Massacre of Wounded Knee


Frozen corpses twisted into grotesque shapes. Women with little children strapped onto their backs. Mothers futilely protecting their babes in their arms. Young boys filled with bullets. This is how the Indians were found. Death and destruction reigned everywhere on the banks of Wounded Knee Creek. On December 29, 1890, after disarming the Sioux Indians, the rapid fire Hotchkiss mountain cannons were used on them. These guns fired explosive shells weighing two pounds ten ounces at the rate of fifty per minute and had an effective range of 4, 200 yards. As the defenseless Indians fled, they were shot right through and killed. Then a cry was made that those who were not dead should come forth and they would be safe. Little boys who were not wounded came out of their places of refuge. As soon as they came in sight, a number of soldiers surrounded them and butchered them. Before the incident, a careful roll was taken among the Sioux - 120 men and 230 women and children. The next morning, over 300 lay dead. Gone was the Indian dream, pride, and spirit. This so-called battle marked the great last effort of the Indians' struggle to maintain their own culture and identity. The end of Indian America is marked by what can only be called a massacre.
In 1880, the Great Sioux Reservation corralled the Sioux tribes and gave white American agencies control over their activities. The establishment of
separate reservations blurred long-standing tribal distinctions. The older, subtribals gradually became obsolete and Indians began to identify themselves according to their reservations. The Sioux struggled to uphold to many of their old customs and traditions and were torn from the only life that they ever knew. The once proud Sioux found their free-roaming life destroyed, the buffalo gone, and themselves confined to reservations dependent on Indian agents for their existence. So the Indians obstinately clung onto the one thing that they had left - their religion. For the Sioux people, this dominated nearly every thought and action.
In 1889, one of the most powerful medicine men, Wovoka of the Pauite tribe, had a vision. He had seen the buffalo return to the prairies in huge herds. Long dead Indians rose from their graves. And the white men had vanished from the earth. This would all be achieved by entire tribes performing a special dance. When white men saw the dancing and asked the reason for it, the Indians replied that it would make their dead rise from their graves. So the dance became called the "Ghost Dance." The entire Indian nation bonded together to execute the ritual, believing that it would work miracles.
Worried white families became terrified of the whooping and hollering. Then, in mid-November, a young, terrified, and inexperienced young agent from the Pine Ridge Reservation telegraphed Washington: "Indians are dancing in the snow and are wild and crazy . . . we need protection and we need it now . . . the leaders should be arrested and confined in some military post until the matter is quieted, and this should be done at once."
An Indian agent named James McLaughlin developed a plan to break the Sioux Indians' spirit. He wanted to arrest the Indian leaders and therefore discourage the Indians from dancing the Ghost Dance. To begin this plan, the arrest of the most famous of the Sioux chiefs, Sitting Bull, was ordered. On the night of December 15, 1890, Indian policemen awoke Sitting Bull and pushed him out of his cabin and into the snow while he was wearing only his underwear. A large crowd had gathered and a few of the Indians carried rifles. No other chief so fully personified the spirit of Indian resistance as
Sitting Bull. When a shot rang out, other people also opened fire. Along with eight other villagers, the mighty chief had been killed.
About one hundred of Sitting Bull's followers joined the camp of Chief Big Foot. On route to a neighboring tribe, they were spotted by a unit of the Seventh Cavalry. Big Foot, sick from pneumonia and coughing up blood, surrendered to the soldiers. The Indians were ordered to set up their tattered lodgings on Wounded Knee Creek.
After a few days, on the morning of December 20, Colonel Forsyth demanded the immediate surrender of all of their weapons. When only two or three broken carbines