Chronology of Events Leading Up to
the 1890 Wounded Knee Massacre

[Note: This data is taken from The Politics of Hallowed Ground: Wounded Knee and the Struggle for Indian Sovereignty, Appendix E, ISBN 0-252-06669-3]

July 5,1825, Treaty with Sioune (now Cheyenne River) and Oglala Sioux Tribes: The United States agreed in article 2 to take the Sioux Indians under their protection.

April 29,1868, Fort Laramie Treaty: The parties agreed in article 1 that all war between them would forever cease and pledged their honor to keep the peace; that the United States would reimburse the Indians for wrongs and loss of property T," committed by persons acting under federal authority and that the Indians would extradite bad men on their reservation to the United States. In article 2, the parties agreed that the Sioux reservation would be held for their absolute and undisturbed use and occupation; in article 12, that no cession of the Sioux reservation would be valid without the signatures of three-fourths of the adult males interested in the reservation; in articles 11 and 16, that the Sioux had the right to hunt in the Bighorn Mountains and area north of the North Platte River.

February 28, 1877, Black Hills Act: In article 1 Congress confiscated the Black Hills portion of the 1868 Treaty Reservation (7.3 million acres) without the consent of three-fourths of the adult male Indians as required by the 1868 treaty. This was also in violation of the Fifth Amendment, since the Sioux Nation acquired vested title to the land under U.S. law. In article 5 Congress promised that, in consideration for the land and hunting rights confiscated, it would give the Sioux Indians all aid necessary for civilization and subsistence rations (or the equivalent thereof) for as long as necessary for their survival. In article 8, Congress agreed that the Indians would be subject to the laws of the United States, thereby extending the protections of the First Amendment to freely exercise their religion and of the Fifth Amendment rights to the protection of real and personal property. In the same article, Congress promised that each Sioux Indian would be protected in his rights of property, person, and life.

Fall, 1883: Last Sioux buffalo hunt took place.

1888: Indian-issue beef herds on the Sioux reservation were decimated by anthrax.

January, 1889: Wovoka, a Paiute Indian in Nevada, arose from the dead (recovered from scarlet fever) after a total eclipse of the sun. Some say he learned of the eclipse through an almanac and planned his resurrection to correspond with that event. Word of his resurrection spread throughout Indian country. His prophecy was that if Indians believed and sang and danced to certain ritual songs, the buffalo and deceased relatives would return and the non-Indians would be covered by a new layer of earth. This event is recorded in history by some who say that an Indian messiah and the Ghost Dance were born.

March 2,1889, Act of Congress: Congress agreed in article 28 that the act will not go into effect unless agreed to by three-fourths of the adult male population of Indians as required by the 1868 treaty but used fraud and coercion to acquire the signatures, calling Indian males to the agencies and not allowing them to return home until they signed and allowing underaged Indians and non-Indian males married to Indian women to sign in violation of the law. The president proclaimed the act although the required signatures were never obtained. The United States thus acquired an additional nine million acres of the 1868 treaty reservation by this method.

The 1889 act also divided the 1868 treaty reservation into six smaller reservations. Indians living on each reservation could not leave their reservations without a pass from the Indian agent.

Remainder of 1889: The United States agreed not to cut the subsistence rations obligated under article 5 of the 1877 Black Hills Act if the Indians agreed to the 1889 act but went back on their word and cut the rations by 50 percent as soon as they secured the purported signatures. This created famine and death on the Sioux reservations. There were also grasshopper plagues and a terrible drought, resulting in the loss of gardens.

Mid-summer, 1889: Spoonhunter, an Oglala married into and residing on the Wind River Reservation, sent a letter to his nephew Kicking Bear, living on the Cheyenne River Reservation, telling him about Wovoka and the Ghost Dance. Kicking Bear, an Oglala, was married to Woodpecker Woman, niece of Chief Big Foot.

