Doctor Sally Wagner
Testifies At
Wounded Knee Hearings

Part Two

Governor Sigurd Anderson :

"It should be clearly understood that at that time, in 1890, the Indian thought more of his rifle and his knife as implements of the chase than as weapons of war. But with the shortening of the beef ration the ability to take game became of even greater importance and he did not want to give up his rifle..."

Governor Sigurd Anderson :

"Paul Highback who was there and who was very badly wounded says: 'So then of us went up to them and we had only one gun to lay down. This soldiers did not like this very well, but we could not put our guns down because we did not have them with us. Those of us who had guns had left them back at our tents.' The Indians [sic] men, women and children were surrounded by soldiers. Paul Highback goes on to say: 'But as it turned out, there were two men down at the lower end of our group who had their guns under their blankets. One of the soldiers who was walking back and forth in front of us saw the ends of those guns sticking out. He called out to the other soldiers that these men had guns. I could see it all and I can say that neither of those men raised their guns or shot them but as the soldiers started forward to take the guns suddenly all the rest of the soldiers raised their guns and fired right into us.' It was as if a rocket had been set off. The Hotchkiss quick-firing guns fired into the mass of Indians [sic] men, women, children and soldiers."

Governor Sigurd Anderson :

"There was nothing planned about the affair. It was the net result of an understandable misunderstanding by everybody and the violation of a sound order by the white commander. What followed was too horrible to be recounted...There has never been a greater tragedy in American History."

United States Senator from South Dakota Karl Mundt :

"...what followed can hardly be classified as the white man's proudest hour...Big Foot and his band of 340 braves, women, and children surrendered unconditionally to Major Whitside at Porcupine Butte, and on December 28th, 1890, the Indians were escorted to Wounded Knee where Colonel Forsythe assumed command. On December 29th, the decision was made to disarm the Indians before moving them into Pine Ridge. It should be remembered that to the Indian his rifle was his plow and combine; his means of livelihood, and a cherished possession indeed. It was no small wonder, then, that the Indians did not readily comply with this request, requiring the soldiers to search the teepees for firearms. It is not clear what actually was meant by the medicine man who threw a handful of dust in the air. The result was, of course, the carnage which followed, and at the end of but a few minutes, 50 soldiers and 200 Indians - men, women, and children - were lying dead among the burning tepees. The bodies of women and children were found scattered for a distance of two miles from the scene of the encounter where they had been cut down by the calvalry..."

Senator Karl Mundt :

"The horror of the encounter is even more magnified when it is remembered that the wounded and dead of the Army were immediately evacuated to Pine Ridge while it was not until two days later, on January 1, 1891, that an effort was made to gather up the dead and wounded of Big Foot's band. During those two days, a blizzard had raged through the area. It was found that some of the women and children were still alive in spite of being exposed to the severe temperatures, frostbite coupled with their wounds ultimately caused most of them to perish."

General Colby wrote that

"Colonel Forsythe came out from the Agency to the camp on Wounded Knee, with orders from General Brooke to disarm Big Foot's band; and on the morning of December 29th, he assumed command of the two battalions of 500 men and a battery of Hotchkiss guns."

General Colby

"These remnants of the followers of Sitting Bull had relied upon the words of Captain Whiteside [Whitside] in yielding to the military authority, but they were naturally suspicious and uneasy. They had witnessed the tragic fate of their old chief and medicine man. Many of them believed that they were to be put to death, and naturally supposed that their disarming was simply to render them defenseless; others believed they were to be disarmed, then imprisoned and held for years in Florida, North Carolina, or Alabama as their brothers, the warlike Apaches, had been treated years before. The whole proceedings of this morning intensified their feelings, and confirmed them in their belief in regard to the terrible fate which awaited them."

General Colby :

"The surviving Indians now started to escape to the bluffs and the canyons. The Hotchkiss guns were turned upon them, and the battle became really a hunt on the part of the soldiers, the purpose being total extermination. All order and tactics were abandoned, the object being solely to kill Indians, regardless of age or sex. The battle was ended only when not a live Indian was in sight."

