Editorial - Remembering a dark day in DecemberLast Thursday, December 29, went by unnoticed by many as they were looking ahead to their New Year’s Eve celebrations. But more people should remember the day as one of the most shameful in our nation’s history.
Last Thursday, December 29, went by unnoticed by many as they were looking ahead to their New Year’s Eve celebrations.
But more people should remember the day as one of the most shameful in our nation’s history.
On December 29, 1890, the U.S. Cavalry led a massacre that left, by some accounts, nearly 300 Lakota men, women and children dead. Most of them were utterly defenseless.
A reader in Garfield called our attention to the anniversary of the events that unfolded at Wounded Knee, South Dakota. He forwarded the newspaper a commentary written by Tim Giago, an Oglala Lakota who is president of Unity South Dakota. The piece appeared on the website, www.indianz.com.
The massacre started after a band of Big Foot’s followers, traveling under a white flag of peace, was intercepted by the 7th Cavalry and pushed to make an encampment at Wounded Knee Creek. (This was the same cavalry unit that was led by George Armstrong Custer in 1876 during the Battle of Little Bighorn.)
When warriors lined up to be searched, a weapon discharged and the killing began. It’s unclear which side fired the first shot. The Lakota warriors fought the soldiers with their bare hands. Big Foot, suffering from pneumonia, was shot to death while lying in his tent.
Giago included this account from a prominent Lakota leader, American Horse: “There was a woman with an infant in her arms who was killed as she almost touched the flag of truce...A mother was shot down with her infant; the child not knowing its mother was dead, was still nursing. The women as they were fleeing with their babies were killed together, shot right through and after most all of them had been killed a cry was made that all those who were not killed or wounded should come forth and they would be safe. Little boys came out of their places of refuge, and as soon as they came in sight a number of soldiers surrounded them and butchered them.”
Giago shed light on several sidenotes to ponder:
• Two weeks before the massacre, L. Frank Baum, the writer who penned The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, wrote an editorial in the Aberdeen, South Dakota Saturday Review that lauded the death of Big Foot’s half-brother, Sitting Bull. Baum wrote, “With this fall, the nobility of the Redskin is extinguished and what few are left are a pack of whining curs who lick the hand that smites them. The Whites, by law of conquest, by justice of civilization, are masters of the American continent, and the best safety of the frontier settlers will be secured by the total annihilation of the few remaining Indians.”
• More than 20 Medals of Honor were given to the soldiers who participated in the massacre.
• To this day, an all-inclusive peace treaty has never been signed between the Sioux Nation tribes and the U.S. government.
• America has never made reparations nor apologized for the Wounded Knee massacre.
Remember December 29, 1890 the next time you hear about a mass shooting that’s described as worst in our nation’s history. Remember how it pales in comparison to what happened to the Lakota people that day and what happened to other American Indian tribes in other government-led massacres that followed. And remember Baum’s hateful words calling for genocide – a viewpoint that was commonly shared by others at the time.
There are lessons that can be learned from the atrocities of the past – even the painful ones that no one wants to remember.