Dynamic Homes
Advertise:   ads@blueearthmarketing.com   712.224.5420

Opinion
Tim Giago: The 1890 massacre at Wounded Knee


While Americans agonize over the contents of the Iraq Study Group and weigh the options of extricating its soldiers from the middle of a civil war, the people of the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota will gather on a lonely hill overlooking the demolished village of Wounded Knee (Wounded Knee was destroyed during the occupation of the American Indian Movement in 1973 and was never rebuilt) to commemorate and grieve the massacre of their ancestors.

It was after a night so cold that the Lakota called it �The Moon of the Popping Trees� because as the winter winds whistled through the hills and gullies at Wounded Knee Creek on that morning of December 29, 1890, one could hear the twigs snapping in the frigid air.

When a soldier of George Armstrong Custer�s former troop the 7th Cavalry tried to wrest a hidden rifle from a deaf Lakota warrior after all of the other weapons had already been confiscated from Sitanka�s (Big Foot) band of Lakota people, the deafening report of that single shot caused pandemonium amongst the soldiers and they opened up with their Hotchkiss machine guns upon the unarmed men, women and children.

Thus began an action the government called a �battle� and the Lakota people called a �massacre.� The Lakota people say that only 50 people of the original 350 followers of Sitanka survived that morning of slaughter.

One of the survivors, a Lakota woman, was treated by the Indian physician Dr. Charles Eastman at a make-shift hospital set up in a church in the village of Pine Ridge. Before she died of her wounds she told about how she had concealed herself in a clump of bushes. As she hid there she saw two terrified little girls running past. She grabbed them and pulled them into the bushes. She put her hands over their mouths to keep them quiet but a mounted soldier spotted them. He fired a bullet into the head of one girl and them calmly reloaded his rifle and fired into the head of the other girl. He then fired into the body of the Lakota woman. She feigned death and although badly wounded, lived long enough to relate her terrible ordeal to Dr. Eastman. She said that as she lay there pretending to be dead, the soldier leaned down from his horse, used his rifle to lift up her dress in order to see her private parts, and then he snickered and rode off.

As the shooting subsided, units of the 7th Cavalry rode off toward White Clay Creek near Pine Ridge Village on a search and destroy mission. When they rode onto the grounds of Holy Rosary Indian Mission, my grandmother Sophie, a student at the mission school, and the other Lakota children, were forced by the Jesuit priests to feed and water their horses. My grandmother never forgot that terrible day and she often talked about how the soldiers were laughing and bragging about their great victory. She recalled one soldier saying, �Remember the Little Big Horn.�

The Massacre at Wounded Knee was called the last great battle between the United States and the Indians. The true version of the events of that day were polished and sanitized for the consumption of most Americans. Twenty-three soldiers of the 7th Cavalry were awarded this Nation�s highest honor, The Medal of Honor, for the murder of nearly 300 innocent and unarmed men, women and children. Although 25 soldiers died that day, historians believe that most of them died from friendly fire when they were caught in the crossfire of the Hotchkiss guns. Many Lakota have tried in vain to have those medals revoked without success.

Before they died, the Lakota warriors fought the soldiers with their bare hands as they shouted to the women and children, �Inyanka po, inyanka po! (Run, run).� The elderly men, unable to fight back, fell on their knees and sang their death songs. The screams and the cries of the women and children hung in the air like a heavy fog.

When I was a young boy I lived at Wounded Knee. Of course by then the name of the village had been changed to Brennan to honor a Bureau of Indian Affairs superintendent, but all of the Lakota knew why the name was changed. Because although the government tried various ways to conceal the truth, the Lakota people never forgot and they always referred to the hallowed grounds as Wounded Knee and they continued to come to the mass grave to pray even though it was roundly discouraged by the government.

As a child I walked along the banks of Wounded Knee Creek and I often had an uneasy feeling, it was as if I could hear the cries of little children. Whenever I visited the trading post where my father worked I would listen to the elders as they sat on the benches in front of the store and spoke in whispered voices as the pointed at the hills and gullies. Never did I read about that horrible day in the history books used at the mission school I attended.