A soldier at Pine Ridge who

"did not witness the battle although I was not very far from it - so close in fact during the entire engagement as to be able to hear the Hotchkiss guns and a part of the time could hear the small arms"
wrote this account to a friend:

Soldier 1 :

"...Well finally the gallant 7th boys pulled themselves together, straightened out, got out of one another's way, out of the way of the battery. There was a cry of 'Remember Custer' and at it they went. Men, women and children fell like hickory nuts after heavy frost. Men, women and children were piled up on that little flat in one confused mass. Blood ran like water...Big Foot's band was converted into good Indians."

Twenty year old Hugh McGinnis was in the First Battalion of the Seventh calvalry at Wounded Knee, and was wounded twice. His account reads, in part,:

Soldier McGinnis :

"Through the interpreter, Colonel Forsyth got down to the business at hand. But the Indians were very far from pleased when he requested them to surrender their arms. They argued that they needed their old fowling pieces to kill game in order o survive. This plea failed to move Colonel Forsyth, however, and he insisted that the Sioux go back to their tents and return with their weapons...Forsyth then detailed a number of soldiers to search the tents and confiscate the Indians arsenal. He picked five members of my troop to accompany Captain Varnum and several other chaps from troop B."

Soldier McGinnis :

"The Sioux braves became agitated by the cries of their squaws, who attempted to prevent the soldiers from scattering their belongings..."

Soldier McGinnis :

"...fantastic as it sounds, the surrounding troopers were firing wildly into this seething mass of humanity, subjecting us as well as the Indians to a deadly crossfire while the first volley from the Hotchkiss guns mowed down scores of women and children who had been watching the proceedings."

Soldier McGinnis :

Few escaped the merciless slaughter dealt out that dreadful day by members of the Seventh calvalry. There was no discrimination of age or sex. Children as well as women with babes in their arms were brought down as far as two miles from the Wounded Knee Crossing.

There's an interesting commonality about the preceding testimony regarding what happened at Wounded Knee. The authors are all in agreement that Wounded Knee was a massacre. The other thing they have in common is that they are all white men: the two commanding generals in the field, a South Dakota governor, a United States Senator from South Dakota, the former Indian agent at Pine Ridge and two soldiers.

What did the official South Dakota state historians have to say about it?

Doane Robinson (Secretary of the State of South Dakota History Department, 1902-1926):

"At wounded Knee only one gun was fired by an Indian before the soldiers attacked. Black Fox, from Cheyenne river, much excited fired his rifle. Instantly the soldiers replied with their Hotchkiss guns and with the first volley killed probably half of all the warriors, and the awful massacre followed that will always be a disgrace to the American army."

Doane's son Will G. Robinson (Secretary of the South Dakota State Historical Society, 1946-1968), who followed in his father's footsteps as state historian, wrote,

"MY IMPRESSION is that here we have a battle - distinguished by two things (1) that it was the last between whites and redmen on any scale (2) that it partook of none of the aspects of a battle between armed and inspired combatants and resulted in the wanton killing of over 100 wholly innocent people...It certainly would be devoid of good judgment, an affront to both Indians and to the historic fact if it was a monument to the army troops who participated. This thus eliminates anything from the picture except, as I see it, a memorial to the dead Indians . It is the army viewpoint that they are not only dead but bad Indians and deserved what they got. That is not realistic but it is the apparent army line dating back into antiquity. It is the basis of their denial of the right of the survivors to compensation. It is not based on fact or sound logic but on a guilt complex. That guilt complex was then so strong that they gave out congressional medals of Honor to the participants in the Wounded Knee affair (eighteen) and 12 more to the people who did next to nothing at the Mission and White River fracas later of which were of minor importance. They built a great monument at Ft. Riley eulogizing the dead soldiers in this lamentable affair. When one considers that in World War II, sixty four thousand South Dakotans were engaged for the better part of four years and that they received only three congressional medals the incongruity of the Army's attitudes toward Wounded Knee is emphasized. "

State Historian Will Robinson :

"General Miles had specifically ordered that no troops were to go into an Indian encampment. Forsythe decided that they had not got all of the guns and that they would send men into the encampment to get the rest of the guns. Had that specific violation of General Miles orders not been done, there would have been no "affair at Wounded Knee."

