Battlefield report: Wounded Knee Massacre (1890)

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Big Foot's camp three weeks after the Wounded Knee Massacre (Dec. 29, 1890), with bodies of several Lakota Sioux people wrapped in blankets in the foreground and U.S. soldiers in the background.
Big Foot’s camp three weeks after the Wounded Knee Massacre (Dec. 29, 1890), with bodies of several Lakota Sioux people wrapped in blankets in the foreground and U.S. soldiers in the background.
First reports from the Battle of Wounded Knee


Soldiers Butcher Chief Big Foot’s Warriors.


The Despairing Savages Fight On Foot. Half Armed.


After Tasting Blood the Troops Act With the Frenzy of Fiends.

Big Foot’s Band Surrender — While Surrounded by Troops and Being Disarmed They Attack the Soldiers With Rifles, Knives and Clubs — Mounted Men and Machine Guns Mow Them Down — Hardly a Redskin Escapes One White Officer Killed With a Tomahawk, and Many Soldiers Are Wounded — The Slaughter Continues for Hours.

Pine Ridge [South Dakota], Dec. 29.

Big Foot’s band of Indians were discovered shortly before noon yesterday by Little Bat, one of the Indian scouts, at a hostile camp eight miles northeast of Major Whiteside’s camp, on the Wounded Knee. When this was reported to Major Whiteside, he ordered four troops of the Seventh cavalry into the saddle and marched to the point indicated by the scout.

As the military approached the hostiles formed in line of battle. The major brought his men up into line, and when they came within ride shot Big Foot came forward on foot, unarmed, and signaled that he wanted to speak with the major. Dismounting, the latter walked out and met the chief. As they came forward Big Foot extended his hand in token of peace.

Soldiers Butcher Chief Big Foot's WarriorsHe said: “I am sick. My people here want peace.”

Major Whiteside cut him short, saying: “I do not want, nor will I have any parleying at all. It is either unconditional surrender or fight. What is your answer?”

“Surrender,” said the chief. “We would have done so before, but we couldn’t find you, and couldn’t find soldiers to surrender to.”

Then, at a signal, his warriors raised a white flag, and in less time than it takes to write the military had their prisoners surrounded, and a courier hastened to the agency for the other part of the Seventh cavalry and Lieutenant Taylor’s scouts to help guard and disarm the party.

Washington City, Dec. 29.

Official dispatches from General Miles, dated Rapid City, S.D., were received tonight by General Schofield telling of a fight in the Bad Lands today. The first was:

Whiteside had four troops of cavalry and held the Indians till Forsythe reached him with four more troops last night. At 8:30 this morning, while disarming the Indians, a fight commenced. I think very few Indians have escaped. I think we will have this matter in hand as soon as all are in position. There was no precaution omitted. The tight occurred near the head of Wounded Knee Creek. I have just seen many of the Indians who went out toward Forsythe this morning coining back.

The next dispatch says:

General Brooke telegraphs: Forsythe reports that while disarming Big Foot’s band this morning, a flight occurred. Captain Wallace and five soldiers were killed, and Lieutenant Garlington and fifteen men wounded. The Indians are being hunted up in all directions. None are known to have gotten their ponies. General Brooke also reports that many young warriors that were going out from the camp in the Bad Lands to the agency have gone toward Forsythe. All the troops have been notified.

A later dispatch says:

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General Brooke reported that two shots were fired near the agency at Pine Ridge by someone later in the day, and several were fired in return. Quite a large number of Two Strike’s warriors ran away, and the agency is generally excited. This makes matters look more serious.

General Schofield, though deeply regretting the occurrence, was not greatly surprised when he learned of the treachery displayed by the Indians in the fight. He had been on the lookout for treachery all the time. It was almost inevitable. So far as he could see just now, there appeared to be no further danger at hand, except that to be feared by the disarmed band of Indians that is still out, although the excitement following the fight of today might be the means of leading to further trouble.

Secretary Proctor also expressed regret at the occurrence, as he had hoped for a settlement of the trouble without further bloodshed. He supposed that inasmuch as Big Foot was connected with Sitting Bull’s band, it was a case where the Indians wanted revenge for the killing of their friend.

Lincoln, Neb., Dec. 29.

The State Journal has from its special correspondent the following story of the fight between the troops and Big Foot’s Indians at the camp at Wounded Knee:

At 8 o’clock this morning, troops were massed about the Indian village, the Hotchkiss guns overlooking the camp not fifty yards away. Colonel Forsythe ordered all the Indians to come forward, away from the tents. They came and sat in a half circle until counted. Dismounted troops were then thrown around them, Company K, Captain Wallace, and Company B, Captain Varnum. The order was then given to twenty Indians to go and get their guns.

They returned with only two guns. A detachment of troops at once began to search the village, finding thirty-eight guns. As this task was about completed the Indians, surrounded by companies K and B, began to move.

All of a sudden they threw their blankets to the ground, whipped up rides and began firing rapidly at the troops, not twenty feet away. The troops were at a great disadvantage, fearing to shoot their own comrades. The Indian men, women and children then ran to the south, the battery firing rapidly as they ran.

Soon the mounted troops were after them, shooting them down on every hand. The engagement lasted fully an hour and a half. To the south, many took refuge in a ravine, from which it was difficult to dislodge them. I should estimate the killed and wounded, from what I saw on the field and vicinity, at fifty. Just now it is impossible to state the exact number. Soldiers are shooting them down wherever found.

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The field was one of great confusion, horses running in every direction. The men for a few moments were frantic, owing to the unfortunate way in which they were placed. Captain Wallace, of K troop, was the only officer killed.

In the first mad rush of Indians, those of them who had no guns attacked the troopers with knives, clubs and tomahawks, and Captain Wallace was struck down with a blow from a hatchet on the head. Father Craft, a Catholic missionary, received a bullet wound which will probably result fatally.

Lieutenant Garlington, of Arctic exploration fame, received a serious wound in the arm and a number of non-commissioned officers and privates wounded, probably twenty-five or thirty in all. Several of these are likely to die. I cannot at this time give the names of all the wounded.

As the dispatch is being written, troops are still pursuing the Indians in every direction.

The correspondent says the Indians must have been mad to have attacked the number of soldiers who were gathered about them, there being only 120 bucks.

The treacherous deed, coming at the time it did, was a surprise, and the correspondent doubts if any of the Indians will be left alive to tell the tale when the soldiers get through the day’s work. The members of the Seventh cavalry have once more shown themselves heroes in deeds of daring. Single conflicts of great bravery were seen all over the field.

Chicago, Dec. 30.

A special from Pine Ridge agency says: This afternoon a troop of cavalry was fired on by Indians from Rosebud camp, near Pine Ridge. A skirmish followed in which two soldiers were wounded. The casualties among the Indians are unknown. Much excitement is seen among the other Indians at the agency and it is feared a lot of the young bucks will slip away tonight. Owing to the absence of the cavalry they could not be pursued with any degree of success.

Chicago, Dec. 30.

Another special from the scene of the battle asserts that five troopers were killed outright and at least a dozen mortally wounded. The correspondent expresses the belief that not one of Big Foot’s band is left alive tonight.

Chicago, Dec. 30.

A bulletin from Pine Ridge agency received at 3 o’clock this morning, says that lighting is now going on between the Indian police and some of the Indians recently returned from Bad Lands. It is impossible to learn now how serious it is. There is much anxiety at the agency, where there are only a few companies of infantry.

The opening of the fight at Wounded Knee (artist Frederic Remington)

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