|Date(s):||December 29, 1890|
|Location(s):||Wounded Knee, South Dakota | South Dakota|
|Tag(s):||Wounded Knee, The Wounded Knee Massacre|
|Course:||“US History 1867 to the present,” University of Toronto Scarborough|
The Wounded Knee Massacre was a conflict that took place in 1890 near Wounded Knee Creek, South Dakota, between the U.S. Army and the Lakota peoples. According to James W. Forsythe, Colonel of the Seventh Cavalry and Commander at the Battle of Wounded Knee, the actions of the American forces at Wounded Knee were justified and necessary. Forsythe claims to have been following protocol as it relates to the treatment of prisoners of war. Upon an attempt to search the ‘Indians’, whom they had captured as prisoners, meaning they were required to surrender their weapons, the captured men attempted to ‘make a break’. This, according to Forsythe, led to his soldiers opening fire. The result was the deaths of many Native American men, women and children. Any of the ‘Indians’ who escaped were pursued and captured or killed. Forsythe contends that some of his forces which had separated and pursued the escaping ‘Indians’ were attacked by a band of 125 men. This attack forced his men to leave behind the injured and dead ‘Indians’ they had pursued. Forsythe claims that he mistakenly opened a letter which stated that these 125 men were on the warpath and he therefore felt he was in danger of an attack from “the discontented Indians in the vicinity”. Due to this danger, Forsythe claimed he did not have time to count the dead Indians on site and instead retreated to the agency as quickly as possible. Forsythe finishes his report by praising his own efforts stating, “I desire to express my admiration of the gallant conduct of my command in an engagement with a band of Indians in desperate condition and crazed by religious fanaticism.”
Relations between the Natives and the U.S. government had been souring for many years leading up to the tragic event, with the government making concerted expansion efforts at the expense of Native-Americans’ lands. Historian David W. Grua placed this massacre in the larger context of the Native relationship with the government in the following way: “The late nineteenth-century conflicts with Native peoples were...seen as necessary for the progress of the nation and foundation for the prosperity that followed in the twentieth century.” The Wounded Knee Massacre, then, was part of a long continuum of destructive events, perceived at the same as a positive step towards civilization for America. There were twenty American soldiers who received the Medal of Honor for their efforts at Wounded Knee. Although the Medal of Honor was not awarded with the same criteria as it is currently, there is something that does not feel right about awarding valor to those involved in the killing of women and children. There have been attempts to seek reparations from members of Native American community which survived the bloody event. In an attempt to get justice, Joseph Horn Cloud and Dewey Beard, both survivors of the event, sought compensation from the American government for the massacre. They were unsuccessful in that attempt. By examining this event we can begin to scratch the surface as to the attitude of the American government towards the Native American people.