Christina Rose
Wounded Knee is the site of the mass grave where hundreds were buried after the massacre of December 28, 1890.

Native History: Wounded Knee Descendent Remembers Family’s Past

Christina Rose

This Date in Native History: On December 29, 1890, a band of Miniconjou Lakota led by Chief Spotted Elk—called Big Foot by the government—were massacred at Wounded Knee. After the death of Sitting Bull, the band decided to head towards the Pine Ridge Agency to ask Red Cloud for help.

Clementine “Debbie” Day is a descendent of the Makes It Long - High Hawk families, who were among those who survived Wounded Knee. The family’s story was recorded in a ledger book still held by the family. “When Spotted Elk came back from Washington, he and his followers packed up during that night, and they took off for the Pine Ridge Reservation,” Day said. “On the way, the snow was so deep. My other grandfather was an Army scout, John Makes It Long-High Hawk.”

Keeping a low profile, the band hid from the scouts as they made their way. “They were afraid the scouts were looking for them,” Day said. “The band followed the Cheyenne River and went to a ranch called Two Rivers, 16 miles west of my place,” which is near present day Bridger, South Dakota, on the western side of the Cheyenne River Reservation.

Leaving some of their belongings there, they crossed the Badlands. “It was hard, snowy, and cold,” Day said, noting that the story had been told by her grandfather, Alec High Hawk to her father, Isaac Makes It Long-High Hawk. “They got as far as Wounded Knee. The soldiers finally found them and wanted their weapons.”

Paperless Archives, which maintains countless documents regarding Wounded Knee, reported that on December 28, 1890 Major Samuel Whitside and the 7th Cavalry intercepted Spotted Elk and his band, who surrendered peacefully. Documents state that the soldiers searched among the brush, calling out “How Kolah” (Hello friend) and assuring the women and children they would be safe. Yet, cannons were set up and aimed at the Lakota camp. Spotted Elk, suffering from pneumonia and coughing up blood, was given a tent with heat.

The caption says: Famous Battery “E” of 1st Artillery. These brave men and the Hotchkiss gun that Big Foot’s Indians thought were toys, together with the fighting 7th what’s left of Gen. Custer’s boys, sent 200 Indians to that Heaven which the ghost dancer enjoys. This checked the Indian noise and Gen. Miles with staff returned to Illinois. (J.C.H. Grabill/Library of Congress)

The next day, December 29, 1890, the Army demanded the Lakota turn in their weapons. All did, except for a deaf man named Black Coyote, who it is assumed did not understand what was at stake. He refused to give up his weapon, insisting he had paid a lot for the gun.

“The old man couldn’t hear and he hid his rifle under a blanket,” Day recalled. “He wouldn’t give up his gun, so a soldier wrestled for it and a shot went off. They all scattered and ran.”

When the soldiers began to shoot, the Lakota grabbed whatever weapons they could. One soldier’s report reads, “Just at that moment I could indistinctly see through the brush the faint outlines of a person and raising my gun I quickly fired. We supposed we were hunting the party of Indians we had seen and were ready to fire at a flash as we did not propose to let any Indian get the first shot at us if we could help it. Immediately I fired, Kern fired a second time and I heard squealing in the brush. I then called to the captain that it was a squaw, and he replied, ‘Don’t kill the squaws.’ I said—it is too late, I am afraid they are already killed.”

Numbers vary, but some official reports numbered 90 warriors and close to 200 women and children killed. While some of the cavalry were also killed and wounded, most reports say the soldiers were killed by friendly fire.

The caption says: What’s left of Big Foot’s Band. Taken near Deadwood, South Dakota in 1891. (This was after the Massacre of Wounded Knee on December 29, 1890. This was all that remained of Big Foot’s Band.) (J.C.H. Grabill/Library of Congress)

RELATED: Disturbing Photos From S.D. in 1890s—From Wounded Knee to Pine Ridge

It was late at night before wagons carrying wounded soldiers and 47 Lakota women and children arrived at the Episcopal Church in Pine Ridge. The church pews were removed and hay was spread on the floor for bedding.  Reports of the survivors include seeing the Christmas decorations still hanging from the rafters of the church.

A blizzard ensued and eventually a burial party returned to Wounded Knee where they found the frozen remains of Spotted Elk and the others. All were buried in a mass grave at Wounded Knee.

After the massacre, a government investigation was initiated, but the slaughter of even the most innocent was justified. Medals of Honor were awarded to the soldiers, which activists have sought to have rescinded ever since.

For Day’s family, her great-grandmother and two younger boys, who had lost their parents at Wounded Knee, returned to the Cheyenne River Reservation. The boys stayed with and helped Day’s great-grandmother until very soon after, they and other children were taken and sent to the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Pennsylvania. “It was a very sad situation,” she said.