Two ironies still haunt me. Six days after the bloody massacre the editor of the Aberdeen (S.D.) Saturday Pioneer wrote in his editorial, �The Pioneer has before declared that our only safety depends upon the total extermination of the Indians. Having wronged them for centuries, we had better, in order to protect our civilizations, follow it up by one more wrong and wipe these untamed and untamable creatures from the face of the earth.�

The author of that editorial was L. Frank Baum, who later went on to write that famous children�s book, �The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.� In calling for genocide against my grandmother and the rest of the Lakota people, he placed the final punctuation upon a day that will forever live in infamy amongst the Lakota.

And finally, as the dead and dying lay in the makeshift hospital in the Episcopal Church in Pine Ridge Village, Dr. Eastman paused to read the sign above the entrance that read, �Peace on Earth, Goodwill to Men.�

McClatchy News Service in Washington, DC distributes Tim Giago�s weekly column. He can be reached at P.O. Box 9244, Rapid City, SD 57709 or at najournalists@rushmore.com. Giago was also the founder and former editor and publisher of the Lakota Times and Indian Country Today newspapers and the founder and first president of the Native American Journalists Association. Clear Light Books of Santa Fe, NM (harmon@clearlightbooks.com) published his latest book, �Children Left Behind."

More Tim Giago:
Tim Giago: R-word just as insulting as the N-word (12/4)
Tim Giago: Mainstream media lacking in accuracy (11/27)
Tim Giago: Thanksgiving - A holiday of the imagination (11/22)
Tim Giago: State stifling growth on reservations (11/20)
Tim Giago: Taking stock of Election Day 2006 (11/13)
Tim Giago: Few roles for Indians in Hollywood (11/6)
Tim Giago: Freedom of the press has a chance (10/31)
Tim Giago: Important election day for South Dakota (10/24)
Tim Giago: White media ignores Indian contributions (10/17)
Tim Giago: Termination a dirty word in Indian Country (10/10)
Giago: Domestic violence from a male perspective (10/3)
Tim Giago: Culturecide started with innocent children (09/19)
Tim Giago: Indian people mark 500 years of terrorism (9/11)
Tim Giago: Lawsuit challenges church on abuse (9/6)
Tim Giago: Day of reckoning for Oglala Sioux Tribe (8/29)
Tim Giago: Tribes giving up their sovereignty (08/08)
Giago retires as editor and publisher of magazine (8/4)
Tim Giago: States looking for ways to take from tribes (8/1)
Tim Giago: Religion invaded Native America (7/25)
Tim Giago: Daily screw ups in tribal governance (7/18)
Tim Giago: Happy Birthday to Van Cliburn and me (7/11)
Tim Giago: South Dakota tilting further to the right (7/3)
Tim Giago: Americans still the invaders in Iraq (6/27)
Tim Giago: Tribal colleges in Bill Gates' backyard (6/21)
Tim Giago: Gaming brings new wealth, new problems (6/13)
Tim Giago: 'Oz' author called for genocide of the Lakota (6/6)
Tim Giago: Too much uncertainty in gaming (5/30)
Tim Giago: Deny gaming to newly recognized tribes (5/23)
Tim Giago: Congratulations to the class of '06 (5/16)
Tim Giago: Rich tribes should help poorer tribes (5/9)
Tim Giago: Fighting substance abuse at Pine Ridge (5/2)
Tim Giago: Censorship in the mainstream media (4/25)
Tim Giago: Brainwashing on Pine Ridge Reservation (4/18)
Tim Giago: The growing pains of tribal sovereignty (4/11)
Tim Giago: Indians most affected by immigration (4/4)
Tim Giago: Little attention for Native American Day (3/28)
Giago: Oglala Sioux president on state abortion law (3/21)
