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The Massacre at Wounded Knee
Pine Ridge Indian Reservation South Dakota December 29
 - 1890



 

Formerly known as Red Dog Camp the area at Wounded Knee lived a small number of reservation people. The name Wounded Knee reflected an old Lakota story wherein an elderly man who lived in the area was accidentally struck by an arrow in his knee, breaking his kneecap. The name Cankpe Opi (shot in the knee) was later translated to Wounded Knee.

1889 Mason Valley in Nevada native Paiutes Mr. Jack Wilson the Prophet Wovoka was a respected holy man, in January during a solar eclipse Jack had a vision. Jack stood with god in heaven & saw his ancestors & his land filled with wildlife & food for his people. Jack was told to return to his people & teach them to love each other & not fight amongst themselves or with the settlers. God told Jack that in 2 year 1892 Jesus would return to Earth and his people must not steal & cause trouble also they must stop self harm while mourning their dead.

Jack informed his tribe that god had given him the power to control the weather. Jack Wilson thought his people to dance in a circle and all evil will go away and would be replaced with love and gods Faith. The dance was called the Spirit Dance OR Ghost Dance. 

The Lakota tribe interpretation of The Ghost Dance drew from their traditional idea of a "renewed Earth" in which "all evil is washed away". This Lakota interpretation included the removal of all European Americans from their land They told the Indians they could dance a new world into being. There would be landslides, earthquakes, and big winds. Hills would pile up on each other. The earth would roll up like a carpet with all the white man's ugly things – the stinking new animals, sheep and pigs, the fences, the telegraph poles, the mines and factories. Underneath would be the wonderful old-new world as it had been before the white fat-takers came. The white men will be rolled up, disappear, go back to their own continent" LAME DEER 

Kicking Bear a first cousin of Crazy Horse went South to meet with Jack Wilson to learn about the Ghost Dance & In October 1890 Kicking Bear came to visit Standing Rock reservation to meet with Chief Sitting Bull & his people. Kicking Bear held a meeting with the Tribe at Standing Rock reservation in Northern Dakota and soke of what he learned from WOVOKA Jack Wilson to dance the ghost dance & the food and buffalo would return in the Spring - Do not cause trouble but dance in peace & all our dead relatives would return & the settlers would go back East. Sitting Bull knew his people were desperate , with little food & millions of acres of their land stolen, the Ghost Dance started all through November.

 

The Agent at Standing Rock reservation James MC Laughlin did everything in his power to undermine the influence of Chief Sitting Bull. James Mc Laughlin had little respect for the Chief who just a few years earlier owned Montana & Dakota together with Chiefs from the Northern Cheyenne  / Sioux / Crow / Santee / Miniconjou / Hunkpapa 
Sitting Bull along with other Indian Chiefs 15 years earlier owned millions of acres of land across Montana & Dakota & into Wyoming. Now forced to relocate from is homeland & Live on Standing Rock Reservation. Sitting Bull was told by Agent Mc Laughlin that he was no longer Chief and his his people would have to obey James Mc Laughlin, otherwise go without food rations & be sent to the solide


James MC Laughlin had no respect for the great Chief Sitting Bull & formed Indian police to watch Sitting Bull and divide the tribe. The agent would reward Indians that began to speak against their traditional native customs & values.

On the 17th November from his head quarters in Chicago General Nelson Miles ordered troops to march on the Sioux reservations, by early December 1890 the largest army since the civil war was on high alert because of the Indians Ghost dance.

On the 17th October Agent James Mc Loughlin wrote a letter to The Commissioner Of Indian affairs in Washington blaming Sitting Bull for allowing his people to continue with the Ghost Dance.

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The settlers / ranchers & cowboys living on Indian lands were nervous about the Ghost dance & demanded action from the US Army & Indian agents. On 15th December 1890 Agent James MC Laughlin ordered 39 of his Lakota police to arrest Sitting Bull and not allow him to escape.


