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Wounded Knee Massacre: December 29, 1890

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What was the Wounded Knee Massacre?

Throughout 1890, the U.S. government worried about the increasing influence at Pine Ridge of the Ghost Dance spiritual movement, which taught that Indians had been defeated and confined to reservations because they had angered the gods by abandoning their traditional customs. Many Sioux believed that if they practiced the Ghost Dance and rejected the ways of the white man, the gods would create the world anew and destroy all non-believers, including non-Indians. On December 15, 1890, reservation police tried to arrest Sitting Bull, the famous Sioux chief, who they mistakenly believed was a Ghost Dancer, and killed him in the process, increasing the tensions at Pine Ridge.

On December 29, the U.S. Army’s 7th Cavalry surrounded a band of Ghost Dancers under Big Foot, a Lakota Sioux chief, near Wounded Knee Creek and demanded they surrender their weapons. As that was happening, a fight broke out between an Indian and a U.S. soldier and a shot was fired, although it’s unclear from which side. A brutal massacre followed, in which it’s estimated 150 Indians were killed (some historians put this number at twice as high), nearly half of them women and children. The cavalry lost 25 men. (Continue Reading from the History Channel)

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Immediately following the massacre, Forsyth ordered the transportation of 51 wounded Miniconjou to the Pine Ridge Agency. Hundreds of Lakota who lived there fled the area in horror; some even ambushed the 7th Cavalry in retaliation, prompting Miles to dispatch more troops to the area to quell further resistance. On January 2, 1891, a band of Lakota went to the site of the massacre and rescued a few survivors from the snow. The following day the U.S. Army unceremoniously buried 146 Miniconjou in a mass grave where the Hotchkiss guns had been placed, a location today known as Cemetery Hill. Many of the corpses were naked. Modern scholars estimate that between 250 and 300 Miniconjou were killed in total, almost half of whom were women and children. At least 25 U.S. soldiers also died, many likely fallen to friendly fire. (Continue Reading from Encyclopaedia Britannica)

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