The Wounded Knee Massacre of Peaceful Sioux [Part II]

Hunter Gray hunterbadbear at
Fri Dec 28 20:44:00 MST 2001

Note by Hunterbear:

This is the second and final section of this post on the hideous atrocity at
Wounded Knee Creek, South Dakota, December 29, 1890.


>From Jordan Dill's website, at

A Massacre Survivor Speaks...

He liked to talk about the past...In Lakota, he was called Wasee Maza - Iron
Tail - and years after the massacre, General Nelson Miles had invited him to
Washington and introduced Beard to a number of military officials. Among
those he met was Admiral George Dewey, naval hero of Manila Bay and the
Spanish-American War. Later, he formed his own name by taking an old Sioux
nickname -Beard - and adding it to the admiral's surname.

"At eighteen, Beard [born in 1857] had been among a group of warriors who
had crossed the Little Bighorn in the final moments of the battle. [Now] at
thirty-three, he and his family were camped in Big Foot's village. Years
later, the last Lakota survivor of both Custer and Wounded Knee talked at
length about the fight inside the council grounds, about the flight from the
Miniconju village into the ravine. Beard spoke through an interpreter, who
both summarized and quoted him directly:

"The struggle for the gun was short, the muzzle pointed upward toward the
east and the gun discharged. In an instant a volley followed as one shot,
and the people began falling. He saw everybody was rolling and kicking on
the ground. He looked southeastward and he did not know what he was going to
do. He had only one knife. He looked eastward and saw the soldiers were
firing on Indians and stepping backwards and firing. His thought was to rush
on the soldiers and take a gun from one of them. He rushed toward on the
west to get a gun. While he was running, he could see nothing for the smoke;
through the rifts he could see the brass buttons of the uniforms; he rushed
up to a soldier whose gun rested over Dewey's shoulder and was discharged
when the muzzle was near his ear, and it deafened him for a while. Then he
grabbed the gun and wrenched it away from the soldier. When he got the gun,
he drew his knife and stabbed the soldier in the breast...While Dewey was on
this soldier, some other soldiers were shooting at him, but missed him and
killed soldiers on the other side. When he got up he ran right through the
soldiers toward the ravine, and he was the last Indian to go into the
ravine. The soldiers were shooting at him from nearly all directions, and
they shot him down...Dewey tried to get to the ravine and succeeded in
getting on his feet...Right on the edge of the ravine on the south side were
soldiers shooting at the Indians who were running down into the ravine, the
soldiers' shots sounded like fire crackers and hail in a storm; a great many
Indians were killed and wounded down there...

"When he went to the bottom of the ravine, he saw many little children lying
dead in the ravine. He was now pretty weak from his wounds. Now when he saw
all those little infants lying there dead in their blood, his feeling was
that even if he ate one of the soldiers, it would not appease his
anger...The Indians all knew that Dewy was wounded, but those in the ravine
wanted him to help them. So he fought with his life to defend his own
people. He took his courage to do that - "I was pretty weak and now fell
down.' A man with a gunshot wound through the lower jaw had a belt of
cartridges, which he offered Beard and asked to try and help them again.

"'When he gave me the cartridges, I told him I was badly wounded and pretty
weak, too. While I was lying on my back, I looked down the ravine and saw
these women, girls and little girls and boys coming up, I saw soldiers on
both sides of the ravine shoot at them until they had killed every one of

"He saw a young woman among them coming and crying and calling, "Mother!
Mother!' She was wounded under her chin, close to her throat, and the bullet
had passed through a braid of her hair and carried some of it into the
wound, and then the bullet had entered from the front side of the shoulder
and passed out the back side. Her Mother had been shot behind her. Dewey was
sitting up and he called to her to come to him. When she came close to him,
she fell to the ground. He caught her by the dress and drew her to him
across his legs. When the women who the soldiers were shooting at got a
little past him, he told this girl to follow them on the run, and she went
up the ravine.

"He got himself up and followed up the ravine. He saw many dead men, women,
and children lying in the ravine. When he went a little way up, he heard
singing; going a little way farther, he came upon his mother who was moving
slowly, being very badly wounded. She had a soldier's revolver in her hand,
swinging it as she went. Dewey does not know how she got it. When he caught
up to her she said, 'My son, pass by me; I am going to fall down now.' As
she went up, soldiers on both sides of the ravine shot at her and killed
her. 'I returned fire upon them, defending my mother. When I shot at the
soldiers in a northern direction, I looked back at my mother and she had
already fallen down. I passed right on from my dead mother and met a man
coming down the ravine who was wounded in the knee...