Settings Bulls cabin was on the banks of the Grand river, among the arresting party were men who had fought with Sitting Bull at the Battle of the Little Big Horn, Shave Head - Bull Head - Gray Eagle - and who suffered with him in exile in Canada, but now the poisoned words of Agent James MC Laughlin rang in their ear so now the Hunkpapa's were bitterly divided.

Lies greed for more land & total submission from Sitting Bull & his band - The Indian police were told to surround Sitting Bulls cabin in the early hours of the 15th December, as the police kicked open his cabin door, his wife began to cry out, at first Sitting Bull agreed to go quietly, but when the nervous Lakota policemen started manhandling him to get dressed (it must have been so humiliating for this great Chief) . Outside his Cabin Sitting Bulls followers gather as Lieutenant Henry Bull Head pulled & shoved the struggling 59 year old leader towards his horse.

 

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The crowd shouted "You will not take our chief" a warrior named Catch The Bear raised his rifle & shot Lieutenant Bull Head the officer in charge in his side as he fell Bull Head shot Sitting Bull in the chest, another policeman Red Tomahawk shot Sitting Bull in the back of head.

For a few minutes Sitting Bulls people fought the Indian police, clubs axes Knives were used in hand to hand fighting until Sitting Bulls followers ran away towards the Bad Lands.
The Indian police carried their wounded into Sitting Bulls cabin, once inside they heard a noise under the bed & Sitting Bulls young teenage son Crow Foot came out begging for mercy "please don't kill me I do not wish to Die" Lone Man hit Crow Foot in the head with the butt of his gun and as Crow Foot begged for mercy was murdered on the floor of his fathers cabin. The Indian police sent a messenger to the US Soldiers closes by to come quickly.

 

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When the soldiers arrived at Grand River Sitting Bulls camp in the early hours Captain Fechets memory " I saw evidence of a most desperate encounter, in front of the cabin & a within a radius of 50 yards were the bodies of 8 Indians including that of Sitting Bull & 2 dead horses, inside the cabin were 4 dead policemen & 3 wounded 2 mortally Bull Head & Shave Head. To add to the horror of the scene the squaws of Sitting Bull who were in a small house nearby kept up a great wailing."

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The soldiers fired through the tree's at the fleeing Indians. Sitting Bulls body was thrown into a wagon with the dead policemen, two days later the Indian policemen were buried in the catholic cemetery at Standing Rock Agency with full military honor's. Sitting Bulls corpse (body) was wrapped in a dirty piece of canvas with stiff frozen blood his body was thrown into a hole dug from the ground without ceremony in a Paupers grave.

Now the heavily armed soldier's were ordered to capture the Indians who fled from their agency's. Sitting Bulls followers fled south to Cheyenne River reservation looking for safety with Big Foot of the Miniconjou Sioux. Word of Sitting Bulls murder & the soldiers firing artillery at the fleeing Indians, panic set in amongst the Indians & fearing they would also be murdered or imprisoned Big Foot and his band of 333 men women & children slipped quietly out of their village and headed south towards Pine Ridge reservation, hoping to find protection with Chief Red Cloud.

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Father Francis Craft

On December 18th a nephew of Sitting Bull arrived at Big Foots camp & told Big Foot that Chief Sitting Bull had been murdered and his people had fled South to Cherry Creek, where they were without food or shelter, Big Foot sent 10 men to Cherry Creek & offered the starving people food, cloths & warm shelter.

 

Over 40 Hunkpapa Sioux joined Big Foot & his camp. On the 20th 1890 December Lieutenant Colonel Summer's command caught up with Big Foot, Summer angrily demanded to know why Big Foot was offering Sitting Bulls people food & shelter, Big Foot told Summer that he wanted to help Hunkpapa who were starving, Colonel Summer accepted the explanation from Big Foot & made note that the Indians were " so pitiable a sight, they could not be hostile". Summer & his soldiers escorted Big Foot and his people near to Camp Cheyenne. Big Foot was ill with pneumonia and his people were hungry afraid what the soldiers would do next. At Camp Cheyenne Summer telegraphed Miles to say that the "Indians seem a harmless lot, mostly women & children"

On The 23rd December Summer had received orders from General Miles to take Big Foot & his camp to Fort Bennett 

Summer sent a local cattle rancher John Dunn (Red Whiskers) to Big Foots camp with orders to take his people towards fort Bennett immediately otherwise the soldiers would come & force the Indian to move.

