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Lakota~The Massacre at Wounded Knee
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After Sitting Bull's death, Big Foot feared for the safety of his band, which consisted in large part of widows of the Plains wars and their children. Big Foot himself had been placed on the list of "fomenters of disturbances," and his arrest had been ordered.
He led his band toward Pine Ridge, hoping for the protection of Red Cloud. However, he fell ill from pneumonia on the trip and was forced to travel in the back of a wagon. As they neared Porcupine Creek on December 28, the band saw 4 troops of cavalry approaching. A white flag was immediately run up over Big Foot's wagon. When the two groups met, Big Foot raised up from his bed of blankets to greet Major Samuel Whitside of the Seventh Cavalry. His blankets were stained with blood and blood dripped from his nose as he spoke.
Whitside informed him of his orders to take the band to their camp on Wounded Knee Creek. Big Foot replied that they were going that way, to Pine Ridge. The major wanted to disarm the Indians right then but was dissuaded by his scout John Shangreau, in order to avoid a fight on the spot. They agreed to wait to undertake this until they reached camp. Then, in a moment of sympathy, the major ordered his army ambulance brought forward to accept the ill Minneconjou chief, providing a warmer and more comfortable ride. They then proceeded toward the camp at Wounded Knee Creek, led by two cavalry troops with the other two troops bringing up the rear with their Hotchkiss guns. They reached the camp at twilight.
At the camp, the Indians were carefully counted; there were 120 men and 230 women and children. Major Whitside decided to wait until morning to disarm the band. They were assigned a camp site just to the south of the cavalry camp, given rations, and provided with several tents as there was a shortage of tepee covers. A stove was provided for Big Foot's tent and the doctor was sent to give aid to the chief. To guarantee against escape from the camp, two troops of cavalry were posted around the Indian tents and the Hotchkiss guns were placed on the top of a rise overlooking the camp. The guns were aimed directly at the lodges.
During the night the rest of the Seventh Cavalry marched in and set up north of Major Whitside's troops. Two more Hotchkiss guns were placed beside the two already aimed at the lodges. Colonel John Forsyth took over command of the operation and informed Major Whitside that he had orders to take the band to the railroad to be shipped to a military prison in Omaha.
In the morning a bugle call awakened the camp and the men were told to come to the center of the camp for a talk. After the talk they would move to Pine Ridge. Big Foot was brought out and seated before his tent. The older men of the band gathered around him. Hardtack was issued for breakfast. Then the Indians were informed that they would be disarmed. They stacked their guns in the center, but the soldiers were not satisfied. The soldiers went through the tents, bringing out bundles and tearing them open, throwing knives, axes, and tent stakes into the pile. Then they ordered searches of the individual warriors. The Indians became very angry but only one spoke out, the medicine man, Yellow Bird. He danced a few steps of the Ghost Dance and chanted in Sioux, telling the Indians that the bullets would not hurt them, they would go right by.
The search found only two rifles, one brand new, belonging to a young man named Black Coyote. He raised it over his head and cried out that he had spent much money for the rifle and that it belonged to him. Black Coyote was deaf and therefore did not respond promptly to the demands of the soldiers. He would have been convinced to put it down by the Sioux, but that option was not possible. He was grabbed by the soldiers and spun around. Then a shot was heard; its source is not clear but it began the killing. The only arms the Indians had were what they could grab from the pile. When the Hotchkiss guns opened up, shrapnel shredded the lodges, killing men, women and children, indiscriminately. They tried to run but were shot down "like buffalo," women and children alike.
When the mass insanity of the soldiers ended, 153 dead were counted, including Big Foot; but many of the wounded had crawled off to die alone. One estimate place the final death toll at 350 Indian men, women and children. Twenty-five soldiers died and 39 were wounded, most by their own shrapnel and bullets. The wounded soldiers were started back to the Pine Ridge agency. Then a detail of soldiers went over the battlefield, gathering up any Indians that were still alive and placing them in wagons. As a blizzard was approaching, the dead were left where they had fallen. The wagons with the wounded arrived at Pine Ridge after dark. They contained only 4 Sioux men and 47 women and children. These people were left outside in wagons in the bitter cold while a search was made for housing for them. Finally the Episcopal mission was opened, the benches removed and hay scattered over the floor as bedding for the wounded Sioux. As they were brought in, those who were conscious could see the Christmas decorations hanging from the rafters.
After the blizzard a burial party returned to the battlefield, they found the bodies including that of Big Foot, frozen into contorted shapes.
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 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 . . . . the nation's hoop is broken and scattered. There is no center any longer, and the sacred tree is dead.
---- Black Elk
Many of the injured died of exposure in the freezing weather, and several days after the incident the dead were strewn as far as approximately two to five miles away from the original site. By mid-afternoon on December 29, 1890 the indiscriminate slaughter ceased. Nearly three-hundred men (including Chief Big Foot), women, and children -- old and young -- were dead on the frosty banks of Wounded Knee Creek. Twenty-nine soldiers also died in the melee, but it is believed that most of the military causalities were a result of "friendly" crossfire that occurred during the fighting frenzy. Twenty-three soldiers from the Seventh Calvary were later awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for the slaughter of defenseless Indians at Wounded Knee.
The wounded and dying were taken to a makeshift hospital in the Pine Ridge Episcopal Church. Ironically, above the pulpit hung a Christmas banner which read:
Peace on Earth, Good Will to Men
A blizzard swept over the countryside the night of December 29, and when it cleared days later, the valley was strewn with frozen, contorted dead bodies. A burial party returned to the site on New Years Day, 1891. The bodies of the slain were pulled from beneath the heavy snow and thrown into a single burial pit. It was reported that four infants were found still alive, wrapped in their deceased mothers shawls.
While only 150 bodies were interred in the mass grave, Lakotas estimate that twice as many Indians perished that brutal morning in 1890 -- on a reservation supposedly protected by two treaties.
By the 1880's the U.S. government had managed to confine almost all of the Indians on reservations, usually on land so poor that the white man could conceive of no use for it themselves. The rations and supplies that had been guaranteed them by the treaties were of poor quality, if they arrived at all. Graft and corruption were rampant in the Indian Bureau. In an attempt to stem this problem, a move was made to recruit Quakers to take the positions as Indian agents, however not nearly enough Quakers responded to the call for volunteers. This call, however, opened the door to other denominations setting up shop on the reservations. An attempt was made to convert the Indians to Christianity with mixed results.
