Accusations of a purported massacre of Korean civilians by American soldiers has resurfaced in 1999 as we are about to commemorate the anniversary of the Korean Conflict. Koreans and some American soldiers claim that at least 300 unarmed men, women and children were slaughtered at a railroad bridge at No Gun Ri during a three-day rampage in July 1950. The Army has continued to deny the accusations and Congress turned down an appeal for compensation for the victims and their families. It now appears that the army was covering up this massacre, as evidence has surfaced showing that the soldiers were ordered to shoot upon the civilians. It is not the first massacre of unarmed civilians committed by the army, nor is it the first coverup.
The massacre of Cheyenne Indians at Sand Creek, Colorado Territory on November 29, 1864 is listed as a battle in the records of the U.S. Army. So too is the massacre at Wounded Knee. Massacre or battle? By whose definitions are such things determined. On one hand, when Indians killed a number of whites it was commonly referred to as a massacre, such as Fetterman Massacre of December 21, 1866. It is interesting to note that
A controversy has lingered over the details and significance of the events that occurred on December 29, 1890 at the Wounded Knee, South Dakota. Right or wrong, the whites in the west felt threatened by the Lakota version of the Ghost Dance. They saw the Indian revival as a call to arms. At first Indian agents were not alarmed by the dance that was introduced to the Lakota by Kicking Bird in 1889. Kicking Bird was married to a niece of Big Foot, the leader of the Lakota massacred at Wounded Knee. Big Foot was the half-brother to Sitting Bull, the famed Lakota leader who had led the defeat if General Custer and the Seventh Cavalry in 1876.
The Lakota too had become alarmed, mainly because the government cut food rations by twenty-five percent, despite promises not to do so if the Lakota agreed to sell more land, which they had done. Dr. Valentine Trant McGillycuddy, the former Indian Agent of Pine Ridge, wrote that the treaty allowance of six million pounds of food was cut to four million during that fateful winter. Other historians have said that the Plains had suffered drought the previous summer. Food was scarce to begin with and the cut in rations was a formula for disaster. Apparently the beef delivered to the Lakota was also of inferior quality, adding to the dilemma. McGillycuddy served as Indian agent for seven years, but had advocated a policy of turning warriors into farmers. He saw the final taking of all Indian lands as inevitable and he wanted to get the Indians as self-sufficient as possible before that day came.
It is my premise that the massacre at Wounded Knee was a planned disaster, orchestrated by the military and the Indian agents in order to force the Lakota into a fight. The army wanted a final decisive victory over the Indians and Wounded Knee provided them with the right opportunity. Once the terrible details of the massacre became evident, the U.S. army then acted to turn the massacre into a heroic victory by awarding the Medals of Honor. They wanted any questions about the conduct of the army to be seen as unpatriotic. To this very day, the army and Congress have attempted to cover up the injustice and have refused to rescind the medals. They continue to make the massacre of the Indian prisoners of war a heroic event.
Dr. Daniel F. Royer, the newly-appointed Indian agent at Pine Ridge, South Dakota in 1890, described the Lakota as being "wild and crazy" in a telegram to his superiors in Washington, DC. The bureaucrats apparently agreed as troopers were sent to Pine Ridge on November 20 for the first time in the twelve year history of the reservation. In fact, the largest military force ever assembled in the West, was amassed in anticipation of a confrontation. You must remember that racism towards Indians was still rampant in both the frontier and the hallowed halls of Congress. Many resented the Lakota for defeat of Custer. Business interests called for the removal of the Indians. Politicians openly called for the extermination of the Indians. The January 2, 1869 issue of Harper's Weekly presented an insightful view of why the Indian Wars persisted in the West: "The popular theory of the Indians is that they are vermin, and that the only policy to be seriously advocated is extermination. Yet a very little knowledge of the facts will show that they are peculiarly exposed to cruel oppression and extortion of every kind. Their very forlornness invites knavery, and as, when pushed to extremity, they are sure to take some sudden and terrible revenge, their enemy persecutes them with impunity . . ." (1)
The Sioux Land Agreement of 1889 divided the great reservation into smaller agencies. These reservations were Standing Rock, Cheyenne River, Lower Brule, Crow Creek, Pine Ridge, and Rosebud. The Lakota who did not gather at these agencies were declared "hostiles" by general orders of the military. The hostiles then became subject to military action to subdue them and force them back to the reservations. It is estimated that about 3,000 Lakota remained at large at a protected place called the Stronghold and the Ghost Dance was held in freedom at that place. Rumors floated that Sitting Bull was about to join Short Bull and Kicking Bear, the ones who had taught him about the Ghost Dance, at the Stronghold. While the lack of food and fear of white reappraisals lead Big Foot and his followers to flee his reservation, he certainly was not intending to attack the whites. By fleeing Big Foot was in technical violation of the standing orders and immediately labeled "hostile." Being labeled such placed his people at risk, and allowed the military to step in and use whatever force was necessary to restrain them and return them to their reservation.
However the army officers knew that without the ability to hunt buffalo, without an inclination to farm and without the rations promised by treaty, the Indians would likely revolt, thereby providing the justification for military force. Colonel Richard I. Dodge, an aide to General W.T. Sherman, stated that there were three principal causes of wars with the Indians: 1) nonfulfillment of treaties by the United States Government; 2) frauds by the Indian agents; 3) encroachments by the whites. Dodge also wrote that the Army was better equipped to fight the Indians, but that Indians hit and run technique made them more formidable than most people realized. Dodge advocated that the only advantage over the Indians was a surprise attack, for it was then that he felt Indians fought poorly. To Dodge, Indians were cruel and duplicitous barbarians who committed depredations upon whites. As a result, Dodge believed that "No amount of reason, no statement of facts, will ever change the opinion of either the eastern or western people on this subject." (2)
General Phillip Sheridan, the famous Indian fighter, would have agreed. Sheridan reported in 1878 that there were two kinds of Indian wars. The first kind was caused because "we took away their country and their means of support, broke up their mode of living, their habits of life, introduced disease and decay among them, and it was for this and against this that they made war." (3) Sheridan felt that such a war was justifiable and inevitable, as Indians were only defending themselves. However, Sheridan also identified another type of Indian war, one caused by herding Indians onto reservations and starving them for lack of government promised rations. This would almost always result in Indian uprisings as Indians attempted to free themselves from starvation. To Sheridan, this type of war was preventable and "within our control, and we are responsible for them" (4) in that the government could have done more to prevent such outbreaks by treating the Indian more fairly. So the stage was set in 1890. The army already had the extermination script in hand, as well as plenty of practical experience in turning the policy into a reality. President Benjamin Harrison then asked the Secretary of the Interior to cut back on rations to the uncooperative Indians and that "amplest preparations should be made to suppress any outbreak that may result." (5)
No matter how you look at what happened at Wounded Knee, some facts are undeniable. First, Big Foot did leave his agency, but it was not for the purposes of war. He was fleeing to protect his people and had been invited to join another agency. Sitting Bull, his half-brother had been killed by the Indian police. Many historians have now come to see that the army really assassinated Sitting Bull. In all likelihood, Big Foot saw himself as next on that hit list.
