Can you do the Ghost dance associated with the Battle of Wounded Knee?
Eight major battles were fought in the War for the Black Hills. The Sioux won three, including the famous Custer’s Last Stand (Battle of Little Big Horn). Custer rode in with 700 troopers of the 7th Cavalry and 258 were killed.
At the conclusion of that war the Sioux returned to the reservations and lived more or less peacefully until 1988. That year, a Paiute prophet Wovoka had a vision in which the Great Spirit spoke to him. The Great Spirit told him that the world would soon end and be reborn. This new world would include all their dead ancestors, plenty of buffalo, and the white men would be washed away forever. To accomplish this, Wovoka preached a special dace and song to be continuosly repeated by all Indians. This was called the Ghost Dance.
The religion and the Ghost Dance were enthusiastly embraced by the Sioux. Especially the concept of magic Ghost Dance shirts which could stop bullets. By November of that year, Ghost Dancing was so prevalent on the reservations that nearly all other activities stopped.
This conduct scared the pants off the white settlers and towns around the reservation. The Indian Agent at Pine Ridge Rservation sent a telegram to Washington stating: “Indians are dancing in the snow and are wild and crazy. We need protection and we need it now”.
The government attempted to arrest Sioux Chief and medicine man Sitting Bull on December 15th for inviting his cousin to come and perform the Ghost Dance at Pine Ridge Reservation. Forty Indian Police came to arrest Sitting Bull, who was with one hundred and sixty Ghost Dancers. A fight broke out. Sitting Bull and six Ghost Dancers were killed as well as five Indian Police.
Chief Red Cloud then invited Chief Big Foot from the Standing Rock Reservation to come to Pine Ridge and mediate. Chief Big Foot had already personally renounced the Ghost Dance. He set out with 230 women and children and 120 men. On the way Chief Big Foot caught pheummonia and had to ride in a wagon.
General Miles assumed that Chief Big Foot was going to Pine Ridge to participate in the Ghost Dance. So he ordered him arrested. Major Whitehead and elements of the 7th Cavalry, 500 troopers, intercepted Big Foot’s band thirty miles East of Pine Ridge. Chief Big Foot immediately surrendered and followed the cavalry five miles to Wounded Knee Creek. A campsite with supplies and several buildings had already been established. The band made camp and this was surrounded by the cavalry.
Colonel Forsyth, Commander of the 7th Cavalry then arrived. He saw that Chief Big Foot was ill, so he provided a tend with a camp stove for him and had him tended to by the regimental surgeon.
Colonel Forsyth had orders to disarm the Indians and take them to a railroad so they could be removed from the “zone of military operation”. A fight was not expected, but as a percaution, he deployed four 2-inch Hotchiss cannons to cover the camp. They had exploding shells and could fire just under 50 rounds a minute.
So the troopers began to search the Indians for guns. This enraged a medicine man named Yellow Bird. He began dancing the Ghost Dance and inciting the Sioux warriors reminding that they wore magic Ghost shirts. At this point accounts vary. One has a warrior called Black Fox pulling out a gun and shooting followed almost immediately by several others. Another version said that a warrior named Black Coyote’s gun went off accidently and the troopers then opened fired.
What ever happened, both sides started shooting at point blank range. Women and children were also seen shooting at the troopers. While this was happening the Hotchiss crews opened up on the tepees in the camp. After a few minutes the Indians, men, women, and children, broke and ran. They ran up a dry ravine and tried to hide.
At this point, the battle turned into a massacre. The troopers and their Indian Scouts pursued the stampeding Sioux, showing little or no mercy. Women with infants in their arms were shot down even after most of the Sioux warriors were dead or dying. This went on for three hours and the bodies lay strewn over three miles.
At the conclusion, 84 Sioux warriors were killed, 44 women, and 18 children. Among the dead was Chief Big Foot . The battle was not completely one sided.. 30 troopers were killed and 39 wounded.
The day after the battle, the Sioux had a skirmish with the 7th Cavalry near the Pine Ridge Reservation. Following that, the Sioux fled the reservation.
General Miles marshalled 3,500 troops and slowly and patiently hemmed in the Sioux while urging them to surrender with offers of good treatment. January 15, 1891, the Sioux surrendered.. No organized indian warfare followed in the United States.
Twenty Medals of Honor were awarded to troopers of the 7th Cavalry for exceptional bravery in the action. The highest number ever given out in any battle, let alone one so small and so brief.
Ghost shirts didn’t do a very good job of stopping bullets.
Happy New Year