“My great-grandfather John Makes it Long-High Hawk came back, and after the boys went to Carlisle, he stayed with my great-grandmother Buffalo Pretty Hair Woman.”  Day said she is happy to see that many still remember Wounded Knee. “They honor Spotted Elk—the Memorial Riders are coming to Bridger and going to Wounded Knee on horseback... In August, we have the Wounded Knee memorial motorcycle riders. So they really honor him, and I am so proud of the people who are doing these things to remember Wounded Knee.”

The Wounded Knee Monument, adorned with prayer ties, lists the names of those buried in the mass grave. (Christina Rose)

You need to be logged in in order to post comments
Please use the log in option at the bottom of this page



woundedbearcharlton's picture
Submitted by woundedbearcharlton on
it is deemed that one child or more of my gggg grandfather tawokonze is barried at wounded knee his name starts with bear and he had a brother a brother who's whole name i know as bear looks back who lived on plus another brother who's name starts with bear and all three bears had diffrent mothers and each was of a different section of sioux the one who died at wounded knee was of the lacota the 2 survivers are of 2 differ sect's one is my ggg grandfather he is dakota his name bear looks back the other is nakota the one who died at wounded knee was survived by a little girl and one of her grandchildren are in austin tx and i am the gggg nephew of the one who died at wounded knee and i am the great grandson of clarence edward brown who is a victim of the aftermath of wounded knee as no sioux were allowed to leave the rez for long time and this led to my great grandfather to be stranded in hostile mo and this section of sioux family known as the browns have flurished but under great stress as i have been forced into oklahoma indian territory cause i not like the racism

woundedbearcharlton's picture
Submitted by woundedbearcharlton on
i need to visit and find my one great great great great uncle mato on the deal

