On December 15, 1890 authorities feared that the Sioux’s new Ghost
Dance? religion might inspire an uprising. Sitting Bull permitted Grand
River people to join the antiwhite Ghost Dance cult and was therefore
arrested by troops. In the fracas that followed, he was shot twice in the
Sitting Bull’ followers were apprehended and brought to the U.S
Army Camp at Wounded Knee Creek in southwestern South Dakota.
Moving among the tipis, soldiers lifted women’s dresses and
touched their private parts, ripping from them essential cooking and
sewing utensils. The men sitting in the council heard the angry shrieks of
their wives, mothers, and daughters. Several Lakota, offended by the
abusive actions of the cavalry, stubbornly waited to have their weapons
taken from them. It was a show of honor in front of their elders, for few
of them were old enough to have fought in the “Indian Wars” fifteen years
That night, everyone was tired out by the hard trip. James Asay, a
Pine Ridge trader and whiskey runner, brought a ten-gallon keg of whiskey
to the Seventh Cavalry officers. Many of the Indian men were kept up all
night by the drunken Cavalry where the soldiers kept asking them how old
they were. The soldiers were hoping to discover which of the men had been
at the Battle of Little Bighorn where Custer was killed.
On the bitterly cold morning of December 29, 1890, Alice Ghost
a thirteen- year old Lakota girl rode her horse through the U.S Army camp
looking for her father, one of the Indian men who had been rounded up
earlier that day.
Less than fifty yards away she could see her father sitting on the
ground with other disarmed men from Chief Big Foot’s band, surrounded by
more than 500 heavily armed soldiers of the Seventh Cavalry. She looked
North up the hill where four “guns on wheels” were mounted. Troopers
watched silently on each side of the Hotchkiss battery.
To one side Alice noticed a familiar figure standing with hands
raised above his head, his arms turned upward in prayer. It was the
medicine man by the name of Yellow Bird. He stood facing the east, right
by the fire pit which was now covered with dirt. He was praying and
crying. He was saying to the spotted eagles that he wanted to die instead
of his people. He must have sense that something was going to happen. He
picked up some dirt from the fire place and threw it up in the air and
said, “This is the way I want to go, back to dust.”
Seventh Cavalry interpreter Phillip F. Wells, whose knowledge of
the Lakota language was poor, later told military investigators that a man
named Yellow Bird stood up at Wounded Knee and deliberately incited the
Lakota to fight.
Colonel Forsyth gave a bizarre order: each soldier was told to aim
his unloaded gun at an Indians forehead and to pull the trigger. After
Wells translated the demeaning order to the astonished Lakota, they could
not comprehend this foolishness. Looking at each other, their faces grew
“wild with fear.”
Alice then saw two or three sergeants grab a deaf man named Black
Coyote who had yet to be disarmed. His friends had been so busy talking
that they had left him uniformed. The soldiers tore off his blanket,
roughly twirling him around. He raised his rifle above his head to keep it
away from them. In the midst of yelling, jerking, and twisting, the
struggle ended unexpectedly when the rifle pointed toward the east end
discharged in the crisp morning air.
Lieutenant James Mann screamed, “Fire! Fire on them!” On command
the troops opened fire in an explosive volley, enclosing both attackers
and victims in a dark curtain of pungent smoke.
That day over three hundred elderly men, women, and children, all
disarmed were brutally murdered. After the genocidal procedure occurred, a
blizzard hit, and it was on the forth day that search parties were sent
out to bury the dead.
A newspaper reporter accompanying the burial party described the
first body they found as that of a male about twelve years old. The boy
had been shot.
He was wearing a “ghost shirt” embolized with an eagle, buffalo, and
morning-star insignia. They believed that these symbols of powerful
spirits would protect them from the soldier’s bullets.
Many of the wounded survivors later died or were secretly carried
away in the night by Lakota from other bands. The dead were buried in
hidden locations, and carefully concealed from federal officials who later
underestimated the death toll at 146, over two hundred less than the
actual number butchered an their own land.
