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

A Conversation With Wounded Knee Owner James Czywczynski

Vincent Schilling
April 30, 2013

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?


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")



Anonymous in AZ's picture
Anonymous in AZ
Submitted by Anonymous in AZ on

Not all tribes were in support of AIM. To some they were viewed as nothing but trouble makers. Even now there is some negativism associated with AIM. But reading books on Wounded Knee, the woman who passed recently who was there, and then to read another persons story is really kind of eye opening. To read about the destruction, urination, etc. Simultaneously,I can not sympathize with trading post owners, and those non-Indians who exploited tribal people for money. I got to know some of the family's who were trading post owners on our reservation, and they were very well off. No they did not show it on the reservation, but off they reservation they had several cars, three homes, money, life insurance... and they paid a very low tax to the tribe to operate. When this tax was raised a few percentage points they packed up and left. Of course we found other businesses who were willing to work with the tribe and we had to live without credit accounts, we adjusted.

aiahninchi ohoyo's picture
aiahninchi ohoyo
Submitted by aiahninchi ohoyo on

jeeze louise!!!what a tight fisted old curmudgeon....and it aint nuthin new to be blaming a i m for problems past and present, bub....whadda guy!!! in his world, the word 'sacred' means absolutely nothing...and yes, pine ridge is in trouble, and its folks like you who make damn sure it stays the way it is...and all the 'settlements' from the u s govt certainly dont add up to millions of $$....

Anonymous's picture
Submitted by Anonymous on

I'd like to address a few things here, first and foremost I believe that your family is right. The land really should go to the tribe. You have the ability to control this sittuation by being a bigger person, and having a legacy, showing others what the word integrity actually means.

It is very unfortunate that words like integrity have all but dissappeared after years of dishonesty and greed from so many of our elected officials and others, but you can set an example and be known forever as a man with principles who did the right thing.

Artifacts is what some historian might call some of the things I am fortunate to have from my great grandparents. It is essential for the younger generation to remember the past so our worst chapters of history do not repeat themselves.

You have a very unique opportunity to right a wrong, educate future generations, and not become a bitter person. Anne Frank only had a paper and a pen to do this but her words, and her name are still powerful today. She left a legacy, and still believed in the good in people.

Please think about this carefully for it involves much more than money.

I can't imagine Ground Zero in NYC as just another piece of real estate, there had to be some dignity for the victims, families, and the community. When New York City included survivors and families in the planning for the memorial and future development it went a long way to help us heal.

The same is true for Wounded Knee, fathers, sons, mothers, and daughters were murdered there.

You have an opportunity to leave a lasting positive legacy.
You have an opportunity to help heal many people's hearts.
You have an opportunity to show everyone what INTEGRITY means.

Please do the right thing, donate the land to the tribe.

Dia Koether's picture
Dia Koether
Submitted by Dia Koether on

I sorely wish that this man would give the land back to the Native American Tribe that it belongs to, you don't need the land nor the money, give it back to their rightful owners.... The white people should not own any of the Native lands

Lora's picture
Submitted by Lora on

If there is so much money handed to Pine Ridge then why are they living like a 3rd world country? Or is the BIA filching it all?

deb's picture
Submitted by deb on

if you were trying to sell the land for a REASONABLE PRICE, it would be one thing, but you are not. You make me sick.

Anonymous's picture
Submitted by Anonymous on

lying pig

Teresa Inell Scott's picture
Teresa Inell Scott
Submitted by Teresa Inell Scott on

It is right for the Soux to have their land back.. It should never have been sold in the first place. Unfortunately you have inherited the controversy, which has existed for many years. Return the land so that it can be said of you that you did the right thing.

Anynomous's picture
Submitted by Anynomous on

Well its sad that they were after all given that land and then the land was taken back and know some smartass who thinks he owns because he bought the land ought to be payed because they the American Indians who are Natives to this land another words it belongs to them just give it back

AnonymousNative's picture
Submitted by AnonymousNative on

He says, "Everything is given to the Indians anyway." Really? Let's recount what really has been given to Native people. Small pox, institutionalized racism, forced sterilizations, assimilation, broken treaties, genocide...

John's picture
Submitted by John on

Pretty straight forward story. Either buy the property or leave this man alone. It's his property to do with as he wishes.