Second, the army has suggested that Big Foot and his followers were marching in what they called "battle array." This is simply an attempt to justify their own murderous actions. Col. H. C. Merriam, commanding officer of the Seventh Infantry, wrote to General N. Miles that Capt. Hurst reported that a letter from an Indian policeman at Pine Ridge was sent to the policeman's sister among the Cherry Creek Indians told of the "massacre by soldiers after quietly giving up their arms, but that a few escaped, and that the loss among the soldiers was caused by themselves shooting into each other."(6) The Lakota considered it a massacre and Merriam apparently acted quickly to defuse that idea. He then reported, in a letter to Capt. Hurst on Jan 11, 1891: " . . we can not do too much to allay their [the "friendly Indians"] excitement by assuring them that the troubles of Big Foot's people, whatever they were, were brought about by their own acts, first by marching in battle array to another agency, where they met strange soldiers, instead of those at home, who were their friends." (7) It is difficult to conceive how anyone could confuse Big Foot's camp movement with a battle array. The truth is they were fleeing in terror, fearful of the motives of the army and many were on the verge of starvation. Merriam also wrote to Hurst, who apparently was more bothered by the massacre than Merriam, that "it is not your fault nor mine that any have been killed." (8) Dan Georgakas wrote: "Only purposeful malice could misread them as a war party. Big Foot hoisted a white flag for a parley but the army insisted on his unconditional surrender. The band had no choice but to be escorted to a post office near a stream called Wounded Knee." (9)
Third is the fact that the army over-reacted. Big Foot and his followers had surrendered the night before the massacre. Few arms existed among the Lakota. The army moved in and surrounded the encampment with hundreds of troops and four powerful Hotchkiss cannons. Writers disagree about when the Hotchkiss guns kicked in. Most say that after the first volley there was an intense hand-to-hand fight, with Indians armed only with knives and clubs. For some unknown reason the historians suggest that there was a break in that fight. They suggest that the two sides separated and then the big guns shot down the Indians. Think about that. Why would anyone stop fighting hand-to-hand, take the time to retreat to neutral corners and then stand by to get shot down. Other writers suggest that after a round of hand-to-hand combat, the Indians began to flee. At that point the Hotchkiss guns were said to open up on the encampment. This would make sense if we recall that the warriors were asked to assemble around the officers quarters and we assume that they were at a distance from the encampment where the women and children were kept. However, if we accept that scenario, we then must accept that the killing of the women and children was pre-planned. Why were the big guns trained on the Indian tents where the women and children were known to be? What military purpose did it serve to plan to kill the women and children if the warriors resisted?
Twenty-year-old Hugh McGinnis was in the First Battalion of the Seventh Cavalry at Wounded Knee, and was wounded twice. His account reads, in part: "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 to 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. The Sioux braves became agitated by the cries of their squaws, who attempted to prevent the soldiers from scattering their belongings. . . . 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. . . . Few escaped the merciless slaughter dealt out that dreadful day by members of the Seventh cavalry. 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." (10)
This eye-witness account suggests that the killing of the women and children was intentional. Hotchkiss gunner Paul Weinert, who won a Medal of Honor for his actions at Wounded Knee, reportedly saw his lieutenant hit in the first moments of the massacre and cried out, "By God I'll make 'em pay for that." (11) The Hotchkiss Mountain Howitzers fired a two-pound shell that explodes upon impact, spraying deadly shrapnel in all directions. The howitzer was capable of rapid fire with long range accuracy. It is easy to understand why so many were killed so quickly. One female survivor, Blue Whirlwind, received fifteen wounds from such fire.
Fourth, the Lakota were prisoners of war. We have to ask ourselves another question: Did a state of war exist between the United States and the Lakoka Nation at the time of the massacre in 1890? Military records are not conclusive, but from the period of 1866 to 1891 there were at least 1,040 combat engagements with Indians in the West. A total of 949 soldiers are listed as being killed in these engagements as compared to 4,371 Indians reported to have been killed. Over 10,000 Indians were captured during this time as well. (12) By all intents, a state of war certainly existed. Some have argued that since the U.S. was at war with the Indians that any act of violence, including the killing of women and children, is simply the unfortunate consequence of war. Today we call it collateral damage. Others claim that is was nothing short of murder of prisoners of war. In 1891 a federal court made a ruling that indicated that this may have been true.
