Charles Trimble: Facts and truth of Wounded Knee
The Tim Giago / Bill Means exchange over who were the real victims of the AIM occupation of the village in 1973 – otherwise known as WKII, doesn’t take into consideration several other facts. For example, there was another development that occurred a few years earlier that rankled many Lakotas and put the owners of the Wounded Knee store in bad light.

In late 1968, some private interests in Rapid City, South Dakota had concocted a plan to raise funds nationally to erect a massive marble monument over the mass grave of Wounded Knee massacre victims as a means of attracting tourists. Although it was initially presented as a way of honoring the Indians slaughtered there, it became apparent quickly that the real purpose was to make money for a new motel/restaurant complex that was part of their overall plan.

These speculators had incorporated two organizations: a for-profit called the Sioux Corporation, and a non-profit Wounded Knee Memorial Association. The non-profit would have a slot on its non-profit Board of Advisors for a member of the Oglala Sioux Tribal Council; otherwise there would be no other tribal or Indian interest in the project. The name Sioux Corporation was chosen obviously to give the impression that it was an Indian business.

The monument, according to the preliminary design, consisted of two long tiers, the first level would feature several marble blocks, and on each of these would rest a sculptured bust, presumably of “principles” in the “battle,” including cavalry. The second tier, much higher than the first, would feature a very tall neo-classical column on top of which would burn an eternal flame. Emitting from the base of the monolithic column was a blotch of red Terrazzo, meant to look like blood oozing out of the column and flooding down the steps in all four directions.

But the most offensive feature of the design was to be a fence of cavalry sabers surrounding a sunken crypt on the higher tier; and in the crypt would be the bones of the massacre victims. These would be exhumed and re-entombed in the marble crypt.

One hurdle that stood in the way was that of securing the land on which the Church and the cemetery were situated. This all belonged to the Holy Rosary Mission at Pine Ridge. The Jesuit Superior at the Mission, Rev. Ted Zuern, S.J., was approached by the Rapid City speculators, and as a means of softening him up to sell the property, was invited to serve on the Board of Advisors, along with Senator George McGovern and other important people.

Zuern was horrified at the idea, and especially the design that was shown to him. He asked if they had consulted the Tribe, or the people in the Wounded Knee community. They had not, but it was clear that they assumed the Lakota would buy into the plan when they realized the amounts of money the monument would bring in.

Zuern went to the tribal council and met with their executive committee about the situation. They too expressed objection to the plans, although it appeared that a couple of them had already been individually approached and might be warm to the idea.

(Subsequently Father Zuern ceded the 40 acres of land, including the cemetery, back to the tribe as a means of protecting the land from future speculation of that sort.)

As word spread throughout the reservation and the region via the Rapid City Journal, Indian opposition grew. The plans were eventually abandoned when it appeared that the chances of its being completed were obviously nil.

The upshot is that the slick operators from the city had already purchased the Gildersleeve store and most of their property. Clive Gildersleeve had sold his land, which included the ravine and some of the massacre site to the outsiders. Clive himself had a position on the Board of the new corporation and would have profited nicely if the plan had gone through. This is what angered many Lakota people who had respected the Gildersleeve family for many years.

This doesn’t justify the destruction of property that resulted from the 1973 occupation. There were many things that led up to that, including actions of the federal government.

In his last column, Giago says, “Needless to say several times a year I must write something to bring clarity to the outdated, historically inaccurate and mundane claims of the American Indian Movement as regards Wounded Knee 1973.” But his continuing articles do not bring clarity, instead muddling the picture even further. Those were times of near revolution, and one should read more than the accounts of BIA superintendent Stan Lyman and FBI agent Trimbach to get a true story of what happened.

History should be researched and written by authors who do not have political or ideological or personal reasons to spin it, as is done in the interminable battle between Tim Giago and what is left of AIM.

Charles E. Trimble is an Oglala Lakota born, raised and well-educated on the Pine Ridge Reservation. He was principal founder of the American Indian Press Association in 1970, and served as Executive Director of the National Congress of American Indians from 1972-78. He is retired and lives in Omaha, Nebraska. He can be reached at

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