By now Chief Big Foot could barley move, blood was dripping from his nose, his people afraid of what the soldiers would do if they rode into their camp, gathered their belongings & ran / fled South going towards Pine Ridge agency & Red Clouds Lakota. John Dunn & a Scout Benoit went to Summer and informed him that Big Foot was heading towards Fort Bennet as ordered. Big Foot sent a message to Colonel Summer that his people were afraid of the soldiers looking for them & wanted to go to Pine Ridge agency instead.

 

When Colonel Summer realized that Big Foots people were traveling to Pine Ridge he sent a Telegram to Colonel Eugene Carr whose soldiers were riding between Pine Ridge & Cheyne River reservation ordering him to capture the Indians while he Summer guarded against the Indians from the North.  General Nelson Miles was angry at Summer for his failure to capture Big Foots tribe On the 25th December Christmas Day Big Foot was now so Ill he could not move with pain, the blood froze in his nose making it difficult to breath, Big Foot sent a message to the Oglala at Pine Ridge

that he was sick & traveling slowly through the Badlands that his people were on the way to the Pine Ridge reservation.

At Pine Ridge General Brooke was concerned that Kicking Bear & Short Bull would meet with Big Foot & convince his people not to surrender at Pine Ridge, Brooke sent a Telegram to Major Samuel Whitside who was camped with his soldier at a trading post near Wounded Knee to capture Big Foot and his people.

On the 27th December Colonel Brooke sent a message to Major Samuel Whitside "Find Big Foots trail follow or find his hiding place & capture him. If he fights Destroy him." The wind blew up a storm and the freezing snow was falling as the soldiers rode out to capture Big Foot, after several hours Whitside & his soldiers camped South West of Wounded Knee creek. On the 28th December early morning Whitside offered a $25 reward for any mix blood Indian scout who could locate Big Foot, Baptiste Garnier & Scouts John Shangrau along with Yankton Charley rode out along Porcupine Creek several miles below their Camp, Little Bat (Baptiste) riding ahead saw Big Foot's people traveling from the East.

 

Little Bat quickly raced back to inform Whitside that he saw Big Foot's people heading towards Wounded Knee. Whitside gave the order to his troops BOOTS & SADDLES and they rode about 9 miles from camp.  The soldiers rode

out to arrest Chief Big Foot & his people, when the Indians & soldiers came within sight of each other, Whiteside ordered the Cannon to the side and sent his interrupter to tell Big Foot to come forward & talk. 

Big Foot now severely sick in a Wagon rode out to meet the soldiers & shook hands with the Major Whiteside

& said "I am Sick" my people here want peace" - Whiteside responded that Big Foot must agree to Unconditional surrender or fight the soldiers? Big Foot responded " We surrender" 

Whiteside ordered Big Foot to tell his people to move towards Wounded Knee creek & make camp for the night, Big Foot, his family & 120 Indians as instructed moved towards the ravine & made camp. Further up the hill with an estimate of over 500 soldiers of the 7th Calvary made camp & placed the cannons ready for use pointing towards Big Foot & his people camping below. That evening Colonel James Forsyth took over command from Whiteside - Forsyth had orders to disarm the Sioux & although unknowns to Chief Big Foot send his people to Prison in Omaha.

A trader from Pine Ridge brought a Keg of Whiskey & Throughout the evening & night of the 28th December the soldiers drank & celebrated the surrender of Big Foot & his tribe of men women & children. Big Foot was so sick he

had difficulty breathing & was in so much pain couldn't lie down to sleep, the Indians were uneasy as they lay awake surrounded by the soldiers cheering & laughing while drinking whiskey.

