Monday, January 30, 2012

"Go West" by Michelle Hespe

In the summer of 2011, I had a chance to visit Michelle Hespe over lunch at the Blarney Stone in Bismarck, ND. Michelle came to North Dakota to write a story about the American West, the Western spirit that's still alive here on the Northern Plains.

Let me just say that I respect the writings of the Corps of Discovery. I do think that there's a lot left out when studying the Corps' writings, like the fact that the French, English, and Spanish all made the journey to the Knife River Indian Villages - the Corps of Discovery, however, did document and map all that was unknown to western science after they left the Mandan and Hidatsa.

In Michelle's article, I related to her the visit of a traditional Lakota man to my elementary school, he could very well have been a medicine man, I don't quite recall, but he did relate to the students the prophecy of the 7th generation, that seven generations after the post-reservation period began, the Lakota culture would experience a revival or resurgence, a Lakota Renaissance if you will.

I remember in the sixth grade having about twenty classmates. By the time I graduated there were only six of us. In my graduating class I was the only one with a traditional Lakota name. I mentioned my cousin Rick who also was the only one in his graduating class to bear a traditional name.

There's two parts to ensuring the legacy of culture. Tradition, that which is handed down, and appropriation, that which is made one's own. I wished I had seized more when I was younger.

Here's Michelle Hespe's article:
"Go West" by Michelle Hespe

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Spotted Elk's (Big Foot's) Journey Ends In Tragedy At Wounded Knee

Major James McLaughlin, BIA Indian Agent at the Standing Rock Sioux Indian Reservation. Photo by D.F. Barry.
Spotted Elk's (Big Foot's) Journey
Tragedy At Wounded Knee

By Dakota Wind
STANDING ROCK - The Ghost Dance came to the Standing Rock Sioux Indian Reservation sometime in 1889, about the time that North and South Dakota entered the union as states. Major James McLaughlin ordered BIA Indian Police to Sitting Bull’s home on the Grand River in South Dakota, in an attempt to halt the Ghost Dance. The arrest was to happen in the early morning of Dec. 15, 1890. The BIA Indian Police surrounded Sitting Bull’s cabin, knocked on the door, and informed the Lakota leader that he was under arrest. Sitting Bull’s camp awoke and tried to inhibit the arrest. Anxiety gripped the camp and the police alike. Catch-The-Bear shot Bullhead, Bullhead shot Sitting Bull in the chest, Red Tomahawk fired a round into Sitting Bull’s temple. At the end of the gunfight, the bodies of Sitting Bull, six policemen, and eleven warriors turned the winter snow red with blood.

Unphan Gleska (Spotted Elk), also known as Si Tanka (Big Foot), a chief of the Mniconjou band of Lakota, is pictured here with his wife Cetan Ska Win (White Hawk Woman).

Spotted Elk, also known as Big Foot, a Mniconjou Lakota Chief, took flight and lead his band south, the destination: Pine Ridge. There, perhaps Spotted Elk might find refuge among the Lakota of Red Cloud and Crazy Horse.

On Dec. 28, 1890, Spotted Elk’s band stopped near Porcupine Creek. Spotted Elk called for the men to raise the white flag. Major Whiteside of the 7th Cavalry parlayed with Spotted Elk, promising food to the hungry and blankets for the cold, and then escorted Spotted Elk’s band to Wounded Knee Creek where the 7th Cavalry was camped. Two companies of cavalry took the lead, followed by an ambulance carrying Spotted Elk, Spotted Elk’s band (now on foot), wagons, and two cavalry companies, and bringing up the rear was a battery of Hotchkiss guns.

In this picture are seven Lakota scouts and four soldiers posing with a Hotchkiss gun.

When the column of cavalry and Lakota reached the military camp at Wounded Knee, the Lakota were counted at about 120 men and 200 women and children. After camp was established, Major Whiteside ordered two troops of cavalry stationed around the camp to serve sentry duty with two Hotchkiss guns placed on a rise overlooking the camp. Later that night, Colonel Forsyth arrived with orders to take Spotted Elk and his band to a military prison in Omaha, NB. A few spectators and a self-serious Jesuit priest named Francis Craft came with Forsyth. Fr. Craft was selected to use his influence with the Lakota as a Black Robe to persuade them to come in peaceably (as Fr. John Lutz had done earlier that month with the Sicangu Lakota chief Two-Strike). Forsyth placed his Hotchkiss guns alongside Whitesides’s guns.

Colonel James Forsyth pictured here in his Brigadier General uniform. He made the rank of general in November 1894.

According to Fr. Craft’s account of the Wounded Knee Massacre, Forsyth made a peaceful speech and asked the Lakota to surrender their arms. The Lakota denied that they had any. Forsyth sent soldiers amongst the Lakota to retrieve any arms they found. A medicine man began to pray and sing. Some of the Lakota men came forward, one by one to leave their arms, and when about twenty rifles were collected, a soldier spied rifles under blankets and cried out, “Look out, look at that,” followed by nervous laughter on both sides. Forsyth assured the Lakota that he would not take their arms by force even if he had ten years to wait. Then according to Fr. Craft, he walked among the Lakota calming them as best as he could as he passed out cigarettes. Craft further says that several Lakota men threw aside their blankets and actually raised their guns to companies B and K, and he identified many of the Lakota arms as repeating twelve-shot Winchester rifles. Craft says that he ran along the line of Lakota warriors and begged them to stop, at which the Lakota warriors laughed then lowered their arms, all but one. Craft identified the remaining Lakota rifleman as Black Fox, a deaf-mute, who was unable to understand the exchange between priest and warriors and who then fired off a round.

