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Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 157

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This is the mass grave for the victims of the 1890 genocidal massacre of the Lakota at Wounded Knee.

I assume that everyone knows the story of Wounded Knee, but maybe they don’t, so I guess I will lay it out. The short version is that the United States has committed unspeakable genocide against indigenous peoples, genocide it still hasn’t even meaningfully admitted, not to mention atone for. I can’t wait for the blog comments that this was inevitable and we should collectively shrug our shoulders, plus the Lakota were mean too, reprehensible comments that we have seen on this blog when discussing Native Americans previously. Because they acquired horses and became fast and fierce warriors, some Plains tribes managed to hold out against white American dominance until the late 19th century. The Lakota were among these. The intentional slaughter of the bison in the 1870s put all of these peoples down and they were forced onto reservations. Those reservations, as awful and hopeless as they were, were not enough subjugation for whites, who managed to steal everything they could, including through the Dawes Act in 1887. As a response to this genuine apocalypse overtaking their peoples, many turned to fundamentalist religions. While this would later include fundamentalist Christianity, and revivals are common on the reservations today, at the time, this manifested itself in the Ghost Dance. This was a prophetic religious movement that believed their dead would return, the bison would return too, and that they were immune from white bullets. It was a religion of complete desperation. It spread through the Plains and Great Basin in the late 1880s and early 1890s.

Of course, the Ghost Dance freaked out white people. So the military decided to bring chiefs into custody to try and undermine it. This led to the murder of Sitting Bull on December 15, 1890. That threw the Lakota into chaos. Spotted Elk and his band of 38 Hunkpapa moved from the Cheyenne River Reservation to Pine Ridge to join up with Red Cloud and hope that banding together would provide greater safety. Some whites understood what was going on. General Nelson Miles wrote that the continued treaty violations by whites that included stealing supplies meant for the native peoples led to hopelessness, starvation, and desperation.

But when Spotted Elk met up with whites, disaster struck. Troops under the command of Colonel James Forsyth ordered the disarming of the 350 Lakota. They surrounded Spotted Elk’s encampment with 4 rapid-fire Hotchkiss guns. No one knows quite how the violence started that morning. It seems to be around resistance by some Lakota to giving up their weapons, scared white soldiers, and general chaos. In any case, once the whites started firing, it was a complete massacre. Probably 150 out of the 350 Lakota were killed and another 50 were wounded. We know that at least 84 men, 44 women, and 18 children were reported dead, but this is most definitely an underestimate. Some claim that upwards of 300 died that day. The Lakota did take 25 U.S. soldiers out with them, wounding 39 more. Miles was furious at Forsyth for the massacre, which he believed his subordinate officer intentionally began to wipe out the Lakota, not to mention causing the death of American troops. But nationally, whites celebrated the genocide because American whites by and large have been and still are racists. L. Frank Baum, later known as the writer of The Wizard of Oz and many other books, was the editor of the Aberdeen (South Dakota) Saturday Pioneer. He wrote:

The Pioneer has before declared that our only safety depends upon the total extermination of the Indians. Having wronged them for centuries, we had better, in order to protect our civilization, follow it up by one more wrong and wipe these untamed and untamable creatures from the face of the earth. In this lies future safety for our settlers and the soldiers who are under incompetent commands. Otherwise, we may expect future years to be as full of trouble with the redskins as those have been in the past.

That basically sums up white people and American history. The Wounded Knee memorial was erected in 1903 and has the names of at least some of the dead on it. While it is faded with age, if you click on the image and expand it, you can read at least some of their names.

The Wounded Knee mass grave and memorial is in Wounded Knee, South Dakota, on the Pine Ridge Reservation. Today, Pine Ridge has all of 3% of its residents living above the federal poverty line. The unemployment rate is 90%. The average life expectancy is 47 years for men and 52 for women. The teenage suicide rate is 150% of the national average. The infant mortality rate is 300% of the national average. Approximately 33% of homes lack electricity or running water. The high school dropout rate is 70%. And we do absolutely nothing about this. That is because we are a racist nation that refuses to deal with its genocidal past and present.

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