Sunday, September 9, 2012

Wounded Knee, South Dakota

Today we decided to drive the 65 miles south to visit Wounded Knee, in the heart of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, land of the Sioux Indians.  My first recollection of Wounded Knee came in 1973 when the Wounded Knee Incident, as it seems to be called, took place.  Over the years I have heard it in songs, definitely in books since I was a Librarian in Arkansas, and Dee Brown was a fellow Arkansan and wrote the book Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee back in 1970, which was followed up as a made for TV movie in 2007.  I was more interested in the 1890 Massacre more than the 1973 Incident, but learned a little about both.

The Oglala Lakota [Sioux] Chief Red Cloud is quoted as saying in his old age, "They made us many promises, more than I can remember. But they kept but one--They promised to take our land...and they took it."  I think I quoted this in our blog posting about the Crazy Horse Monument.  One thing about our visit to through Montana, Idaho, Wyoming and now South Dakota is that I very much can see Red Cloud's point more clearly than I previously had.  I think about the Stephen Covey quote of a Eastern (Chinese) Proverb which says, "Give a man a fish, you feed him for the day; teach him how to fish, you feed him for a lifetime".  But now what our Government has done is to give the Indian a limited amount of money, teach them but don't give them any opportunity to survive and exist, without Government help, on the Indian Reservation.  And this reservation is among the poorest within our great country.

History shows that the Sioux were given the Black Hills and lands around it, they take away the Black Hills when gold is discovered, they are given land which is around 50% greater than the current reservation size, they reduce the size of it and sell of the rest of the land to other settlers, then they take even more land to make a Air Force Bombing Range, convert some of that land into more of the Badlands National Park, and every once in awhile, throw the Sioux Nation a bone by giving a small portion of the bombing range back to the which has been cleared of unexploded bombs....they hope.

And then there is the story of Wounded Knee....which today we just had to see the land for ourselves.  To get there, we made another large loop to see as much of the surrounding land as we could.  The map below shows in blue the loop which we took....traveling south from the KOA, then a bit west to Wounded Knee, the north between the other two less visited areas of the Badlands, then east back to the KOA.
We acknowledge in our belief that God, through his son Jesus Christ, made this world.  In this world there are areas where within just a matter of a hundred or fewer miles, something we mere mortals find to be wonderful, pleasing to the eye areas of nature is right next to an area which we look upon as being desolate, hard to take lands.  In one area there might be lush greenery, abundance of animals and water, while in the other it seems the only thing you see is critters, like the prairie dog, snakes, and perhaps a few Pronghorn here and there.  Places like this that I remember visiting are like Death Valley, where you can stand on the lowest elevation in the United States, and look up to Mount Whitney, which is the highest point in the 48 lower States.  One is a mountain which, until you get too high up, is covered with trees, and wildlife abounds, and below in Death Valley you might see rodents, snakes, perhaps a coyote looking for something, anything to eat.  After coming from the Black Hills, where wildlife abounds, and the mountains, the trees, the surroundings are the Badlands where, well, desolation is in abundance.  And below the Badlands is an area which also is a harsh land...not as desolate as the Badlands, but not nearly as abundance as the Black Hills, which is the land the Sioux were promised....a land that it seems they will never get possession of again. 

The road toward Wounded the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.
 Where the view on either side is nothing but Prairie lands, and the occasional mountain.
It took us a little over an hour to get to Wounded Knee.  We passed through the community of Kyle....with a population of just under 1,000, and truly in the middle of nowhere.  In North America, the continental pole of inaccessibility is between Kyle and Allen, located 1,650 km (1,030 mi) from the nearest coastline.  A continental pole of inaccessibility is the place on land that is farthest from the ocean.

Wounded Knee is a community, but not an organized community.  It has a population of under 400.  Wounded Knee Creek runs through this area.  The body of Crazy Horse is suppose to have been secretly buried by his family along the Creek near what is now the community of Wounded Knee.

On December 28, 1890, the 7th Calvary, the same 7th that found great defeat at the Battle of the Little Big Horn back in 1876, intercepted Spotted Elk's band of Miniconjou Lakota and 38 Hunkpapa Lakota near Porcupine Butte and escorted them five miles westward to Wounded Knee Creek where they made camp, and surrounded the encampment supported by four Hotchkiss guns (cannons).  On the 29th, troops went into the camp to disarm the Indians.  Things get fuzzy here...the bottom line is that shots rang out....the 7th attack with all they had, including the cannons, and in the end, around 150-300 men, women and children were dead or wounded (many died within days), and 25 troopers were dead and 39 wounded, 6 of which died of their wounds.  It is believed that many of the deaths of the troops came from the result of friendly fire, as shooting took place at close range in chaotic conditions.

The National Historic Monument area does not have much to it.  We pulled into this parking area.  On the hill in the picture above is where the 7th had set up its cannons.  In the parking lot is where the Indian Camp was located.  When the shots rang out, and the cannons started blasting away, many of the women and children tried to escape by running down this small hills to the creek below among the trees...but most were cut down before they reached it.  Amazingly, 20 or more of the men actually received the Congressional Medal of Honor for their actions that day.  In contrast, only three Medals of Honor were awarded to South Dakotans who fought in World War 2.  Any attempt to try and have these rescinded have landed on deaf ears in Washington DC. 