The next morning 29th December 1890 the soldiers sat around fires & ate hardtack & drank Coffee, most of the soldiers had little experience, 6 had fought with Custer at The Little Big Horn 14 years agon in 1876. Forsyth ordered Big Little Bat & another scout to tell Big Foot Foot & his elders to come too his camp for a Council - Forsyth told the Indian chiefs that they & their people were now prisoners, they must surrender their guns to his soldiers.

Two regiments from Troop B & K along with Interpreter Little Bat & John Shangru, went through the Indian Camp & searched the tents & Indians for guns & ammunition, The soldiers found 45 guns many old & damaged and took them to the council area Now attention turned to the Indians attending the council with Forsyth then Ordered his men to a personal search of  each Indian individually for weapons, the Indians in the council were outnumbered 3 - 1 . Interpreter

Philip Wells who had arrived with additional troops the night before, Wells was a 40 year old mix blood scout who was loyal to the soldiers & Lieutenant Forsyth, Wells had translated the surrender of Sitting Bull in 1881. Once again Philip

Wells instructed Big Foot to tell his people to give up & handover their guns & When Big Foot Replied we already had

Philip Wells translated to Forsyth who shouted at Big Foot "Liar" & said he would send the soldiers to get the guns.

"All right let them do it" Big Foot answered....."Boys do not be mad" Let them do it"

A priest Father Craft from Pine Ridge reservation walked amongst the frightened Indians  giving them cigarettes all the time reassuring the Indians that no harm would come to them.

Forsyth sent his soldiers & ordered Captain Charles A Varnum & Captain D. Wallace to take four soldiers & 2 interpreters Little Bat & John Shangreau  to search the Tepees. First Lieutenant James D. Mann explained what 

happened during the search of Tepee's

 

"The enlisted men were not allowed to go inside the tents & only took arms as We handed them out of the Tepee. The Squaws were sitting on bundles concealing guns & other Arms. We lifted them & treated them as nicely as possible.

Had they been the most refined ladies in the land, they could have been treated with better consideration. The squaws made no resistance, & when we took the arms they seemed satisfied." 

Despite Manns statement some of the women hiding weapons were forcibly removed from their home's (Tepee) crying & protesting the intrusion of officers inside their Tepee - The Indian men at the council ground could hear the cries of 

their families as their homes were ransacked by the soldiers. The soldiers walked through the camp's looking everywhere for weapons, looking through hay that fed the Indian ponies to searching under the ashes from burnt fires

No stone was left unturned during the search & taking anything they considered could be used as a weapon, the soldiers took, tent stakes, axes, ammunition & old bows n arrows. Captain Wallace a Veteran of The Little Big Horn took a stone headed war club from a Tepee and said he would hang it in his Office.

 - some might say it was Theft.

The soldiers reportedly found 49 guns many old & damaged- some of the guns were broken or without a firing cap.

They were taken north West of the council area deposited to a  pile of surrendered weapons.  Young Second Lieutenant Guy H. Preston normally with the Indian scouts, supervised the the weapons deposit & as the pile grew he kept fellow officers from stealing souvenirs. 

During the search of the Indian Camp Forsyth spoke aggressively to the Indian men in the council area, about their "Duplicity and their faithless disregard of promises"....... The Indians listened sullenly. Newspaper correspondent Charley Allen bored from listening to Forsyth scold the Indians left & joined the search of the Indian Camp.

Another weapons pile was started in the council area West of Big Foots tent, most of the soldiers returned to the council area with the confiscated / retrieved items, however a few soldiers stayed behind in the Indian camp without 

authority & began to steal various possessions from the Indians Tepee (homes.) The Elderly, along with the Women

afraid began to pack their belongings.  At the council site a solder called out Loudly to Forsyth that the Camp search was now completed. 

Attention was now focused on the Indian men in the Council circle.

