December 1990 | Volume 41, Issue 8
The last, sad engagement of the Indian wars, at Wounded Knee Creek, South Dakota, on December 29, left over 150 Sioux men, women, and children dead, and scores of wounded later died of exposure. Twenty-five U.S. soldiers were killed and thirtynine wounded. The trouble had begun the autumn before, when Sioux tribes gathered near Pine Ridge Agency for a ghost dance and added to this form of mystical resistance the new concept of “ghost shirts,” garments that would protect warriors from white bullets.
The war shirts caught the attention of the Army, which developed various plans to arrest and remove the dance’s suspected leaders. Bored journalists sent to the Pine Ridge Agency filed stories of imagined battles and Indian atrocities. On the fourteenth, Indian agents of the U.S. government shot and killed the Hunkpapa chief Sitting Bull while trying to arrest him. At the sound of rifle shots, Sitting Bull’s horse, a gift from his friend and former employer Buffalo Bill Cody, pranced as it had been trained for the Wild West revue.
During a search for weapons by the 7th Cavalry on December 29 at Wounded Knee Creek, a young, deaf Sioux named Black Coyote refused to part with his rifle unless paid for it. As two soldiers grabbed him the gun went off, bringing on the bloody skirmish in which bullets fired by both sides pierced tepees where Indian women, some pregnant, hid with their children. The melee ended with Col. James Forsyth shelling the camp.
Afterward, Buffalo Bill purchased back the old gray horse he had given Sitting Bull years earlier and invited Kicking Bear, Short Bull, and other Indian leaders who had survived Wounded Knee to tour Europe with his Wild West Show.