Wounded Knee Memorial
Located on a dusty hilltop overlooking the grassy plains of the reservation, the Wounded Knee Memorial is a small fenced-in cemetery, within which a tall stone stands as quiet testimony, covered with the names of some of the many Lakota people who were killed at the Wounded Knee Massacre of 1890.
The Wounded Knee Memorial has no real address, no telephone number, no hours, and no admission fee. It is located at the junction of BIA Highway 27 and BIA Highway 28 just south of the community of Porcupine.
The Wounded Knee Massacre
In 1877, the Oglala Lakota Sioux surrendered to military forces and in 1878, in accordance with the treaty, moved unto the Pine Ridge Reservation. It was a complete departure from their historic and cultural lifestyle. The nomadic life became sedentary. The hunting life ceased to exist, both with the demise of the buffalo and the enforced attempts at agriculture on the reservation.
The mission of the government was to force the tribe to give up their traditions and culture completely and to assimilate them into white culture. Reservation schools and boarding schools were established and the Lakota language banned. Traditional dances and ceremonies were also banned. And, just four years after the treaty that forced the people onto reservations, the government wanted to take more land. Justifiably, there was a lot of unrest on the reservation.
In the midst of all of this unrest, a new movement, a new religion was rising in Nevada. At the center of the religion was a ceremony called the Ghost Dance. At the heart of the new religion was the belief that the ceremony would cause white men to go away, and that native people would be able to return to their former lives. Hearing about this new movement, a delegation from the Cheyenne River Reservation and another from the Rosebud Reservation headed to Nevada to learn more. When they returned, they introduced the Ghost Dance to Pine Ridge and then to the Rosebud and Cheyenne Reservations. The Pine Ridge agent, newly appointed, panicked and called in the military.
When the soldiers arrived, the Ghost Dancers, fearing that the soldiers were there to kill them, fled into the Badlands. Rumors started that Sitting Bull, who had returned from Canada and was living near Standing Rock, was going to join the dancers in the south and his arrest was ordered. When his band was found, they resisted arrest and Sitting Bull and several of his warriors were killed on December 15, 1890. A band of dancers traveling with Big Foot, on their way to surrender, heard about the death of Sitting Bull and fled. They were intercepted by units from the 7th Cavalry and escorted to upper Wounded Knee Creek.
On the morning of December 29, the cavalry members entered Big Foot’s camp to search for weapons and disarm the native people. Before they entered the camp, several Hotchkiss machine guns were set up on the ridge, trained on the camp below. In the course of the search, a shot was fired, and the cavalry retaliated with the Hotchkiss guns and other weapons. The number of dead is disputed, but at least 200 men, women, and children, including Big Foot, either died on the battle field or died later from their wounds or hypothermia. The bodies were found as far as two miles away, as people were killed as they were trying to flee. It was the last major encounter between native people and the military in the West.
Wounded Knee was brought to national attention again in 1973 when a group of activists involved in the American Indian Movement took over the village of Wounded Knee, laying siege to it for 71 days. Their demands were for hearings to be held on violations of the U.S. government regarding land use and treaty rights and investigations of other grievances. Their cause elicited a lot of support but their violent means created conflict not only between whites and native people, but between tribal factions as well. Shots were fired at this Wounded Knee conflict as well, resulting in two deaths and nearly a dozen other gunshot wounds. Subsequently, charges brought against the AIM members were dismissed when the court judge found the FBI guilty of gross misconduct for its part in the skirmish.
© Laural A. Bidwell from Moon Mount Rushmore & the Black Hills, 1st Edition