"Dewey was wounded so that his right arm was disabled; he placed the thumb
of his right hand between his teeth and carried his Winchester on his left
shoulder, and then he ran towards where he has heard that White Lance [his
brother] was killed. As he ran, he saw lots of women and children lying
along the ravine, some alive and some dead. He saw some young men just
above, and these he addressed, saying to them to take courage and do all
they could to defend the women. 'I have,' he said, 'a bad wound and am not
able to defend them; I could not aim the gun,' and so he told the young men
this way. It was now in the ravine just like prairie fire when it reaches
brush and grass...; it was like hail coming down; an awful fire was
concentrated on them now and nothing could be seen for the smoke. In the
bottom of the ravine, the bullets raised more dust than there was smoke, so
that they could not see one another.

"When Dewy came up into the 'pit,' he saw White Lance upon top of the bank,
and was rolling on down towards the brink to get down into the ravine. He
was badly wounded and at first was half dead, but later revived from his
injuries. When Dewey went into the 'pit,' he found his brother William Horn
Cloud lying or sitting against the bank shot through the breast, but yet
alive; but he died that night. 'Just when I saw my wounded brother William,
I saw White Lance slide down the bank and stand by William. Then William
said to White Lance, "Shake hands with me, I am dizzy now"' While they had
this conversation, Dewey said, 'My dear brothers, be men and take courage. A
few minutes ago, our father told us this way, and you heard it. Our father
told us that the all people of the world born of the same father and mother,
when any great tragedy comes, it is better that all of them should die
together than that they should die separately at different times, one by

"White Lance and William shook hands. Then White Lance and Dewey lifted
their brother up and stood him on his feet; then they placed him on White
Lances's shoulder. White Lance was wounded in several places and weak from
loss of blood, but he succeeded in bearing William to the bottom of the
ravine...Dewey said they now heard the Hotchkiss or Gatling guns shooting at
them along the bank. Now there went up from these dying people a medley of
death songs...Each one sings a different death song if he chooses. The death
song is expressive of their wish to die. It is also a requiem for the
dead...'At this time, I was unable to do anything more and I took a rest,
telling my brothers to keep up their courage.' The cannon were pouring in
their shots and breaking down the banks which were giving protection to the
fighting Indians...The Hotchkiss had been shooting rapidly and one Indian
had gotten killed by it. His body was penetrated in the pit of the stomach
by a Hotchkiss shell, which tore a hole through his body six inches in
diameter. The man was insensible, but breathed for an hour before he died...
"In this same place there was a young woman with a pole in hand and a black
blanket on it. When she would raise it up, the soldiers would whistle and
yell and pour volleys into it. One woman here spoke to Beard and told him to
come in among them and help them. He answered that he would stay where he
was and make a fight for them; and that he did not care if he got killed,
for the infants were all dead now, and he would like to die among the
infants. When he was saying this, the soldiers were all shooting
furiously... "Dewey laid down again in the same little hollow and reloaded
his gun. The soldiers across from him were shooting at him while he was
reloading. While he was reloading, he heard a horseman coming along the
brink of the ravine - could hear the foot falls. This man as he came along
gave orders to the men which he supposed were to fire on the women in the
pit for a fusillade was instantly opened on them...

"The sun was going down; it was pretty near sundown...He saw five Oglala
Sioux on horseback. He called them, but they were afraid and ran away, but
he kept on calling and going till they all stood still and he came upon
them. He went on with them a little way and soon he met his brother Joseph
coming toward them on horseback. Dewey asked, 'Where are you going?' Joe
answered, 'All my brothers and parents are dead, and I have to go in and be
killed, too; therefore I have come back.' Dewey said, "You better come with
us; don't go there; they are all killed there,' and the five Oglalas joined
with Beard in the same appeal. Now the Oglalas left these two brothers. The
Joe got off his horse and told Dewey to get on. Dewey was covered with
blood. He mounted the horse and Joe walked along slowly. After a little, a
mounted Indian relation came up behind them. The three went together over to
White Clay Creek...

"Dewey's little infant, Wet Feet, died afterwards in the next March. This
child was nursing its dead mother who was shot in the breast. It swallowed
blood and from this vomited and was never well, was always sick till it



Big Foot (??-1890)

As the leader of the Miniconjou band massacred at Wounded Knee Creek on
December 29, 1890, Big Foot haunts the history of the American West, an
image of brutal death "drawn," as N. Scott Momaday has written, "in ancient

Big Foot and his people lived on the Cheyenne River Reservation in
present-day South Dakota and were among the most enthusiastic believers in
the Ghost Dance ceremony when it arrived among the Lakota in the spring of
1890. The hunger and misery that had followed the final break-up of their
great reservation in 1889 made the Lakota keenly receptive to the Ghost
Dance message of messianic renewal, and the movement swept rapidly through
their encampments, causing local Indian Agents to react with alarm. Some
effectively suppressed the dancers, others called for troops to restore

At the Standing Rock reservation, where Sitting Bull was suspected of
encouraging the Ghost Dance in order to provoke an uprising, the crisis led
to bloodshed when Indian police sent to arrest the aging holy man killed him
in a confrontation with his followers. Fearful of reprisals, many from
Sitting Bull's band fled south, where they found a haven with Big Foot.

