Several months ago I started reading Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown. I have not yet finished it. It is the true story of the Native American Indians and their treatment by the United States government. The book is a sad and aggravating read and only so much sadness can be handled at a time.
On the second day of our trip, we made a slight detour from Chadron, Nebraska to the Badlands to go through Wounded Knee which is on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. This is where the Lakota live today. A very sad and impoverished community.
Almost before we got out of our car, a young Lakota man came up to me to try and sell me small paintings he had done of the Cemetery. I felt bad that we had not yet obtained any cash from an ATM. The paintings were not great but I would have purchased one for the measely $15.00 the young man was asking for.
As I wandered around I recalled what I knew of the horrible events that occurred on the very ground I was currently standing on. There is a very complex and long history that lead up to the massacre at Wounded Knee and the book by Dee Brown and several other sources can fill in these blanks. Most accounts agree the shooting started with a misunderstanding with a deaf Lakota.
According to commanding General Nelson A. Miles, a “scuffle occurred between one deaf warrior who had [a] rifle in his hand and two soldiers. The rifle was discharged and a battle occurred, not only the warriors but the sick Chief Spotted Elk, and a large number of women and children who tried to escape by running and scattering over the prairie were hunted down and killed.”Phillips, Charles. December 29, 1890. American History. December 2005 40(5) pp. 16–68.
When it was over, up to 300 Lakota were dead, more than half women and children. They were all defenseless as the US Army had already confiscated their weapons.
This was probably not the best way to start a two-week vacation as it left a sadness in my soul that lingered for several days. It did however, put in perspective how fortunate I was to be on this journey. Almost every place we went from The Badlands, the Black Hills, Yellowstone to the Grand Canyon were places that our federal government had removed the Indians from and had made promise after promise to. Promises that were never kept.