An Oglala Lakota Indian named Plenty Horses returned from five years at Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania to his home community at Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota in 1890, just in time to witness the killing at Wounded Knee. Plenty Horses was plenty confused. Being away for so long alienated him from his former friends and relatives. The scenes of carnage at Wounded Knee only made things worse. On January 7, 1891, days after the bodies were finally buried in a mass grave, Plenty Horses raised his weapon and shot and killed Army Lieutenant Edward W. Casey, the commanding officer of the Second. Plenty Horse was arrested and sent to trail. His defense? He explained to his captors: "Five years I attended Carlisle and was educated in the ways of the white man. When I returned to my people, I was an outcast among them. I was no longer an Indian. I was not a white man. I was lonely. I shot the lieutenant so I might make a place for myself among my people. I am now one of them. I shall be hung, and the Indians will bury me as a warrior." (13)
While some might see this as twisted Lakota logic, what happened next proved that American logic was even more twisted when it came to Wounded Knee. The judge hearing the case against Plenty Horse, threw out the charges, arguing that since a state of war existed on the Pine Ridge reservation at the time of the killing, it was not murder. Plenty Horse was not convicted of murder because his lawyers argued that if a state of war did not exist then all the victims at Wounded Knee had been murdered and the murderers (the soldiers) would have to be put on trial. The Army sent an officer to the court to testify that indeed a state of war did exist. Apparently, the Army was defending the actions of the 7th cavalry in killing the Lakota men, women and children of Big Foot's band by using the same argument - that a state of war existed between the United States and the Lakota Nation. This was one of the reasons why none of the soldiers who indiscriminately murdered the mostly unarmed Indians were ever charged with murder. Instead, they were awarded Medals of Honor for their slaughter. Ironically, Plenty Horse was set free, denied his moment of glory. He was sent home to Rosebud without his wife, who had been killed in the melee that erupted after he shot Casey.
The Plenty Horse case raises another question: Did the Army attempt to coverup the massacre of prisoners of war at Wounded Knee? If a state of war did exist, the surrender of Big Foot made his followers prisoners of war as they camped along Wounded Knee Creek. While the military considered the Lakota to be "hostiles" because they had left their home reservation without permission, once they surrendered what was their status, if not P.O.W.'s? If we assume that a state of war existed as defined by the military, does it not make sense that the Indians who surrendered to the military during that time be considered P.O.W.s? The period from 1861 to 1898 is called the Indian Wars by the military. During this time 428 Medals of Honor were awarded in the war against the Indians. This is the most medals for any "action" listed by the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force or Coast Guard. Not only was this a war, it was an especially heroic war, given the number of medals.
Major General Nelson A Miles, commander of the Division of the Missouri at the time of Wounded Knee, once wrote: "I was in command of that Department in 1889, 1890 and 1891, when what is known as the Messiah Craze. . . During this time the tribe, under Big Foot, moved from their reservation to near Red Cloud Agency in South Dakota under a flag of truce. They numbered over four hundred souls. They were intercepted by a command under Lt. Col. Whitside, who demanded their surrender, which they complied with, and moved that afternoon some two or three miles and camped where they were directed to do, near the camp of the troops."(14) A flag of truce. There can be no doubt that Big Foot had surrendered himself and his people. On the morning of the massacre, they were prisoners of war.
We might argue over whether the ensuing fight between the 106 unarmed men the five hundred heavily-armed soldiers constituted a "battle." In considering all of the accounts of the massacre, the killing of the women and children cannot be morally justified. They were not simply caught in a cross fire. They were hunted down. They were then chased down and systematically murdered. Babies were shot or stabbed purposely. Women who begged and pleaded for their life were shot at point blank range. It was nothing short of mass murder. The disarmed prisoners of war at Wounded Knee were killed in cold blood. It is true that there was an "action" of sorts after the first volley was fired by the army into the unarmed men they had assembled. By no means were these combatants nor, were they two opposing armies meeting on the battlefield.
General Miles later states that he had ordered Colonel George A. Forsyth (b.1834, d. 1906) not to enter the Indian camps. However, Forsyth was convinced that the Indians did not turn over all their weapons, and he choose to ignore that order and sent groups of ten troopers into the camps in search of weapons. In reality, it was this breakdown in the chain of command that lead to the massacre at Wounded Knee. If Forsyth had followed Miles order, the killings would not have taken place.
General Miles wrote that the women and children who tried to escape were hunted down and killed. Miles put the death toll at 90 warriors and about 200 women and children killed. He called the action of the Commanding Officer was "reprehensible." He accused the soldiers of firing upon themselves as well as the women and children. He said that it was "worthy of the severest condemnation." (15) However many Indians were killed, they were all left on the ground for five days, their bodies stripped of clothing and accessories. A snow storm hit and their bodies froze. Then a mass grave was prepared. Military records of the time show that 84 men, 44 women and 18 children of Big Foot's band of Minniconjou Sioux, were buried in that unmarked grave. That is a total of 146. No one knows how accurate those records were. Seven more died in the make-shift hospital on the reservation after the burial and up to 30 were missing and never accounted for. It is the records of the doctors that are the most telling. They note the types of wounds suffered by the women and children.
In a December 31, 1891 photograph by George Trager of a Lakota Indian named Yellow Bird, who lays frozen on the bloodied ground of Wounded Knee, a rifle is seen laying next to his twisted and tormented body. His arms are frozen in a pose that would suggest that he fell face first on the ground. Yellow Bird was reported to have exhorted his fellow warriors to fight the bluecoats on that fateful morning of December 29, 1890. However, it looks like his corpse was set upon the bodies of other dead Lakota. There is even a light-colored blanket placed between him and the others so that his body would show up better in the photograph. The photo has been retouched to blur out his genitals which were left exposed. The rifle was obviously placed in the photo by someone who wanted Yellow Bird to appear to be the aggressor. More than just a photographic war trophy, this photo was meant to be a propaganda tool. The photo was titled "The Medicine Man Taken at the Battle of Wounded Knee." To capitalize on the fact that he had the only photographs from the Wounded Knee aftermath, Trager formed the Northwestern Photographic Company to market the images he created. He could have been the one responsible for the set up of the dead, considering that many of the soldiers posed for him as well.
The Congressional Medal of Honor is the highest military award for bravery that can be given to any individual in the United States of America. The 1862 law that authorized the medal said that the President is authorized to present, in the name of the Congress, a Medal of Honor only to each person who, while an officer or enlisted man of the Army shall hereafter, in action involving actual conflict with an enemy, distinguish himself conspicuously by gallantry and intrepidity at risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty. The first Medals were issued in 1863.