John Collier, The Commissioner of Indian Affairs said and quoted the following during his testimony at the Wounded Knee compensation hearings in 1938:

"The Wounded Knee incident properly has been called a 'massacre.' The historical facts are here set down as a basis for judgment by the Congress."

John Collier, The Commissioner of Indian Affairs :

"The unrest and distress among the Sioux bands had increased in its intensity through a number of years prior to 1890. The causes of the Sioux misery need not be here recapitulated. There had been ruthless violations of treaties and agreements, and numerous administrative abuses. It scarcely was possible for the Indians themselves to know what spots they were permitted to inhabit and what they were forbidden to in habit, so sweeping and so casual had been the violations and unilateral abrogations of contract on the part of the Government. One of the responses of the Sioux Indians, as of numerous other tribes similarly distressed, was the flight into Messianic religious revivals, the Messianic revival among the Sioux was know as the Ghost Dance Religion."

John Collier, The Commissioner of Indian Affairs :

"It is important to note that these Messianic revivals had taken place from time to time for many years among the Indian tribes, and in no instance had they thrown the Indians into aggressive warfare with the whites. Neither acts of war, not massacres nor depredations, had resulted from the Messianic revivals. This record was known to the Government at that time."

John Collier, The Commissioner of Indian Affairs :

"Four hundred Sioux, in family groups (whole families with all their transportable possessions), assembled for the Ghost Dance ceremonies, were shot down by Government troops - mass firing into the congregation, and then an individual manhunt (and women and baby hunt.)"

How did each of these men summarize the events?

State Historian Will Robinson observed:

"Obviously the army is never going to go one inch in conceding what General Miles, apparently as commander, was prepared to concede. That the fatal event would never had occurred had the white commander obeyed his instructions."

State Historian Will Robinson :

"The Battle of the Little Big Horn itself was not a massacre, but the aftermath of the battle was not pretty. The Wounded Knee more clearly falls with the meaning of the word Massacre..."

Unites States Senator Karl Mundt :

"In an effort to compromise differences as to the actual nomenclature to be used, I have received from the Indians assurance that they would recognize the event as an 'Incident.' Such a compromise would be acceptable to the Army. The Incident is not one in which we can take great pride, but to overlook it altogether at a time when we memorialize the Battle of the Little Big Horn and other battles in which the white man's roll is perhaps of a more honorable nature is to pervert and distort the chronically of history. We live by our mistakes as well as our virtues."

General Colby :

"This Indian war might be regarded as the result of a misconception or a misunderstanding of the Indian character, and of the real situation and condition of things on the Reservations; and the terrible and needless slaughter was the result of a mistake. The general condition of things, however, which made such misunderstanding and mistake possible was the result of the Indian policy of the Government."

General Colby :

"The whole difficulty might be summarized as the fault of the ills, resulting from a non-performance of the treaty stipulations on the part of our Government during the past thirteen years. The Sioux Nation as such, was not really on the war path during any of this time. A portion of them was justly excited at the assassination of their famous old Medicine Man, his children and followers on the Grand River. And their animosity was provoked by the useless massacre of Big Foot and his heroic band on the banks of Wounded Knee. But the vengeance of the Sioux Nation was never directed to the white settlers adjoining the reservations in Dakota, Wyoming and Nebraska. There were no blazing cabins, no desolated settlements, no fields crimson with the blood of the frontiersmen. Not a single settler was killed, nor a white man's home disturbed during the whole trouble. The assassination of Sitting Bull, his sons and others of his band, and the massacre of Big Foot and the two hundred or more partially armed warriors and defenseless women and children, are the dark and bloody tragedies resulting from the grievous errors of the men charged with the administration of the Government, and will forever stain the soil of America, and add to the infamy of the dark spots on the record of our republic in its dealings with the Spartan race of the Western Continent."