Fall of 1889 and spring of 1890: A Sioux delegation consisting of Kicking Bear, Short

Bull, and others traveled to Nevada to see Wovoka and returned to teach the Ghost Dance to the Sioux. The earth's rejuvenation was promised for the spring of 1891, with the coming of the green grass.

May 29,1890: Indian agents were not too concerned about the Ghost Dance until Charles L. Hyde, a citizen of Pierre, South Dakota, wrote a letter to the secretary of the interior stating that he had reliable information from a Pine Ridge Sioux at the Pierre Indian School that the Sioux were planning an outbreak.

Summer of 1890: The Ghost Dance caught on with the Sioux because of the extreme conditions they were living under. White people living south and west of the Sioux reservations became alarmed and believed an Indian uprising would occur. Black Elk invented the Ghost Shirt. Indians gathered at the Strong Hold, a natural fortification on the northern part of the Pine Ridge Reservation.

October 20,1890: Agent Royer of Pine Ridge Agency requested six to seven hundred troops at Pine Ridge to restore order.

November 13, 1890: President Harrison directed the secretary of war to assume military responsibility on the Sioux reservations to prevent an outbreak. Indian leaders were ordered arrested until the Ghost Dance passed.

November 20,1890: The Rapid City journal reported that Sioux were on the warpath. Yellow journalism everywhere added to the excitement.

November 22, 1890: Governor Mellette, the first governor of South Dakota, created the "Home Guard," a cowboy militia to guard homesteaders along the west edge of the Pine Ridge and Cheyenne River reservations. They were armed with hundreds of guns and a great deal of ammunition.

December, 1890: The South Dakota home guard engaged in two of their own massacres. The guard sent its best riders to the Pine Ridge Reservation to shoot into the Ghost Dancers at the Strong Hold. They led the Ghost Dancers into a trap and killed and scalped seventy-five of them. They also massacred several wagons full of Sioux on French Creek, who were visiting non-Indian friends at Buffalo Gap.

December 15,1890: Chief Sitting Bull was murdered by federal Indian police when they attempted to arrest him at his home on the Standing Rock Reservation. Agent McLaughlin supplied them with a barrel of whiskey to give them enough courage to make the arrest. Sitting Bull's followers fled to seek refuge with his halfbrother, Chief Big Foot.

December 28, 1890: Chief Big Foot, fearing arrest and the risk to his band, headed south to the Pine Ridge Reservation. Chief Red Cloud had already invited him to come to Pine Ridge and help make peace. Major Whiteside and his Seventh Cavalry intercepted Chief Big Foot and about 356 of his followers at Porcupine Butte and escorted them to Wounded Knee Creek. The campsite was already settled, with Mousseaux's store and several log houses located there. That evening Colonel Forsyth arrived and assumed command. The Indians were surrounded and harassed all night. A trader from Pine Ridge brought a barrel of whiskey and the officers and troopers got drunk celebrating Big Foot's capture.

That night some drunken troopers attempted to drag Big Foot out of his tent. Indians who could understand English heard talk of getting revenge for Custer's defeat. Some officers attempted to see if guns possessed by the Indians were taken from the Little Bighorn battle and if they were old enough to have been at the battle.

December 29,1890: Colonel Forsyth attempted to disarm Chief Big Foot's band. The women and children were separated from the men. The soldiers were very abusive. Big Foot was sick with pneumonia and flying a white flag of truce next to his tent. The Indians were almost completely disarmed and completely surrounded by the soldiers. When the soldiers attempted to take the rifle of a deaf mute, it discharged and the soldiers opened up on the Indians. About three hundred of Big Foot's band were killed. About thirty soldiers also died, many in their own crossfire. Some women and children were found as far as two miles away, gunned down by soldiers.

January 3,1891: A burial party picked up the bodies of the dead Indians, about 146, still left on the massacre site after a raging blizzard swept through the area. They dug a mass grave and buried the dead without ceremony. At least one Indian is said to have been buried alive.

Wounded Knee

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