The Congressional Medal of Honor Society (CMHS) of Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina (formed by Congress in 1958) offers the following view of the Medal of Honor on their web page:
The massacre at Wounded Knee was awarded the highest distinction by Congress. The CMHS does not advocate that the Wounded Knee Medals be rescinded. During 1891-1895, Congress awarded the Medal of Honor to other veterans of the massacre at Wounded Knee that included the following:
A review of the medal winners cases raise some questions about why these medals still stand today. Corporal Paul H. Weinert, the gunner from Company E, 1st U.S. Artillery, received a Medal of Honor. The Army's Medal of Honor Web page lists the citation as: "Taking the place of his commanding officer who had fallen severely wounded, he gallantly served his place, after each fire advancing it to a better position." (17) This is interesting when compared to the Internet essay, "Medals of Dishonor," which states, according to the actual record, that Weinert was cited for "firing his howitzer at several Indians in the ravine." The essay also states: "This ravine was adjacent to the Lakota's camp, and many noncombatants sought shelter there. With his gun less than three hundred yards away, his firing inflicted terrible damage, undoubtedly killing and wounding many women and children. It seems astonishing that Weinert was not wounded in the hail of fire from the besieged Indians. According to his own account the Indians in the ravine were firing furiously as he worked his gun: 'Bullets were coming like hail from the Indian's Winchesters. The wheels of my gun were bored full of holes and our clothing was marked in several places.' Contrary to Weinert account, other sources state that a rear guard of only three or four Indian men holed up in this 'pit' or 'pocket,' as it has come to be called."(18)
Private George Hobday, Cavalry, was given a Medal of Honor for conspicuous and gallant conduct in battle at Wounded Knee. Pvt. Hobday was a cook from Company A, whose gallantry "was noticed by several officers." Information from draft copies of his recommendation seemed to indicate that his primary act of bravery was "voluntarily leaving his work as cook." We may never know what these men did to deserve their medals, but the record is thin on justification. (19)
First Sergeant Frederick Toy, Cavalry, was given a Medal for voluntarily bringing water to the wounded soldiers under fire at Wounded Knee. Jerry Green, writes on the Internet : "Sgt. Frederick E. Toy, a twenty-six year veteran from Company G, was cited 'for bravery displayed while shooting hostile Indians.' This wording appeared on the original copy of the citation. It was changed on the final citation, after the original was rejected by the War Department. Captain Winfield S. Edgerly, his commanding officer, rewrote the recommendation stating Sergeant Toy did 'deliberately aim at and hit two Indians who had run into the ravine.' Edgerly avoided mentioning the age or sex of Toy's victims." (20) The officers were pressed hard to come up with acceptable justification, but there is no mention that the Indians Toy killed were prisoners of war
In 1892 Musician John Clancy, U.S. Artillery was awarded a Medal of Honor for twice voluntarily rescuing wounded comrades under fire of the enemy at Wounded Knee. 2nd Lt. Harry Hawthorne, Artillery, also received a Medal for distinguished conduct in battle with hostile Indians at Wounded Knee. In 1893 First LT. Ernest Garlington, Cavalry, was also given a Medal of Honor for distinguished gallantry at Wounded Knee. In 1895 First Lt. John Gresham, Cavalry, was awarded a Medal of Honor for voluntarily leading party into ravine to dislodge Sioux Indians concealed therein, and was wounded during the action at Wounded Knee. Of this Green writes: "Lt. John C. Gresham was awarded the medal in March 1895. The recommendation was made by Capt. Charles A. Varnum, the commanding officer of Troop A, who gave no reason for the delay. There is an unsigned, undated letter in Gresham's personnel file which states that no records could be found of Gresham's wounds . . . There is, however, a mention elsewhere that during the fighting Gresham "received an abrasion on the nose from a passing bullet. . . Some officers questioned saw nothing to warrant special mention for Gresham. His citation reads for going "into a ravine and dislodging Indians." He apparently took twenty men and entered the ravine to the south of the Indian camp where many women and children were subsequently found dead or wounded. (21)
In March of 1891 another letter was submitted asking for the honorable mention of certain individuals. One was 2nd Lt. Harry L. Hawthorne who was serving with Light Battery E of the First Artillery at Wounded Knee. Brevet considerations were turned over to Col. Edward M. Heyl of the Inspector General's office for investigation. He never recommended, nor were any of these officers accorded, a brevet promotion. General Miles disapproved rather forcefully in both cases, stating: "The recommendations for brevets or for honorable mention for such field officers is, in the opinion of the department commander, an insult to the memory of the dead, as well as to the brave men living."(22) However, Hawthorne was awarded the medal nonetheless. Miles later caved in and changed his recommendation. What forced Miles into such a contradictory stance?
Miles was a staff officer under General O. Howard. He was wounded four times and himself received the Congressional Medal of Honor. Miles had successfully defeated Crazy Horse who was killed by a bayonet in the back while a POW at Ft. Robinson, one year after the defeat at the Little Bighorn. The Indian Rights Association criticized him for being unjust by sending his own Apache scouts off to prison at Fort Marion, Florida in 1886. Despite these charges he was still given command of the entire Division of the Missouri which led him to Wounded Knee. In the December 20, 1890 issue of Judge magazine which published a color political cartoon to expose the corruption of the reservation system. It shows a fat cat Indian agent in spats, fur coat and top hat, lugging three bags of "profits" while a gaunt-looking Indians, wrapped in a painted robe, holds a meager sack of "starvation rations" as they both stand in from of several tepees. The caption reads: "The Reason of the Indian Outbreak - General Miles declares that the Indians are starved into rebellion." Miles was seen as an Indian sympathizer, which might have fueled military resentment against him when he later charged Forsyth.
In 1895 Miles was named commander in chief of the army. He retired from the Army in 1903 with the rank of lieutenant general. But the story does not end there. In 1916, Lt. Gen. Nelson A. Miles was appointed president of the board of five retired generals that reviewed all of the Medal of Honors cases up to that time. Congress had passed an act to create the Medal of Honor Roll. They were to assure that the awards were warranted and reviewed all 2,625, of which 911 were stricken from the record because they did not meet the definition of valor above and beyond the call of duty. Many had been issued for reasons of re-enlistments and special honor guards. Ironically that law stated that only those who had been involved in "actual conflict with an enemy, distinguished by conspicuous gallantry or intrepidity, at risk of life, above and beyond the call of duty" would have the honor of being on that Honor Roll. It is difficult to understand how the twenty Medals that were originally given for the massacre at Wounded Knee withstood this new review. By their own definition, the review commission should have rejected these along with the others.
