Wounded Knee Massacre 124 Years Ago Today: We Remember Those Lost


Never Forget

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One hundred and twenty-four winters ago, on December 29, 1890, many Lakota men, women and children were massacred by the US 7th Calvary Regiment near Wounded Knee Creek on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. Some estimate the actual number closer to 300.

On the morning of December 29, the troops went into the camp to disarm the Lakota. During the process of disarming the Lakota, a deaf tribesman named Black Coyote was reluctant to give up his rifle, claiming he’d paid a lot for it. A scuffle over Black Coyote’s rifle escalated and a shot was fired which resulted in the 7th Cavalry’s opening fire indiscriminately from all sides, killing men, women, and children, as well as some of their own fellow soldiers. The Lakota warriors who still had weapons began shooting back at the attacking soldiers, who quickly suppressed the Lakota fire. The surviving Lakota fled, but U.S. cavalrymen pursued and killed many who were unarmed.

Snowfall was heavy that December week. The Lakota ancestors killed that day were left in brutal frigid wintry plains of the reservation before a burial party came to bury them in one mass grave.

Spotted Elk

This photograph of Chief Spotted Elk’s frozen and contorted body is a symbol for all American Indians of what happened to our ancestors.

By the time it was over, more than 200 men, women, and children of the Lakota had been killed and 51 were wounded (4 men, 47 women and children, some of whom died later); some estimates placed the number of dead at 300. Twenty-five soldiers also died, and 39 were wounded (6 of the wounded would later die).

Wounded Some of those who survived were eventually taken to the Episcopal mission in Pine Ridge. Eventually, some of them were able to give an oral history of what happened. One poignant fact of the massacre has remained in my mind since first reading it, and every time I think about Wounded Knee, I remember this:

“IT WAS THE FOURTH DAY AFTER CHRISTMAS IN THE YEAR OF OUR LORD 1890. WHEN THE FIRST TORN AND BLEEDING BODIES WERE CARRIED INTO THE CANDLELIT CHURCH, THOSE WHO WERE CONSCIOUS COULD SEE CHRISTMAS GREENERY HANGING FROM THE OPEN RAFTERS. ACROSS THE CHANCEL FRONT ABOVE THE PULPIT WAS STRUNG A CRUDELY LETTERED BANNER: “PEACE ON EARTH, GOOD WILL TO MEN”  writes Dee Brown in “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee.”

There was no peace on earth for the Lakota four days after Christmas.

frozen Frozen Lakota bodies being removed from the massacre 

Lt. ClomanLt. Sydney A. Cloman: 1st Infantry Among the frozen bodies of Lakota Sioux

Later, as absurd as it may sound, some 20 US Calvary soldiers were given the Medal of Honor – for killing innocent Lakota men, women and children. What an insult to those who lost their lives. What an insult to humanity. The National Congress of American Indians passed two resolutions condemning the awards and called on the U.S. government to rescind them. The site of the battlefield has been designated a National Historic Landmark.

The Wounded Knee Massacre is a symbol for all American Indians of what happened to our ancestors.

History records the Wounded Knee Massacre was the last battle of the American Indian war. Unfortunately, it is when most American history books drop American Indians from history, as well. As if we no longer exist.

Collage

Fortunately, American Indians have survived – one generation after another – since Wounded Knee. It is for us who remain to remember our ancestors as we make for a better life for those we encounter today. We are also taught to prepare for the next seven generations, but as we do, we must remember our ancestors. We remember those ancestors lost on December 29 — 124 winters ago today.

Wounded Knee Survivors Wounded Knee Survivors, Brothers: White Lance, Joseph Horn Cloud and Dewey Beard

Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee
by Buffy Saint Marie (Piapot Cree First Nations Reserve Qu’Appelle Valley, Saskatchewan, Canada)

Indian legislation on the desk of a do-right Congressman
Now, he don’t know much about the issue
so he picks up the phone and he asks advice from the
Senator out in Indian country
A darling of the energy companies who are
ripping off what’s left of the reservations. Huh.

I learned a safety rule
I don’t know who to thank
Don’t stand between the reservation and the
corporate bank
They send in federal tanks
It isn’t nice but it’s reality

chorus:
Bury my heart at Wounded Knee
Deep in the Earth
Cover me with pretty lies
bury my heart at Wounded Knee. Huh.

They got these energy companies that want the land
and they’ve got churches by the dozen who want to
guide our hands
and sign Mother Earth over to pollution, war and
greed
Get rich… get rich quick.

We got the federal marshals
We got the covert spies
We got the liars by the fire
We got the FBIs
They lie in court and get nailed
and still Peltier goes off to jail

chorus:
My girlfriend Annie Mae talked about uranium
Her head was filled with bullets and her body dumped
The FBI cut off her hands and told us she’d died of
exposure
Loo loo loo loo loo

chorus:
We had the Goldrush Wars
Aw, didn’t we learn to crawl and still our history gets
written in a liar’s scrawl
They tell ‘ya “Honey, you can still be an Indian
d-d-down at the ‘Y’
on Saturday nights”

Bury my heart at Wounded Knee
Deep in the Earth
Cover me with pretty lies
Bury my heart at Wounded Knee. Huh!

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