One hundred and twenty four years ago today (DEC 29th 1890) 150 Native Americans were shot dead at Wounded Knee. Some historians estimate the number killed at twice that amount. There is little debate over the fact that regardless of the number of dead, over half were women and children. The event was originally referred to as a battle but in reality, it was a tragic and avoidable massacre. Two weeks prior to this an arrest of Sitting Bull ended in his death leading many Native Americans to believe it was an execution rather than an arrest.
During the late 1880s and into the 1890s the Native Americans believed they had been defeated and confined to the reservations because they had angered the gods—this due to an abandonment of their traditional ways. It was believed a return to their traditional ways would create a new world where all non-believers (as well as non-Indians) would be destroyed. Many Sioux believed the Ghost Dance would bring about this new world. The Ghost Dance worried the US Government which lead to the “arrest” of Sitting Bull, the Sioux Chief who they mistakenly believed was the main instigator of the Ghost Dance.
On December 29th, 1890 the US 7th Cavalry surrounded the weak and predominantly unarmed Sioux. An order was given for all Indians to turn over their weapons. It is unclear who fired the first shot, but the discharge of the first round was quickly followed by a barrage of rifle-fire from the soldiers of the 7th Cavalry.
It is prudent to believe that the 1st shot was not fired by a Native American. A number of assumptions can be called upon to sustain this belief. The Indians were mostly unarmed and they had to know any adverse action would result in what transpired. It can also be surmised the Native Americans were all too weak to put up much of a fight since they had been living with no shelter or food for a number days in the very cold harshness of winter in South Dakota. It is hard to believe that this band of Indians—under Chief Big Foot after Sitting Bull’s death—would have intentionally started a fight. Many speculate the 7th Cavalry’s action was deliberate—retaliation and revenge for the regiment’s defeat at the Little Bighorn.
History is written by the victors and regardless of which version you believe it is worth noting the plight of the Native American continues today. If we fail to acknowledge this present day fact we are doomed to relive it and guilty of this continued atrocity.
This is a very short and only slightly detailed bit of history. I highly recommend you read the book, “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee” written by Dee Brown.