However, by 1890 conditions were so bad on the reservations, nationwide, with starvation conditions existing in many places, that the situation was ripe for a major movement to rise among the Indians. This movement found its origin in a Paiute Indian named Wovoka, who announced that he was the messiah come to earth to prepare the Indians for their salvation. Representatives from tribes all over the nation came to Nevada to meet with Wovoka and learn to dance the Ghost Dance and to sing Ghost Dance songs.
In early October of 1890, Kicking Bear, a Minneconjou, visited Sitting Bull at Standing Rock. He told him of the visit he and his brother-in-law, Short Bull, had made to Nevada to visit Wovoka. They told him of the great number of other Indians who were there as well. They referred to Wovoka as the Christ and told of the Ghost Dance that they had learned and the way that the Christ had flown over them on their horseback ride back to the railroad tracks, teaching them Ghost Dance songs. And they told him of the phophecy that, next spring, when the grass was high, the earth would be covered with new soil, burying all the white men.The new soil would be covered with sweet grass, running water and trees; the great herds of buffalo and wild horses would return. All Indians who danced the Ghost Dance would be taken up into the air and suspended there while the new earth was being laid down. Then they would be replaced there, with the ghosts of their ancestors, on the new earth. Only Indians would live there then.
This new religion was being taught at all of the Sioux reservations now. Big Foot's band, which consisted mostly of women who had lost their husbands and/or other male relatives in battles with Custer, Miles and Crook, would dance until they collapsed, hoping to guarantee the return of their dead warriors. Sitting Bull greatly doubted that the dead would be be brought back to life. He had no personal objections to people dancing the Ghost Dance; however he had heard that the agents were getting nervous about all of the dancing and were calling in the soldiers on some reservations. He did not want the soldiers to return to kill more of his people. Kicking Bear assured him that, if the dancers wore their Ghost Dance shirts, painted with magic symbols, the soldiers bullets would not strike them. Sitting Bull consented to Kicking Bear remaining at Standing Rock and teaching the Ghost Dance. This began a chain of events that lead to his death on December 15.
As the number of people involved in the Ghost Dance movement increased, the panic and hysteria of the Indian agents increased with it. Agent McLaughlin had Kicking Bear removed from Standing Rock, but this did not stop the movement there. McLaughlin telegraphed Washington, asking for troops and blaming Sitting Bull as the power behind this "pernicious system of religion." The whites stumbled over each other in their attempts to quell this movement. Panicky messages about Indians dancing in the snow, wild and crazy, were sent to Washington. One voice of sanity, the former agent, Valentine McGillycuddy, recommended allowing the dances to continue.
"The coming of the troops has frightened the Indians. If the Seventh-Day Adventists prepare the ascension robes for the Second Coming of the Savior, the United States Army is not put in motion to prevent them. Why should not the Indians have the same privilege? If the troops remain, trouble is sure to come"
Nonetheless, on December 12, the order was received to arrest Sitting Bull. On December 15, 43 Indian police surrounded Sitting Bull's cabin before dawn. Three miles away they were backed up by a squadron of cavalry. When Lieutenant Bull Head entered the cabin, Sitting Bull was asleep. Upon awakening, he agreed to come with the police and asked that his horse be saddled while he dressed. When they left the cabin, a large group of Ghost Dancers, much larger than the police force, had assembled and challenged the police. One dancer, Catch-the-Bear, pulled out a rifle and shot Lieutenant Bull Head in the side. In an attempt to shoot back at his assailant, Bull Head instead accidentally shot Sitting Bull. Then another policeman, Red Tomahawk, shot Sitting Bull in the head. Many Indian policemen died that day before the cavalry arrived to quell the fighting.
This event then precipitated the events that were to follow at Wounded Knee.
Known as the messiah to his followers, Wovoka was the Paiute mystic whose religious pronouncements spread the Ghost Dance among many tribes across the American West. Wovoka was born in Western Nevada, in what is now Esmeralda County, in about 1856. Little is known about his early life, but at about age fourteen his father died, leaving Wovoka to be raised by the family of David Wilson, a nearby white rancher. Wovoka soon took the name Jack Wilson, by which he was broadly known among both neighboring whites and Indians, and worked on Wilson's ranch well into adulthood. He learned to speak English and apparently had a fair amount of contact with Christianity.
At around age thirty, Wovoka began to weave together various cultural strains into the Ghost Dance religion. He had a rich tradition of religious mysticism upon which to draw. Around 1870, a northern Paiute named Tävibo had prophesied that while all whites would be swallowed up by the earth, all dead Indians would emerge to enjoy a world free of their conquerors. He urged his followers to dance in circles, already a tradition in the Great Basin area, while singing religious songs. Tävibo's movement spread to parts of Nevada, California and Oregon.
Whether or not Tävibo was Wovoka's father, as many at the time assumed, in the late 1880's Wovoka began to make similar prophecies. His pronouncements heralded the dawning of a new age, in which whites would vanish, leaving Indians to live in a land of material abundance, spiritual renewal and immortal life. Like many millenarian visions, Wovoka's prophecies stressed the link between righteous behavior and imminent salvation. Salvation was not to be passively awaited but welcomed by a regime of ritual dancing and upright moral conduct. Despite the later association of the Ghost Dance with the Wounded Knee Massacre and unrest on the Lakota reservations, Wovoka charged his followers to "not hurt anybody or do harm to anyone. You must not fight. Do right always... Do not refuse to work for the whites and do not make any trouble with them."
While the Ghost Dance is sometimes seen today as an expression of Indian militancy and the desire to preserve traditional ways, Wovoka's pronouncements ironically bore the heavy mark of popular Christianity. His invocation of a "Supreme Being," immortality, pacifism and explicit mentions of Jesus (often referred to with such phrases as "the messiah who came once to live on earth with the white man but was killed by them") all speak of an infusion of Christian beliefs into Paiute mysticism.
The Ghost Dance spread throughout much of the West, especially among the more recently defeated Indians of the Great Plains. Local bands would adopt the core of the message to their own circumstances, writing their their own songs and dancing their own dances. In 1889 the Lakota sent a delegation to visit Wovoka. This group brought the Ghost Dance back to their reservations, where believers made sacred shirts -- said to be bullet-proof -- especially for the Dance.
The slaughter of Big Foot's band at Wounded Knee Creek in 1890 was cruel proof that whites were not about to simply vanish, that the millennium was not at hand. Wovoka quickly lost his notoriety and lived as Jack Wilson until sometime in 1932. He left the Ghost Dance as evidence of a growing pan-Indian identity which drew upon elements of both white and Indian traditions.