Fr. Francis Craft carried a pipe. He fought in the Union army in the Civil War at the age of ten. He recieved a bayont wound to the head at the Battle of Gettysburg. His maternal great-grandfather, a mohawk chief in New York fought for the States in American Revolution. Craft was a descendant of Nathanial Greene, who also fought in the American Revolution.

Fr. Craft says that the Lakota women and children were standing behind the Lakota warriors, looking on. When the 7th retaliated with gunfire, the Lakota broke into small parties and tried to break past the lines of the soldiers. Hotchkiss gunfire mowed down all who were in its line of fire, whether they were soldier or Lakota. Scouts ordered the women and children down on, but were likely not heard over the gunfire or couldn’t understand English, but few obeyed.

Caught in the crossfire, Fr. Craft tried to give absolution to a dying cavalry soldier and was accidentally shot by him, a passing Lakota warrior tried to bring Craft to his feet but it looked to the soldiers as an attack on the priest and the dying soldier. The soldiers raised their weapons to fire on the Lakota who was assisting Craft, but Craft pushed the Lakota man down and interjected his body between the soldiers and the Lakota. A Lakota called Aimed-At-Him saw Craft push the Lakota down and he retaliated by stabbing the priest.

Fr. Craft is pictured here recovering from the wounded he received at Wounded Knee. The words on the image say, "Father Craft, the Hero of Wounded Knee Fight."

Fr. Craft paints an entirely different scene of the soldiers after the massacre, that after the gunfire was finished, soldiers carried the bodies of the children off the field in their coats, many of the men breaking down and crying. In contrast, American Horse’s account gives readers a view of cold-blooded murderers: “There was a woman with an infant in her arms who was killed as she almost touched the flag of truce...A mother was shot down with her infant; the child not knowing that its mother was dead was still nursing...The women as they were fleeing with their babies were killed together, shot right through...and after most all of them had been killed a cry was made that all those who were not killed or wounded should come forth and they would be safe. Little boys...came out of their places of refuge, and as soon as they came in sight a number of soldiers surrounded them and butchered them there."

General Nelson Miles, a Civil War hero, captured Chief Joseph and the Nez Perce, captured Geromino and his band of Apache, and surrounded the Lakota at White Clay in the last military engagement between the Lakota and the US military. Miles also served in the Spanish-American War. He wanted to serve in World War I, but was considered too old.

Hugh McGinnis, First Battalion, Co. K, Seventh Cavalry: “General Nelson A. Miles who visited the scene of carnage, following a three day blizzard, estimated that around 300 snow shrouded forms were strewn over the countryside. He also discovered to his horror that helpless children and women with babes in their arms had been chased as far as two miles from the original scene of encounter and cut down without mercy by the troopers. ... Judging by the slaughter on the battlefield it was suggested that the soldiers simply went berserk. For who could explain such a merciless disregard for life?... As I see it the battle was more or less a matter of spontaneous combustion, sparked by mutual distrust...”

Fr. Craft was a mix-blood Mohawk from upstate New York who was called to the priesthood because of his native heritage. Craft said that he “would not have endured the trials of religious profession for any other purpose.” Craft sought an appointment out west and eventually came to Pine Ridge where he learned the Lakota language and was adopted into Chief Spotted Tail’s family. Craft was given the name WaƋbli Cica Aglahpaya, The-Eagle-That-Covers-Its-Young, or simply Hovering Eagle. Fr. Craft wasn’t the typical religious zealot who forced conversion by persecuting traditional practices, in fact, he encouraged the traditional songs and dances. It would seem that Fr. Craft would have little reason to lie about what he saw at Wounded Knee, and perhaps from his vantage point as he lie wounded between soldier and Lakota he saw no more. He certainly didn’t see less.

Sinte Gleska, Spotted Tail.

According to Dee Brown in his book Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee, Col. Forsyth broke fast and then ordered the Lakota to disarm. The Lakota stacked their arms in the center of the camp and when there weren’t enough arms piled up, the soldiers were ordered to go through the Lakota’s belongings and retrieve them all. The soldiers collected two more guns and removed axes, knives, and even tipi stakes. A medicine man named Yellow Bird began to sing and dance. One of the rifles belonged to a deaf Lakota named Black Coyote. Black Coyote shouted about how much he had paid for the gun and raised it above his head. Soldiers grabbed him, and though he hadn’t directed his rifle at anyone, then the rifle. Somehow, Black Coyote was spun around and as he was spun, the gun went off. Brown’s resources say that Black Coyote was of bad influence and that he fired his gun at no one, possibly in hopes of keeping it. Brown quotes Weasel Bear as saying, “They shot us like we were buffalo. I know there are some good white people, but the soldiers must be mean to shoot women and children. Indian soldiers would not do that to white children.” Brown estimates that as many as 300 of Big Foot’s band were killed or mortally wounded. Four men and forty-seven women and children were taken to the fort at Pine Ridge and left in the open winter, at least until the Episcopal mission church there opened.

