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Overview of The Wounded Knee Massacre

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The Wounded Knee Massacre was the result of strong tensions between the Sioux Indians and the U.S Government, taking place on December 29th, 1890. 500 soldiers and 300 Sioux were involved; “150 Sioux… lay dead, and another 50 were wounded. Army losses amounted to 25 killed and 40 wounded” (Keenan).

It took place in South Dakota, and began with the heightened popularity of Ghost Dance, a religion that highlighted resistance of Natives against the government and ended with the death of two Native Chiefs Sitting Bull and Big Foot. The massacre had a lot of lead up but it was the last of the major clashes between Native Americans and the United States Government. The Ghost Dance was a movement that encouraged the idea that life could return to the way it was before the settlers came. “The religion promised that dead ancestors and game animals would come back to life.” It brought hope to those who were struggling with hunger, sickness, and oppression brought on by the settlers.

To fulfill their religion they would dance around a tree and wear ‘ghost shirts.’ The government worried about rebellion against their authority based on Ghost Dance ideals. While the Ghost Dance movement swept through Native American tribes, the government tried to keep it under control. General Nelson Miles took control of the military division of Missouri and ordered the arrest of Sitting Bull and Big Foot. Lt. Col. Sumner was in charge of arresting Big Foot. When he went to arrest Big Foot, he found that Big Foot was not where Sumner thought he’d be because he was dealing with affairs within his community. This was an embarrassment for Lt. Col. Sumner and increased tensions. General Miles was frazzled after the failure of imprisoning Bigfoot. He directed Colonel Forsyth of the seventh cavalry to capture Big Foot. The cavalry encircled Big Foot’s group the night of December 28th, 1890. The 300 Natives woke up to 500 soldiers. The soldiers were just supposed to escort them to another place but the situation was tense. Who fired the first shot is still unknown, but after it the whole scene erupted into chaos. At the end 175 were dead, only 14.29% were soldiers; the chief Big Foot also died. After this awful tragedy the popularity of Ghost Dance declined. General Miles removed Colonel Forsyth from his position temporarily.

This massacre is similar to Sand Creek because many died and the government greatly outnumbered the Native Americans. In my opinion, however, it is different because it was slightly less one sided. The definition between massacre and battle can be blurred; what defines whether it is a massacre or a tragedy or a battle. For this event it is unclear; acknowledging that significantly more Natives died then soldiers, it is also worth considering that there was violence from both sides and it was slightly less like shooting fish in a barrel than some of the other altercations between the Natives and the government. Regardless, this event was a tragedy in American history leaving 175 dead, many more injured, and a lack of peace between the government and Native Americans.

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Overview of the Wounded Knee Massacre. (2020, May 19). GradesFixer. Retrieved July 2, 2022, from
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