Wounded Knee

Wounded Knee, creek, rising in SW S.Dak. and flowing NW to the White River; site of the last major battle of the Indian wars. The Wounded Knee Massacre was a conflict between the North American Lakota People and agents of the U.S. government. Most of the victims were members of the Miniconjou band of the Lakota Sioux. They had been intercepted by military forces after they fled their reservation in South Dakota for refuge in the Badlands. After the death of Sitting Bull, a band of Sioux, led by Chief Big Foot, were captured by the Seventh Cavalry on Dec. 28, 1890, and brought to the creek. On Dec. 29, the Sioux were surrounded and ordered to disarm. Some Indians began singing a Ghost Dance, which involved throwing handfuls of dirt in the air. The troops perceived these actions as signals to attack. A man (possibly named Black Coyote) refused to forfeit his rifle to a U.S. soldier. In the ensuing struggle the gun discharged, at which point the U.S. troops opened fire. The outnumbered Lakotas fled, with the military in pursuit. More than 250 Native Americans (including Chief Big Foot) were killed, including women and children. According to oral testimony by Indian survivors, some soldiers shouted "Remember the Little Bighorn" as they gave chase to those who fled. Casualties were discovered up to three miles away from the camp. Photographers accompanied the burial detail. The photographs, together with news stories, spread the story of the Wounded Knee Massacre. The site, which is on the Pine Ridge reservation, is now a national historic landmark.

The village of Wounded Knee, which borders the creek, was seized and occupied (Feb.–May, 1973) by American Indian Movement and Oglala Sioux activists protesting the treatment of Native Americans and the governance of the tribe. An armed standoff resulted between the occupiers and federal authorities, and several persons died from gunshots during the 71-day occupation. After the Native Americans surrendered, the leaders of the occupation were tried, but the case was dismissed on grounds of misconduct by the prosecution.

See H. C. Richardson, Wounded Knee: Party Politics and the Road to an American Massacre (2010); J. A. Greene, American Carnage: Wounded Knee (2014); D. W. Grua, Surviving Wounded Knee: The Lakotas and the Politics of Memory (2016); R. L. Nichols, Massacring Indians: From Horseshoe Bend to Wounded Knee (2021).

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