The battle between U.
S. military troops and Lakota Sioux Indians at Wounded Knee Creek in South Dakota on December 29, 1890, resulted in the deaths of perhaps 300 Sioux men, women, and children. The massacre at Wounded Knee was the last major battle of the Indian Wars of the late 19th century.
In order to make way for white settlement, the U.
S. government ordered large numbers of Native Americans onto designated reservation lands in the late 1800s. The Great Sioux Reservation was established by treaty in 1868 and broken up into smaller areas in the 1880s. Many Lakota Sioux were living at Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota by 1890.In the previous decade, Sitting Bull, the leader of the Sioux Tribe, had led thousands of Sioux away from the reservations, resisting forced relocation, but under constant pursuit by the U.S.
military. Sitting Bull had survived the confrontation with General George Armstrong Custer at the Battle of Little Big Horn in 1876, only to reemerge a decade later as a still-committed leader among his people.
By 1889, many Sioux Indians had gathered at Wounded Knee on the Pine Ridge Reservation to participate in the Ghost Dance. The Ghost Dance was part of a religious revival movement that began among the Paiutes and was practiced by many Plains Indians in the 1870s and 1880s. A prophet named Wovoka (or Jack Wilson) shared his spiritual vision and message of hope and cultural renewal for Native Americans who had suffered through decades of broken treaties, lost lands, forced relocation, physical deprivations, and death. Wovoka preached a positive message of peace, although some Native Americans interpreted the vision as a call for active resistance in an effort to reclaim their lost lands.
The Lakota Sioux even adopted special garments that they believed provided special protection against white bullets.Fearing large numbers of armed Indians gathered in one place, the U.S.
military brought in extra troops to Wounded Knee and tried unsuccessfully to ban the Ghost Dance ceremony. The U.S. troops viewed the Indian ceremony as preparation for armed conflict and described participants as ‘wild and crazy.’
In addition to fears about the Ghost Dance, the U.S. government was also concerned about Sitting Bull as a leader with great influence over the people.
On December 15, 1890, Sitting Bull was arrested because military officials feared that he was organizing an effort to lead people off the reservation again. He was to be taken into custody and removed from the reservation, but a number of Sioux men rallied to his side to prevent it. The confrontation ended in an exchange of gunfire that killed the great Sioux leader along with several of his followers and police officers. The conflict at Wounded Knee had begun.
Tensions were thus raised even higher at Wounded Knee in the days after the murder of Sitting Bull.
U.S. soldiers were ordered to confiscate the weapons of Indians on the reservation out of fear of an armed uprising. Another Sioux leader, Spotted Elk, had just arrived at the camp with a group of followers, and attempts to disarm him and his men led to further panic. On December 29, 1890, a man named Black Coyote (who may have been deaf or just did not understand the order given in English) refused to hand over his gun. He was confronted and a gunshot was fired, prompting several other Sioux and U.
S. soldiers to fire their guns.The gun fight did not end there. Many in the Wounded Knee camp tried to flee the outbreak of violence, but the U.
S. troops pursued those who ran and fired indiscriminately, killing women, children, and the elderly.In the end, the exact number of Sioux dead is unknown, with estimates anywhere from 150 to as many as 300. Others were injured, and 25 U.S. troops were killed. The Massacre at Wounded Knee was the last major confrontation between the Plains Indians and the U.
S. government, ending the decades-long Indian Wars of the late 19th century.
The Massacre at Wounded Knee became a well-known end-point for the long lasting confrontations between U.S.
troops and Native Americans during the 19th century. In 1889 several Sioux gathered at Wounded Knee on the Pine Ridge Reservation to participate in the Ghost Dance which was part of a religious revival movement that was practiced by many Plains Indians in the 1870s and 1880s. During this gathering, a Sioux man named Wovoka shared a spiritual vision that essentially gave hope to the Sioux, though many took his visions as a sign to resist the U.S.
troops, who tried, unsuccessfully, to ban the Ghost Dance. The tensions that rose led to the death of Sioux leader Sitting Bull, and ultimately the Massacre at Wounded Knee, in which at least 175 people died on both sides.