NONFICTION: A minutely detailed account of the circumstances that led to the bloodbath of Wounded Knee.
As soldiers of the U.S. Army observed Christmas in 1890 at Pine Ridge, S.D., the last of the Sioux bands holding out against the military were said to be on their way in to the agency. Hopeful messages — that “the Indian troubles are about to be brought to a close without the sacrifice of any more lives” — flashed along telegraph lines.
But Elaine Goodale, education supervisor for the Lakota Sioux, later recalled fear and suspense. “We seemed to be waiting — helplessly waiting — as if in some horrid nightmare, for the inevitable catastrophe.”
It came on Dec. 29, and the awful clash, in which scores of Indian women and children were hunted down and killed as they ran through the low hills and ravines around Wounded Knee Creek, has haunted Indians, the Army and the nation ever since.
Jerome A. Greene’s minutely detailed account tells of the chain of circumstances that led Big Foot and his band to Wounded Knee, the scuffle and first shot that unleashed the bloodbath, and the search for answers to the most vexing question: Why?
The Army has insisted that the nearly total destruction of Big Foot’s band was not deliberate. Greene cites evidence that it wasn’t, including preparations made to move the Indians by wagon and rail. To the Indians, who believed the slaughter was payback for the Little Big Horn, it has always been “the big killing,” a shameful travesty, and Greene says that can’t be denied. “What happened at Wounded Knee evolved quickly into purposeful yet indiscriminate killing,” he writes. “It became a full-fledged massacre.”
Chuck Haga is a former Star Tribune staff writer who reported from Wounded Knee in 1990 on the 100th anniversary of the tragic confrontation.