It was politics back then, as it is politics today, that allowed the twenty Wounded Knee Medals of Honor to pass muster and are still being honored today as they remain on the Congressional Medal of Honor List. Ironically, this is the most Medals given, followed by the eighteen Medals of Honor given for the Battle of Little Big Horn. In 1917 a delegation of the Minniconjou survivors of Wounded Knee visited Washington, DC. Apparently, upon hearing of their mission General Miles felt compelled to write to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs to tell his side of the story of Wounded Knee. I found a copy of this letter on the Internet but there was no reference as to where the original is located. However, it contains some interesting items. He calls the Ghost Dance movement the "Messiah craze" that he feels was the result of "misrepresentations of white men" who "wrote secret messages to different tribes" promising a return of the "Happy Hunting Grounds." (23) In a letter to the to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs dated March 13, 1917, Lt. Gen. Nelson A. Miles stated, "not only the warriors but the sick Chief Big Foot, and a large number of Women and children who tried to escape by running and scattering over the prairie were hunted down and killed." (24) The press at the time capitalized on the mistaken notion that Wovoka, the Paiute man who had the original visions that led to the Ghost Dance, claimed to be the Messiah. This image promoted more resentment against the Indians. Many reporters were on the scene of the massacre, some even participated in the actual killing. The media had a role in perpetuating hatred towards the Lakota and helped to justify the massacre.
As result of some abuses during the Indian Wars the army added new regulation to clarify who was entitled to receive the award. The following phrase was added to army regulations: "Neither a Medal of Honor nor a Certificate of Merit will be awarded in any case when the service of the person recommended, subsequent to the time when he distinguished himself, has not been honorable." (25) The Army further modified the regulations on the Medal of Honor to include the following stipulations:
On April 27, 1916 Congress approved an act which provided for the creation of a "Medal of Honor Roll" upon which honorably discharged medal recipients who had earned the medal in combat and had attained the age of 65 years were to be recorded. The act required a standard of excellence in order to be included in this exclusive commemoration. Those requirements stated that the only ones to be on the Honor Roll was those who met the definition of valor above and beyond the call of duty. To this day the twenty names of the "Wounded Knee heroes" continue to be listed. This is more unusual when you consider the fact that the images of the 1913 holocaust of the death of one million Armenians at the hands of the Turks was still fresh in the American mind. The 1915 sinking of the Lusitania by a German submarine and the loss of 139 Americans lives caused a moral outrage in this country. Innocent civilians were killed in an unprovoked attack. World War I, the "Great War," in which millions were killed did not appear to force the military to rethink Wounded Knee and the mistreatment of Indians. Instead, in 1917, General Hugh L. Scott stated that ironically, Indians were patriotic soldiers during World War I, considering that only a few years earlier they were fighting the U.S. army.
The only precedence for striking names from the Medal of Honor Roll occurred in a 1916 Congressional Act. This Act provided for the appointment of the Secretary of War of a board of five retired general officers for the purpose of investigating and reporting upon past awards or issue of the medal of honor by or through the War Department. Between October 16, 1916, and January 17, 1917, all of the 2,625 Medals of Honor which had been awarded up to that time were considered by the Board. However the minutes of the review board were confidential and the little time spent on the actual reviews diminish the seriousness of the effort. On February 15, 1917, 911 names were stricken from the list. Among those who lost their medal was William F. Cody, better known as Buffalo Bill, and Mary Walker, a Civil war surgeon and the only woman ever to receive the honor. Buffalo Bill had been given the Medal for his service as a scout with the Third Cavalry in Nebraska which had a skirmish with some Lakota who had stolen seven horses in 1872. Cody was considered ineligible for the Medal because he was a civilian.
Buffalo Bill Cody was involved in Wounded Knee to a degree. He was sent to try to talk Sitting Bull into calming down. He was also traveling with a troupe of Lakota in his Wild West Show. His hired Indians were asked to swear allegiance to the federal government and were used as "role models" to visit with the Ghost Dancers and try to convince them that resistance against the whites was futile. After the killings at Wounded Knee, Cody sought permission from the Bureau of Indian Affairs to hire some of the known Ghost Dancers for his traveling troupe. Ever the showman, Cody realized that these Indians would be a great drawing card. He reasoned that it would be important to remove these potential trouble makers from the reservation. Miles had the same idea, but for different reasons. He removed thirty Lakota with him when he returned to his headquarters in Chicago. He wanted to hold them at Fort Sheridan to prevent any further outbreaks. Miles wanted Cody to hire the prisoners he held and take them to Europe. They were to be overseas nearly a year. On April 1, 1891 Cody, with 21 Ghost Dance prisoners and 75 other Lakotas headed by steamer for Germany. Upon their return, Kicking Bear, the principle Lakota Ghost Dance disciple, and ten other "ringleaders" were detained and not allowed to go back to their reservation.
The Medals given for Wounded Knee withstood the review and were still considered valid. Where was the gallantry and intrepidity when women, children, including toddlers and infants were shot at point blank range in this homicidal craze for revenge. Clearly, this was not heroism, it was nothing short of cold-blooded murder. The recommendations for the Medals of Honor for Wounded Knee passed through the Army chain of command. First the troop commander made the recommendations, then most went to Colonel Forsyth for his concurrence, then to General Miles. Once he gave his recommendation, it then went to the War Department in Washington, DC. In ten of seventeen cases Miles looked at he made a notion of "no remarks." It seems strange that he did not comment on these given his other testimony on the insanity of that day. When you consider that General Miles was also awarded a Medal of Honor in 1892 for gallantry in the Civil War Battle of Chancellorsville, it would appear the price for his silence was his own medal, awarded almost thirty years after the action. A skeptic would view this as a way to silence his objections to the Medals for Wounded Knee.
Strangely, Miles did support many of the awards. More strangely, little if any, evidence exists of the review committee thinking, except that they decided to apply the standard of merit that was in place at the time the Medals were awarded. This left the Wounded Knee medals in tact. Miles never wrote about his thinking behind that decisions. This leaves us with more suspicions than answers, especially when you consider the rationale behind some of the medals that were issued.