General Colby :

"January 15th...General Miles had another consultation with the Indians in regard to the treatment which they were to receive, and the contracts and treaties which the Indians claimed had been violated. There were present, Little Wound, Two Strike, Big Road, Crow Dog, Kicking Bear, Eagle Pipe and other chiefs, who showed a very friendly disposition, and expressed great confidence in General Miles. The General was pleased with their disposition and guaranteed that in the future the government would carry out its contracts and treaties. He assured the chiefs that they should be treated fairly and honorably, and that their rights would be guarded. The best of the feeling seemed to be manifested, and General Miles at once had the Quartermaster issue rations of beef, coffee and sugar, and sent the same to the hostile camp. This was the end of the Sioux Indian War of 1890-'91. The Nebraska National Guard, under my command, were at once returned to their homes."

The stories of women and children are often overlooked in accounts of war. I wanted to find out what had happened to my friend Vic Runnel's uncle, James High Hawk, and this is what I found:

Major McLaughlin , who was the Indian agent in charge of the Standing Rock Agency in 1890, gathered testimony of Wounded Knee survivors i 1921 for a proposed compensation bill. He wrote:

"James High Hawk, of Cherry Creek, 35 years of age, states that he was in the Wounded Knee affair with his parents; that his father, mother and grandmother were killed in the conflict and he [was] wounded in the right thigh and right ankle, and his younger brother was wounded from which [wounds] he died two years later...Alex High Hawk of Cherry Creek, 42 years of age, is an older brother of James High Hawk, and stated he was wounded in the left ankle...I also met Jonah High Hawk of Cherry Creek, 33 years of age, brother of the two preceding survivors of the Wounded Knee affair, who was only four years of age at that time and had escaped injury and had very little recollection of what transpired there."

This is what happened, from the memory of his older brother James High Hawk, "

There were some small children playing around, and I was one of them. I had a little brother who was nursing then - an infant - and one brother a little bit larger, and I was a little bit larger than he was. He was four years old at the time. I was wounded twice. My mother was wounded, though she kept trying to take care of her little family, then they came again and shot her and my infant brother."

Finding this story about the uncle of a friend of mine, Wounded Knee suddenly became real, personal and immediate. Wanting to find more accounts of the wounded, I looked for the records of the white people who had cared for them. The army surgeon, Frank Ives , kept a careful record of all the Indians he treated after Wounded Knee, and that journal is housed in the South Dakota Historical Society. Elaine Goodale Eastman's experience has been published in a book, Sister of the Sioux. The collection of Eli Ricker , Nebraska lawyer and judge who took massive testimony from people who had been at the Wounded Knee massacre, is in the Nebraska Historical Society, and includes the account from Mrs. Keith , who nursed the wounded. Each of these three people, writing separately, talk about the same people who were injured, and the same conditions:

The report of army surgeon Ives begins:

No. 1. Has-a-dog Age 17
Gunshot wound upper lobe of left lung
Jan. 5 - Hemorrhage - died.

No. 5 Child - female - 6
com'd fracture upper third left thigh

Mrs. Keith
"who worked among these poor little things all that night feeding them and ministering to their extreme thirst tells me that their cries, faint from weakness and long suffering, were something never to be effaced from memory." writes Eli Ricker. "Infants from a few months to tender years of age were shot in all parts of their bodies...The battle had begun early in the day and these children were received at the Agency about 10 o'clock. p.m."

Elaine Goodale Eastman described her experience in treating the Indians:

"Long after dark the Seventh calvalry appeared, bringing their own dead and wounded and thirty three Dakotas, most of them severely wounded women and children. I can never forget Mr. Cook's incredulous horror when he came upon the poor creatures in their bloody rags, huddled on the bare boards of several army wagons, chilled to the bone and too stunned in their culminating misfortunes to utter a sound, until the torture of fresh movement wrung from them screams of agony. The horses had been taken out and the helpless prisoners left alone in darkness and cold, while army surgeons were busy with their own wounded."

Keith :

"These little objects of humanity could not be satisfied by eating and drinking; it appeared that their long fast had created in them excessive thirst and hunger that could not be appeased."

Eastman :

"Pews were torn from their fastenings and armfuls of hay fetched by Indian helpers. Upon a layer of this we spread quilts and blankets taken from our own beds. The victims were lifted as gently as possible and laid in two long rows on the floor - a pitiful array of young girls and women with babes in their arms, little children, and a few men, all pierced with bullets or terribly torn with pieces of shell, and all sick with fear."

