AP Photo/Rapid City Journal, Kristina Barker
James Czywczynski owns the site of the Wounded Knee massacre.

Mad As Hell: The Man Looking to Sell Wounded Knee

Vincent Schilling
4/30/13

James Czywczynski, the owner of the site of the Wounded Knee massacre, has stated publicly that he will wait until May 1 to entertain offers for the purchase of his land from the Oglala Sioux Tribe. He has said that once this deadline passes he will then consider other offers. He is seeking to sell the historic site and another parcel at Porcupine Butte as a package deal for no less than $4.9 million.

To date, the tribe has made no statement that they plan to buy the land. For the past month various reports on each new development of the sale have been closely followed by national and international news media. After Brandon Ecoffey, managing editor of Native Sun News, broke the news that Czywczynski planned on selling this sacred and historic site, noted columnist Chuck Trimble pointed out that the land was originally purchased from the Gildersleeve family with the intent to build a monument and profit from a motel and restaurant tourism complex. The plans fell through when tribal opposition grew. (Related story: “Wounded Knee Massacre Site Not a Good Investment for Speculators)

Now on the eve of the sale, Czywczynski spoke to ICTMN in an attempt to lay to rest any rumors about his wishes regarding the sale, and his family. In this Q&A he airs long-standing grievances, frustrations at being unable to secure a deal with the Oglala Sioux Tribe, and his account of the occupation of Wounded Knee in 1973. Throughout it all, he makes it clear that he is not about to gift the land to the Oglala Sioux Tribe, and he will in fact sell the land to other parties if he can't strike a deal.

Some members of the Oglala Sioux Tribe have said you bought the land to forgive a $300 grocery store debt. Is that true?

That is ridiculous. The land was put up for sale in the 1930s as an allotment so the Native people could sell their land. The Oglala Sioux Pine Ridge Reservation was sold off and there are many non-Indian ranchers, farmers, businessmen, cowboys and casinos that are owned and within the confines of that reservation.

Our property was bought in the 1930s by Woodrow Wilson who signed the deed. Clive Gildersleeve’s father bought the land and store in 1935, which included 40 acres of the national historical site of Wounded Knee. In 1968, I bought the property from the Gildersleeve’s which included the Trading Post Museum, a home, four cabins and museum artifacts. The 40 acres we bought included the ravine and the area where the massacre took place in 1890.

Did you move to Wounded Knee in 1968 in an attempt to have a profitable venture?

No, the reason we moved there is because we bought a trading post and the museum as well as four cabins, which were owned by the Gildersleeves. They were ready to retire. They inquired after people that they thought would be interested. They felt that I and my family with four children (I was a Public Accountant in Rapid City, South Dakota) could run this business and take it over. They felt very confident in me that I could do that and they could retire.

It was a challenge and something we were interested in doing, and getting into our own business. A lot of times you don't think of going to an Indian reservation and running a business, but it was a great opportunity. We thought it would be nice for the family and children.

We were there until the militant Indian thugs came and took it over and burned it to the ground.

I had a meeting today with Native Sun News and we’re going to be on TV tonight at 5 and 10 o’clock.

I was told you and your family were run off the land, is this true?

We were there from 1968 until 1973. In 1973, the militant Indians, the American Indian Movement, had gone to Washington, D.C. and caused the BIA $3 to $4 million in damage. They destroyed all of the artifacts, they smashed the urinals in the bathrooms, and they broke every window.

What did the government do? They rounded them up put them on a bus and paid $66,000 to send them back to South Dakota.

When they came back, they came back to Rapid City and did damage, they went to Custer, South Dakota and burned down the courthouse they went to other areas and did damage. They went to the BIA in Pine Ridge but it was guarded by the Marshal Service with guns They could not go into the BIA building without getting people killed.

For some reason, 40 carloads came in February of 1973 to Wounded Knee and took over the complex. They stayed there for 71 days. When I got it back, it was all destroyed, burned. Everything was burnt to the ground, my home, my store and my trading post. They stole all of the artifacts, they burned my museum, and they burned four cabins and all my vehicles to the ground.

