Wounded Knee Massacre 1890

Background

During the 19th century, many wars were fought between the U.S. army and the Native American tribes. Most of these wars were fought simply over possession of land. The Native American tribes wanted to retain their ancestral lands.

On the other hand, more and more white settlers arrived on these lands so that the government ultimately had to intervene. The government usually asked the Native American tribes to leave their lands and move to a reservation site. Some tribes willingly did so while others fought and were forced to relocate after being defeated by the U.S. army.

Before the Wounded Knee Massacre

By 1890, most of the native lands of the Indian tribes had been taken away by the U.S. government and nearly all major Indian leaders had given up warfare. By this time, the traditional lifestyle of the Native American tribes had come to an end. They no longer had lands, the bison herds on which they relied upon for food had almost gone extinct and most of their freedoms had ended.

At this time, a sort of religious movement took birth among the Native Americans. This was known as the Ghost Dance. Those who practised Ghost Dance believed that if they danced in a specific way, the white settlers would leave their lands and the bison herds would return in plenty so that they would have their old lifestyle back again.

The Start of the Conflict

The Ghost Dance worried the white settlers in South Dakota. They thought that the Ghost Dance believers may use violence to evict the white settlers, although the Native Americans had no such plans. So American soldiers took action on their own and went to arrest the famous Native American leader, Sitting Bull.

The Indians resisted this and during the attempts to arrest him, Sitting Bull was killed. Other people of his tribe escaped and later joined the group led by Chief Spotted Elk. This group of Native Americans now decided to travel onward and meet the Indian leader, Chief Red Cloud. But before they could do so, a group of U.S. soldiers surrounded them and forced them to make camp near the Wounded Knee River.

When and where did the Wounded Knee Massacre take place?

The Wounded Knee Massacre took place at the Wounded Knee Creek in South Dakota. It took place on December 29, 1890.

The Massacre

The Native Americans at the Wounded Knee Camp numbered 350. The American army which surrounded them numbered at 500 and was led by Colonel James Forsyth. Forsyth asked the Indians to give up all their weapons. The army later claimed that the Indians resisted and fired on them.

The Indians claimed that only one of the dead Indian warriors resisted. He didn’t want to give up his rifle and when the soldiers tried to take it from him by force, the rifle went on. The soldiers panicked and started firing on the Indians. As a result, around 150 to 300 Indians were killed which included more than 50 women and around 30 children. 25 American soldiers also died as a result of the firing incident.