Lakota Accounts of the Massacre at Wounded Knee
From the Report of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs for 1891, volume 1, pages 179-181. Extracts from verbatim stenographic report of council held by delegations of Sioux with Commissioner of Indian Affairs, at Washington, February 11, 1891.
TURNING HAWK, Pine Ridge (Mr. Cook, interpreter). Mr. Commissioner, my purpose to-day is to tell you what I know of the condition of affairs at the agency where I live. A certain falsehood came to our agency from the west which had the effect of a fire upon the Indians, and when this certain fire came upon our people those who had farsightedness and could see into the matter made up their minds to stand up against it and fight it. The reason we took this hostile attitude to this fire was because we believed that you yourself would not be in favor of this particular mischief-making thing; but just as we expected, the people in authority did not like this thing and we were quietly told that we must give up or have nothing to do with this certain movement. Though this is the advice form our good friends in the east, there were, of course, many silly young men who were longing to become identified with the movement, although they knew that there was nothing absolutely bad, nor did they know there was anything absolutely good, in connection with the movement.
In the course of time we heard that the soldiers were moving toward the scene of trouble. After awhile some of the soldiers finally reached our place and we heard that a number of them also reached our friends at Rosebud. Of course, when a large body of soldiers is moving toward a certain direction they inspire a more or less amount of awe, and it is natural that the women and children who see this large moving mass are made afraid of it and be put in a condition to make them run away. At first we thought the Pine Ridge and Rosebud were the only two agencies where soldiers were sent, but finally we heard that the other agencies fared likewise. We heard and saw that about half our friends at Rosebud agency, from fear at seeing the soldiers, began the move of running away from their agency toward ours (Pine Ridge), and when they had gotten inside of our reservation they there learned that right ahead of them at our agency was another large crowd of soldiers, and while the soldiers were there, there was constantly a great deal of false rumor flying back and forth. The special rumor I have in mind is the threat that the soldiers had come there to disarm the Indians entirely and to take away all their horses from them. That was the oft-repeated story.
So constantly repeated was this story that our friends from Rosebud, instead of going to Pine Ridge, the place of their destination, veered off and went to some other direction toward the "Bad Lands." We did not know definitely how many, but understood there were 300 lodges of them, about 1,700 people. Eagle Pipe, Turning Bear, High Hawk, Short Bull, Lance, No Flesh, Pine Bird, Crow Dog, Two Strike, and White Horse were the leaders.
Well, the people after veering off in this way, many of them who believe in peace and order at our agency, were very anxious that some influence should be brought upon these people. In addition to our love of peace we remembered that many of these people were related to us by blood. So we sent out peace commissioners to the people who were thus running away from their agency.
I understood at the time that they were simply going away from fear because of so many soldiers. So constant was the word of these good men from Pine Ridge agency that finally they succeeded in getting away half of the party from Rosebud, from the place where they took refuge, and finally were brought to the agency at Pine Ridge. Young-Man-Afraid-of-his-Horses, Little Wound, Fast Thunder, Louis Shangreau, John Grass, Jack Red Cloud, and myself were some of these peace-makers.
The remnant of the party from Rosebud not taken to the agency finally reached the wilds of the Bad Lands. Seeing that we had succeeded so well, once more we sent to the same party in the Bad Lands and succeeded in bringing these very Indians out of the depths of the Bad Lands and were being brought toward the agency. When we were about a day's journey from our agency we heard that a certain party of Indians (Big Foot's band) from the Cheyenne River agency was coming toward Pine Ridge in flight.
CAPTAIN SWORD. Those who actually went off of the Cheyenne River agency probably number 303, and there were a few from the Standing Rock reserve with them, but as to their number I do not know. There were a number of Ogalallas, old men and several school boys, coming back with that very same party, and one of the very seriously wounded boys was a member of the Ogalalla boarding school at Pine Ridge agency. He was not on the warpath, but was simply returning home to his agency and to his school after a summer visit to relatives on the Cheyenne river.
TURNING HAWK. When we heard that these people were coming toward our agency we also heard this. These people were coming toward Pine Ridge agency, and when they were almost on the agency they were met by the soldiers and surrounded and finally taken to the Wounded Knee creek, and there at a given time their guns were demanded. When they had delivered them up, the men were separated from their families, from the tipis, and taken to a certain spot. When the guns were thus taken and the men thus separated, there was a crazy man, a young man of very bad influence and in fact a nobody, among that bunch of Indians fired his gun, and of course the firing of a gun must have been the breaking of a military rule of some sort, because immediately the soldiers returned fire and indiscriminate killing followed.
SPOTTED HORSE. This man shot an officer in the army; the first shot killed this officer. I was a voluntary scout at that encounter and I saw exactly what was done, and that was what I noticed; that the first shot killed an officer. As soon as this shot was fired the Indians immediately began drawing their knives, and they were exhorted from all sides to desist, but this was not obeyed. Consequently the firing began immediately on the part of the soldiers.
TURNING HAWK. All the men who were in a bunch were killed right there, and those who escaped that first fire got into the ravine, and as they went along up the ravine for a long distance they were pursued on both sides by the soldiers and shot down, as the dead bodies showed afterwards. The women were standing off at a different place form where the men were stationed, and when the firing began, those of the men who escaped the first onslaught went in one direction up the ravine, and then the women, who were bunched together at another place, went entirely in a different direction through an open field, and the women fared the same fate as the men who went up the deep ravine.
AMERICAN HORSE. The men were separated, as has already been said, from the women, and they were surrounded by the soldiers. Then came next the village of the Indians and that was entirely surrounded by the soldiers also. When the firing began, of course the people who were standing immediately around the young man who fired the first shot were killed right together, and then they turned their guns, Hotchkill guns, etc., upon the women who were in the lodges standing there under a flag of truce, and of course as soon as they were fired upon they fled, the men fleeing in one direction and the women running in two different directions. So that there were three general directions in which they took flight.
There was a woman with an infant in her arms who was killed as she almost touched the flag of truce, and the women and children of course were strewn all along the circular village until they were dispatched. Right near the flag of truce a mother was shot down with her infant; the child not knowing that its mother was dead was still nursing, and that especially was a very sad sight. The women as they were fleeing with their babes were killed together, shot right through, and the women who were very heavy with child were also killed. All the Indians fled in these three directions, and after most all of them had been killed a cry was made that all those who were not killed wounded should come forth and they would be safe. Little boys who were not wounded 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.
Of course we all feel very sad about this affair. I stood very loyal to the government all through those troublesome days, and believing so much in the government and being so loyal to it, my disappointment was very strong, and I have come to Washington with a very great blame on my heart. Of course it would have been all right if only the men were killed; we would feel almost grateful for it. But the fact of the killing of the women, and more especially the killing of the young boys and girls who are to go to make up the future strength of the Indian people, is the saddest part of the whole affair and we feel it very sorely.
