“Wounded Knee” was named after a brutal conflict, which took place in South Dakota in 1890. It resulted in the deaths of over 350 Native Americans as well as 25 soldiers from the U.S Army’s 7th Cavalry.
The root cause of the massacre harks back to the mid-19th century when more and more white men started to settle down on Sioux lands.
In 1868 Red Cloud, one of the Sioux leaders, signed the Treaty of Fort Laramie, which ensured that the Lakotas were the owners of the Black Hills, straddling Wyoming and Montana. In addition, all those living on the reservations would be legally protected and would be able to farm as they saw fit.
A few years later gold was struck in the Black Hills. The ruling white Americans broke the treaty and invaded those promising territories, which eventually led to the Battle of the Little Bighorn in 1876. The clash opposed the federal troops headed by Colonel Custer and Sioux warriors, whose leaders were Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse. The U.S Armies were quickly overwhelmed and Custer and his soldiers fell victim of merciless attacks.
The so-called Ghost Dance was thought up by Wovoka, a spiritual leader who claimed to be a messiah. The tradition was passed down till 1890. As the government became increasingly worried about a growing uprising, the reservation police received orders to put Chief Sitting Bull under arrest on the Standing Rock Reservation. On that very day he was assassinated.
On 29th December 1890, a detachment of the U.S.’S 7th Cavalry Regiment, led by Colonel James W. Forsyth, surrounded Big Foot and his people in a camp near Wounded Knee Creek. A fight broke out, resulting in a massacre of more than three hundred and fifty Indians, half of whom were women and children. Some died on the spot while others froze to death in the snow. The cavalry lost only twenty-five men.
This battle cannot be considered to have been fair since Big Foot, surrounded as he was by armed troops, most likely did not launch an attack without any chance of overcoming. He nevertheless was shot cold blood.
This massacre is believed to have been the last showdown between Native Americans and the United States Army. In December 1890 A United States census declared the frontier officially closed.
In 1973 another watershed event occurred when Native Americans stood up against governmental atrocities.
The insurgents reclaimed Wounded Knee in the name of the Lakota Nation, demanding more independence from the Federal Government.
According to the 1868 Sioux treaty, which was still in effect, the Black Hills had never ceased to belong to the Sioux. Their leaders consequently pressured the Federal Government to abide by the treaty.
The Wounded Knee occupation lasted for seventy-one days, during which time two Sioux men were shot by federal agents and an agent ended up paralyzed.
A museum was built in the valley to preserve the memory of those who gave their lives so as to assert their right of living on their own lands.
©Fanny Voisin - Jasmine Léonard - Martin Denis