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The American Indian Movement, the FBI, and Their Fight to Bury the Sins of the Past

by Stew Magnuson


Wounded Knee 1973: Still Bleeding

WOUNDED KNEE 1973:
STILL BLEEDING

Preludes

It was an unseasonably warm winter day in 1890 on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota when shells began to rain on the weary and half-starved band of Miniconjou Lakotas in the valley below.

A Paiute prophet to the west had spread a message of salvation from all the miseries the white man had perpetrated on the Indians. All they had to do was chant and dance, and the world would be reborn. The Ghost Dance religion swept over the prairie and spooked the white settlers, who believed their neighbors were engaged in a war dance. The United States cavalry had orders to intercept and disarm Chief Big Foot’s people, who had broken away from their reservation to the north to join their Oglala Lakota cousins in the dance at the Pine Ridge Reservation. After finding the band near Wounded Knee Creek, the Bluecoats attempted to confiscate the Indians’ guns. The Lakotas didn’t like that. A gun was fired—perhaps by accident—and then the slaughter began.

The Indian warriors fought in vain as shells and shrapnel from the Hotchkiss—a sort of half-cannon, half–machine gun—tore into their canvas tents. The Bluecoats emptied their repeating rifles at anything that moved, sometimes killing one of their own by accident. Within minutes the engagement was decided, for no one could have withstood the withering fire for long. But the officer in charge failed to call for a cease-fire, so the massacre continued. Terrified women and children fled into the maze of gullies that led to Wounded Knee Creek as men and boys tried to help them escape. Bodies would later be found several miles from the camp.

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