 In the parking lot is this large double sided red sign telling of the story.  If you want to read it, just click on the image and it will open into a larger picture and should be easier to read.  Much of this same story is also told at Wikipedia, and you can read it by clicking here...although the stories do vary just a little as it pertains to the numbers and to the facts.
Up on this same hill they dug a large trench, and they put the bodies of the dead Indians in it and buried them....all this after the bodies laid where they were for three days due to a huge snow storm.  Among the bodies of the females they found four babies still alive.  

Above is the mass grave, now surrounded by a concrete barrier, and beyond you can see our car, and beyond that is the area where the Indian Camp was located.  Below is the monument put up in 1903, with the names of some of the dead listed on three of the four sides.  It can also be seen on the left in the picture above.
Below is the grave of Lost Bird.  She was one of the four children found alive four days after the massacre.  She was eventually taken in by General Leonard Colby, and adopted...without his wife's knowledge or consent.  Not knowing her real name, she became literally and figuratively, Zintkala Nuni, the Lost Bird.  She had a hard life, and died at the age of 29 in California.  Her story was told by author Renee Sansom Flood, author of "Lost Bird of Wounded Knee: Spirit of the Lakota."  Her remains were returned to South Dakota and buried in this grave.  Her story led to the founding of the Lost Bird Society, which helps Native Americans who were adopted outside their culture find their roots.
Below is the grave of Lawrence "Buddy" LaMont, a 29-year-old Oglala Lakota (Sioux), who died of a gunshot wound during the 1973 Wounded Knee incident, one of two Indians to died during this uprising.  He was burried at this graveyard, the first to be buried near the mass grave of those who died in the Massacre of 1890.  If you want to learn more about this 1973 incident, read "The Legacy of Wounded Knee", written by Peter Harriman of the Argus Leader, published in March of 2003.
Below are a few pictures of this very meager graveyard.

While we were there, a number of young people, mostly male hanging around the graveyard.  A female, who was around 30-35 years old, and man who was around that age, met us down on the parking lot where we first parked.  These two quickly approached us, engaged us in conversation about what went on in this area, and then tried to peddle their cheap, supposedly handmade jewelry.  We did not buy, but I did enjoy the conversation, and the man seemed to be a little impressed with what knowledge I had about the massacre, the facts, about the Medals of Honor, etc.    When I was up at the graveyard, he met me up there and showed me the grave of Lost Bird, and told me a little of her story.  I had known about the four infants found alive, but I did not know that they knew the story of one of them, and that she was buried up on the monument area.

What I found fascinated, and I have no solutions for it, is that there is a real sense of helplessness among these people.  They wish to live with their people, and if they do, they are bound to be unemployed, bound to be using drugs and alcohol, bound to be in trouble with the reservation police, and if it is real bad, then with the FBI, who handles cases of murder and other major felonies as prescribed by US Law and upheld by the Supreme Court.  If they leave the reservation, they have a chance to "live", but they are away from their family, their culture, that life that they have been raised in.  The lady said that she depends upon the sales of these trinkets to help supplement her families income...yet she looked 35, and may only be in her early twenties...her face show signs of drug and alcohol abuse, and her neck had numerous new "hickeys" on it.  Perhaps she has a passionate husband....or boy friend....or she is deep into prostitution.   It is only anyone's guess in such a short encounter...but we could tell there was desperation, pain, agony involved with her life.  And with 80% unemployment, and government assistance which amounts to perhaps $13,000 of income and food, what does she have to look forward to?

We drove many miles, and although we came upon a few ranches....a few cows in the fields....there seems to be much more land which could be converted to ranch use if water could be provided (and we do know how to drill deep wells to find sources of water), and if proper training was available and craft type of jobs, idle hands could be put to work, people could feel good about themselves, and people who are taught to fish, don't need to given free fish to be able provide food on their table.  It is estimated that $80 million in federal dollars are given to support this question is, why don't we give them what they need, because dollars just are not doing anything but putting a small bandage on never ending cut artery. 

On our way home we saw more of the badlands in the distance....
Above is a portion of the Palmer Creek area of the Badlands.  There are no roads leading into this area for the public, and is part of the Indian Reservation, and use to be part of the Air Force Bombing Range.
The picture above and below are both part of the Stronghold area of the Badlands.  Beyond the mountains above is where the last of the Sioux Ghost Dances took place.  The Ghost Dance of 1890 was a new religious movement used among the Nevada Paiute in 1889, and swept up to the Lakota Sioux tribe by 1890.  An elaboration of the Ghost Dance concept with the Sioux was the development of Ghost Shirts, which were suppose to repel bullets through spiritual power.  The army leaders did not like the Ghost Dance, fearing that it would lead to an uprising, and hence, went after Spotted Elk and his followers, and lead to the Wounded Knee Massacre.  Below is another area close to where the one road that goes a short distance into the Badlands Mountains for those who have "high clearance" vehicles....4 wheel drive recommended from what I have read about it.  Needless to say, our HHR was not invited....
And so ended our day trip....but my day was not done.  At this KOA they have a nice doggie wash area....and I used it on both Bubba and then on Skruffy.  It was wonderful, and it is nice having clean smelling dogs around again.  The only drawback was the temperature of the water.  For Bubba it started out warm enough, but by the end it was pretty cold.  With Skruffy, well, she got just straight cold water....poor little girl.  I only wish other RV Parks did the same as this one and furnished a nice doggie bath area like this KOA does.


  1. Very interesting story. I would like to get up to Wounded Knee sometime...
    Cheryl Ann~Deep Canyon

    1. Wounded Knee is an interesting part of our history, and our ongoing history. I have been amazed at how popular this particular post has been.


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