Buried at Wounded Knee

“I did not know then how much was ended. When I look back now from this high hill of my old age, I can still see the butchered women and children lying heaped and scattered all along the crooked gulch as plain as when I saw them with eyes young. And I can see that something else died there in the bloody mud, and was buried in the blizzard. A people’s dream died there. It was a beautiful dream . . . . the nation’s hoop is broken and scattered. There is no center any longer, and the sacred tree is dead.”
Black Elk (Oglala Sioux) in Black Elk Speaks

Big Foot, a great Chief of the Sioux often said, “I will stand in peace till my last day comes.” He did many good and brave deeds for the white man and the red man. Many innocent women and children who knew no wrong died here.
Inscription on the Wounded Knee Monument


Like most Americans, I had only a superficial knowledge of the history at Wounded Knee, a low hill that rises above a creek bed on the South Dakota Pine Ridge Reservation. Last week, we visited the site of this last major battle between the white man and Native people, which broke the spirit of the tribes’ striving to maintain their nomadic life as free people. This unnecessary, brutal massacre of over 150 Lakota men, women and children by the Seventh Regiment of the U.S. Army Cavalry took place in December 1890.

The dead lay where they fell for four days due to a severe blizzard. When the frozen corpses were finally gathered up by the Army, a deep mass grave was dug at the top of the hill, the bodies buried stacked one on top of another. The massive grave is now marked by a humble memorial monument surrounded by a chain link fence, adjacent to a small church, circled by more recent Lakota gravesites.

Four infants survived the four days of blizzard conditions wrapped in their dead mothers’ robes. One baby girl, only a few months old, was named “Lost Bird” after the massacre, bartered for and adopted by an Army Colonel as an interesting Indian “relic.” Rather than this adoption giving her a new chance, she died at age 29, having endured much illness, prejudice in white society, as well as estrangement from her native community and culture. Her story has been told in a book by Renee Sansom Flood, who helped to locate and move her remains back to Wounded Knee, where in death she is now back with her people.

There is unspeakable sadness on that lonely hill of graves. It is regrettable history that all descendents of immigrant Americans need to experience personally to understand what our expansion into the New World cost the people already here. As Black Elk says, the dreams of a great people have been scattered and lack a center.

We must never allow hope to be buried at Wounded Knee.

3 thoughts on “Buried at Wounded Knee

  1. Even in death they seem to be forgotten/disgraced. How sad that their resting place is not better maintained by our government. I am an embarrased American. It’s just not right.


  2. The occupation was symbolically held at the site of the 1890 Wounded Knee Massacre . The Oglala Lakota demanded a revival of treaty negotiations to begin to correct relations with the federal government, the respect of their sovereignty, and the removal of Wilson from office. The American Indians occupied the Sacred Heart Church, the Gildersleeve Trading Post and numerous homes of the village. Although periodic negotiations were held between AIM spokesman and U.S. government negotiators, gunfire occurred on both sides. A US Marshal was wounded severely and paralyzed. In April, a Cherokee from North Carolina and a Lakota AIM member were shot and killed. The elders ended the occupation then.


  3. This is such a sad part of our American History. A few years ago, I was given a book The Vanishing Race, the Last Great Indian Council, by Rodman Wanamaker. It was first published in 1913 – a record in photo’s and story of the last great Indian Council with Eminent chiefs from nearly every reservation. A moving tribute to the Indian’s past, customs and traditions. Then, in the last 4 months, I read Empire of the Summer Moon (Quanah Parker and the rise and fall of the Comanches) and The Killing of Crazy Horse by Thomas Powers.
    I thank you for sharing such poignant photo’s and I will get the book you mentioned. I want these available for my grandchildren to read…..their stories need to be told, and not forgotten. (and not the textbook version) We may not have personally been a part of this history, but we can’t allow this to happen again. And it seems to always be about greed….. so many broken promises, broken dreams, broken hearts…may the healing continue.


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