Under cover of the night on December 23, a band of 350 people left the Miniconjou village on the Cheyenne River to begin a treacherous 150-mile, week-long trek through the Badlands to reach the Pine Ridge Agency. Although Chief Big Foot was aged and seriously ill with pneumonia, his group traversed the rugged, frozen terrain of the Badlands in order to reach the protection of Chief Red Cloud who had promised them food, shelter, and horses. It is reported that both Big Foot and Red Cloud wanted peace. On December 28, the group was surrounded by Major Samuel M. Whitside and the Seventh Calvary (the old regiment of General George Custer). Big Foots band hoisted a white flag, but the army apprehended the Indians, forcing them to the bank of Wounded Knee Creek. There, four large Hotchkiss cannons had been menacingly situated atop both sides of the valley overlooking the encampment, ready to fire upon the Indians.
A rumor ran through the camp that the Indians were to be deported to Indian Territory (Oklahoma) which had the reputation for its living conditions being far worse than any prison. The Lakotas became panicky, and historians have surmised that if the misunderstanding had been clarified that they were to be taken to a different camp, the entire horrific incident might have been averted.
That evening, Colonel James Forsyth arrived with reinforcements and took over as commander of the operation. The Indians were not allowed to sleep as the soldiers interrogated them through the night. (It has been reported that many of the questions were to determine who among the group had been at Little Bighorn fourteen years earlier. In addition, eyewitnesses claimed that the soldiers had been drinking to celebrate the capture of the ailing Big Foot.)
The soldiers ordered that the Indians be stripped of their weapons, and this further agitated an increasingly tense and serious situation. While the soldiers searched for weapons, a few of the Indians began singing Ghost Dance songs, and one of them (thought to be the medicine man, Yellow Bird, although this is still disputed by historians) threw dirt in a ceremonial act. This action was misunderstood by the soldiers as a sign of imminent hostile aggression, and within moments, a gun discharged. It is believed that the gun of a deaf man, Black Coyote, accidentally fired as soldiers tried to take it from him. Although the inadvertent single shot did not injure anyone, instantaneously the soldiers retaliated by spraying the unarmed Indians with bullets from small arms, as well as the Hotchkiss canons which overlooked the scene.
(Hotchkiss canons are capable of firing two pound explosive shells at a rate of fifty per minute.)
With only their bare hands to fight back, the Indians tried to defend themselves, but the incident deteriorated further into bloody chaos, and the 350 unarmed Indians were outmatched and outnumbered by the nearly 500 U.S. soldiers.
The majority of the massacre fatalities occurred during the initial ten to twenty minutes of the incident, but the firing lasted for several hours as the army chased after those who tried to escape into the nearby ravine. According to recollections by some of the Indian survivors, the soldiers cried out "Remember the Little Bighorn" as they sportingly hunted down those who fled -- evidence to them that the massacre was in revenge of Custers demise at Little Bighorn in 1876.
(Recorded by Santee Sioux, Sid Byrd, from oral histories of several survivors.)
Many of the injured died of exposure in the freezing weather, and several days after the incident the dead were strewn as far as approximately two to five miles away from the original site. By mid-afternoon on December 29, 1890 the indiscriminate slaughter ceased. Nearly three-hundred men (including Chief Big Foot), women, and children -- old and young -- were dead on the frosty banks of Wounded Knee Creek. Twenty-nine soldiers also died in the melee, but it is believed that most of the military causalities were a result of "friendly" crossfire that occurred during the fighting frenzy. Twenty-three soldiers from the Seventh Calvary were later awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for the slaughter of defenseless Indians at Wounded Knee.
We are asking that these Medals of DIS Honor awarded to the members of the 7th Calvary of the United States Army for the murder of innocent women children and men on that terrible December morning be rescinded.
And that the Battle Pennant on the Flag of the United States Army be removed and destroyed
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