The Wounded Knee Massacre is considered the last major conflict between the U.S. Army and Native Americans. It was a one-sided battle where an overwhelming force of U.S. soldiers killed over 200 men, women, and children of the Lakota Indians.
When and where did it take place?
The battle took place on December 29, 1890 near Wounded Knee Creek in South Dakota.
Leading up to the Massacre
The arrival of European settlers had destroyed much of the culture of Native American tribes such as the Lakota Sioux. The great bison herds, which the tribes had previously hunted for food, had been hunted to near extinction by white men. Also, treaties that the tribes had established with the U.S. government had been broken and land guaranteed them by law had been taken.
Native Americans who wished to return to a life without foreigners formed a religious movement called the Ghost Dance. They believed that by practicing the Ghost Dance the white invaders would leave the land and things would return to the old ways.
Sitting Bull Is Killed
Some of the settlers were worried that the Ghost Dance would lead to violence. They decided to put a stop to the dance by arresting the Native American leader Sitting Bull. When the arrest when wrong, Sitting Bull was killed and several of his people fled to the Cheyenne River Indian Reservation.
Spotted Elk and His People are Surrounded
Sitting Bull's people joined up with a group led by Chief Spotted Elk. Spotted Elk's people decided to journey to Pine Ridge and meet up with Chief Red Cloud. While on their journey, they were surrounded by a large contingent of U.S. soldiers led by Colonel James Forsyth. Forsyth told Chief Spotted Elk to set up camp near the Wounded Knee River.
Colonel Forsyth had around 500 soldiers. There were around 350 people with Chief Spotted Elk including many women and children. Forsyth wanted to disarm the Indians and take their rifles. He had his soldiers surround the Indian camp and then ordered the Indians to give up their weapons.
No one is quite sure what happened next. Many of the Indians gave up their weapons as asked. One account of events says that a deaf warrior named Black Coyote refused to give up his rifle. He could not hear the demands of the soldiers and struggled when they tried to forcibly take his gun. In the struggle, the gun when off. The other soldiers panicked and began to fire. The Indians then fought back. With the superior numbers and fire power of the soldiers, hundreds of Indians were gunned down and killed.
Historians estimate that somewhere between 150 and 300 Indians were killed. Around half were likely women and children. Chief Spotted Elk died in the battle as well. Around 25 soldiers were killed.
Interesting Facts about the Wounded Knee Massacre
Chief Spotted Elk was also known as Chief Big Foot.
Today, the Wounded Knee Battlefield is a U.S. National Historic Landmark.
In 1973, a group of Native American protesters called the American Indian Movement occupied the small town of Wounded Knee. They held the town for 71 days calling for the United States to uphold broken treaties.
Twenty U.S. soldiers were awarded the Medal of Honor for their part in the fight. Today, Native American groups have called for these medals to be withdrawn.