Big Foot decided to lead his people away from the possibility of further
violence at neighboring Standing Rock and headed farther south toward the
reservation at Pine Ridge, hoping to find safety there. Increasingly ill
with pneumonia, he had no intention of fighting and was flying a white flag
when soldiers patrolling for roving bands caught up with him on December 28,
1890. That night Big Foot and his people camped near Wounded Knee Creek,
surrounded on all sides by soldiers.

The next morning, the soldiers set up several large Hotchkiss guns on a hill
overlooking the camp and began confiscating the Indians' weapons. When a gun
accidentally went off, they opened fire, and within a few minutes, some 370
Lakota lay dead, many of them cut down by the deadly Hotchkiss guns as they
sought shelter against a creek bank. The soldiers even pursued fleeing women
and children, shooting some as far as two miles from the site of the
original confrontation. One Indian witness remembered:

A mother was shot down with her infant; the child not knowing that its
mother was dead was still nursing... The women as they were fleeing with
their babies were killed together... and after most of them had been killed
a cry was made that all those who were not killed or wounded should come
forth and they would be safe. Little boys... came out of their places of
refuge, and as soon as they came in sight a number of soldiers surrounded
them and butchered them there.

Big Foot himself was among the first killed. His frozen corpse, half raised
as though trying to warn his people of their imminent disaster, lay
untouched for three days until it was unceremoniously dumped into a mass



The following is a letter from General Nelson A. Miles to the Commissioner
of Indian Affairs in 1917 concerning the Massacre at Wounded Knee in 1890:

Washington, D. C. March 13, 1917

The Honorable Commissioner of Indian Afairs


I am informed that there is a delegation in Washington now who came here
from South Dakota and who are representatives of the remnant of what is
known as the Big Foot Band of Northern Sioux Indians.

I was in command of that Department in 1889, 1890, and 1891, when what is
known as the Messiah craze and threatened uprising of the Indians occurred.
It was created by misrepresentations of white men then living in Nevada who
sent secret messages to the different tribes in the great Northwest calling
upon them to send representatives to meet Him near Walker Lake, Nevada.

This was done, and returning to their different tribes in the Northwest and
West, and even in the Southwest, they repeated the false statement to the
different tribes that the Messiah had returned to earth and would the next
year move East,driving large herds of wild horses, buffalo, elk, deer and
antelope, and was going to convert this into an Indian heaven--in other
words, the Happy Hunting Grounds.

This, together with the fact that the Indians had been in almost a starving
condition in South Dakota, owing to the scarcity of rations and the
nonfulfillment of treaties and sacred obligations under which the Government
had been placed to the Indians, caused great dissatisfaction, dissension and
almost hostility. Believing this superstition, they resolved to gather and
go West to meet the Messiah, as they believed it was the fulfillment of
their dreams and prayer and the prophecies as had been taught them by the

Several thousand warriors assembled in the Bad Lands of South Dakota. During
this time the tribe, under Big Foot, moved from their reservation to near
the Red Cloud Agency in South Dakota under a flag of truce. They numbered
over four hundred souls. They were intercepted by a command under Lt. Col.
Whitside, who demanded their surrender, which they complied with, and moved
that afternoon some two or three miles and camped where they were directed
to do, near the camp of the troops.

During the night Colonel Forsyth joined the command with reinforcements of
several troops of the 7th Cavalry. The next morning he deployed his troops
around the camp, placed two pieces of artillery in position, and demanded
the surrender of the arms from the warriors. This was complied with by the
warriors going out from camp and placing the arms on the ground where they
were directed. Chief Big Foot, an old man, sick at the time and unable to
walk, was taken out of a wagon and laid on the ground.

While this was being done a detachment of soldiers was sent into the camp to
search for any arms remaining there, and it was reported that their rudness
frightened the women and children. It is also reported that a remark was
made by some one of the soldiers that "when we get the arms away from them
we can do as we please with them, " indicating that they were to be
destroyed. Some of the indians could understand English. this and other
things alarmed the Indians and scuffle occured between one warrior who had
rifle in his hand and two soldiers. The rifle was discharged and a massacre
occurred, not only the warriors but the sick Chief Big Foot, and a large
number of women and children who tried to escape by running and scattering
over the prarie were hunted down and killed. The *official reports make the
number killed 90 warriors and approximately 200 women and children.

*(Note: "Official reports" = Armys' version, actual number killed was closer
to 350)

The action of the Commanding Officer, in my judgement at the time, and I so
reported, was most reprehensible. The disposition of his troops was such
that in firing upon the warriors they fired directly towards their own lines
and also into the camp of the women and children. and I have regarded the
whole affair as most unjustifiable and worthy of the severest condemnation.

In my opinion, the least the Government can do is to make a suitable
recompense to the survivors who are still living for the great unjustice
that was done them and the serious loss of their relatives and property--and
I earnestly recommend that this may be favorably considered by the
Department and by Congress and a suitable appropriation be made.

I remain

Very truly yours,


Lt. General, U. S. Army

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