While no formal investigation took place on the killing of Lakota as POW's public reaction to Cody's adventure was more complicated. Indian reformers objected strenuously to allowing Indians to perform their old dances in public. They wanted Indians to forget the old ways, become Christians and lead productive lives. In a strange twist, the reformers, who were strangely silent about the massacre at Wounded Knee, blew a gasket over the show Indians. They accused Cody of mistreating the Indians. Upon their return, Secretary of the Interior Noble ordered an investigation into the charges. Cody was given a clean bill of health.
In 1989, Buffalo Bill's grandson, William G. Cody and the senators from Wyoming successfully petitioned Congress to reinstate Cody and four other civilian army scouts and the Army Board of Correction of Military Records ruled that for all intents and purposes, Cody was a soldier. Ironically Cody himself had sold his medal and the Buffalo Bill Historical Society had to purchase it from a collector in 1983.
On April 12, 1999, Bob Smith attended the EPA Administrator's Annual Award Ceremony were the Agency awards the coveted silver and gold medals and other special awards to employees that have gone "Above and beyond the call of duty" to perform the Agency's mission. The American Flag is always presented along with the five services color guard. The color guard was preparing to march to the front of the Ronald Reagan Auditorium. Bob noticed that the U.S. Army flag was draped with all of it battle streamers. After speaking with the Sergeant that held the Army Flag he was informed that the "Battle Streamer" for Pine Ridge 1890-1891 which pays honor to the massacre at Wounded Knee was included on that flag. It was a red streamer with two parallel black stipes. It was President Dwight D. Eisenhower who issued an Executive Order to create this Army flag in 1956. At that time 145 such streamers were attached to the flag.
As an American Indian and veteran, Smith was profoundly offended to see such an obscene symbol of injustice displayed at a ceremony of honor. Bob was disappointed to find that the Sergeant knew practically nothing of the history of that battle streamer. The star-spangled banner was about to be played to start the EPA Award's Ceremony and the color guard had to advance to the front. After notifying his supervisor, Smith left the auditorium because he could not stand with his hand over his heart and watch the EPA Administrator and the rest of EPA pay honor to this same kind of massacre that is currently called ethic cleansing in Kosovo. Smith would then file a complaint with the EPA, stating that it was inappropriate for the EPA to honor the Army Flag which commemorates the bloody massacre of American Indian prisoners of war, most of which where innocent women, children and even infants is simply intolerable. The event was one of several that solidified in Bob Smith the notion that something terribly wrong had taken place in 1890 and his country was still trying to cover it up in 1998. His search for the truth has turned up some very disturbing facts and this has resulted in a new call for justice.
Smith, an Oneida Indian veteran, wrote a letter to Vice President Al Gore in 1999 asking his help in getting the twenty Medals of Honor associated with the massacre at Wounded Knee of 1890 rescinded. Smith felt that the vice president, as a combat veteran of the Vietnam Conflict, and as a member of the generation that still remembers the horrors of the massacre at Mai Lai, would take an interest in this case. He was disappointed by the response, or should I say, the lack of response. Smith's letter included this passage:
Smith was surprised to find that the U.S. Army still listed the massacre in the Army Register as the "Battle of Wounded Knee." Campaign memorials, called "battle streamers," are attached to the Army flag that commemorate great conflicts. Army Regulations in 1915 authorized the Office of The Adjutant General to furnish each company, troop and battery with a suitably embossed certificate with the names and dates of all battles in which the unit had participated. These streamers are intended to serve as a source of pride and inspiration for the young men and women in the Army for the past achievements in the proud history of the Army. Smith found out that the army citation for the Pine Ridge streamer called the massacre a "serious clash," not a battle as defined by army regulations. When an engagement involved only a small portion of two opposing forces, it was classified as an "affair,""combat," or "skirmish."
The Army Flag is displayed and paraded as part of the multi-service Color Guard on state visits and other ceremonial events that pay honor to the proud history of the U.S. Army. The Army Flag, with these 170 streamers is on permanent display at the Pentagon, White House, West Point Military Academy, and at Army bases throughout the world. On that honored flag is one streamer titled, " Pine Ridge 1890-91." As it turns out that streamer has the highest number of Congressional Medals of Honor - twenty medals - associated with it. It represents the more "heroic" actions than that of the Normandy Landing, Battle of the Bulge and Iwo Jima were casualties were in the tens of thousands. It is amazing that the U.S. army considers the massacre a "battle" and considers the killing of women and children to merit such a distinction. By the Army's own definition of what constitutes a battle, the "Wounded Knee Campaign" clearly was not a battle.
"Army Regulations" wrote John B. Wilson, "published in 1863 directed the Adjutant General to record the names of the battles in the Army Register. They are to appear before the list of regimental officers. The Office of the Adjutant General first published the names of battles in which units performed meritoriously in the 1866 Register."(28) In 1878, the Army defined a battle as, "being an important engagement between two opposing independent armies that determined a question of policy or strategy." An action involving only part of the two opposing armies that tended toward either one of those ends was also granted the dignity of being termed a battle. It is difficult to imagine how the events at Wounded Knee could be considered a battle under that definition. The majority of the Indians were unarmed, had surrendered and were surrounded by the soldiers. Big Foot's band could not be considered an "army" in any sense of the word. They were simply moving their camp to join with other peaceful Indians. The military made mistakes and rather than admit to them, they have decided to coverup those mistakes by turning the massacre into a heroic action.
To make matters worse, the War Department, in 1890, directed that the names of battles be engraved on silver rings and placed on the staffs of regimental colors. To this day there is such a ring to commemorate the massacre at Wounded Knee. If we can agree that the massacre at Wounded Knee was not a "battle" as defined by the 1878 regulations, then, we much consider that the subsequent memorials to the massacre are not valid, by military standards. This would mean that silver rings, battle streams, and Medals of Honor should be reconsidered. However, Terry Van Meter, Director of the US Cavalry Museum, an instrumentality of the U.S. Army, wrote to justify the heroics in 1997, "I suggest that when talking about the Battle of Wounded Knee you should remember that over 40 soldiers out of a force of 400 were killed plus a number were wounded. . . . It should be remembered that the Indians used both women and children as a shield while the warriors tried to annihilate one of the cavalry troops." (29) Bob Smith found the notion that the Sioux warriors would hide behind the skirts of their women a form of historic fraud being perpetuated to continue a historical cover-up.