C WILSON's picture
Submitted by C WILSON on

If this James guy doesn't want this anymore -- he should just give it to the Oglala Sioux. It was and should still be THEIR land! HAVEN'T WE hurt enough people already? STOP BEING SO GREEDY Mr. Czywczynski!! I'm sure you deserved whatever you got and so did the Gildersleeve's. You SHOULD NEVER have been allowed to buy that land anyway!

wanbli's picture
Submitted by wanbli on

Its to bad this man and his family got thrown into the U.S. War against the Sioux Nation. But, he's a whiteman, and with a whiteman racist attitudes, beliefs, and ideas of make money, always money, and it has been for centuries that white always think they have a right to make money on our red traditional original red homeland's. and make they're greed driven, the real truth, is they're lusts to make money and a living by exploiting us and our resources, that don't belong to them!!! He decided to buy our land under those circumstances, he feel in some way his is justified, because in his white mind he made a fare deal, with robbers. This man is a Gatekeeper of our oppression, repression and poverty. The white man always thinks he know's better then the original landowners and keepers of his rented lot... He owe us and his government trillions of dollars and an apology for being a stupid white man! IRA and BIA have back this man, and protected him and other white rancher for generations. Thats the IRA Tribal Govt for you and they're white friends. This man, and his white South Dakota KKK are always twisting the our truth into they're lie's, why, to make money! Let's, see if IRA Chief's and IRA backers like, AIM, Crow Dog and Red Cloud are going to say anything about this and demand it to be stop, by law and force!!!!! This man does not own anything on our treaty lands. Yes, IRA Chief, that are not our Leaders tried to sell and did the Black Hills and our treaty lands away. This is True! But, only by Imperialist forces and tyranny!!! This man is going to find his life is hell will cost more then just given back this land to my Oyate, The Ochiti Sakowin Oyate, better known as the Great Sioux Nation, then paying the rest of his phony and lying and coveting christian life style he lived here on our intrinsic red sovereign traditional homeland's, in Hell, burning the rest of his internal life in, because in his heart and mind, his govt, the U.S. is in the Righteousness of Christ for killing, stealing and destroying the my people and nationhood! The White Race are Coveter's of our homeland and guilty of systematic institutionalized and nationalized genocide! You all will see the so-called IRA Govts Chiefs are nothing but a bunch of liar's, telling they're people they protect them and our lands....! Soon these IRA and BIA Indian's are complicit in genocide also!!!! All of you bring dishonor to all aboriginal indigenous nations of Turtle Island and over Mother, "Earth" and all living things and in the next world you will be burning with your so-called greed white man kola! The IRA and BIA are Coveting the Majority of the Oppressed ancestral homeland's, because they themselves are just GateKeepers of this Empire, to commit before a living Creator; Genocide!!!!! Like Jesus said, The "Blind" will lead the "Blind" and they both will fall in the ditch together of hypocrisies, murders, lie's, theft's, violence and destruction!!!!

Brandi Day's picture
Brandi Day
Submitted by Brandi Day on

Wow. I don't know where to begin to address all of the offensive accusations and misinformation he presents about the history here. It's almost sad that he lived among the Indians for so long and never took time to learn the truth. But mostly it's just ignorant and arrogant.

Harry's picture
Submitted by Harry on

I am a non-native white man, and think that this man is a greedy & bigoted racist. I also think that his chances of selling this property to a develop are close to ZERO. I hope he chokes on the land.

Dr. Thomas Dronet's picture
Dr. Thomas Dronet
Submitted by Dr. Thomas Dronet on

You can not sell something that is sacred would you sell the grave that your family was buried in. Of course it is all about the money, I surely hope that someone will sell his parents grave.

TuffHoss's picture
Submitted by TuffHoss on

How many times did Mr. Czywczynski have to invoke the 5th amendment right against self incrimination regarding his business dealings during his testimony at the Wounded Knee trial? Was it 90? Yes,I think it was.

Independent Minded's picture
Independent Minded
Submitted by Independent Minded on

Let me get this straight: he claims AIM was a bunch of thugs, most of whom were not even Lakota, but he seems to blame the tribe for his losses. He doesn't insist on knowing who the investors are behind the management group or venture capitalist, but he is upset that the Oglala investors won't disclose. Double standard. As for reparations, now he knows how it feels for the numerous people in this country who have been wronged by the US government because they didn't have the wealth or power to be considered worthy (Native Americans, veterans, slaves, people wrongly accused of terrorism....) I feel for his losses and the hard times he has had, but sometimes life just isn't fair. Perhaps his attitude is part of his problem.

Kelly in Idaho's picture
Kelly in Idaho
Submitted by Kelly in Idaho on

Mr. C - you've made many accusations - one being " Indians are given everything" so not true! There are many Native Americans who have worked for everything they have been given. I think your remark "they took everything, we were left homeless" Hmm..... let's look back a few years wasn't that what your fore fathers did to ours? Only worse! Be careful about throwing rocks! So if your still angry about "losing everything" make a "fair offer" to the tribe, pack up your things and leave. Simple as that! Just remember there is always two sides to every story!

lawrence sampson's picture
lawrence sampson
Submitted by lawrence sampson on

Don't let this scumbag shift the conversation. This isn't about AIM. This is about a greedy lying piece of trash wanting to profit on the graves of Indian people. If you know anything about the past you can find a number of untruths in this interview. I would say he's got a special place in hell awaiting him when he's gone.

