Lakota History: Wounded Knee Massacre, Dec 29 1890

The massacre at Wounded Knee took place on December 29, 1890 on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in SD, near Wounded Knee Creek.

Causes: Events leading up to the massacre

  • The US Government began to forcefully relocate the Native American tribes onto reservations.
  • Some of the Lakota were beginning to adopt the Ghost Dance religion, believing they would become bullet proof, and after a great apocalypse, everything would go back to the way it was before the Europeans arrived.
  • News of the new Ghost Dance religion was disturbing to the US Government - they saw it as a threat and believed it would lead to a potential uprising.
  • Chief Sitting Bull was killed during his attempted arrest at the Standing Rock Indian Reservation on December 15, 1890 (the US Government believed if he adopted the Ghost Dance religion, it would further threaten their control of the Native people).

Effects: Agitated distrust in a volatile situation

  • Sitting Bull's followers escaped to the Badlands where they met up with Chief Spotted Elk (Big Foot) and his tribe (it is believed this was a chance meeting and not a planned rendezvous).
  • A detachment of the US Calvary intercepted Big Foot's band (along with those from Sitting Bull's) of 300 men, women, and children, and led them to their camp at Wounded Knee Creek.
  • More US Calvary troops arrived to the camp with additional firepower - the number of soldiers now totaling 500.
  • Soldiers surrounded Big Foot and his band and attempted to search and disarm them.
  • There are many accounts of what happened next, but most attribute this to a misunderstanding that lead to a skirmish between troops and members of the tribeā€¦and the accidental discharge of a gun.

Result: Massacre

  • Calvary troops opened fire on the band.
  • Chaos ensued.
  • Less than an hour later, over 200 Lakota lay dead or wounded - over half of them were women, children, and elderly tribal members...and most were unarmed.
  • Soldier casualties and wounded amounted to 65 - a majority of them were attributed to friendly fire.

Remembering Wounded Knee

The Wounded Knee Massacre will never be forgotten. It is a date that has been memorialized, recanted, honored, and remembered through the pages of books, song lyrics, and documented on film for the last 120 years.


Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee

Written by Dee Brown, this book covers Native American life from the 1860's, when the U.S. government removed the Navajo from their lands, to the final act in this horrendous period in American history...the bloody 1890 massacre at Wounded Knee and its aftermath.

After Wounded Knee 

Based on correspondence written by Major Jahn Vance Lauderdale at the height of the cultural struggle between the US and Lakota people, this book gives insight into the military life and personal observations of the Wounded Knee tragedy.

On the Trail to Wounded Knee - The Big Foot Memorial Ride

In 1986, to honor the Wounded Knee Massacre, members of the Lakota nation vowed to follow the trail of their ancestors by retracing Big Foot's path across the Dakotas. On their final journey in 1990 (the 100th anniversary of the massacre), photographer Guy Le Querrec followed them and shot gritty, yet compelling images of their journey.

Floyd Red Crow Westerman : Custer Died for Your Sins | The Land is Your Mother
Buddy Red Bow: Journey to the Spirit World

Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee

Adapted from the book Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown, this award winning film is based on the history of Native Americans in the American West during the late nineteenth century.

We Shall Remain - America Through Native Eyes

Spanning almost 400 years, this series of documentaries - After the Mayflower, Tecumseh's Vision, Trail of Tears, Geronimo, Wounded Knee - relate the pivotal moments in US history from the Native American perspective.