Site on the Oglala Sioux Reservation, South Dakota, USA, of a confrontation between the US Army and American Indians on 29 December 1890; the last ‘battle’ of the Plains Wars. On 15 December the Hunkpapa Sioux chief Sitting Bull had been killed, supposedly resisting arrest for involvement in the Ghost Dance movement. The remaining Hunkpapa fled with a group of Miniconjou Sioux led by Big Foot, but were captured by the 7th Cavalry. A shot fired during their disarmament led to the gunning down of Big Foot and over 150 Sioux, half of whom were women and children.
For American Indians Wounded Knee has become a symbol of US government oppression. In 1973 the militant American Indian Movement chose the site of Wounded Knee to stage a siege from 27 February to 8 May, in which they held hostages and demanded a government investigation of the Indian treaties.
The flight across the Plains By 1890 the Ghost Dance movement had spread across all the Sioux reservations in Dakota. Hunkpapa Sioux chief Sitting Bull had accepted the dance at the Standing Rock Reservation, but feared that it would lead to attacks from US forces fearful of an American Indian uprising. On 15 December 1890 Sitting Bull was killed by Sergeant Red Tomahawk, a Sioux reservation police officer, while supposedly resisting arrest. He had been charged with inciting the Sioux at Standing Rock to rebel against US rule.
Sitting Bull's Hunkpapa joined up with Chief Big Foot's Miniconjou Sioux of the Cheyenne River Reservation and tried to escape to what they considered would be safety on the Pine Ridge Reservation of Red Cloud. The 350 Indians led by Big Foot set off on 23 December 1890 into the icy winter of the Great Plains. Big Foot soon contracted pneumonia but continued to lead the Sioux until they were captured on 28 December by detachments of the 7th Cavalry, who had been ordered to escort them back to their reservations. The 7th Cavalry led the ailing Big Foot and his followers to a site on Wounded Knee Creek, where they were left to camp overnight before being disarmed the next morning.
Massacre of the Sioux The presence of the 7th Cavalry, Lt-Col George Custer's old regiment, was to be a major factor in the massacre committed on the morning of 29 December. The 7th Cavalry was the regiment defeated at the Battle of Little Bighorn by Sitting Bull's Sioux, Cheyenne, and Arapaho warriors in 1876, and some of the survivors of that day were still serving. These soldiers were not sympathetic to the plight of the Sioux and took up aggressive positions around the camp at Wounded Knee Creek. Armed with four Hotchkiss cannons as well as guns and sabres, the 7th Cavalry moved in to disarm the Sioux.
During a struggle to take away the gun of the Sioux warrior Black Coyote, a shot was fired. At the same time the Miniconjou holy man Yellow Bird threw a handful of dirt into the air as part of a Ghost Dance ritual. The 7th Cavalry thought that this was a pre-arranged signal to attack and opened fire. The Hotchkiss cannons fired at the escaping Sioux, and fierce combat ensued between the warriors and the cavalry. Within ten minutes 29 soldiers and over 150 of the 350 Sioux were dead. Some were killed while fleeing across the frozen Plains, when women and children were gunned down by the soldiers despite making their identity known. The massacre marked the final end of the Plains Wars.
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