I was not there at the time before the burial of the bodies, but I did go there with some of the police and the Indian doctor and a great many of the people, men from the agency, and we went through the battlefield and saw where the bodies were from the track of the blood.
TURNING HAWK. I had just reached the point where I said that the women were killed. We heard, besides the killing of the men, of the onslaught also made upon the women and children, and they were treated as roughly and indiscriminately as the men and boys were.
Of course this affair brought a great deal of distress upon all the people, but especially upon the minds of those who stood loyal to the government and who did all that they were able to do in the matter of bringing about peace. They especially have suffered much distress and are very much hurt at heart. These peace-makers continued on in their good work, but there were a great many fickle young men who were ready to be moved by the change in the events there, and consequently, in spite of the great fire that was brought upon all, they were ready to assume any hostile attitude. These young men got themselves in readiness and went in the direction of the scene of battle so they might be of service there. They got there and finally exchanged shots with the soldiers. This party of young men was made up from Rosebud, Ogalalla (Pine Ridge), and members of any other agencies that happened to be there at the time. While this was going on in the neighborhood of Wounded Knee-the Indians and soldiers exchanging shots-the agency, our home, was also fired into by the Indians. Matters went on in this strain until the evening came on, and then the Indians went off down by White Clay creek. When the agency was fired upon by the Indians from the hillside, of course the shots were returned by the Indian police who were guarding the agency buildings.
Although fighting seemed to have been in the air, yet those who believed in peace were still constant at their work. Young-Man-Afraid-of-his-Horses, who had been on a visit to some other agency in the north or northwest, returned, and immediately went out to the people living about White Clay creek, on the border of the Bad Lands, and brought his people out. He succeeded in obtaining the consent of the people to come out of their place of refuge and return to the agency. Thus the remaining portion of the Indians who started from Rosebud were brought back into the agency. Mr. Commissioner, during the days of the great whirlwind out there, those good men tried to hold up a counteracting power, and that was "Peace." We have now come to realize that peace has prevailed and won the day. While we were engaged in bringing about peace our property was left behind, of course, and most of us have lost everything, even down to the matter of guns with which to kill ducks, rabbits, etc, shotguns, and guns of that order. When Young-Man-Afraid brought the people in and their guns were asked for, both men who were called hostile and men who stood loyal to the government delivered up their guns.
[TEXT: James Mooney, The Ghost-dance Religion and the Sioux Outbreak of 1890, 14th Annual Report of the Bureau of American Ethnology, Part 2 (1896)]
"My brothers, I bring to you the promise of a day in which there will be no white man to lay his hand on the bridle of the Indian horse; when the red men of the prairie will rule the world . . . I bring you word from your fathers the ghosts, that they are now marching to join you, led by the Messiah who came once to live on earth with the white man, but was cast out and killed by them."
Medicine Man Corpse
View of the slain frozen body of a native American Lakota Sioix Medicine man on the battlefield. The body has clenched arms and is POSED with a rifle
The mass grave at Wounded Knee
Indian Bodies on the ground at Wounded Knee
A mounted soldier rides among the dead Indians at Wounded Knee
On New Year's Day in 1891
Soldiers with the Hotchkiss guns used at Wounded Knee
A Survivor's Story
He liked to talk about the past...In Lakota, he was called Wasee Maza - Iron Tail - and years after the massacre, General Nelson Miles had invited him to Washington and introduced Beard to a number of military officials. Among those he met was Admiral George Dewey, naval hero of Manila Bay and the Spanish-American War. Later, he formed his own name by taking an old Sioux nickname -Beard - and adding it to the admiral's surname.
"At eighteen, Beard [born in 1857] had been among a group of warriors who had crossed the Little Bighorn in the final moments of the battle. [Now] at thirty-three, he and his family were camped in Big Foot's village. Years later, the last Lakota survivor of both Custer and Wounded Knee talked at length about the fight inside the council grounds, about the flight from the Miniconju village into the ravine. Beard spoke through an interpreter, who both summarized and quoted him directly:
"The struggle for the gun was short, the muzzle pointed upward toward the east and the gun discharged. In an instant a volley followed as one shot, and the people began falling. He saw everybody was rolling and kicking on the ground. He looked southeastward and he did not know what he was going to do. He had only one knife. He looked eastward and saw the soldiers were firing on Indians and stepping backwards and firing. His thought was to rush on the soldiers and take a gun from one of them. He rushed toward on the west to get a gun. While he was running, he could see nothing for the smoke; through the rifts he could see the brass buttons of the uniforms; he rushed up to a soldier whose gun rested over Dewey's shoulder and was discharged when the muzzle was near his ear, and it deafened him for a while. Then he grabbed the gun and wrenched it away from the soldier. When he got the gun, he drew his knife and stabbed the soldier in the breast...While Dewey was on this soldier, some other soldiers were shooting at him, but missed him and killed soldiers on the other side. When he got up he ran right through the soldiers toward the ravine, and he was the last Indian to go into the ravine. The soldiers were shooting at him from nearly all directions, and they shot him down...Dewey tried to get to the ravine and succeeded in getting on his feet...Right on the edge of the ravine on the south side were soldiers shooting at the Indians who were running down into the ravine, the soldiers' shots sounded like fire crackers and hail in a storm; a great many Indians were killed and wounded down there..."
"When he went to the bottom of the ravine, he saw many little children lying dead in the ravine. He was now pretty weak from his wounds. Now when he saw all those little infants lying there dead in their blood, his feeling was that even if he ate one of the soldiers, it would not appease his anger...The Indians all knew that Dewy was wounded, but those in the ravine wanted him to help them. So he fought with his life to defend his own people. He took his courage to do that - "I was pretty weak and now fell down.' A man with a gunshot wound through the lower jaw had a belt of cartridges, which he offered Beard and asked to try and help them again."
"'When he gave me the cartridges, I told him I was badly wounded and pretty weak, too. While I was lying on my back, I looked down the ravine and 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."
"He saw a young woman among them coming and crying and calling, "Mother! Mother!' She was wounded under her chin, close to her throat, and the bullet had passed through a braid of her hair and carried some of it into the wound, and then the bullet had entered from the front side of the shoulder and passed out the back side. Her Mother had been shot behind her. Dewey was sitting up and he called to her to come to him. When she came close to him, she fell to the ground. He caught her by the dress and drew her to him across his legs. When the women who the soldiers were shooting at got a little past him, he told this girl to follow them on the run, and she went up the ravine."