Two Bears Growling's picture
Two Bears Growling
Submitted by Two Bears Growling on

Washichu's! Always about money. I had to laugh about his comment that the one 40 acre parcel was Crazy horse's resting place. Nonsense. He Dog said Crazy Horse's father & his father's second wife, took the body on a travois & dealt with it in secret. Now has something or someone revealed his burial place since He Dog shared his story of the events many, many decades ago?

As to this white man. He needs to give it with a pure heart & stop this profiteering speculation with secret "investors". Until then, he will only find it will bring him misery & regret that will further poison his soul with bitterness to the grave.

If what he said is true about what AIM did to his family's properties, I am sorry they did those things. If he is just being a bitter old man, then shame on him. There was some bad things that happened in that time frame in 1973. As some said, not all native people agreed with what was going on with AIM & their actions.

Even the old loafs about the fort did some bad things in the old days of the Rez & just before the Rez days. There is some bad stories from those times as well. What's important is that our murdered ancestors need to be able to rest in peace & not be profiteered over. That would be a shameful thing.

I want an apology for all the murdered people from all our native lands by these Invaders since the Vikings & the subsequent Invaders from the 1400's & on. How about the rest of you my friends?

Do you think we will ever get one & the compensation for all we had stolen & for the murders of the millions of our ancestors from Canada, Alaska & ALL of Latin America by the Spainards with the blessings of the Catholic Church with the Pope's of those time periods & other monarchs of Europe? I doubt we ever will receive a sincere apology, let alone compensation for all we have have lost through hundreds of years.

KimB's picture
Submitted by KimB on

I find this very sad. He is trying to make a huge profit off the land without admitting what he even purchased it for. I doubt many of his facts after he claimed he put his children in school in Dickinson, SD. Dickinson is in North Dakota, not south. In fact Dickinson is 250 miles from Rapid City. Regardless, I understand that he lost things that he had paid for. Even if it might be the right thing to do to simply give the land back, perhaps he is actually unable, financially, to do that. But he could do leagues better to bridge the gap between land that is only worth an estimate $7000 per 40acre parcel and the $5mm he wants for it. He is trying to make a profit on the suffering of an entire group of people, and it is very sad. I hope that he will see the error of his ways.

That said, wanbli, I understand your anger and I have much compassion for you and your people. However, please don't use that to justify holding such opinions about all white people. Not all of us are money hungry racists who seek to take your land and resources. There are many people who are on your side and wish history had happened differently, and who are working towards better things in the future. I know that does not take away the pain and suffering your people have already experienced, but nothing will. Forward is the only way. Not all of us are like this man.

snp's picture
Submitted by snp on

i think if someone other than the Oglala Sioux Indians buys this land, they will be haunted by the spirits of the dead. i think that it is a disgrace that the owner of the land doesn't just sell it for the appraised amount to the Oglala Sioux Indians. shame on him!! and to be so pompus as to ask for an amount that he knows the Indians cannot afford!! We (all indians and their decendents)are the original Americans!! damn white man brought war and disease to OUR country!

JessicaM's picture
Submitted by JessicaM on

That land is sacred and no one should try to make it into a tourist attraction. It won't be sacred anymore. That guy is greedy. He couldn't make money off of Natives all those years so he thinks he is going to make up for is now.

cody's picture
Submitted by cody on

j. czywezynski I was at Wounded Knee in 1973, not only are you an old ugly mind man, but your facts are off base. We are given everything?? After the white man came and took land he didn't own. I'm 70 also so Im trying not to get upset, but from ever bit of my fabric I hope you get your just deserve. We are given everything like killing our people?? As for AIM well it started as a peaceful people trying to get conservation going, but no, we were again push upon spit upon, so as Men we gave as we received ! I'm not sorry but I don't feel it right to again make money on the dead, killed by the white man. I have a lot to say, but i'm closing because i'm not going to be like you !!!! signed Cody

Sharon is Flipping Out!'s picture
Sharon is Flipp...
Submitted by Sharon is Flipp... on

Then why does the cranky old man want to sell for an amount that amount? He should repatriate the land, instead of asking for monies.

Cloud Mountain's picture
Cloud Mountain
Submitted by Cloud Mountain on

Mr. Czywczynski, you seem like a reasonable and principled man. You waited for decades to sell the land back to the Oglalas, while getting older and older. There are all kinds of ways to raise money if the Sioux tribe didn't have it. They , in this 30 year span should have raised the money to buy back the land. Then that land would be in their possession. Now they run the risk of losing control.

Things have value and worth. Some may say it's putting a price tag on genocide and suffering, but as natives we have to ask ourselves, isn't this land worth something to us? Isn't it worth protecting? Paying the asking price I think is a small price to pay to restore pride in our collective history.



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