and started in a northern direction. There my mother and I and three aunts and some of the children, who were small at that time got to the head of the ravine. While we are lying there, there was an Indian scout above us. I had a younger sister pretty seriously wounded, got to asking for water. Just about that time the scout went and got some water for my sister and my mother asked him who he was and he said he was Feather On Head. The scout then came over and, of course, we were having trouble with my wounded sister. I had another little sister that had gotten away from us in this affair and she was wounded in the leg and crying. One of my aunts, this is the mother of James Big Hawk, cried and said that all her sons were killed and she didn't care to live. So we took one of the children and started back this way. There was some firing over there. One of my aunts ran back to where she was and found out they had shot and killed her. I went over there and it was my sister and her mother who was pregnant at that time. I found she was killed. I was wounded but able to go to where they were. My sister was near death and I stayed with her. When she died I straightened her out, laid her out the best way I could. We were all brought up here, loaded in the wagons in bad condition and were taken to the Agency.
In listening to all the statements made here in the past two days, I find out that they were telling actual facts. I am not going to tell anything different from what they were telling. I am going to tell such events as I saw. We met the soldiers on the other side of Porcupine Butte near the home of a man. In coming towards the soldiers we saw they had two cannons erected and their guns in position to fire. We were not on the warpath, had no intentions of fighting but we came right up to where they stood. We had along with us Chief Big Foot, who was very sick. They placed him in a buggy and came on with him. Right down below here is where we camped and to the left of us is where the soldiers were camped. The following morning all the men were called together so I came to where they were. They called for guns and arms so all of us gave the guns and they were stacked up in the center. It was understood that just as soon as all the guns were stacked in the center we were to continue on to Pine Ridge Agency. Big Foot was placed right in the doorway of the tent and I stood right to his left side. I could see that there was commotion among the soldiers and I saw on looking back they had their guns in position ready to fire. There were two officers in the center; the one that was standing to the left gave a command in a loud voice then we couldn't see anything for smoke. The smoke was so dense I couldn't see anything so I didn't make a move just stood there. When it cleared up a little I was going to start to go away when I looked to my right side, I saw Big Foot lying down with blood on his forehead and his head to the right side. I never knew that they would take advantage of a sick man. That is the first time I ever saw that happen. I went a little ways then. I was knocked down, I was unconscious for a little while. I was shot then and wounded and I went to this little wide cut bank and there I found that we were surrounded by soldiers. Some already wounded, some dead, but continued to fire on us. There is no reason for shooting at us twice. They had already shot at us. I stayed there all day with these young fellows, boys then, and since then I have been unable to use my left arm but I struggle along. I want to say, I am not much of a storyteller, but this I desire to say that prior to this time, there had never been an Agent that has taken the interest in us as the present Agent has done and we appreciate what he has done for us and we all thank him for it. Also, I desire to say what he has done for us is the same as wiping away our tears. I want all the survivors to always remember this man and what he has done for us. I want to thank him very sincerely for all of us. That is what I want to say about our appreciation.