"He got himself up and followed up the ravine. He saw many dead men, women, and children lying in the ravine. When he went a little way up, he heard singing; going a little way farther, he came upon his mother who was moving slowly, being very badly wounded. She had a soldier's revolver in her hand, swinging it as she went. Dewey does not know how she got it. When he 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 returned fire upon them, defending my mother. When I shot at the soldiers in a northern direction, I looked back at my mother and she had already fallen down. I passed right on from my dead mother and met a man coming down the ravine who was wounded in the knee..."
"Dewey was wounded so that his right arm was disabled; he placed the thumb of his right hand between his teeth and carried his Winchester on his left shoulder, and then he ran towards where he has heard that White Lance [his brother] was killed. As he ran, he saw lots of women and children lying along the ravine, some alive and some dead. He saw some young men just above, and these he addressed, saying to them to take courage and do all they could to defend the women. 'I have,' he said, 'a bad wound and am not able to defend them; I could not aim the gun,' and so he told the young men this way. It was now in the ravine just like prairie fire when it reaches brush and grass...; it was like hail coming down; an awful fire was concentrated on them now and nothing could be seen for the smoke. In the bottom of the ravine, the bullets raised more dust than there was smoke, so that they could not see one another.
"When Dewy came up into the 'pit,' he saw White Lance upon top of the bank, and was rolling on down towards the brink to get down into the ravine. He was badly wounded and at first was half dead, but later revived from his injuries. When Dewey went into the 'pit,' he found his brother William Horn Cloud lying or sitting against the bank shot through the breast, but yet alive; but he died that night. 'Just when I saw my wounded brother William, I saw White Lance slide down the bank and stand by William. Then William said to White Lance, "Shake hands with me, I am dizzy now"' While they had this conversation, Dewey said, 'My dear brothers, be men and take courage. A few minutes ago, our father told us this way, and you heard it. Our father told us that the all people of the world born of the same father and mother, when any great tragedy comes, it is better that all of them should die together than that they should die separately at different times, one by one..."
"White Lance and William shook hands. Then White Lance and Dewey lifted their brother up and stood him on his feet; then they placed him on White Lances's shoulder. White Lance was wounded in several places and weak from loss of blood, but he succeeded in bearing William to the bottom of the ravine...Dewey said they now 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...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...'At this time, I was unable to do anything more and I took a rest, telling my brothers to keep up their courage.' The cannon were pouring in their shots and breaking down the banks which were giving protection to the fighting Indians...The Hotchkiss had been shooting rapidly and one Indian had gotten killed by it. His body was penetrated in the pit of the stomach by a Hotchkiss shell, which tore a hole through his body six inches in diameter. The man was insensible, but breathed for an hour before he died... "In this same place there was a young woman with a pole in hand and a black blanket on it. When she would raise it up, the soldiers would whistle and yell and pour volleys into it. One woman here spoke to Beard and told him to come in among them and help them. He answered that he would stay where he was and make a fight for them; and that he did not care if he got killed, for the infants were all dead now, and he would like to die among the infants. When he was saying this, the soldiers were all shooting furiously... "Dewey laid down again in the same little hollow and reloaded his gun. The soldiers across from him were shooting at him while he was reloading. While he was reloading, he heard a horseman coming along the brink of the ravine - could hear the foot falls. This man as he came along gave orders to the men which he supposed were to fire on the women in the pit for a fusillade was instantly opened on them..."
"The sun was going down; it was pretty near sundown...He saw five Oglala Sioux on horseback. He called them, but they were afraid and ran away, but he kept on calling and going till they all stood still and he came upon them. He went on with them a little way and soon he met his brother Joseph coming toward them on horseback. Dewey asked, 'Where are you going?' Joe answered, 'All my brothers and parents are dead, and I have to go in and be killed, too; therefore I have come back.' Dewey said, "You better come with us; don't go there; they are all killed there,' and the five Oglalas joined with Beard in the same appeal. Now the Oglalas left these two brothers. Then Joe got off his horse and told Dewey to get on. Dewey was covered with blood. He mounted the horse and Joe walked along slowly. After a little, a mounted Indian relation came up behind them. The three went together over to White Clay Creek..."
"Dewey's little infant, Wet Feet, died afterwards in the next March. This child was nursing its dead mother who was shot in the breast. It swallowed blood and from this vomited and was never well, was always sick till it died."
The photo is of "Lost Bird" who survived the masacre
A Lakota Story
On the bitterly cold morning of December 29, 1890, Alice Ghost Horse rode her sunka wakan, the horse she had raised from a yearling, through the U.S. Army camp at Wounded Knee Creek in southwestern South Dakota.
The thirteen-year old Lakota girl was looking for her father, one of the Indian men who had been rounded up earlier that day. A sudden shout in English riveted Alice's attention to the center of camp and she stood up in her stirrups, stretching as far as she could, trying to see what was going on. That yell meant only one thing to Alice: Someone was about to be assaulted... Less than fifty yards away she could see her father sitting on the ground with other disarmed men from Chief Big Foot's band, surrounded by more than 500 heavily armed soldiers of the Seventh Calvary....She looked north up the hill where four "guns on wheels" pointed in her direction. Mounted troopers watched silently on each side of the Hotchkiss battery. Moving among the tipis, soldiers lifted women's dresses and touched their private parts, ripping from them essential cooking and sewing utensils...The men sitting in the council heard the angry shrieks of their wives and mothers.
Several Lakota, offended by the abusive arrogance of the cavalry, stubbornly waited to have their weapons taken from them. It was a show of honor in front of their elders, for few of them were old enough to have fought in the "Indian wars" fifteen years before. To one side Alice noticed a familiar figure standing with hands raised above his head, his palms turned upward in prayer. She later recalled: "A medicine man by the name of Yellow Bird...stood facing the east, right by the fire pit which was now covered up with fresh dirt. He was praying and crying. He was saying to the spotted eagles that he wanted to die instead of his people. He must sense that something was going to happen. He picked up some dirt from the fireplace and threw it up in the air and said, 'This is the way I want to go back-to dust.'" The Ghost Horse family knew this Holy Man. Alice's translation of his eagle prayer refutes historians who have relied solely upon the translation of Sun Gi ("The Fox"), Seventh Cavalry interpreter Philip F. Wells, whose knowledge of the Lakota language was poor.
