19th Century Humanities


                                     Massacre At Wounded Knee, 1890

On the morning of December 29, 1890, the Sioux chief Big Foot and some 350 of his followers camped on the banks of Wounded Knee creek. Surrounding their camp was a force of U.S. troops charged with the responsibility of arresting Big Foot and disarming his warriors. The scene was tense. Trouble had been brewing for months.

The once proud Sioux found their free-roaming life destroyed, the buffalo gone, themselves confined to reservationsdependent on Indian Agents for their existence. In a desperate attempt to return to the days of their glory,many sought salvation in a new mysticism preached by a Paiute shaman called Wovoka. Emissaries from the Sioux in South Dakota traveled to Nevada to hear his words. Wovoka called himselfthe Messiah and prophesied that the dead would soon join theliving in a world in which the Indians could live in the old waysurrounded by plentiful game. A tidal wave of new soil wouldcover the earth, bury the whites, and restore the prairie. Tohasten the event, the Indians were to dance the Ghost Dance.Many dancers wore brightly colored shirts emblazoned withimages of eagles and buffaloes. These "Ghost Shirts" theybelieved would protect them from the bluecoats' bullets. During the fall of 1890, the Ghost Dance spread through the Siouxvillages of the Dakota reservations, revitalizing the Indians and bringing fear to the whites. A desperate Indian Agent at PineRidge wired his superiors in Washington, "Indians are dancing in the snow and are wild and crazy....We need protection and we need it now. The leaders should be arrested and confined at some military post until the matter is quieted, and this should be done now." The order went out to arrest Chief Sitting Bull at the Standing Rock Reservation. Sitting Bull was killed in the attempt on December 15. Chief Big Foot was next on the list.

When he heard of Sitting Bull's death, Big Foot led his people south to seek protection at the Pine Ridge Reservation. The army intercepted the band on December 28 and brought them to the edge of the Wounded Knee to camp. The next morning the chief, racked with pneumonia and dying, sat among his warriors and powwowed with the army officers. Suddenly the sound of a shot pierced the early morning gloom. Within seconds the charged atmosphere erupted as Indian braves scurried to retrieve their discarded rifles and troopers fired volley after volley into the Sioux camp. From the heights above, the army's Hotchkiss guns raked the Indian teepees with grapeshot. Clouds of gun smoke filled the air as men, women and children scrambled for their lives. Many ran for a ravine next to the camp only to be cut down in a withering cross fire.

When the smoke cleared and the shooting stopped, approximately 300 Sioux were dead, Big Foot among them. Twenty-five soldiers lost their lives. As the remaining troopers began the grim task of removing the dead, a blizzard swept in from the North. A few days later they returned to complete the job. Scattered fighting continued, but the massacre at Wounded Knee effectively squelched the Ghost Dance movement and ended the Indian Wars.

Eyewitness to a Massacre Philip Wells was a mixed-blood Sioux who served as an interpreter for the Army. He later recounted what he saw that Monday morning:

"I was interpreting for General Forsyth (Forsyth was actually a colonel) just before the battle of Wounded Knee, December 29, 1890. The captured Indians had been ordered to give up their arms, but Big Foot replied that his people had no arms. Forsyth said to me, 'Tell Big Foot he says the Indians have no arms, yet yesterday they were well armed when they surrendered. He is deceiving me. Tell him he need have no fear in giving up his arms, as I wish to treat him kindly.' Big Foot replied, 'They have no guns, except such as you have found.' Forsyth declared, 'You are lying to me in return for my kindness.'

During this time a medicine man, gaudily dressed and fantastically painted, executed the maneuvers of the ghost dance, raising and throwing dust into the air. He exclaimed 'Ha! Ha!' as he did so, meaning he was about to do something terrible, and said, 'I have lived long enough,' meaning he would fight until he died. Turning to the young warriors who were squatted together, he said 'Do not fear, but let your hearts be strong. Many soldiers are about us and have many bullets, but I am assured their bullets cannot penetrate us. The prairie is large, and their bullets will fly over the prairies and will not come toward us. If they do come toward us, they will float away like dust in the air.' I turned to Major Whitside and said, 'That man is making mischief,' and repeated what he had said. Whitside replied, 'Go direct to Colonel Forsyth and tell him about it,' which I did.

Artist Frederdick Remington recreated the opening moments of the massacre based on soldiers' recollections.

Forsyth and I went to the circle of warriors where he told me to tell the medicine man to sitdown and keep quiet, but he paid no attention to the order. Forsyth repeated the order. Big Foot's brother-in-law answered, 'He will sit down when he gets around the circle.' When the medicine man came to the end of the circle, he squatted down. A cavalry sergeant exclaimed, 'There goes an Indian with a gun under his blanket!' Forsyth ordered him to take the gun from the Indian, which he did.Whitside then said to me, 'Tell the Indians it is necessary that they be searched one at a time.' The young warriors paid no attention to whatI told them. I heard someone on my left exclaim, 'Look out! Look out!' I saw five or six young warriors cast off their blankets and pull guns out from under them and brandish them in the air. One of the warriors shot into the soldiers, who were ordered to fire into the Indians. I looked in the direction of the medicine man. He or some other medicine man approached to within three or four feet of me with a long cheese knife, ground to a sharp point and raised to stab me. He stabbed me during the melee and nearly cut off my nose. I held him off until I could swing my rifle to hit him, which I did. I shot and killed him in self-defense.

Troop 'K' was drawn up between the tents of the women and children and the main body of the Indians, who had been summoned to deliver their arms. The Indians began firing into 'Troop K' to gain the canyon of Wounded Knee creek. In doing so they exposed their women and children to their own fire. Captain Wallace was killed at this time while standing in front of his troops. A bullet, striking him in the forehead, plowed away the top of his head. I started to pull off my nose, which was hung by the skin, but Lieutenant Guy Preston shouted, 'My God Man! Don't do that! That can be saved.' He then led me away from the scene of the trouble."

Brown, Dee, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee (1971); Jensen, Richard, et. al, Eyewitness at Wounded Knee (1991); Utley, Robert M., The Last Days of the Sioux Nation (1963); Wells, Philip, "Ninety-six Years among the Indians of the Northwest", North Dakota History, 15, no. 2 (1948).
Citation: "Massacre At Wounded Knee, 1890," EyeWitness to History,http://www.eyewitnesstohistory.com/knee.htm(1998).


Eye Witness History is a website filled with primary sources dating from the ancient world, middle ages and the Renaissance to World War ll. This website doesn’t specify its creator; however, it does state that it is incorporated by the Ibis Communications, created in the late 1900s. The subject of this piece of work was eye witnessed by a Sioux man named Philip Wells in which the event took place in 1890, while this actual article was published in 1998, but the author of the article wasn’t stated. