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Remembering Wounded Knee - December 29, 1890

A desperate Indian Agent at Pine Ridge wired his superiors in 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 at some military post until the matter is quieted, and this should be done now." The order went out to arrest Chief Sitting Bull at the Standing Rock Reservation. Sitting Bull was killed in the attempt on December 15. Chief Big Foot was next on the list.

Army officer rides among dead at Wounded Knee, 1890.

Army officer rides among dead at Wounded Knee, 1890.

Big Foot heard of Sitting Bull’s death and led his people south to the Pine Ridge Reservation for protection. The army seized the band on December 28 and brought them to the edge of the Wounded Knee Creek to camp. The Indians offered no resistance. Colonel James Forsyth arrived to take command and ordered his guards to place four Hotchkiss cannons in position around the camp. The soldiers now numbered around 500; the Indians 350, all but 120 of these women and children.

The following morning, December 29, 1890, the soldiers entered the camp demanding that all Indian firearms be relinquished. Chief Big Foot, who was dying from pneumonia, sat among his warriors and tried to reason with the army officers. A medicine man named Yellow Bird advocated resistance, claiming the Ghost Shirts would protect them. One of the soldiers tried to disarm a deaf Indian named Black Coyote. A scuffle resulted and the firearm discharged. Within seconds the atmosphere exploded as Indians rushed to retrieve their discarded rifles and the troopers fired into the Sioux camp. From above Wounded Knee Creek, the army's Hotchkiss artillery opened up on them. Clouds of gun smoke filled the air as men, women and children scrambled for their lives. Many ran for a ravine next to the camp only to be cut down in the cross fire.

When the smoke cleared and the shooting stopped, approximately 300 Sioux were dead, Big Foot among them. Twenty-five soldiers lost their lives. As the remaining troopers began the horrific task of removing the dead, a blizzard swept in from the North. A few days later they returned to complete the job. Forsyth was later charged with killing the innocents, but exonerated.

For additional reading on this subject visit our bookstore.

McGregory, James H., The Wounded Knee Massacre; Fenwyn Press Books, 1940.

Utter, Jack, Wounded Knee & The Ghost Dance Tragedy, National Woodlands Publishing Company, Lake Ann, Michigan, 1991.


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