Wells later told military investigators that a man named Yellow Bird stood up at Wounded Knee and deliberately incited the Lakota to fight. Colonel Forsyth gave a bizarre order: Each soldier was told to aim his unloaded gun at an Indian's forehead and to pull the trigger. After Wells translated the demeaning (or drunken) order to the astonished Lakota, Iron Hail, later known as Dewey Beard, "...could not comprehend this foolishness." Looking from one to another he saw the faces of his companions grow "wild with fear." Dewey Beard saw "two or three sergeants" grab a deaf man named Black Coyote who had yet to be disarmed. His friends had been so busy talking they had left him uninformed. The soldiers tore off his blanket, roughly twirling him around. He raised the rifle above his head to keep it away from them. In the midst of yelling, jerking, and twisting, the struggle ended unexpectedly when the rifle pointed upward toward the east and discharged into the crisp morning air. Lieutenant James Mann screamed, "Fire! Fire on them!"
On command Troops K and B opened fire in an explosive volley, enclosing both attackers and victims in a curtain of dark, pungent smoke. Years later....Alice Ghost Horse related her Wounded Knee experience, punctuated with expressively eloquent hand gestures, movements that brought her story vividly alive to grandchildren listening beside her. On one such night....her son, John War Bonnet, penciled her Hohwoju words on ledgerbook paper. The night before the massacre Alice remembered: "By sundown we were completely surrounded by foot soldiers, all with rifles.
My mother and I went down to the creek to pick up some wood and to go to the bathroom, but two soldiers followed us...so we hurried and came back with some sticks. "At this time everyone went to bed we were all tired out from this hard trip. Some of the young men were up all night to watch the soldiers. Some of the soldiers were drunk, saying bad things about the Lakota women." That night James Asay, a Pine Ridge trader and whiskey runner, brought a ten-gallon keg of whiskey to Seventh Cavalry officers the night before the Wounded Knee Massacre.
Many of the (Indian) men had been kept up all night by the Cavalry where the soldiers kept asking them how old they were. The soldiers were hoping to discover which of the men had been at the Battle of the Little Bighorn where Custer was killed. That day over three hundred elderly, men, women, and children, all disarmed, were brutally murdered. After the massacre occurred, a blizzard hit, and it was on the fourth day that search parties were sent out to bury the dead. Alice and what was left of her family were safe, but other women and children running to escape the massacre did not fare as well. Days later, the bodies of a woman and her children, who had been hunted and slaughtered like quail, were found three miles from Wounded Knee Creek.
A newspaper reporter accompanying the burial party described the first body they found as that of a male about twelve years old. The boy had been shot: "beneath the right eye, tearing open the cheek and leaving a bloody hole as large as a silver dollar. There must have been at least a few seconds of agony before death came, for the right arm was thrown up to and across the forehead and the fingers of the left hand stiffened in death while clutching the long, jet-black hair near the powder-burned orifice in his skull. "And the mother. Gentle hands loosened the frosty bands which bound her to the soil and fingers which tingled with the hot flow of blood from indignant hearts tenderly removed from her flattened and distorted face the twigs and leaves and dirt. Her strong arms were bare and her feet were drawn up as the natural consequences of a wound which commenced at the right shoulder and ended in the lower abdominal region. From the wounded shoulder a sanguinary flood had poured until her worn and dirty garments were crimson dyed; the breasts from which her little ones had drawn their earliest sustenance were discolored with the gory stream. It was an awful sight..." Many of the wounded survivors later died or were secretly carried away in the night by Lakota from other bands. The dead were buried in hidden locations, carefully concealed from federal officials who later underestimated the death toll at 146, over two hundred less than the actual number who were butchered on their own land.
The frozen bodies of Big Foot's band were taken to the top of the hill overlooking the valley where they had died. Grave diggers carved a gaping hole from the earth, six feet deep, ten wide, sixty long. When the order was given to bury the first load, Starr, Peano, and McWilliams jumped into the grave and each corpse was thrown down to them one at a time. They stripped them of all salable articles from the bodies as if they were skinning rabbits. Without a prayer services of any kind, the Lakota dead were 'layered in the mass grave, first one naked row across the bottom of the trench, and old army blankets were placed over them, then another layer of bodies lengthwise. And so they continued until the dead were nearly level with the ground,' and the dirt was shoveled on...
Eye Witness Accounts
Philip Wells was a mixed-blood Sioux who served as an interpreter for the Army. He later recounted what he saw that Monday morning:
"I was interpreting for General Forsyth (Forsyth was actually a colonel) just before the battle of Wounded Knee, December 29, 1890. 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.' Forsyth declared, 'You are lying to me in return for my kindness.' 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.
Turning 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.' I turned to Major Whitside and said, 'That man is making mischief,' and repeated what he had said. Whitside replied, 'Go direct to Colonel Forsyth and tell him about it,' which I did. Forsyth and I went to the circle of warriors where he told me to tell the medicine man to sit down and keep quiet, but he paid no attention to the order. Forsyth repeated the order. Big Foot's brother-in-law answered, 'He will sit down when he gets around the circle.' When the medicine man came to the end of the circle, he squatted down. A cavalry sergeant exclaimed, 'There goes an Indian with a gun under his blanket!' Forsyth ordered him to take the gun from the Indian, which he did. Whitside then said to me, 'Tell the Indians it is necessary that they be searched one at a time.' The young warriors paid no attention to what I told them. I heard someone on my left exclaim, 'Look out! Look out!' 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 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 to stab me 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.
Troop 'K' was drawn up between the tents of the women and children and the main body of the Indians, who had been summoned to deliver their arms. The Indians began firing into 'Troop K' to gain the canyon of Wounded Knee creek. In doing so they exposed their women and children to their own fire. Captain Wallace was killed at this time while standing in front of his troops. A bullet, striking him in the forehead, plowed away the top of his head. I started to pull off my nose, which was hung by the skin, but Lieutenant Guy Preston shouted, 'My God Man! Don't do that! That can be saved.' He then led me away from the scene of the trouble."
References: Brown, Dee, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee (1971); Jensen, Richard, et. al, Eyewitness at Wounded Knee (1991); Utley, Robert M., The Last Days of the Sioux Nation (1963); Wells, Philip, "Ninety-six Years among the Indians of the Northwest", North Dakota History, 15, no. 2 (1948).
Dewey Beard's account of the Wounded Knee Massacre as told to his granddaughter Celene Not Help Him.
I was raised by Dewey and Alice Beard after the death of my father. I remember these things [the Massacre], my grandfather told me to listen close and remember so that I can tell these things someday.