Where was I that night? I was at a basketball game with my son in Kyle, South Dakota. We were coming home and we were stopped by the marshal service. We stayed with a friend for three or four days thinking that tomorrow this would be over, and tomorrow never came. I took my four children to Dickinson, South Dakota, I put them in school there and when we came back to Wounded Knee when it was over, they had burned everything to the ground. They left my family, my children and I homeless.

We went to Rapid City and we ended up buying a little campground in Rapid City and stayed there.

Did you ever receive any compensation for the damages?

Many people tried to provide compensation. Sen. Alvarez and Sen. McGovern introduced sponsored bills for reparations. There was a House bill introduced but people from Maryland and Colorado don't give a damn about South Dakota, We are just one little drop of water in the ocean. There was never any reparations awarded to us.

We were not the only ones affected, they burned several churches, many Indian homes and everything was destroyed in their homes. They killed a lot of cattle owned by the ranchers because they needed a lot of stuff to eat. They killed many horses and livestock.

During the time when the two FBI agents were killed, one of other the guys that was killed was wearing my Navy pea coat, everyone was arrested, they went to Sioux Falls, South Dakota for trials and the government never convicted one person.

Were you or your family members taken hostage during the takeover?

No, AIM did take hostages, the Gildersleeve's were taken hostage and they were released. They were taken hostage for about 10 days. They took another hostage, who was a priest of the Catholic Church. The AIM people went in and urinated all over the church and eventually burned it to the ground.

Some Oglala Sioux members say you were a grumpy old man who took advantage of other tribal members, are these allegations true at all?

No, we had a very good relationship with Indian people; we worked with them every day. They were all friends of ours.

There were other allegations that you would cash checks for partial amounts or were dishonest about store credit. Is this true?

No, during those years the Indian people did not get a monthly check like they do now, today they get an EIB Card once a month and they go to Wal-Mart to fill up with groceries. In those years, they were given money once a year and that was if you had land. The BIA took money from the people who leased it, the farmers and ranchers and non-Indians—they took this money and December right before Christmas, they would send these people a check.

The Gildersleeve’s ran the store by giving Indian people credit for an entire year. In those years there was no refrigeration or freezers. They did that all year long. When the Indian people got their lease check from the government, they took their lease check and paid the Trading Post for their yearly charges.

So how did things change?

The only thing that changed that was AIM. None of the AIM people were from Pine Ridge. Most of them were from Minneapolis.

They were just thugs. A lot of them were not from Pine Ridge, they just wanted some of the action. When the marshal service surrounded Wounded Knee on February 27, 1973, there was no way to get in and out of there. But they had my store and my trading post and my home. They stole everything out of the store, it was like a small Wal-Mart. That's how they lasted 71 days.

A lot of American Indians think you should give the land back.

A lot of people say I should give the land back and I would if I was a multimillionaire. But I am not; I lost everything at Wounded Knee in 1973. What makes them think that I should give it to them? Everything is given to the Indians anyway. There are hundreds of millions poured into the Pine Ridge reservation every year.

There are no jobs down there, no factories, nothing. When I was down there, we had a moccasin factory, a fly fishing factory and other factories, people were working. Today, if you went down there, you have to set your clock back 40 years. They have not progressed one day. It is sad, but that's the way it is.

At first you asked for $3.9 million, and now you are asking for $4.9 million.

There are two parcels of land which are 40 acre sites. The other site is the last known burial site of Crazy Horse, which encompasses 40 acres and the other is the national historic site of Wounded Knee.

You only want to sell those together?

Yes.

Which groups are offering to buy this land?

They call themselves a management group. The other one is a venture capitalist. They will not tell me who the participants are, but they guaranteed me that by tomorrow I will have a bona fide written offer in the mail.

Have the Oglala Sioux Tribe said anything to you about purchasing the site?

Not directly, indirectly yes. There is a group that is looking at it and they somehow are associated with the Oglala Sioux Tribe. But they won’t tell me who they are, I don’t know why these people are so indirect but everything is secretive. They told me this morning at 10:30 that they want the property, they are asking for a week’s time to put together their funding and they will not tell me who they are. I do know the go-between guy, I asked who they are but he says I can’t tell you at this time.