The Secretary of the Army could normally have the streamer removed, except that it is tied into the 20 Congressional Medals of Honor. For this reason, the permanent removal of this offending streamer would take both congressional and presidential action. This was retrieved from the Army History web site and is the official citation for the battle streamer on the Army flag:
How can we continue to honor this massacre by allowing this particular battle streamer to be displayed on the Army's flag? It dishonors the integrity of the other battle streamers. It is not unreasonable that ask that we face the truth of the situation and admit that the massacre at Wounded Knee dose not deserve the merit that it has been given. If we can accept that the Lakota killed were prisoners of war who had already surrendered and were expecting to be taken safely to the reservation, then we cannot in clear conscience allow these battle streamers to remain on the flag. It is time to take the necessary steps to remove them.
Will G. Robinson, Secretary of the South Dakota State Historical Society, 1946-1968, wrote "...That guilt complex was then so strong that they gave out congressional medals of Honor to the participants in the Wounded Knee affair (18) and 12 more to the people who did next to nothing at the Mission and White River fracas later of which were 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."(31)
White soldiers at Wounded Knee were not the only soldiers to receive the Medal of Honor for killing Indians. On June 28, 1866, shortly after the end of the Civil War, Congress authorized the formation of the 9th and 10th Cavalry as well as the 38th, 39th, 40th, and 41st Infantry Regiments, which were all-Black units. The 9th and 10th Cavalry Regiments that contained the Buffalo Soldiers, conducted campaigns against American Indian tribes from Montana, Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona. Throughout the era of the Indian Wars, approximately twenty percent of the U.S. Cavalry troopers were African Americans. They fought over 177 engagements. At least 18 Medals of Honor were presented to Buffalo Soldiers during the Western Campaigns.
Bob Smith enters the case again. He began to search the history of Wounded Knee and at one point contacting the Army, asking that the Medals of Honor be rescinded. He received a response from the Department of the Army that stated in part: "In view of this past precedence, it is recommended that you pursue this matter through the legislative Branch of our Government. Perhaps the Senate Armed Services Committee or your Congressman. In any event, the Secretary of the Army cannot have names stricken from the Medal of Honor Roll without congressional and presidential approval." (32) Smith got similar responses from Senator John McCain, General Colin Powell and Vice President Al Gore. McCain's response was particularly awkward in that he has often identified with and advocated properly on Indian issues. He was recently interviewed on 60 Minutes in which he said that Americans are interested in the moral and ethical issues of the day. The situation regarding Wounded Knee would appear to be one of these moral and ethical issues, but the Senator steered clear of it altogether. He wrote to Colorado Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell, himself an American Indian and veteran, but was disappointed by the lack on any response.
Smith did not rest. He has called upon the largest Indian political organization, the National Congress of American Indians which then passed two resolutions # SFE-97-121C and -123C that call for the removal of all campaign streamers from the U.S. Army flag, Regimental and unit flags such as the Pine Ridge 1890-1891 streamer on the Army flag and the Pine Ridge streamer on the Cavalry Regimental flag. He also asked for removal of silver rings on flag staffs denoting Pine Ridge or Wounded Knee Creek, deletion of listings in Army documents such as issued certificates and the Army Register where Wounded Knee is described as a "Battle." Finally, Smith seeks to have the 20 names stricken from the Congressional Medal of Honor List as well as a Presidential apology to the Lakota for the massacre. He was also successful in having the Standing Rock Lakota Tribal Council to pass a similar resolution. The momentum is building on this issue, both on the Internet and among the Indian nations. In the end Smith asks one simple question: How in all good conscience could we validate Congressional Medals that honor those who partook of this shameful episode in the history of our country?
In 1990, the U.S. Congress, after extensive hearings on the matter, issued a statement of "deep regret" for the massacre at Wounded Knee, but refused to issue a formal "apology." In 1990 testimony by then-Governor George Mickleson of South Dakota to the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Indian Affairs hearing on a proposal to establish a Wounded Knee Memorial and re-designate the name of the Custer Battlefield, Mickleson stated: "One hundred years ago, soldiers of the Seventh Cavalry captured a fugitive band of Minneconjou Sioux and held them prisoners on Wounded Knee Creek."(33)
Mario Gonzales further informs us that the bodies of the slain soldiers were exhumed in 1905 for reburial. Despite being buried for fifteen years their bodies were "remarkably preserved due to the high concentration of alcohol in their bodies," testified Gonzales. Again he cited the Flood collection for his documentation. Jesse Crow delivered the story of what happened to Au Win (She Brings It Woman), his mother. She was 16 years old when her family was killed On December 29, 1890:
Claudia Iron Hawk Sully testified that the actual numbers of Indians killed at Wounded Knee numbered 2 or 3 times than usually reported. She told of some children who were hiding in a small cave after the first attack. The soldiers discovered the cave and told the children to come out as they would not be harmed. When they did crawl out they were hacked to death with sabers. High Hawk, who witnessed this crawled back into the cave to survive. One man reported seeing the soldiers shoving a young boy back and forth, cutting him to shreds each time. They finally let him drop to the ground with his flesh hanging from his bones like torn rags.