Forsyth ordered his men to search each of the Indians in the council area individually, Forsyth ordered the Indians to return to their camp by passing through a Gap in the council which was guarded by Troops B & K where a search detail by Wallace - Varum & about six soldiers to inspect each Indian passing through the gap for concealed weapons. Whitside supervised & personally searched the Indians.

A Indian named Yellow Bird his face painted green & wearing a war bonnet started to sing & dance picking up dust & throwing it towards the soldiers. Varnum & Whitside's men continued to search each Sioux confiscating old muskets

and some ammunition. Yellow Bird started to dance the Ghost Dance & sang - all the while the soldiers searched looking for weapons - A sergeant searched a Deaf Indian named Black Coyote OR Fox, Black Fox was screaming to

be left alone and shouted out ..."I do not want to be Killed - I am a man & was raised in this World"..... The Indian could not hear or understand the orders & both were now wrestling over the deaf Indians concealed Winchester. The soldiers surrounding the Indian leveled their guns towards the Indian when - Suddenly The scout Little Bat shouted " Look out ! Look out they are going to shoot" Black Fox gun went off firing into the clear blue morning sky.

Lieutenant Mann described the moment:

" In front of me were four Bucks, three armed with rifles & 1 with bow n arrow. I drew my revolver & stepped through the line to my place with my detachment of Troops K. The Indians raised their weapons over their heads to heaven as if in votive offering, then brought them down to bare on us....Then they seemed to wait an instant. The medicine man thew a handful of dust into the air, put on his war bonnet and then I heard a gun fire near him. This seemed to be the signal they had been waiting for and the firing immediately began. I ordered my men to fire and the reports were almost simultaneous. " 

Forsyth screamed an order to his men " Fire - Fire"  The soldiers repeatedly fired volley after volley into the council ground killing women & children also shot soldiers across the council line. The rapid fire was so intense it sounded like a canvas tearing - like hail - like rambling thunder.  Chief Big Foot who was lying ill in a wagon was shot through the head. Captain Wallace fell dead from a blow of the war club he had stolen from a Tepee.

In the panic & confusion that followed some Indians ran towards the weapons pile. Yellow Bird was killed by a hail of gunfire from the soldiers line. Interpreter Philip Wells took a knife slash to his face which left the Tip of his nose hanging off, Wells shot the Indian and just as he was about the tear off his nose hanging by a piece of skin Lieutenant Preston Cried out..."My god man, don't do that, That can be saved" ..Preston led Wells back to the camp hospital where Dr. Ewing stitched & used a bandage to save Wells nose.

During the roar of Firing guns & hand to hand combat Father Craft was still calling out to try & calm the Indians when he was hit in the foot by a bullet & then stabbed by an Indian - father Craft continued to pray for the wounded men & until he fainted. Troops B & K Company sustained mounting causalities, some of the soldiers dropped to their knee to take carful aim towards the Indians. The Indians returned fire & one Officer said.." I never in my life saw Springfield carbines worked so industriously as at that Place".. 

The soldiers now drew their revolvers and used them at close range & blazed away at the Indians swirling around the council........From a vantage point of the artillery position Private John W Comfort watched the action below

" In the first rush after the two troops and the warriors poured their volleys into each other, I saw four warriors close on a calvary sergeant, having no time to load his used his carbine as a club. He went down but so did they from the fire that was focused on them from the several vantage points. A private in the act of loading his carbine was beset by a warrior who placed the muzzle of his Winchester right against the soldiers beast and fired. He killed the soldier but fell dead beside him"

 

Lieutenant Mann Described The moment....

"In front of me were four Bucks, three armed with rifle's & one armed with a bow n arrow , I drew my revolver & stepped through the line to my place with my detachment (Troop K). The Indians raised their weapons over their heads as if offering, then brought them down to bare on Us...they then seemed to wait an instant. The medicine man throw dust into the air, put on his war bonnet, then I heard a gun fired near him. This seemed to be the signal they had been waiting for and firing immediately began. I ordered my men to fire & the shots were almost simultaneous".