The Ghost Dance and the Wounded Knee Massacre
Digital History ID 712
Stephen Vincent Benet
On December 29, 1890, at Wounded Knee Creek on the Pine Ridge Reservation, the Seventh Cavalry began to disarm a group of Miniconjou Sioux, who had fled from their own reservation following Sitting Bull's death. A shot rang out; bitter hand to hand fighting ensued; then the soldiers opened fire with an early kind of machine gun. At least 146 Indians died, including 44 women and 18 children. In a poem entitled “American Names,” Stephen Vincent Benet wrote these haunting words about the massacre that took place Wounded Knee Creek:
< BLOCKQUOTE >You may bury my body in Sussex grass,
You may bury my tongue at Champmedy.
I shall not be there. I shall rise and pass.
Bury my heart at Wounded Knee.
Turning Hawk: These people were coming toward Pine Ridge agency, and when they were almost on the agency they were met by the soldiers and surrounded and finally taken to the Wounded Knee creek, and there at a given time their guns were demanded. When they had delivered them up, the men were separated from their families, from their tipis, and taken to a certain spot. When the guns were thus taken and the men thus separated, there was a crazy man, a young man of bad influence and in fact a nobody, among that bunch of Indians [who] fired his gun, and of course the firing of a gun have been the breaking of a military rule of some sort, because immediately the soldiers returned fire and indiscriminate killing followed.
Spotted Horse: This man shot an officer in the army.... As soon as this shot was fired the Indians immediately began drawing their knives, and they were exhorted from all sides to desist, but this was not obeyed. Consequently the firing began immediately on the part of the soldiers.
Turning Hawk: All the men who were in a bunch were killed right there, and those who escaped that first fire got into the ravine, and as they went along the ravine for a long distance they were pursued on both sides by the soldiers and shot down, as the dead bodies showed afterwards.
American Horse: There was a woman with an infant in her arms who was killed as she almost touched the flag of truce, and the women and children of course were strewn all along the circular village until they were dispatched. Right near the flag of truce a mother was shot down with her infant; the child not knowing that its mother was dead was still nursing, and that especially was a very sad sight. The women as they were fleeing with their babes were killed together, shot right through, and the women who were heavy with child were also killed. All the Indians fled in these three directions, and after most all of them had been killed a cry was made that all those who were not killed or wounded should come forth and they would be safe. Little boys who were not wounded came out of their places of refuge, and as soon as they came in sight a number of soldiers surrounded them and butchered them there.
Source: Fourteenth Annual Report of the Bureau of American Ethnology (1896), Pt. 2, 884-86.
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