James McLaughlin Letter
This was the status of the Messiah craze here on November 16th, when I made a trip to Sitting Bull's camp, which is forty miles south-west of Agency, to try and get Sitting Bull to see the evils that a continuation of the Ghost dance would lead to, and the misery that it would bring to his people. I remained over night in the settlement and visited him early next morning before they commenced the dance, and had a long and apparently satisfactory talk with him, and made some impression upon a number of his followers who were listeners, but I failed in getting him to come into the Agency, where I hoped to convince him by long argument. Through chiefs Gall, Flying-By and Gray Eagle, I succeeded in getting a few to quit the dance, but the more we got to leave it the more aggressive Sitting Bull became so that the peaceable and well-disposed Indians were obliged to leave the settlement and could not pass through it without being subjected to insult and threats.The "Ghost Dancers" had given up industrial pursuits and abandoned their houses, and all moved into camp in the immediate neighborhood of Sitting Bull's house, where they consumed their whole time in the dance and the purification vapor baths preparing for same, except on every second Saturday, when they came to the Agency for their bi-weekly rations.
Turning Hawk, testimony to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs
Turning Hawk, testimony to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs (11th February, 1891)
Mr. Commissioner, my purpose today is to tell you what I know of the condition of affairs at the agency where I live. A certain falsehood came to our agency from the west which had the effect of a fire upon the Indians, and when this certain fire came upon our people those who had farsightedness and could see into the matter made up their minds to stand up against it and fight it. The reason we took this hostile attitude to this fire was because we believed that you yourself would not be in favor of this particular mischief-making thing; but just as we expected, the people in authority did not like this thing and we were quietly told that we must give up or have nothing to do with this certain movement. Though this is the advice form our good friends in the east, there were, of course, many silly young men who were longing to become identified with the movement, although they knew that there was nothing absolutely bad, nor did they know there was anything absolutely good, in connection with the movement. In the course of time we heard that the soldiers were moving toward the scene of trouble. After awhile some of the soldiers finally reached our place and we heard that a number of them also reached our friends at Rosebud. Of course, when a large body of soldiers is moving toward a certain direction they inspire a more or less amount of awe, and it is natural that the women and children who see this large moving mass are made afraid of it and be put in a condition to make them run away. At first we thought the Pine Ridge and Rosebud were the only two agencies where soldiers were sent, but finally we heard that the other agencies fared likewise. We heard and saw that about half our friends at Rosebud agency, from fear at seeing the soldiers, began the move of running away from their agency toward ours (Pine Ridge), and when they had gotten inside of our reservation they there learned that right ahead of them at our agency was another large crowd of soldiers, and while the soldiers were there, there was constantly a great deal of false rumor flying back and forth. The special rumor I have in mind is the threat that the soldiers had come there to disarm the Indians entirely and to take away all their horses from them. That was the oft-repeated story. So constantly repeated was this story that our friends from Rosebud, instead of going to Pine Ridge, the place of their destination, veered off and went to some other direction toward the "Bad Lands." We did not know definitely how many, but understood there were 300 lodges of them, about 1,700 people. Eagle Pipe, Turning Bear, High Hawk, Short Bull, Lance, No Flesh, Pine Bird, Crow Dog, Two Strike, and White Horse were the leaders. Well, the people after veering off in this way, many of them who believe in peace and order at our agency, were very anxious that some influence should be brought upon these people. In addition to our love of peace we remembered that many of these people were related to us by blood. So we sent out peace commissioners to the people who were thus running away from their agency. I understood at the time that they were simply going away from fear because of so many soldiers. So constant was the word of these good men from Pine Ridge agency that finally they succeeded in getting away half of the party from Rosebud, from the place where they took refuge, and finally were brought to the agency at Pine Ridge. Young-Man-Afraid-of-his-Horses, Little Wound, Fast Thunder, Louis Shangreau, John Grass, Jack Red Cloud, and myself were some of these peace-makers.
The 9th cavalry camp :
The Pine Ridge Agency (1890 or 1891):
After the massacre :
Wounded Knee store (1891) :
Battle of Wounded Knee :
Sioux Chiefs in their "Regalia" (1891 or 1896 ?):
Chief Young Man Afraid Of His Horses :
Grand Council Photo 2 on January 17, 1891 :
Rosebud and Sioux Indian, War Dance at Pine Ridge 1890 :
Lakota Chiefs 1891 :
Chiefs in front of tent :
Ration Day at Pine Ridge
Big Foot & Family
Wounded Knee Cemetery
The miracle of this tiny girl's survival is astounding, especially considering the fact that she had no food...no liquids...freezing temperatures...yet live she did...and I was to wonder, throughout the book if that necessarily was a blessing. Brigadier General Leonard Wright Colby, commander of the Nebraska National Guard, arrived on January 5, 1891, four days after the burial of those who had been slaughtered, and immediately realized the political significance that adoption of Lost Bird would have on his career. He was to point out, countless times, that she symbolized the Spirit of the People, courting the empathy of the public.
Thus...without consulting his wife Clara, who was the founder of Woman's Tribune Newspaper and a leading active supporter of the women's suffrage movement, he uses devious and illegal means, including bribery and forgery to legally adopt Zintkala Numi on January 20th [a few weeks aftr the massacre]. Although his wife's name appears on the legal document, she had no inkling she was now the Mother of an Indian female infant. He had not bothered to inform her. But, Clara, always obediently blind to her egotistical, self-serving husband merely accepts his decision and becomes devoted, and the only person in Lost Bird's life that cares for her. Chairperson for the National American Woman Suffrage Association, Clara is portrayed as a selfless, all forgiving woman who tries to balance her family life with total ommitment to the suffrage movement.
Eli Ricker interviews Wounded Knee survivors
Eli Seavey Ricker was born in Maine in 1843. Following his service in the Civil War with Company I, 102nd Illinois Volunteer Infantry, he became a farmer, researcher/writer for a company that published county histories, lawyer, judge, politician, rancher, and newspaper editor.
Ricker was in his sixties in the early 1900s when he began research for a book he intended to call "The Final Conflict between the Red Men and the Palefaces." He spent years gathering sources and interviewing participants -- both Indian and white -- about conditions and battles on the Plains in the last half of the nineteenth century. He interviewed at least fifty Native Americans, and was one of the first historians to recognize that their viewpoints were as valid to the history of the Plains as those of whites. He recorded the interviews, along with comments, notes, and source extracts, in small note pads now known as the "Ricker Tablets."
Brothers White Lance, Joseph Horn Cloud, and Dewey Beard [left to right]. Joseph Horn Cloud was about sixteen years old when he witnessed the Wounded Knee massacre on December 29, 1890. His parents, two brothers, and a sister were among the fatalities. In 1906 he invited Ricker to his home to talk about the massacre.
