December 29, 1890: Wounded Knee Massacre

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While we’re all sitting about in our mid-Holiday malaise, drunk on sugar and fat, filled with drink and feasting and friendship and song, it should be mandatory to sober up for a moment or two and give some thought to one of the great, horrific, historical moments of our very checkered American WK1past.  On a blistering cold South Dakota day, elements of the American 7th Cavalry, still  smarting from Custer’s incompetent, buffoonish debacle years before, and under the command of Col. James W. Forsyth, cornered a small band of Lakota and drove them to a forced encampment at Wounded Knee Creek under escort.

This occurred in the waning days of the “Indian Wars.”  The native Bison, or Buffalo, upon which plains Indian culture had relied, had been hunted WK12to the brink of extinction, effectively pushing the native communities to the same precipice.  Treaties were made and shattered in the insatiable search for fertile land and gold, ever greater numbers of Indians were being forced onto reservations, which were continually made smaller.  White settlers were spooked by the emergence of the “Ghost Dances,” a native spiritual movement which, in short, amounted to the Christian Messiah returning to Earth as a Native American, bringing peaceWK9 and prosperity to all.

On the morning of Dec 29, while the Union forces undertook efforts to disarm the few natives who still possessed weapons, a medicine man began a Ghost Dance, which put the superstitious soldiers on edge.  Then,  a scuffle broke out when one of the Lakota, a deaf man named Black Coyote, either resisted surrendering his expensive property or didn’t understand the soldiers’ commands.  In the struggle, the rifle discharged.

WK6The soldiers killed everyone.  The Lakota who were still armed.  The women.  The children.  The aged.  Over 150-and as many as 300 Indians died, with another 50 wounded–many of whom also died of their wounds in the ensuing weeks.  They were shot, stabbed, bayoneted.  In the midst of the horror, zealous artillerymen turned their cannons on the villages, where many of the women, children, and aged were sheltered in tipis–tents.  The WK10government reported 25 soldiers dead and 39 wounded–most of whom fell at the hands of friendly fire from both rifles and the enthusiastic cannon crews.

The military left the Indian dead on the field for three days, where they froze in a blizzard, before hiring civilians to bury them in mass graves on the hillside where the cavalry had placed their cannons.

WK4Colonel Forsyth was temporarily removed from command by his superior officer, who always believed that Forsyth engineered the atrocities purposefully, but the War Department reversed the decision, refused to conduct a court martial proceeding, and Forsyth was promoted.  The U. S. Government awarded no less than 2o medals of honor to various soldiers for their part in the massacre.

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Merry Christmas, and Happy New Years!

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About JunkChuck

Native, Militant Westsylvanian (the first last best place), laborer, gardener, and literary hobbyist (if by literary you mean "hack"). I've had a bunch of different blogs, probably four, due to a recurring compulsion to start over. This incarnation owes to a desire to dredge up the best entries of the worst little book of hand-scrawled poems I could ever dream of writing, salvageable excerpts from fiction both in progress and long-abandoned. and a smattering of whatever the hell seems to fit at any particular moment. At first blush, I was here just to focus on old, terrible verse, but I reserve the right to include...anything. Maybe everything, certainly my love of pulp novels growing garlic, the Pittsburgh Steelers and howling at the moon--both figuratively and, on rare occasions, literally.
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2 Responses to December 29, 1890: Wounded Knee Massacre

  1. kingmidget says:

    We journeyed through Wounded Knee and Little Big Horn when i was seven years old. It has been a place I wanted to return to my entire adult life because of the history that surrounds that landmark of shame. That soldiers got medals for the atrocity is just so disgusting. Last January, I was driving my son from Mammoth Lakes down to Long Beach. The route goes along the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range for quite awhile. Completely out of the blue, we came across Manzanar, the internment camp where thousands of Japanese Americans were forced to live during World War II. It was right there, mere yards from the freeway. There wasn’t much left, but they have maintained several buildings to reflect what the place was like. Another landmark of shame.

    Thanks for sharing this. We should never forget our history, even the bad chapters.

    Like

  2. It has always been my understanding that Wounded Knee was the last “battle” of the Indian Wars that essentially raged for nearly 400 years on two continents. It’s crazy for me to think that I have a grandfather who was born not too far from Wounded Knee, and just six years after. Also, that reminds me . . . I’d better post something tomorrow as well!

    Like

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