John Little Finger
The soldiers after surrounding us they lined the Indians up and took their weapons away from them and took them to a distance and lay them there, so they were without any arms. There was a soldier at the same time going around the camp outside where the women folks were and taking from them weapons, butcher knives, and anything that could be used as weapons, and put them in one place. Just about the taking knives and other things away from the women time the soldiers that were going around these camps folks, I noticed that a line of infantry was standing nearby and had been commanded to load their guns and at that moment they gave us to believe that they were going to do some shooting, so at that time this infantry began loading their guns I saw that there seems to commence some trouble. I stepped out and then I struck through their lines to try to get away. Just as I was working from this line, that moment, I heard a white man's voice at the other end, sound just like somebody calling like, 'hey.' When that sound was made, it was about the same time that the report of the guns came in one sound. The soldiers commenced to shoot at that moment. When the soldiers started to shoot I ran to get away and before I could get to the deep place there was already some Indians shot and killed. A lot of them shot down and I stepped on some of them already shot down, but I kept on going until I reached the cannon this side of the store. When I reached the ravine, of course, there was a lot of Indians following up the ravine and I was with them, and on each side of this ravine soldiers were shooting down on us until we got so far we couldn't go any further as a line of soldiers got in front of us so we took refuge in a big ravine. In this ravine where we took refuge, most of them were women and children and, of course, defenseless and helpless; above them the soldiers just got near them and shot these people down. This was kept up until I heard a voice, an Indian voice, calling from some place in a very far distance, saying that these Indians were to come out of there because fighting is not to be continued, so some of these, not yet killed, left the big ravine of refuge and they went up on the flat, but I was not with them, because I was shot through in two places, one through my leg and my foot, so I crawled along until I got over where those that were ahead of me sat in a circle up there and the soldiers were surrounding them. I got up on the flat, a little distance from them and they started to shoot them again and killing them, of course, those that were not shot down tried to get away. At the moment there was a number of old men, Indians, came up over the hill and they were on horseback and had guns, but was some distance from us but when the soldiers saw them they took on a run, so that it shows that when the soldiers that were killing us, saw that the Indians were our friends and that they might make a charge on them they lost their bravery and started to run. After the soldiers left that place, these Indians on horseback came down to the place where I was and they helped me on a pony and they took me over to the Agency, and this is my own experience. This is what I remember.
Mrs. Alice Dog Arm (or Kills Plenty)
We were taken to the soldiers camp on Wounded Knee and we got there about the time the sun went down the hill in the West. We got some food from the soldiers and after eating it we finished making our camp for the night. We were strictly guarded by the soldiers all through the night.
We arose early the next morning to make further movement. While we were doing this they took all the guns away from us and then took things from our tents and bed rolls.
I saw a soldier on a bay horse riding towards us and soon after that they began to shoot us. Bullets came from all directions already killing many women, children and men. I ran and hid in a ditch with my mother and two brothers. My father came and took my older brother to care for him. Soon he came back and said that they had killed my brother. Then my mother cried and as she wanted us all to be together and die together so my father took us to a safer hiding place and then he left us and soon a man named Air Pipe came and told us that my father was killed.…
Afraid of the Enemy
I am 78 years old, so you can judge that I know quite a lot of things which occurred. I am not going to talk about these creeks and rivers. I know that I was with Big Foot's band that was called over here. We came over here to see some of the Oglala Chiefs and just unconcerned about anything else. When we saw the soldiers coming we tied a white flag to a pole and held it so the soldiers could see it. We went into camp with them and I never thought that anything would happen. I saw some of the soldiers and Indians and some of my relations and was not afraid of anything that evening. I went over to see Big Foot in a soldiers' tent where he was sick.
The next morning the officer told Big Foot that they wanted all his guns. He was our chief and we looked to him to say something but he was coughing all the time. Finally he said you men better give him your guns, we are not on this trip to do any fighting but we came over here to see our relatives and to be at Red Cloud's council. Shortly after that the soldiers started out among the Indians searching them and they went to our tents to search for things.
We were a band of people that respected God and we did not think there was going to be any harm done. I looked over and saw an officer on a sorrel horse coming around the left end of the camp. I heard him give some command and right after the command it sounded like a lightning crash. That is about all I know. When I became conscious I was lying down. As I arose and started to go I began to get unconscious again. For that reason I do not know a great deal of what took place after this. I have my old cloak and it has nine bullet holes in it. I am shot all through the body and I may die anytime from the effects of those wounds. I was bleeding from my nose and mouth. I want my good friends to tell the good white people what they did to us here at Wounded Knee. We know he is our friend and we know that some white people are good friends of the Indians, but most of them do not like us and not have sympathy for us poor Indians. The missionaries have been good friends to the Indians and love them. We don't have hate in our hearts for the white people, but the soldiers tried to murder us and we want the Government to find out the truth, not like the picture show that came here and had the Indians to act just like they wanted but not the truth.