Eli Ricker Interview Documents
... Shakes Bird went round on the outside of the council singing ghost songs. When the shooting began the women ran to the ravine. The shooting was in every direction. Soldiers shot into one another. Indians in the circle were Many of the Indians in the circle were killed. Many of them mingled with the soldiers behind them, picking up guns from dead soldiers and taking cartridge belts. They took guns they had turned over and the cartridge belts they had turned over with
(page 66) them. Many Indians broke into the ravine; some ran up the ravine and to favorable positions for defense. Beard (who is a brother of Joseph Horn Cloud, but is not called Horn Cloud, called Beard only); and William Horn Cloud, Daniel Horn Cloud, who is now called White Lance, & Sherman Horn Cloud, and is a brother of Joseph; and George Shoot the Bear and Long Bull both cousins of Joseph; and two old men, one of whom belonged to Big Foot's band and the other to Sitting Bull's band; and a woman called Helena Long
Bull and a little son, these all took refuge in the pocket in the ravine, and here William Horn Cloud was killed, and here Beard killed four soldiers, one being stabbed with a knife (a sergeant) the others he shot. White Lance received three wounds in his right leg and one slight [wound] on top of his head; he was borne from here up the ravine by George Shoot the Bear and Peter Stand.
Some cannon were moved to the bank of the ravine & some were planted on Cemetery Hill.
When the firing began there ...
Field Dispatches of General Miles
RAPID CITY, SOUTH DAKOTA, December 19, 1890
To: Senator DAWES,
Washington, District of Columbia:
You may be assured of the following facts that cannot be gainsaid [Note: gainsaid = denied]:
First. The forcing process of attempting to make large bodies of Indians self-sustaining when the government was cutting down their rations and their crops almost a failure, is one cause of the difficulty.
Second. While the Indians were urged and almost forced to sign a treaty presented to them by the commission authorized by Congress, in which they gave up a valuable portion of their reservation which is now occupied by white people, the government has failed to fulfill its part of the compact, and instead of an increase or even a reasonable supply for their support, they have been compelled to live on half and two-thirds rations, and received nothing for the surrender of their lands, neither has the government given any positive assurance that they intend to do any differently with them in the future.
Congress has been in session several weeks and could, if it were disposed, in a few hours confirm the treaties that its commissioners have made with these Indians and appropriate the necessary funds for its fulfillment, and thereby give an earnest of their good faith or intention to fulfill their part of the compact. Such action, in my judgment, is essential to restore confidence with the Indians and give peace and protection to the settlements. If this be done, and the President authorized to place the turbulent and dangerous tribes of Indians under the control of the military, Congress need not enter into details, but can safely trust the military authorities to subjugate and govern, and in the near future make self-sustaining, any or all of the Indian tribes of this country.
RAPID CITY, SOUTH DAKOTA, December 19, 1890
To: General, JOHN M. SCHOFIELD,
Commanding the Army, Washington, District of Columbia:
Replying to your long telegram, one point is of vital importance -- the difficult Indian problem cannot be solved permanently at this end of the line. It requires the fulfillment by Congress of the treaty obligations which 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 a total failure. The disaffection is widespread, 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. Serious difficulty has been gathering for years. Congress has been in session several weeks and could in a single hour confirm the treaties and appropriate the necessary funds for their fulfillment, which their commissioners and the highest officials of the government have guaranteed to these people, and unless the officers of the army can give some 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. If the government will give some positive assurance that it will fulfill its part of the understanding with these 20,000 Sioux Indians, they can safely trust the military authorities to subjugate, control, and govern these turbulent people, and I hope that you will ask the Secretary of War and the Chief Executive to bring this matter directly to the attention of Congress.
General Nelson A. Miles Letter to Commissioner of Indian Affairs in....
Washington, D. C. March 13, 1917
The Honorable Commissioner of Indian Afairs
I am informed that there is a delegation in Washington now who came here from South Dakota and who are representatives of the remnant of what is known as the Big Foot Band of Northern Sioux Indians. I was in command of that Department in 1889, 1890, and 1891, when what is known as the Messiah craze and threatened uprising of the Indians occurred. It was created by misrepresentations of white men then living in Nevada who sent secret messages to the different tribes in the great Northwest calling upon them to send representatives to meet Him near Walker Lake, Nevada. This was done, and returning to their different tribes in the Northwest and West, and even in the Southwest, they repeated the false statement to the different tribes that the Messiah had returned to earth and would the next year move East,driving large herds of wild horses, buffalo, elk, deer and antelope, and was going to convert this into an Indian heaven--in other words, the Happy Hunting Grounds. This, together with the fact that the Indians had been in almost a starving condition in South Dakota, owing to the scarcity of rations and the nonfulfillment of treaties and sacred obligations under which the Government had been placed to the Indians, caused great dissatisfaction, dissension and almost hostility. Believing this superstition, they resolved to gather and go West to meet the Messiah, as they believed it was the fulfillment of their dreams and prayer and the prophecies as had been taught them by the missionaries. Several thousand warriors assembled in the Bad Lands of South Dakota.
During this time the tribe, under Big Foot, moved from their reservation to near the Red Cloud Agency in South Dakota under a flag of truce. They numbered over four hundred souls. They were intercepted by a command under Lt. Col. Whitside, 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. During the night Colonel Forsyth joined the command with reinforcements of several troops of the 7th Cavalry. The next morning he deployed his troops around the camp, placed two pieces of artillery in position, and demanded the surrender of the arms from 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. While this was being done a detachment of soldiers was sent into the camp to search for any arms remaining there, and it was reported that their rudness frightened the women and children. It is also reported that a remark was made by some 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 scuffle occured between one warrior who had 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 prarie were hunted down and killed. The *official reports make the number killed 90 warriors and approximately 200 women and children. *(Note: "Official reports" = Armys' version, actual number killed was closer to 350) The action of the Commanding Officer, in my judgement at the time, and I so reported, was most reprehensible. The disposition of his troops was such that in firing upon the warriors they fired directly towards their own lines and also into the camp of the women and children. and I have regarded the whole affair as most unjustifiable and worthy of the severest condemnation. In my opinion, the least the Government can do is to make a suitable recompense to the survivors who are still living for the great unjustice that was done them and the serious loss of their relatives and property--and I earnestly recommend that this may be favorably considered by the Department and by Congress and a suitable appropriation be made.
I remain Very truly yours, (SGD.) NELSON A. MILES Lt. General, U. S. Army
- Washington D.C.