8 Ways to Learn About Wounded Knee

Courtesy University of Nebraska Press / Three staff members of the Nebraska State Historical Society have brought together 150 photographs by frontier cameraman that document the Sioux Reservations in 1890 and 1891. It is one of 8 resources offered here to learn about the 1890 tragedy at Wounded Knee.

8 Ways to Learn About Wounded Knee

This year is the 125th anniversary of the December 29, 1890 massacre of a band of Miniconjou Lakota led by Chief Spotted Elk, who was called Big Foot by the government. Where can those interested learn more about that tragic event? Here are 8 resources to check out.

Black Elk Speaks: Being the Life Story of a Holy Man of the Oglala Sioux

Black Elk Speaks is the account of Lakota visionary and healer Nicholas Black Elk (1863-1950) as told through John G. Neihardt. Black Elk recounts the invasion of the Lakota homeland by white settlers, the disappearance of the buffalo and the fight to preserve way of life, culminating in the victory at Little Big Horn against Gen. George Armstrong Custer and the 7th Calvary Regiment of the U.S. Army in June 1876 and the tragic massacre at Wounded Knee in 1890.

Dyani White Hawk (Sicangu Lakota), Untitled (Cross), 2014. St. Paul, Minnesota. Acrylic, oil, size 15 beads, thread on canvas; 35.6 x 35.6 cm. NMAI 26/9334.

Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee: An Indian History of the American West

“This book is a good starting place for understanding the Wounded Knee Massacre [because it covers] the extensive history of conquest and colonization prior to 1890. The book allows the reader to understand that Wounded Knee occurred not as an isolated, violent event in a vacuum, but occurred at the end of a harsh, long road of detrimental Indian policy,” says Haskell Indian Nations University History Professor Philip Cody Marshall.

Dyani White Hawk (Sicangu Lakota), Untitled (Cross), 2014. St. Paul, Minnesota. Acrylic, oil, size 15 beads, thread on canvas; 35.6 x 35.6 cm. NMAI 26/9334.

Eyewitness at Wounded Knee

Three staff members of the Nebraska State Historical Society—Richard E Jensen, R. Eli Paul, and John E. Carter—have brought together 150 photographs by frontier cameraman Clarence Grant Moreledge, George Trager and Solomon D. Butcher that document the Sioux Reservations in 1890 and 1891. “The most unique contribution of this book, besides the photographs themselves, is John Carter’s essay on the photographers and newspaper men who descended upon Pine Ridge Reservation in the days prior to the confrontation. They came searching for story lines and pictures, which they could profitably sell to newspapers and gullible tourists. Some, such as C. H. Cressey of the Omaha Bee, sensationalized their accounts and made such strong demands for military intervention that they helped increase the level of paranoia, especially for Agent Daniel F. Royer,” writes Michael L. Tate, Department of History, University of Nebraska at Omaha, in a review of the book.

“The detailed captions… warn readers about distortions and outright fakery in some of the scenes, especially the intentional misidentifications of several prominent Indians and the reenactment of some scenes days after the events actually occurred. The meticulous research which went into this book pays its greatest dividends in the captions and the quality of photographic reproductions,” he says.

The Life of Elaine Goodale Eastman

Elaine Goodale Eastman (1863–1953) traveled west in 1885 and opened a school on the Great Sioux Reservation in South Dakota. She married Charles Eastman, a Dakota doctor and author of many popular books on Sioux life and culture. Over the decades she was witness to many of the seminal events that affected the Lakotas, including the Ghost Dance religion. She was at Pine Ridge when survivors of the Wounded Knee Massacre arrived in December 1890. This biography by Theodore D. Sargent draws from a recently discovered group of more than one hundred letters from Elaine that were collected by her sister Rose Goodale Dayton, as well as newly discovered family correspondence and photographs.

Courtesy University of Nebraska Press / Cover of “Life of Elaine Goodale Eastman.”

At Standing Rock and Wounded Knee: The Journals and Papers of Father Francis M. Craft, 1888–1890

This is an account by a Catholic priest who rode a 300-mile circuit on the South Dakota reservations, lived with the Lakota for 10 years, and was severely wounded by the U.S. Army at Wounded Knee. In a letter to the Freeman’s Journal on December 20, 1890, just nine days before the massacre, Craft wrote, “All this Indian trouble can be traced through all its phases to its true cause, starvation, abject misery, and despair, the cause of which is the outrageous conduct of the Indian Department for many years, culminating in the later blunders and cruelties of the present Commissioner Morgan.” Excerpts from Craft’s journal entries are available at ArmyatWounedKnee.com.

Father craft is wearing a crucifix tucked into his cassock and a Sons of the Revolution medal. The photograph is labeled “Father Craft The Hero of Wounded Knee Fight. Copyright Jan. 1st, 1891, N. W. Photo Co., Chadron, Neb.”

Army at Wounded Knee

Army at Wounded Knee is a blog “dedicated to documenting through primary sources, the Army’s actions at Wounded Knee” that contains a wealth of primary source documents, including personal and official letters, testimonials, and reports from Army officers, Indian agents and Lakota tribal members organized into categories: Army Leadership on Wounded Knee, Fighting 7th Officers, Gallantry in Action, Last Full Measure, and Wounded Knee Investigation.

As an example, a telegram from Major General Nelson A. Miles, Commander of the Division of Missouri, to Major General John M. Schofield, Commander-in-Chief of the Army, on Jan. 1, 1891, reads, “Your telegram of congratulations to the 7th Cavalry received, but as the action of the Colonel commanding will be a matter of serious consideration, and will undoubtedly be the subject of investigation, I thought it proper to advise you. In view of the above fact, do you wish your telegram transmitted as it was sent? It is stated that the disposition of four hundred soldiers and four pieces of artillery was fatally defective and large number of soldiers were killed and wounded by the fire from their own ranks and a very large number of women and children were killed in addition to the Indian men.”

Lakota Accounts of the Massacre at Wounded Knee

This website features extracts from the report of council held by delegations of Sioux with the Commissioner of Indian Affairs in Washington on February 11, 1891.

Documents Relating to the Wounded Knee Massacre

DigitalHistory.UH.edu features excerpts from primary source personal accounts of Wounded Knee taken from interviews by Eli S. Ricker, Black Elk and Major General Nelson A. Miles, as well as reports and testimony relating to the Army investigation of the Battle of Wounded Knee and the Sioux Campaign of 1890-91.

Many thanks to Professor Philip Cody Marshall for his help in compiling this list.