On December 29, 1890, near Wounded Knee Creek in South Dakota, the U.S. 7th Calvary murdered some 350 Lakota men, women, and children. In the eyes of history, the “Wounded Knee Massacre” broke the hearts of the Native American population and put an end to the “Indian Wars.”
In the preceding years, the U. S. government continued to seize Lakota lands, white settlers hunted the bison to near-extinction, and treaties promising to protect reservations from encroachment were ignored.
Wovoka, a Paiute prophet, had a vision that Jesus Christ had returned as an Indian and would raise all the Native American believers above the earth; the white man would disappear from Native lands; the buffalo would be abundant again; and the ghosts of Native American ancestors would return to earth to live in peace. All this would be brought about by performance of the “Ghost Dance.” Settlers were alarmed by what they called the “Messiah Craze”.
The day before the massacre, approximately 230 men and 120 women and children of the Lakota Nation were in route to the Pine Ridge Reservation. The 7th U.S. Cavalry confronted them and led them to Wounded Knee Creek, where they made camp. Later that evening, more troopers arrived, surrounded the encampment, and set up four rapid-fire mountain guns.
At dawn, troops entered the camp to disarm the Indians and to herd them onto trains. In some accounts, the Lakota began the “Ghost Dance.” When Black Coyote, a deaf Lakota refused to give up his rifle, two soldiers seized him, and in the struggle, his rifle discharged. The cavalry opened fire, indiscriminately killing men, women, and children. Warriors fired back. In less than an hour, an estimated 300 Lakota and 25 soldiers were dead, many of the soldiers victims of “friendly fire” from their own mountain guns.
After a 3-day blizzard, the military hired civilians to throw the dead Lakota into a mass grave.
Years later, Black Elk, a Lakota medicine man, reflected: “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 hope is broken and scattered. There is no center any longer, and the sacred tree is dead.”