Tim Giago: The road to true tribal sovereignty (3/14)
Tim Giago: The basketball miracle of 1936 (3/7)
Giago: Real problem in South Dakota is race relations (2/21)
Tim Giago: Yes, Virginia, Indians do pay taxes (2/14)
Tim Giago: Gas-guzzlers, Indian cars and the Big Three (2/7)
Tim Giago: Lions, Tiger, Bears and Indian mascots (1/31)
Tim Giago: Christians and Muslims still at war (1/24)
Tim Giago: Bush started Iraqi war over 'dark lie' (1/17)
Tim Giago: Fire Thunder out of limbo after 66 days (1/10)
Tim Giago: The Olympics of Indian basketball (12/20)
Tim Giago: BIA schools turned abused into abusers (12/13)
Tim Giago: Fire Thunder shakes up establishment (12/6)
Tim Giago: Della Warrior steps down from IAIA (11/29)
Tim Giago: Deloria gave Indian people a voice (11/22)
Tim Giago: Indians never forced religion on others (11/15)
Tim Giago: Exposing false medicine men (11/8)
Tim Giago: Government ignores Indian health problems (11/1)
Tim Giago: Indian newspapers revise history (10/25)
Tim Giago: Two friends make journey to spirit world (10/18)
Tim Giago: Politicians need to know Indian law (10/11)
Tim Giago: Doors opening to Indians in South Dakota (10/4)
Tim Giago: 'Indian' myths and misconceptions (9/27)
Tim Giago: Lessons learned from Hurricane Katrina (9/20)
Tim Giago: NCAA loses its spine on mascot policy (9/13)
Tim Giago: The Indian 'scandal sheet' phenomenon (08/30)
Tim Giago: Indians became refugees in own land (8/23)
Tim Giago: Censor tribes for supporting mascots (8/17)
Tim Giago: New addiction takes over in Indian Country (08/02)
Tim Giago: Tribes trade sovereignty for dollars (7/26)
Giago: Seminole Tribe wrong on Indian mascots (7/19)
Giago: Underground Railroad to escape boarding school (7/12)
Giago: Skeletons hidden in Rapid City's closet (07/07)
Tim Giago: Air Force base not a blessing to Lakotas (6/30)
Tim Giago: Tribes to claim downsized military bases (06/07)
Tim Giago: First revolutionary was a Native man (5/31)
Tim Giago: Many 'wannabe' tribes seek recognition (05/17)
Tim Giago: South Dakota press censors Indian writers (05/10)
Tim Giago: White lawyers growing fat off tribes (04/26)
Tim Giago: Gay marriage debate killed Democrats (4/19)
Tim Giago: It's time for wealthy tribes to think Indian (04/05)
Tim Giago: Wealthy tribes don't need federal funds (03/31)
Tim Giago: Gaming leads to addiction, crime (03/22)
Tim Giago: Discrimination in the media and advertising (03/08)
Tim Giago: Black Hills land theft a dishonest deal (03/01)
Tim Giago: Committing slow suicide with foods (02/15)
Tim Giago: Bush probably still against Indian gaming (01/25)
Tim Giago: Calvary re-enactors should know better (01/18)
Tim Giago: Racism continues in South Dakota (11/30)
Tim Giago: Should we listen to Osama bin Laden? (11/23)
Tim Giago: GOP moral values will hurt Indian Country (11/09)
Tim Giago: Indian reformists stamped out tribes (11/02)
Tim Giago: I'm not a racist and I haven't seen NMAI yet (09/29)
Tim Giago: Eastern tribes are African-American (09/15)
Tim Giago: Indians have cause to fear Republicans (07/21)
Tim Giago: Casinos create culture of 'us' and 'them' (06/30)
Tim Giago: Boarding schools cause of many ills (06/14)
Tim Giago: 'Real' Indians don't fight over money (04/05)
Tim Giago now plans to run for Senate as independent (03/31)
Tim Giago: Indians pay no taxes, and other myths (01/26)
Giago: Indian gaming erodes tribal sovereignty (01/07)
Giago: Gays were highly respected by Sioux Nation (09/22)
Tim Giago: I'm a fully recovered Catholic (09/11)
Giago: State should refund tax money first (08/06)
Giago: Oprah show changed minds on Indian mascots (07/31)