In 1968 the federal government designated the Wounded Knee site a historic national landmark. The Wounded Knee Survivors Association developed proposed legislation that called for Congress to make a formal apology to the Sioux people for the 1890 massacre; establish a national monument and memorial at the massacre site; compensate the descendants of the Indian victims for the killing or wounding of their relatives in the form of educational and community benefits and compensation for personal property confiscated by the Army off the bodies of the dead victims. During testimony on the proposed resolution the descendants claimed that 426 of their relatives were killed as a result of the attack at Wounded Knee. The Bureau of Indians Affairs maintained that only 200 people were killed or wounded. Congress finally passed Concurrent Resolution #153 on October 19, 1990, whereby the U.S. Congress acknowledged the 100th anniversary of the tragedy at Wounded Knee Creek, State of South Dakota, December 29, 1890. That resolution stated that soldiers of the United States Army 7th Cavalry killed and wounded approximately 350-375 Indian men, women, and children of Chief Big Foot's band of the Minneconjou Sioux. The text of the resolution concludes:
"Now, therefore, be it Resolved by the Senate (the House of Representatives concurring),
It is important to note that this resolution is not an apology. It is a statement of "deep regret." Congress denied any attempts for reparations, however, there was a promise to provide funding for a monument and reparations in the future. Ironically, there was a ceremony commemorating the Battle of the Little Big Horn in June 1986. It was a healing of sorts as both the descendant of the Lakota and Cheyenne Indians who defeated Custer in 1876 and the current members of the 7th Cavalry. Together they witnessed the reburial of the remains of 34 soldiers who were killed in action with Custer. They were reburied at the Custer Battlefield with full military honor. In his invocation, Reverend Vincent Heir of Mount Carmel Catholic Church of St. Louis called for an end of the "clash of cultures" that the battle represented. Indian spiritual leaders called for a new day of healing and peace. However, the Congressional resolution of 1990 fell short of healing the wounds from the massacre of 1890. In retrospect, even if a formal apology was issued, it still would not be enough. The issue of the Medals of Honor, the Battle Streamers and the lack of justice would continue unresolved.
In 1987, nine Christian denominations issued a joint apology to the Indian and Eskimo people of the Northwest. Representatives of the Lutheran Church, American Baptist, N. W. Regional Christian Church, Episcopal Diocese of Olympia, Washington North Idaho Conference of the United Church of Christ, Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Seattle, Presbyterian Church, North Pacific District of American Lutheran Church, and United Methodist Church signed the statement that stated:
The churches also pledged their support in protecting the rights of Indians to practice their traditional religions, assure access to sacred sites for ceremonial purposes, and the use of religions symbols (feathers, tobacco, sweetgrass, bone, etc.) for religious purposes. This was preceded by an apology issued in 1982 by Archbishop Pio Laghi, the Papal Nuncio. His apology to Native Americans, on behalf of the Catholic Church, expressing regret for the wrongs experienced from the missionary work among Indians. In 1986 the United Methodist Church issued a formal apology to the Cheyenne and Arapaho Nations for the actions of Col. John Chivington, who was a Methodist lay preacher who also lead his forces in the massacre of over 200 Indians at Sand Creek in Colorado in 1864. The apology stated that the Methodist Church "do extend to all Cheyenne and Arapaho a hand of reconciliation, and ask forgiveness for the death of over 200 mostly women and children." It asked that church leaders and tribal leaders pray together in a "healing service of reconciliation."(37)
The Lakota felt that the matter was unresolved and called for a Big Foot Memorial Ride in 1990, at the 100th anniversary of the massacre. They organized a 220-mile ride in the bitter winter of the Northern Plains to offer their own form of healing. As the Lakota people gathered to mourn those killed they also sought to unify themselves by mending the Sacred Hoop. Black Elk, one of the survivors who was made famous by a 1932 semi-autobiographical novel by John Neihardt, said the Sacred Hoop of the Lakota Nation was broken by the blood spilled on the ground in 1890. The Memorial ride started in Fort Yates, North Dakota and the site of Sitting Bull's grave and made its way to Wounded Knee. Started five years earlier, the Memorial Ride was a form of spiritual healing, offering prayers for the children, elderly, those with illness, those imprisoned, the Mother Earth, the survival of the sacred traditions, and the women. They also prayed that there would not be any more suffering from the losses brought on by Wounded Knee. By December 30, 1990 they riders number nearly 300.
The Memorial Ride started because of a dream by a medicine man in which he saw that the Lakota people had been suffering for one hundred years because of the losses suffered at Wounded Knee. The people needed to perform the "Wiping of the Tears"ceremony so that the Lakota Nation could be brought out of its century long period of mourning. It would take five journeys along what was called the "ghost trail" to reconcile the losses and heal the nation. The spirits of the massacred dead where still thought to exist along that trail. The final ride in 1990 was a highly charged emotional event. Braving bitter cold, the 300 riders reached the place of the massacre and the final spiritual healing took place. For many Lakota the pain caused by the massacre was finally healed.
However, the United States now needs to heal itself. In 1968 more than 500 Vietnamese civilians were massacred by American soldiers at Mi Lai. There country forced itself the painful process of investigating and prosecuting the guilty. Major William Calley was convicted for this war crime and he was sentenced to life in prison. Despite the fact that he was later pardoned, it showed that American justice could look beyond blind patriotism to seek redress for such crimes. During the last of the Memorial Ride in 1990, Arvol Looking Horse, the keeper of the Sacred Pipe of the Lakota offered a prayer for peace and justice. He prayed that the United States would one day apologize to the Lakota People for the injustice done to his ancestors. Looking Horse also prayed that the Medal of Honor awarded to the 20 American soldiers be revoked in order to promote the healing. In that spirit, there are three things that still remained to be done:
Bob Smith, in his internet essay on this matter, summarizes it best when he writes: "We as a people can no longer look the other way. We need to correct this wrong. It won't be easy but we have to first find Army and government officials, legislators, and a president that know the difference between Honor and Murder." (37) President Clinton in a major speech on Kosovo stated that one of the reasons that the United States was involved in protecting against ethnic cleansing was that the forces of evil were attempting of not only killing the minorities but wiping out their very record of their existence. Smith, and a growing number of Indians, are calling for the historic record to be set straight when it comes to America's near genocide of Indians. The dead Lakota men women and children who were cut to pieces while under a flag of truce call for justice as much as any people in the world. It is a wound that must heal. But it won't heal on its own. As long as the American flag celebrates the massacre, as long as the nation's highest military honor commemorates the murder of innocent children, as long as museums refuse to tell the truth, the wound created over one hundred years ago will continue.
Use of the Army Flag at EPA Events:
The September 1999 directive from the EPA Office of Civil Rights,
and the memorandum from The American Indian Advisory Committee.
The Heroes of Wounded Knee Creeek
A Petition To Rescind The Wounded Knee Medals...
Massacre at Wounded Knee
Historical reference material from:
The Official Bulletin National Indian War Veterans U.S.A.
Section One, Section Two, Section Three and Section Four.
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