One of the images of the scene of Wounded Knee after the firefight.

General Miles pressed charges against Colonel Forsyth for the murders of the women and children, but Forsyth was exonerated. The Lakota were outraged and united at White Clay, south of Pine Ridge. The Lakota camp there numbered about 4,000, meaning that there were anywhere from 800 to 1000 able-bodied warriors. On Dec. 30, 1890, the Lakota ambushed the 7th Cavalry at Drexel Mission and a small skirmish followed until the buffalo soldiers of the 9th Cavalry came to the rescue. Meanwhile, Gen. Miles quietly surrounded the Lakota war party with a force of 3,500 men, and what nearly became the Lakota’s Last Stand became complete surrender on January 15, 1891.

One of the most iconic images of the Wounded Knee Massacre is this one of Spotted Elk (Big Foot).

John Keegan writes in his book Fields Of Battle: The Wars of North America, that “soldiers caught up with the last hostiles at Wounded Knee Creek in South Dakota, surrounded them, and when they refused to be disarmed, opened fire with automatic cannon. Within a few minutes, 150 Sioux were dead, and within the month, Native American resistance to white power in the continent was over for ever. Custer had been avenged. The 7th Cavalry paraded its colour to mark the surrender of his rifle by Kicking Bear, the last fighting Indian chief.”

If no one actually ever said “revenge,” it was implied. On January 21, 1891, one week after complete surrender, a grande parade passed before General Miles as the military band played “Garry Owen” when the 7th Cavalry marched by. It goes further to say that when a soldier shouted, “Remember Custer,” during the Wounded Knee Massacre retaliation of some kind was being executed.

A view of the canyon where the Mniconjou were killed in the Wounded Knee Massacre.

General Miles’ words regarding Wounded Knee were that the rudeness of the white soldiers frightened the women and children and that “a remark was made by some of the soldiers that ‘when we get the arms away from them we can do as we please with them’ indicating that they were to be destroyed. Some of the Indians could understand English. This and other things alarmed the Indians and [a] scuffle occurred between warrior who had [a] rifle in his hand and two soldiers. The rifle was discharged and a massacre 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 over the prairie were hunted down and killed.”

Mr. Will Robinson, Secretary of the South Dakota State Historical Society, 1946-68, said, “It is the army viewpoint that they are not only dead but bad Indians and deserved what they got. That is not realistic but it is the apparent army line dating back into antiquity. It is the basis of their denial of the right of the survivors to compensation. It is not based on fact or sound logic but on guilt complex so strong that they gave out Congressional Medals of Honor to the participants in the Wounded Knee affair (eighteen) and 12 more to the people who did next to nothing at the Mission and White River fracas later of which were of minor importance. They built a great monument at Ft. Riley eulogizing the dead soldiers in this lamentable affair. When one considers that in World War II, sixty-four thousand South Dakotans were engaged for the better part of four years and that they received only three Congressional Medals the incongruity of the Army’s attitudes toward Wounded Knee is emphasized.”

Did Spotted Elk have to go to Pine Ridge at all? Some might say that he went to find a chance at a better life for his band. Others might say that he went because he had no sureties for the survival of his band of Lakota, especially after the tragic death of Sitting Bull. Yet another possibility, a reason why, exists as to his disastrous journey to Pine Ridge. Spotted Elk was said to be the keeper of a white swan wing. This symbol tasked Spotted Elk with the responsibility of bringing peace and settling differences between the various Lakota bands. In the case of Spotted Elk’s pilgrimage to Pine Ridge, he was to bring reconciliation between the followers of Red Cloud and the followers of Crazy Horse. It was his obligation to his people that made him go, but it was the death of Sitting Bull that hurried him.

It is always too late to play “what if,” but if Sitting Bull was not killed, Spotted Elk may have waited until the spring to go to Pine Ridge, but he would have gone nonetheless, and Wounded Knee might not have happened or may have been delayed. It is a matter of honor to remember that it did.

Updated April 6, 2016.

Brown, Dee, Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee: A History Of The American West, page 440, Henry Colt and Company LLC, 1970.

Foley, Thomas, Father Francis M. Craft: Missionary To The Sioux, page 87, University of Nebraska Press, 2002.

Utley, Robert M., & Wilcomb E. Washburn, Indian Wars, page 300, Houghton Mifflin Company, 1977.

Keegan, John, Fields Of Battle: The Wars For North America, pp. 311-312, Vintage Books (A Division of Random House), 1997.

Wagner, Sally, Editor, Daughters Of Dakota: Stories From The Attic, Vol. 2, Yankton, SD, 1990.

Ricker, Eli Seavey, Voices of the American West: The Indian interviews of Eli S. Ricker, 1903-1919.

Hugh McGinnis, "I Took Part In The Wounded Knee Massacre", Real West Magazine, January 1966.