Badlands National Park Feature
Wounded Knee Massacre
In late December 1890 the men of the 7th Cavalry, armed with a federal mandate (and some light artillery), intercepted a group of 350 Lakota in southwest South Dakota with the intention of disarming them and marching them to Nebraska, where they would be forced onto scattered reservations. The disarming process was remarkably peaceful—that is, until soldiers approached a warrior named Black Coyote. According to several accounts, Black Coyote wouldn't relinquish his weapon without compensation, since he had bought the firearm himself. Somehow, a weapon was discharged, and at least one soldier ordered the troops to open fire. Fearful of an impending attack, the cavalry did so, even bringing their artillery to bear on the Lakota camp. Warriors scrambled to retrieve their seized rifles to re-arm themselves. By the time the smoke had cleared, about 150 Lakota and 25 U.S. soldiers lay dead. While most of the remaining Lakota managed to escape, the majority perished in the elements, the victims of a sudden blizzard. When a burial party returned to the site after the storm, they found the frozen and contorted bodies of nearly 300 Lakota, mostly women and children, which they placed in a common grave.
In the following days, newspapers and government officials referred to the confrontation as a "battle," but it was none other than wholesale slaughter. Within a year, the army had awarded 23 Medals of Honor to members of the Seventh Cavalry for "valor" shown in the carnage (modern-day activists are seeking to have them rescinded). Even so, there was no cover-up of this affair. The American people were incensed, and from this point on, any government-led extermination of the Indian people ended. The blood in the snow at Wounded Knee melted in the spring of 1891, and as it thawed and ran across the prairie in a thousand rivulets, it carried with it a way of life for the American Indian.
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