I was tricked once by a guy from the Pine Ridge reservation and it turned out to be a hoax. I am 95 percent assured that this is a legitimate group and they’re going to pull it off. I want to get it done this week; I want to get this over with.

I have gotten a lot of heat and I have been bashed by some of the best, but that is all right.

If you still had your store there today, what do you think the value would be?

The value would be tremendous. If I could have stayed there, I could have been bigger than Crazy Horse, which sees over one million people a year now. Wounded Knee has that opportunity too. People there want me to give it to them; they're doing everything except trying to buy it. They cannot see the trees in the forest. They do not see economic recovery, economic development or tourism, because they have been handed everything their entire life. That is really sad.

I went down there with the Australian BBC, we spent 4 and a 1/2 hours down there and there were people selling arts and crafts from their cars. There should be a large cultural center there.

I have a family with six children and they all want the Oglala Sioux Tribe to have this property. But I have been trying to sell it to them for 30 years. I finally decided, I am 75 years old and they have had ample opportunities to buy this property. They have also just got $25 million from the Cobell settlement; the tribe gave $1 million to each of nine districts. They had $5.5 million left over and they still didn't offer to buy Wounded Knee.

(Related story: "Wounded Knee Sale Deadline Looms")

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Two Bears Growling's picture
Two Bears Growling
Submitted by Two Bears Growling on
Wanbli, I had much to say as well, unfortunately, it wasn't posted for some odd reason. Much of what you had to say was what I had to say. Perhaps you kept things more palatable than I did. I don't apologize for what I have to say because it is the truth. Too many times even native papers stay too PC as they say, anymore. Never hide the truth. Tell things like they are regardless. Not all washichu's are bad, but more are than want to admit it. Racism is VERY much alive in 2013. Ignorance is as well. Ignorance & resentment are a bitter pill when swallowed in old age. Combined with revenge & racism it will lead to unhealthy hatred to ones dying breath.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Submitted by Anonymous on
Dear Mr. Czywczynski, I am confused here, can you please explain why you feel that you are ENTITLED to any part of the Cobell settlement?

anonymous in MT's picture
anonymous in MT
Submitted by anonymous in MT on
I am sure that if the records were checked, Wilson may have signed the act into law, but the land was purchased individually, for much the same reasons-very low amounts of debt or using the lack of understanding of white peoples ways. In other words Wilson didn't approach the individual tribal members about selling their land. The money received from the government are payments in accordance to treaties and lease agreements (neither being dealt with in honest manners), so these are least amounts do. If the people of the United States no longer want to take care of their obligations, they should pack their bags and leave. Isn't that what they would expect someone who isn't fulfilling their contractual agreement to do! As for the profitability of Wounded Knee, this guy did pretty good, being able to get into another business right away. Also how did his workers fair, especially if he as able to do so well without getting reparations. As a matter of fact, check the dates, is he really trying to say that the government went from and electronic system (1960-70's) to checks (2013) (that is backwards). As for cheating people by taking out check processing fees (or whatever they were called) and cheating on the books, well that is a well known practice and not one that is overcome by misdirecting the question with untruthful 'facts.' Why the story? Given proper education and guidance, any man can change his circumstances if there is a level playing field/opportunity. To put it in other terms: if there were away to actually make money based on available resources, things would be different. The reservation system, give the most inhospitable land and taking away means to take care of themselves and allowing those with the trust to govern to rob and abuse, doesn't give us much of a chance.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Submitted by Anonymous on
yeah...the Ogala Sioux had SOOOOO much money.....to afford to buy the land of their ancestors.....sigh.....why can't we get together as the People (no matter what Nation) and pledge $20 per person, to buy this land and make it a private shrine/learning/spiritual/cultural center?

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Submitted by Anonymous on
yeah...the Ogala Sioux had SOOOOO much money.....to afford to buy the land of their ancestors.....sigh.....why can't we get together as the People (no matter what Nation) and pledge $20 per person, to buy this land and make it a private shrine/learning/spiritual/cultural center?