Keith :

One of these children was under a year of age., because it was wrapped up after the Indian custom. This was badly wounded in the lower bowels. She does not know whether it lived.

Ives :

18, Baby - male - 1 year with Mother
1 gunshot wound through left buttocks
2 gunshot wound through scrotum
Both wounds made by same ball
Jan. 5 supporation in both
hernia left testicle
jan. 9 Transferred to Indian camp

Keith : The mother was in the hospital. Mrs. K. does not know whether she recovered, but she thinks she did.

Ives : 19 Squaw
"No name woman"

has infant with
Wound through right hand
between meta carpal bones
Jan. 5 No suppuration doing well

Keith : tells of a deaf and dumb girl that was among the wounded in the hospital at the Agency after the battle of Wounded Knee. The nurses tried hard at first to attract her notice by speaking loud to her, while she continued to moan and groan piteously without giving recognition to their efforts. At last an old woman told them of her condition.

Ives :

13. Girl - Deaf & dumb - 12 yr.
1 wound through right wrist
2 Flesh wound right side
Jan. 5 Supporation both wounds
doing well

Eastman :

Our patient cried and moaned incessantly, and every night some dead were carried out. In spite of all we could do, most of the injuries proved fatal. The few survivors were heartbroken and apathetic, for nearly all their men had been killed on the spot.

Keith :

says she is sure there was not a man in the hospital. This shows hoe effectually the soldiers killed all the men who could not escape. They did not spare age or sex.


"Mr. Keith " says that before the battle he was passing some soldiers of the 7th calvalry at the agency and he heard one of them remark that if they could just get to the Indians "they would give them hell." These Indians (Big Foot) I have been told by another were in the Custer massacre, and these soldiers were desirous for an opportunity to square accounts with them."

What Should be Done

I was amazed to find that a whole series of bills to compensate the survivors had been considered by Congress since 1917, and today, 100 years later, the Indian people have not yet received a simple apology from the government for the massacre, nor has there been any compensation for the destruction of life and property. I can't imagine anyone more fitting to take our direction from than General Nelson A. Miles, commander of the Military Department of the Missouri.

General Miles wrote:

The action of the Commanding Officer, in my judgment at the time, and I so reported, was most reprehensible. The disposition of his troops was such that in firing upon the warriors they fired directly towards their own lines and also in the camp of the women and children, and I have regarded the whole affair as most unjustifiable and worthy of the severest condemnation.

General Miles :
"In my opinion, the least Government can do is to make a suitable recompense to the survivors who are still living for the great injustice that was done them and the serious loss of their relatives and property - and I earnestly recommend that this may be favorably considered by the Department and by Congress and a suitable appropriation be made."

General Miles wrote these words in 1917. Three years later General Miles again wrote to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs regarding another attempt at a compensation bill for Wounded Knee survivors. Perhaps out of frustration at the failure of the previous bill, this time the words of the commanding general are even stronger:

General Miles : The act, he said, seems to me
"of imperative importance and atone in part for the cruel and unjustifiable massacre of Indian men and innocent women and children at Wounded Knee on the Red Cloud Reservation, South Dakota."

Clearly in this enlightened time [1990], when the United States government has made compensation to the Japanese for their property which was lost during World War II, when the army is willing to look at it's mistake in Mai Lai and Panama, and when the Soviet Union publicly and with compensation, has acknowledged a massacre it committed in Poland, we [Wasichu?] can do no less than the justice to the Indians which the commanding general [Miles] demanded eighty years ago.

During the 100th anniversary of the Massacre at Wounded Knee, I would ask the United States to offer a public apology to the Sioux Nation, *and to rescind the medals awarded for the massacre.* I would further ask the United States government to make a public apology and to finally award the long overdue compensation [for property destroyed/stolen from the Nation at Wounded Knee] to the Wounded Knee survivors.

As one of the treaty commissions who negotiated with the Sioux Indians concluded:
'Our country must forever bear the disgrace and suffer the retribution of its wrong-doing. Our children's children will tell the sad story in hushed tones, and wonder how their fathers dared so to trample on justice and trifle with God.'

Part One ,Wagner Testimony

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