Two Native American tribes purchase land with strong historical significance

Wounded Knee Cemetery

Photo Credit: South Dakota State Historical Society

PINE RIDGE RESERVATION, S.D. – 40 acres around the Wounded Knee National Historic Landmark was purchased by two Native American tribes. The land is located on the Pine Ridge Reservation and is the land of the Wounded Knee Massacre. The Oglala Sioux Tribe and the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe came together to purchase the land.

“I think most of the people on Cheyenne River all have the same thought, that that’s a lot of our ancestors, that was massacred there and they should be allowed to rest in peace,” Harold C. Frazier, tribal councilman of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, said.

The Wounded Knee Massacre is one of the bloodiest in U.S. History, with over 250 Native American men, women and children who died.

So, with the historical significance of the land, a clause was added to keep the land as it is now, preserving any artifacts and items there.

“So, I thought about it and I thought this would be awesome to own, it would — because many of the people who were massacred were from the Mnicoujou band, which is our reservations’,” Frazier said. “I just think it’s a good thing. It’s unfortunate that we have to purchase it, but it’s the way it goes.”

They split the $500,000 cost. The Oglala Sioux tribe will pay $255,000 while the Cheyenne River Sioux tribe will pay $245,000. This is a significant decision because of the reservation’s limited funds.

They plan to be inclusive to as many survivor organizations as they can for the site, and hope to schedule a celebration of the purchase.

“This purchase is kind of a small step towards beginning with a healing process around, not only our community, but I think in the State of South Dakota and just for the nation in general, because, you know, it’s something that we need to recognize,” Kevin Killer, president of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, said.

Purchasing the land moved fast, but Killer says it was still important to have a general consensus in dialogue moving forward with it.

“Purchasing land and returning land is gonna look different, but at the end of the day, it’s important that we acknowledge this history, we acknowledge our shared history, however painful that might be,” Killer said.

Burial Detail At The Wounded Knee Massacre

Photo Credit: South Dakota State Historical Society


The Wounded Knee Massacre:

According to Encyclopedia of the Great Plains, on Dec. 29, 1890, at Wounded Knee Creek, a number of events “resulted in the deaths of more than 250, and possibly as many as 300, Native Americans.”

Starting in October 1890, Daniel F. Royer arrived at the Pine Ridge Agency, which was home of the Oglala Lakota. There, Royer was to assume responsibility as agent. He “knew nothing about Native Americans and was irrationally fearful of them…”

The appointment of Royer was also poorly timed, there was a drought in 1890 that brought crop failures and economic depression. On reservations, Native Americans had to rely on the federal government for food and clothing. There was widespread anxiety among the Oglala when Royer took over about the quality of government provisions.

The Ghost Dance appeared in the Pine Ridge Reservation about a year earlier (1889), which this dance “blended the messianic account of Christianity with traditional Native beliefs.” This religious syncretism tells of the return of the Messiah, and it would relieve Native American suffering, making the European American vanish, the bison would return, and a reunion of the living and the dead would happen in an “Edenic world.” But Royer’s paranoia believed the Ghost Dance was a war dance, threatening imminent bloodshed. He dispatched to Washington, calling for troops to protect citizens.

Mid-November 1890, President Benjamin Harrison sent troops to the area, responding to the fears of a possible Indian outbreak. “Regular troops were sent from Fort Robinson, Nebraska, and on Nov. 18, 1890, the Second Nebraska Infantry left Fort Omaha in two special trains.” Along with the troops was a group of news reporters, putting the crisis at Pine Ridge in newspaper, both nationally and internationally.

On Nov. 20, 1890, while the train’s travelers got off at Rushville, Nebraska, they didn’t find a crisis at the Pine Ridge Agency. But rumors and lies were regularly published in the national press, “fed by merchants who wanted to keep the reporters, and their expense accounts, engaged in the economically strained communities south of the Pine Ridge Reservation.” The stories continued to feed the nation’s growing anxiety about an impending war. Anxiety also grew on reservations from articles about troop activities and outbreak rumors to other members of their community, read by Lakota who were educated in the nation’s Indian schools.

With a combination of news articles, government reports and Ghost Dancing, by mid-December 1890, people in the region were on edge. “The Lakota polarized into political camps commonly referred to in the press as ‘hostiles’ and ‘friendlies,’ a distinction between those who were opposed and those who were reconciled to reservation life.” Ghost Dancers were usually placed in the ‘hostiles’ camp,

On Dec. 15, 1890, Sitting Bull was killed at the Standing Rock Agency, which was seen as the fate that awaited anyone who opposed reservation life. At the Cheyenne River Agency, the Mnicoujou Lakota grew nervous with their leader, Big Foot, engaging in Ghost Dance and being closely observed by the military. John Dunn, a local squatter, was asked by the military to persuade the Mnicoujou to stay in their own village on the reservation, but Dunn instead advised them to “take sanctuary on Pine Ridge Reservation.”

The Mnicoujou left their village on Dec. 23, and despite Big Foot contracting pneumonia, the tribe avoided the military for five days. On Dec. 28, they were intercepted by the Seventh Cavalry and the tribe was ordered into confinement on Wounded Knee Creek. The next morning, Col. James W. Forsyth met with the Mnicoujou, demanding that they surrender their firearms and told them they would be relocated to another camp which was interpreted by the Mnicoujou as exile.

Discussions continued at the Lakota camp, and a few Native Americans started singing Ghost Dance songs, “with some rising to throw handfuls of dirt in the air.” The troops perceived the singing and dirt throwing as attack signals. During this tense moment, a man refused to surrender his rifle; he and a soldier began wrestling over the gun and during the struggle it discharged. Immediately the troops that were on edge began firing and the Mnicoujous retrieved their weapons and returned the fire.

The Lakota who were outnumbered and outgunned fled, and intermittent gunfire continued for several hours with the military in pursuit. When fired ceased, troops gathered up their dead and wounded, along with Lakota wounded, and returned to the Pine Ridge Agency.

“Bodies were found as far away as three miles from the camp.” A fear of another attack stayed with troops and civilians at the agency until Jan. 3, 1891. That day, a military-escorted civilian burial party happened at the site of the massacre.

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