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Submitted by Anonymous on
yeah...the Ogala Sioux had SOOOOO much money.....to afford to buy the land of their ancestors.....sigh.....why can't we get together as the People (no matter what Nation) and pledge $20 per person, to buy this land and make it a private shrine/learning/spiritual/cultural center?

Joan K. heart's picture
Joan K. heart
Submitted by Joan K. heart on
A man of honesty. Thank-you sir. Hope the land sells soon for your sake.

shane madson's picture
shane madson
Submitted by shane madson on
the U.S. government signed a treaty that says that is their land. They actually have the paperwork. With the invention of eniment domain, the government and you, typical white male has found yet another way to screw native americans. When your kids find out the truth, do you think they will be proud of you. Money cannot buy family love.

G. W. Sharp's picture
G. W. Sharp
Submitted by G. W. Sharp on
I grew up in Gering, Nebraska and my family and I took trips to the area of Wounded Knee several times when I was young. My father had a close friend that lived near this site and we would ride horses and play with several Indian children. It is a shame that this land; that is so very important to the Indian people, is only valued by Mr. Czywczynski for its dollar signs! The Federal Government should go in and take this land from Mr. Czywczynski as they took the land from the Indians to begin with! Back in 1874, President Grant ordered General Phil Sheridan to send an expedition into the Dakota Territory to find a location at which to build a new fort. This expedition was led by Colonel George A. Custer and a very large contingent of the 7th Cavalry. Along with this troop was Lt. Colonel Frederick Grant (the president's son), gold miners, photographers and several newspaper reporters, pack trains, etc. On this expedition, gold was discovered. This land belonged to the Sioux by treaty and the military was supposed to act as a policing force and keep miners off of this land - what in fact took place was that the expedition was sent into this area to find gold and when it was discovered and miners went in and this land was taken from the Indians. This started a war that Grant and his cronies had planed on from the start. Legalized theft. If Mr. Czywczynski wishes to sell this land he should first offer it at a fair market price. What did he pay for this land and for that matter, what did the Gildersleeve's pay for it and whom did they buy it from? If I had the money to do so, I would negotiate to purchase this property and turn title over to the Sioux Nation!! I believe that there are laws on the books in South Dakota as well as Nationally that prevent the desecration of grave sites! God Bless the Indian Nations

Layla Riverside
Layla Riverside
Submitted by Layla Riverside on
they left you homeless oh I am sure the oglala do not have the smallest idea how that felt , and stole your arifacts ( their ancesters bones , pots , clothing , dows and arrows ) funny how you feel agrieved but you can not see your ancesters wrong in stealing all the indians land , I hope that long term you are kids end up giving everypenny back to the Oglala

Layla Riverside
Layla Riverside
Submitted by Layla Riverside on
facts mr are these , you bought stolen land then got upset when what was done to the Oglala was done to you , they at least had the right to that land , how about you tell us where ur ancestors a burried and the Oglala can go dig round there and make a nice musium to make money out of you are loss ..

