Massacre at Wounded Knee

by Devan Whitney and Gunnar Monical

A Period of Shame

In the year 1890, conflicts between Native Americans and American troops were winding down in the Great Plains. The Sioux had put up some of the fiercest resistance, with several different conflicts known as the Sioux Wars occurring in the late 1800's. In December of 1890, federal troops attempted to disarm a group of Lakota Indians (a Sioux tribe) in a remote part of South Dakota. A true massacre by the Federal Government ensued after they tried to disarm an Indian by the name of Black Coyote and a shot was fired. There were around 500 Federal Soldiers and 350 Sioux Indians that were involved in the massacre. This did not end peacefully and when the violence was over, around 300 Indians had been slaughtered from the Sioux tribes.The Massacre at Wounded Knee was an unnecessary engagement by the federal government that killed innocent Indian men, women, and children, but marked the start of peace amongst the Federal Government and Sioux Tribes. The American Indian Movement or "AIM" was partly inspired to form because of the massacre. This was created in 1968 as an attempt to prevent police harassment of the Indians in the Minneapolis area. Although the Sioux Wars had lasted decades, this was the last major engagement between U.S. Troops and Native Americans.

Needless slaughter

Federal troops had been sent to disarm members of two Lakota tribes near Wounded Knee creek in the badlands of South Dakota.The detachment consisted of mainly of soldiers from the 7th Cavalry Regiment, commanded by Colonel James Forsyth. They surrounded the Indians near Wounded Knee creek.Spotted Elk was a leader of these people.On December 29, 1890, the disarmament process began.When an Indian by the name of Black Coyote was asked to hand over his rifle, he refused, partly due to his deafness.A shot rang out, and the massacre began.Federal troops began firing indiscriminately towards the Indians.Four Hotchkiss guns, a light cannon, were positioned to attack the Indians.With rifle and cannon, over 300 Indians were killed.The Lakota could put up little resistance, but they still managed to inflict casualties on the federal troops.The 7th Cavalry was in such a frenzy that some of the men who died were killed by friendly fire.Around 200 of those who died were unarmed Lakota women and children.As they ran from the scene, soldiers chased them on the horses and shot them down.Wounded Indians were finished off by troops running out onto the battlefield.Among the dead was their leader Spotted Elk.All of this bloodshed was caused by a misunderstanding with a deaf man and the brash reaction by federal troops, yet led to over 300 deaths on both sides.(1.)
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The corpse of Spotted ELk

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A Fatal Misunderstanding

As history reveals the cold truth about the Massacre at Wounded Knee, evidence of terrible things emerges. An Indian by the name of Black Coyote was involved in the inciting incident of the massacre.Black Coyote was a member of the Miniconjou Lakota Sioux tribe. Although it is thought to be the fault of Black Coyote that caused the massacre, it was an extreme act of inconsiderate ignorance that was carried out by the federal soldiers. According to the biography of Black Coyote, he was deaf before the massacre. This could have played a significant role in the massacre because he may have not heard any demands coming from the soldiers telling him to relinquish his weapon. This may require more research because if Black Coyote had functioning hearing, this atrocity would have never occurred.Furthermore, the federal troops numbered around 500, whereas the Lakota around 350, and a majority of them women and children.Only 38 rifles had been found in the Indians' possession before the troops tried to disarm Black Coyote.The Hotchkiss guns also provided the 7th cavalry with an advantage in firepower.Not only were the fighting men of the tribe outmanned, but they were severely outgunned.Before the skirmish, the Indians did not want to fight, as they knew they could not win.

Black Coyote

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Melancholy Peace

After the brutal events at Wounded Knee, major conflict between Native Americans and the Federal Government came to an end.This event, seen as a brutal killing by Indians and a confused battle by the American government, was one of the final events of the Sioux Wars and Indian-American conflict as a whole.Since colonists had arrived in North America, conflict with Native Americans had occurred.Both sides committed atrocities on each other.Yet sometimes tribes would fight with a European nation, as in the French and Indian wars.Indians also fought for the British or Americans in the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812.Indians in these wars were from the east coast though.As the newly formed United States of America started to expand its borders, clashes with Indians became common.In Spanish Florida, the U.S. fought Seminole tribes before annexing the territory.As new territories were incorporated into the U.S. and settlers traveled west, the Great Plains were the scene of many engagements with Native Americans.The Sioux Wars had spanned decades, with true fighting intermittent.Hundreds of Americans and Indians had died during these years.The massacre at Wounded Knee may have finally ended Indian resistance, and as a result led to a uneasy peace between the government and Indians across the west.(3.)

Free Reservations

Today, the relationship between the federal government and Indian groups is considerably better.Indians are no longer oppressed by the government.Open conflict has not occurred between the U.S. government and Indians since the time of Wounded Knee.Indians have organizations that work to support them and work for their rights, such as the Bureau of Indian Affairs, itself a part of the federal government.Best of all, there are over 300 Indian Reservations in the United States, with a high degree autonomy to the point that they are almost independent nation-states.They are allowed to set up their own police forces and school districts.Many are impoverished compared to regions that actually belong to U.S. states, but it is a large step above the harsh treatment they received at Wounded Knee.(4.)

The American Indian Movement (AIM)

The American Indian Movement was founded in 1968 as a movement for Indian rights.The Wounded Knee Massacre was a very important event in history to the group. This movement was founded in Minneapolis, Minnesota by Dennis Banks, Clyde Bellecourt, Eddie Banai, and George Mitchell. The primary focus of this organization was intended to help Indians in ghettos who had been displaced by the government. AIM eventually encompassed almost all of Indian demands such as: economic independence, revitalization of traditional culture, protection of legal rights, and autonomy over tribal areas and the restoration of lands that had been taken from them. In 1973, members of this group occupied Pine Ridge Reservation, the site of the Wounded Knee Massacre.An armed standoff ensued for 71 days between the AIM members and federal law enforcement agencies.The American Indian Movement was essential if Indians wanted to make any progress in achieving all their wants and needs that had been kidnapped from them in previous years.(5.)

1973 Pine Ridge Standoff

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An End to Conflict?

Looking back at all of the confrontations between the U.S. and Indians who had lived there long before, the Massacre of Wounded Knee is one of the most cruel and saddening incidents. It started from a misunderstanding, and turned into a confused frenzy of death.Over 300 Lakota died that day, most unarmed, most innocent.If it truly did put an end to such conflicts, or was simply the last skirmish in a long chain of wars and battles, relations with Indians became more peaceful and gradually improved over the coming years.Today, Indians have more rights than they have ever had in the past, with reservations and an increased awareness of their culture, heritage, and history.Wounded Knee came to mean something to groups such as AIM, almost a rallying cry for all the injustices the Americans had caused all Indians to suffer.Today, it is looked upon with great shame, and shows us the wrong course of action to take in a unified America, where a great number of cultures and people blend together to form one national identity.