Massacre At Wounded Knee

by Gabriel Donohoe

Wounded Knee-sign

Today, the United States is universally condemned for killing and maiming untold numbers of innocent civilians in drone attacks in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Syria, Libya, Somalia, Yemen and other countries.

This is not a recent phenomenon. Since its foundation in 1776, the U. S. has systematically slaughtered, persecuted, and impoverished its own indigenous peoples in a genocidal programme of stealing native lands and natural resources. It has been estimated that the death toll of American Indians from the arrival of Columbus in 1492 to the time of Wounded Knee was around 100 million souls. In 1890, only 250,000 remained.

Therefore, it is fitting that on this day, December 29th, 2015, we remember the brutal slaughter of some 300 Lakota Sioux Indians – mostly women and children – by the U.S. Seventh Cavalry at Wounded Knee Creek on their own reservation in South Dakota exactly 125 years ago.

The ill-fated Indian band, led by Big Foot (also known as Spotted Elk), was fleeing its winter encampment, alarmed at increased military activity on Sioux reservation lands after the assassination by Indian police of Lakota spiritual leader and holy man, Sitting Bull, barely two weeks before.

Wounded Knee - Big FootFrozen Body of Big Foot

The army entered the reservation in force to stamp out ‘Ghost Dancing’, a religious ceremony indulged in by the vanquished Sioux by which they vainly hoped to bring back the ‘good old days’ of a happy nomadic life, an abundance of buffalo, and the departure of the malevolent white man.

Ranchers and settlers in Nebraska and the Dakotas became alarmed at the Ghost Dance ‘craze’ and feared an Indian uprising. They called out to the Government for protection. Whether spurred on by white hysteria or by a desire to steal even more reservation land, the government promptly sent in the army.

Unfortunately, the military force selected for the job was the reconstituted Seventh Cavalry, a regiment all but obliterated by the Sioux and Cheyenne 14 years previously, in June, 1876, on the banks of the Little Bighorn River, Montana Territory. Custer’s old outfit, now under the command of Col. J.W. Forsyth, had a score to settle with the Sioux.

custers-last-standLittle Bighorn, June, 1876

On the morning of December 29th, 1890, Forsyth began to confiscate the hunting weapons of Big Foot’s band of some 350 men, women, and children who had been take prisoner the day before. According to the army, a deaf Lakota warrior, who didn’t understand what was going on, refused to hand up his valuable rifle and a struggle ensued during which a shot was fired.

The Seventh Cavalry immediately opened fire on the mostly unarmed mass of Lakota prisoners with .45-70 caliber Springfield carbines and four 42mm Hotchkiss mountain cannon. Men, women, and children were cut to pieces in the murderous enfilade, including many soldiers caught in their own crossfire.

Wounded Knee - Soldiers with Hotchkiss GunsSoldiers With Hotchkiss Guns

The surviving Lakotas fled in the freezing snow but were pursued for three miles or more and ruthlessly butchered. Among the dead was the band leader, Big Foot, who was ill with pneumonia at the time and whose corpse was later found frozen in a half-reclining position. One soldier told how it took him several shots to kill a toddler who was running around the body of its dead parents. Another told of seeing a baby trying to suckle the breast of its dead mother, lying in her own blood in the snow.

For their “bravery”, twenty Medals of Honor were awarded to the soldiers. For years now, Indian activists have been trying to have these medals rescinded. To date, they have not been successful.

Wounded Knee - Indian Corpses Collected for BurialCollecting The Lakota Dead

Wounded Knee - Indian Bodies at Wounded KneeScattered Bodies at Wounded Knee

The Indian bodies were left to lie in a blizzard for 4 days or so. When an army burial party arrived back at the slaughter site they found a 7 month old girl, frost-bitten but alive, under the frozen corpse of her mother who had tried to shield her from army bullets. The child was named little Lost Bird and was adopted by a Nebraska National Guard general, without permission or approval from the Lakota people. She lived to be 29 years old and her story of abuse and racism at the hands of her “rescuers” is a poignant one.

(See a video of Lost Bird’s story here)

Wounded Knee - Mass GraveMass Grave

When a wagon load of wounded arrived at Pine Ridge 4 or 5 days later a white congregation emerged from a church to shout abuse at them. The church was still decorated with Christmas slogans of “Peace On Earth” and “Goodwill To All”. The good ‘Christian’ reverend shook his fist at the desperately injured and frost-bitten women and children and yelled, “Bandits!”

The former Indian Agent at Pine Ridge, Irishman V.T. McGillycuddy, was disgusted at the unwarranted slaughter.  He wrote:

“…[U]p to date there has been neither a Sioux outbreak or war. No citizen in Nebraska or Dakota has been killed, molested or can show the scratch of a pin, and no property has been destroyed off the reservation.”

The dream of a noble and beautiful people died at Wounded Knee.

Let us remember the great injustice that happened there…

Wounded Knee - Gen Colby with Lost BirdGeneral Colby with Little Lost Bird

Wounded Knee - Lost BirdLost Bird (Zintkala Nuni)

Wounded Knee - Lost Bird Reburial 1991Lost Bird’s Reburial in 1991


The author’s granddaughter, Lauren, then aged 5, placing her “Ireland” cap on Lost Bird’s grave as a mark of respect


An Irishman is last army survivor of the atrocity at Wounded Knee


About Fools Crow

Gabriel Donohoe is a Writer and Natural Health Therapist who lives in Co. Louth, Ireland. He sometimes uses the name “Fools Crow”, in honour of a Lakota holy man and healer who dedicated his life to his people and to all of humankind. Website: Wakan tanka nici un mitakola (Walk in Peace, My Friends).
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3 Responses to Massacre At Wounded Knee

  1. David DuBray says:

    It’s not easy to take this article seriously with the opening statement. Much like the ungrateful nature of a spoiled child. You speak too much and listen too little.

    • Fools Crow says:

      It’s not easy to make sense of your comment, David DuBray. You say my opening statement is “like the ungrateful nature of a spoiled child”?

      Ungrateful in what way? Ungrateful for the death & misery inflicted upon the people of sovereign countries by a succession of criminal U.S. governments? Ungrateful for the deaths of 500,000 Iraqi children whose annihilation, according to former U.S. Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, was “worth it”? Ungrateful for the countless millions of dead, injured, or displaced civilians trailing all the way back from Hiroshima to the current chicanery at Aleppo ?

      You say that I “speak too much and listen too little.” Truth needs to be spoken whenever and wherever it is found to be distorted. But I am listening… And I challenge you to disprove my opening statement which annoys you so much.

      Opening Statement:-

      “Today, the United States is universally condemned for killing and maiming untold numbers of innocent civilians in drone attacks in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Syria, Libya, Somalia, Yemen and other countries.”

  2. sunaj57 says:

    Interesting story, I find the number 100,000,000 to be unbelievable, not sure there were that many indians inhabiting the continent

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