indianmedicine's picture
indianmedicine
Submitted by indianmedicine on
I see much emotional argument in the comments, where the Land Owner is libeled for his status as a Property Owner; more so then his personal character................................................................................................................. ................................................................................................................................. The Question many are not asking, is how this land parcel wound up in the Real Estate Market in the first place?................................................................. ................................................................................................................................. If this was Originally Reservation Land, deeded to the Tribe; how did Woodrow Wilson become the Owner of it?.......................................................................... ................................................................................................................................. If the allegations against AIM are True, then there should be a Case File that is Public Record; which would clarify or deny the allegations made.................... ................................................................................................................................. Since the Land Status appears to be "Private Property"; and this Owner has bonifide & lawful Ownership; then he has a "Legal Right" to enjoy and develop his Real Property as a matter of Law................................................................... .................................................................................................................................. No one as a Matter of Law, can dictate what a Property Owner; other then a Public Entity can do with his property as long as it is NOT a Hazard to Others or there is NOT a Question of Eminent Domain .............................................. .................................................................................................................................. If the Owner is asking a "Fair Market Value" for his Property; with a Full Disclosure as to Status as required by Real Estate Laws of the State;then he is free to pursue the Sale of the Property............................................................. .................................................................................................................................. Many are without reasonable expectation of their "suggestions" to the Property Owner; who clearly wants Closure on the Sale, & NOT a "donation" as suggested................................................................................................................ ................................................................................................................................... Any experienced Native American in business; will be able to explain a "Business Plan" concept to make a "Business Profitable" and to sustain productivity - and that is what this Property Owner appeared to do in his original purchase..................................................................................................... ................................................................................................................................... All though there may be a denial of easement as stated, the Property Owner by Necessity can have "Right of Way"................................................................... .................................................................................................................................... How an isolated portion of land in the middle of a defined reservation became a "Real Estate Property Island" is baffling to many - and there lays the blame for the "character" of this Property as it is today.................................................. .................................................................................................................................... There can be no Reasonable Expectation that this Property Owner should sustain a "Total Economic Loss" due to Emotional Argument of History; when he was personally so far removed from the creation of this difficulty.................. .................................................................................................................................... There may also be some reverse discrimination here, because the Racial Epithets attributed to the Land Owners Ethnic status is bantered about pretty regular in Comments made - the comments are what they accuse.................... .................................................................................................................................... I am sure that the Tribe has competent "House Counsel" to explain in terms of understanding; what the "Legal Argument" is for both sides; and I suggest that the Tribe listen and quit being deliberately unnecessarily argumentative........... .....................................................................................................................................

builds-the-fire's picture
builds-the-fire
Submitted by builds-the-fire on
I remember I the questions they used to ask in math class. I remember thinking, "When in the world will I ever have to calculate at what time, and in what city two trains will meet up?" The case of Czywczyuski reminds me of those old math questions. Question 1: Does Czywczyuski currently pay or owe taxes on the land he wants to sell? Questions 2 and 3: If he pays taxes, what does the IRS base his tax rate on? Is it the value of the land at $14,000 for both parcels? Question 4: Czywczyuski doesn't care who buys it, so long as they give (underscore "give" here) it to the Oglala, right? Math question: Tell me please, do you have to pay taxes on a gift that you own? How much does Johnny pay in taxes if Johnny owns something valued at $4.3 million dollars? How much does Johnny's neighbors pay in taxes because the value of what Czywczyuski wants to sell has--in polite circles--more than doubled in value? If Johnny and his neighbors can't pay their taxes, what happens to their land? Answer: Czywczyuski's revenge... Analysis: No one should pay a dime to this man for that land.

Starbugary's picture
Starbugary
Submitted by Starbugary on
What a can of worms! This guy made an immoral and unethical investment. Even if he feels that he "did right" by the tribe and his Native American customers he was still trying to profit from others pain. Some slave owners treated their "property" well that doesn't change the fact that being a slave owner is wrong, immoral, and just plain evil. It sounds like this guy is trying to cash out before he dies because he knows that his children will give the land back to its rightful owners, the tribe. Mr. C seems to encompass much of what is terribly wrong in our country right now. This delusional ultra right wing thinking, "Everything is given to the Indians anyway"...WHAT? This is sickening. The Pragmatist in me says just find a way to pay this jerk and get rid of him, buy the land and close the book. The other part of me feels quite different. I've read that Johnny Depp is wanting to purchase this land and give it back to the tribe. I hope that he is successful and some venture capitalist doesn't outbid him and try to turn a sacred site like wounded knee into an amusement park or something. The arrogance, entitlement and white privilege surrounding this story is astounding!

Savage Lynx
Savage Lynx
Submitted by Savage Lynx on
You have tunnel vision, it's the dollar signs blocking your sight. It's an outrage. The blood the dollar bills are soaked in the pain of people massacred, and the Oglala Sioux Tribe's silence should embarrass you to return the land. Greed incarnate, you say no.

Crystal Eio
Crystal Eio
Submitted by Crystal Eio on
Asides from all the racism ... I do wonder who wants buy land where misfortune... not quite sure if anyone wants to have deceased people in their backyard. I certainly not going to buy it. So why not donate it? Pity we're stuck with a supposed stuck up owner of this place. Didn't know now blind people could be. Till I read this article...

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