Mrs. Rough Feather
I started from Cherry Creek with Big Foot's band. We were going to Pine Ridge to visit relatives. I am now 73 years old but I remember lots of things that happened. I was a widow and was with my parents. The soldiers met us near the Porcupine Butte, and after they talked to Big Foot we went on to Wounded Knee Creek, where the soldiers were camped and we camped there too. The next morning we were getting ready to break camp when the Indian men were ordered by the soldiers to come to the center of the camp and bring all their guns. After they did this, the soldiers came to where the Indian women were and searched the tents and the wagons for arms. They made us give up axes, crowbars, knives, awls, etc. About this time an awful noise was heard and I was paralyzed for a time. Then my head cleared and I saw nearly all the people on the ground bleeding. I could move some now, so I ran to a cut bank and lay down there. I saw some of the other Indians running up the coulee so I ran with them, but the soldiers kept shooting at us and the bullets flew all around us, and a bullet went between my legs but I was not hit one time. My father, my mother, my grandmother, my older brother and my younger brother were all killed. My son who was two years old was shot in the mouth that later caused his death.
We had ten horses, harness, wagon, tent, buffalo robes, and I had a good Navajo blanket. All this property was lost or taken by the Government or other people. I had a hard time in my life and you can see that I am having a hard time now. It is cold weather and this is an old house and I suffer from cold. It is hard to get wood as we have to go a long way to get it.
I was in Montana, where they had a big battle with Custer, and the Indians won and then lots of soldiers came and we escaped to Canada. I was only about ten years old then and don't know much about that, but remember hearing lots of guns and hearing lots of war-hoops. After a while we went to Standing Rock Reservation for four years, then I went to Rosebud for a short time and then to Cherry Creek, where Big Foot was camping.
Rough Feather, whom I married two years after the Massacre, was there too, and he gave his statement at the meeting you had at Wounded Knee. He saw lots of wounded Indians; so he got a team and a wagon and picked up some of his wounded relatives and took them to Pine Ridge and put them in the church that they were using for a hospital. Is the Government going to pay us for what they did to us?
Charley Blue Arm
To start with I want to say that I was among those that were with Big Foot. We were over here at the Porcupine Butte when we saw soldiers. We had no intention of carrying on any warfare so we stuck up a white flag tied to a stick. From there we moved on to right below this hill and camped along the creek and there the soldiers were camped right down below the hill here. The next morning the Indians were told to gather at Big Foot's tent for a meeting, so the men started over to the center and I was among them. When we got there it was not a meeting but just to tell us to give up our guns. I saw all those that had guns give them up and those that did not have guns were sent back to their tents to get them. I saw more Indians come with some guns and piled them up with the rest. After this the soldiers went among the Indians, threw back their blankets looked at their belts to see if they had any knives or other things that could be used to fight with and they took away anything that they did not want the Indians to have. Over where the Indian women were packing and getting ready to move on to Pine Ridge, I saw more soldiers hunting the bed rolls and blankets and they took the axes, knives and hammers and started like they were going to put them in a pile with the other things near Big Foot's tent.
I do not understand English but was told that one of the officers gave a command. I did not hear a gun before the big crash came from the soldiers. After that I saw many Indians lying dead around the truce flag or white flag that our Chief kept flying all the time, so that the soldiers would know that we were at peace. The truce flag was shot down too. After that I started to the creek and on the way I saw a great number of men, women and children dead or wounded and bleeding. I went on past them down into the creek as I saw a few others running there to get protection.
At the time I was running to get in the creek, two cannons on the hill, near where the front door of the church now is, were firing at the Indians that were trying to escape, and the bullets hit the dirt all around us and, of course, that made us run faster, for we knew that they were trying to kill all of us. When we got a little ways up the creek where the bullets could not reach us we laid down as we were all tired out and frightened and besides we were worried about our relatives. We had to stay hid all day till the sun went down, and then the soldiers seemed to be away and we went out to hunt for our people. We knew that the women and children if not killed were hiding around somewhere and, of course, we did not want to slip away and leave them even if the soldiers might shoot at us as we hunted our wives and children.