phonda's picture
Submitted by phonda on
i am the desendent of dragging CHEROKEE DRAGON © Talmadge Davis Wes Studi as Dragging Canoe - click image! Dragging Canoe was one of the greatest warriors of Cherokee recorded history. A cousin to Nancy Ward he was one of the first to propose a united Native front against Westward colonization. Dragging Canoe founded the Chickamauguas Cherokee's, made up of many nations to fight with the British against the colonist. "Whole Indian Nations have melted away like snowballs in the sun before the white man's advance. They leave scarcely a name of our people except those wrongly recorded by their destroyers. Where are the Delewares? They have been reduced to a mere shadow of their former greatness. We had hoped that the white men would not be willing to travel beyond the mountains. Now that hope is gone. They have passed the mountains, and have settled upon Tsalagi (Cherokee) land. They wish to have that usurpation sanctioned by treaty. When that is gained, the same encroaching spirit will lead them upon other land of the Tsalagi (Cherokees). New cessions will be asked. Finally the whole country, which the Tsalagi (Cherokees) and their fathers have so long occupied, will be demanded, and the remnant of the Ani Yvwiya, The Real People, once so great and formidable, will be compelled to seek refuge in some distant wilderness. There they will be permitted to stay only a short while, until they again behold the advancing banners of the same greedy host. Not being able to point out any further retreat for the miserable Tsalagi (Cherokees), the extinction of the whole race will be proclaimed. Should we not therefore run all risks, and incur all consequences, rather than to submit to further loss of our country? Such treaties may be alright for men who are too old to hunt or fight. As for me, I have my young warriors about me. We will hold our land." - Chief Dragging Canoe, Chickamauga Tsalagi (Cherokee) 1775 1775 Overhill Cherokee Treaty (Sycamore Shoals) The Transylvania Land Company aka Henderson Purchase, for most of Kentucky and Middle Tennessee, led by Richard Henderson of Hillsborough, North Carolina, the largest private real estate transaction in United States' history. For the price of 2,000 pounds sterling and 8,000 pounds in goods (about six wagon loads of goods worth), he purchased 20 million acres of land from the Cherokee Nation that included the Cumberland River watershed and lands on the Kentucky River (all of eastern and central Kentucky). During these dealings, the local settlers "purchased" the right to remain on the Cherokee land that they were living on in the Watauga settlement. One of the minor chiefs, Dragging Canoe, opposed to the selling of the Cherokee ancestral hunting grounds, warned the whites that they were purchasing a "dark and bloody ground." Dragging Canoe embarked on a war trail against settlements in Georgia, Virginia, and the Carolinas that would last for seventeen years. The Chickamaugan Cherokee were over 2000 warriors from the Carolinas, Northern Alabama, Georgia, Virginia, Tennessee, and Kentucky, and these warriors were mostly from the Wolf Clan of the Cherokee Nation, which was the warriors that protect the Cherokee Nation. These where the best warriors from this tribes, from the Cherokee were the Chickamaugan Cherokee Warriors, and from the Creek where the Red Lance Warriors. To help you understand what they where, they were similar to the Cheyenne Dog Warriors of the Cheyenne Nation. 1776 March 1 Dragging Canoe went to Mobile, AL, to escort 2 British Commissioners, Cameron (Dragging Canoe's adopted brother), to bring a pack-train to the Cherokee back to Chota & give the British line re. the upcoming American Revolution. Dragging Canoe was in full agreement. 1776 April Back at Chota, Alexander Cameron advises Indian neturality because there were Loyalists among whites - Indians wouldn't know the difference. Cameron & Stuart sent letters to whites in the area. Text was altered to foment anti-Indian sentiment (fear of attack). Delegations of northern Indians, predominantly Shawnee (Cornstalk?), came to Chota requesting a Cherokee alliance against the American. Raven of Chota led an attack against the Carter Valley setniments - burned houses, but Americans had withdrawn. Nancy Ward, a "Beloved Woman of the Cherokee," having been a warrior in her day, forewarned the Americans. Abram of Chilhowee led the attack against Fort Wautaugo where Sevier was at the time. They laid siege, and nothing happened, so the Cherokee withdrew. Dragging Canoe went against the Holston River settlements, including the Eton Station fort, but the Americans, forewarned by Nancy Ward, were prepared and successfully defended themselves. The Cherokee attacked, Dragging Canoe got shot through both legs; his brother, Little Owl, also got hit. The Cherokee withdrew for lack of numbers. Elders, indluding Oconostota, wanted to capitulate and offered a reward of 100 pounds on the heads of Dragging Canoe and Alexander Cameron. No record of known attempts on their lives. Dragging Canoe responded by withdrawing from the area and moved with his people to the Chattanooga area. Joined by survivors of the Lower Towns of South Carolina. 1776 July 700 Chickamauga attacked two American forts in North Carolina: Eaton's Station and Fort Watauga. Both assaults failed, but the raids set off a series of attacks by other Cherokee and the Upper Creek on frontier settlements in Tennessee and Alabama. The Wataugans, led by their popular and soon-to-be-famous Indian fighter John Sevier, repulsed the onslaught and swiftly counter-attacked. With the help of militia from North Carolina and Virginia, they invaded the heartland of the Cherokee and put their towns to the torch. 1776 At the outbreak of the American Revolution, he leaves his father Attakullakulla up north Knoxville way, moves families downriver to Chickamauga & Chattanooga & Running Water Creeks ... Upper & Lower Towns. [At the beginnging of the year Dragging Canoe wanted to attack the American whites, and vice versa. However, most of the Cherokee were opposed to war. The British didn't want indians involved. Letter were copied, faked, and derisive comments about Indians were added, and copies were circulated to stir up anti-British hate among Indians.] Dragging Canoe was very militant. Led an attack against whites, but didn't have much of a following. Rather than capitulate with the older men, he and other disillusioned warriors moved south to Chattanooga and Chickamauge Creeks and became the warsome Chickamauga wage war against the settlers for the next twenty years. 1776 September Americans destroyed more than 36 Cherokee towns killing every man, woman and child they could find. [Rather than killing all the indians, impropmptu slave auctions on site were held to raise money for the White militia by selling Native women & children. ] 1777 Unable to continue resistance, the Cherokee in the area asked for peace. The Treaties of DeWitt's Corner (May) and Long Island (or Holston) (July) were signed at gunpoint and forced the Cherokee to cede almost all of their remaining land in the Carolinas. 1777 Summer Dragging Canoe led raids against American settlers as far up as southern Virginia - killing whites whenever they could find them & burning houses. 1778-79 Most Cherokee fighters (made up of many half-bloods & mixed-bloods, predominatly white mix - French, English, Irish, Spanish & American-born whites, Cherokee, Shawnee, Creek, and free Blacks) went to Georgia to join the British forces in the Georgia campaign. 1776-82 Cherokee under Dragging Canoe joined the side of Great Britain in the American Revolution against encroaching white settlement. Tsi'yu-gunsini (Dragging Canoe) and the Chickamauga refused the Overhill Cherokee Treaty, and kept raiding the new settlements. At the outbreak of the Revolution, the Cherokee received requests from the Mohawk, Shawnee, and Ottawa to join them against the Americans, but the majority of the Cherokee decided to remain neutral in the white man's war. The Chickamauga, however, remained at war with the Americans and formed an alliance with the Shawnee.

Cheryl Pete
Cheryl Pete
Submitted by Cheryl Pete on
another massacre that does not make it into the american history textbooks