The frozen bodies were taken to the top of the hill overlooking
the valley where they had died. Gravediggers carved a gaping hole form the
earth, six feet deep, ten wide, sixty long. When the orders were given to
bury the first load, three soldiers jumped into the grave and each corpse
was given to them one at a time. They stripped them of all salable
articles from the bodies as if they were skinning rabbits.
Without prayer services of any kind, the Lakota dead were layered
in a mass grave, first one naked row across the bottom of the trench, and
old army blankets were placed over them, then another row of limp bodies
lengthwise. And so on they continued until the last mound of dirt was
In 1968, the Indian activist group known as AIM was born. The
actual founding members remain unknown, but Dennis Banks, Clyde
Bellecourt, and George Miller were prominent in its foundation. The group
was initially organized to deal with discriminatory practices of the
police in the arrest of Indians and to fight for the rights of American
In November 1972, members of AIM marched and protested in front of
the White House in Washington D.C. They had come to complain about the
treatment of the bureau towards them. The group of over 500 then decided
to take over the BIA building.
During the instrumental week-long occupation, the Indians
comfortably settled in the building. Cooking, dishwashing, and cleaning
was organized. Guards were appointed and children were looked after. This
was amazing considering the amount of people in the building. Then the
inevitable arrival of the police surrounded the building. Uniformed in
riot gear, the police began to beat Indians standing around the vicinity
and haul them to jail. A rainstorm of office materials were thrown at the
police. Many were discouraged and kept their distance from the entrance.
Inside the building, it was not totally chaotic but somewhat of an
organized confusion. Women and children ran for safety and the brave grasp
various weapons and stood their ground. Many were prepared to die in the
Indian Reorganization Act
The Indian Reorganization Act, a major reform of U.S policy toward
American Indians, was enacted by Congress on June 18, 1934 as a result of
a decade of criticism of conditions on the reservations. It forbade the
further allotment of tribal lands to individual Indians. It destroyed the
old, traditional form of Indian self- government. Power was mainly left to
half-blood tribal presidents whose alliance was mainly to the U.S
Dicky Wilson was the worst of this type. He was accused of
illegally converting tribal funds and having people beaten and murdered.
He also had Russel Means, a AIM leader, beaten up and sent to the
hospital. After that situation, AIM decided to fight back.
Siege of Wounded Knee
In February 1973, members of AIM gathered around a courthouse to
attend the trial of Wesly Bad Heart who had been stabbed to death by a
Not surprisingly, the murderer was acquitted. The group refused to accept
the decision. The coiled tension was about to be released by the abusive
actions of the police. Troopers used an array of riot weapons to control
the masses. Indians set buildings on fire and broke into stores. The
fighting lasted till midafternoon.
The group then decided to head to Wounded Knee, an Oglala Sioux
hamlet on the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota. Everyone began
setting up tents and making bunkers around the Sacred Heart Church. Only a
few had rifles and there was only one automatic weapon an AK-47. Many
stood silent as they stood on where many of there people were butchered.
Around the vicinity stood the Gildersleeve Trading Post and Sacred
Heart Church. Both had been desecretions of the slaughtered Indians from
the Original Battle of Wounded Knee. There was a store that sold postcards
with the images of the dead corpses. The church that overlooked the valley
was taken over by the Indians. They stormed in and began to dance Indian
fashion. A FBI car arrived to monitor their actions. We challenged them to
repeat the massacre that occurred almost a hundred years ago.
During the ten-week long takeover at Wounded Knee, the time was
mostly past in boredom. Women were sent to stores to buy food while others
prepared it. The brave and strong women carried weapons. A white man’s
home became a hospital ran by woman. More and more feds arrived to
surround the area and some shot at people. Some were strolling around in
armored vehicles others walked through the vicinity with attack dogs.
Reporters and politicians had also arrived. When food became short, they
began hunting for elks and bulls. One day a plane flew through and dropped
four hundred pounds of food. Everyone began to swarm around it and unpack
it. It was filled with powdered milk, beans, flour, rice, coffee,
bandages, vitamins, and antibiotics.
Two Indians were dead and many were injured. When an Indian was
shot at and badly hurt, they asked the feds to cease fire. They began to
wave a white flag. The two thousand Indians had stood their ground at