200 Lakota Dead at Wounded Knee
December 30, 1890
Reports from South Dakota indicate that another Ghost Dance chief of the Lakota has been captured and slain. After the recent death of Sitting Bull, the army attempted to arrest other promoters of the Ghost Dance. The Minneconjou chief Big Foot was next on the list of potential “troublemakers.”
Followers of Big Foot, a chief from the Cheyenne River Reservation, surrendered to and were disarmed by soldiers of the Seventh Cavalry near Wounded Knee Creek. When weapons were surrendered in what was deemed insufficient numbers, soldiers began searching the camp of the 350 Indians.
In a widely circulated story a medicine man named Yellow Bird began blowing on a bone whistle and calling for the men to resist the search efforts. He told them that their Ghost Shirts would protect them from the bullets of the whites. A follower pulled out a Winchester rifle from under a blanket and a shot rang out. The soldiers opened fire on men and women, killing fifty in the first volley. Some reports indicate that four Hotchkiss artillery guns opened fire on women and children in the encampment from the overlooking hills.
The dead among the Lakota number about 200, including Big Foot who had been on his sickbed with pneumonia. The Seventh Cavalry suffered losses of twenty-five killed, thirty-nine wounded. Many of the soldiers’ wounds were from crossfire of their own men. The Indians had few weapons in their possession.
The Lakota bodies froze in the bitter cold and storm. Soldiers finally buried the fallen in a mass grave.
By Dr. D. Jerome Tweton
Originally published as The North Star Dakotan student newspaper, written by Dr. D. Jerome Tweton and supported by the North Dakota Humanities Council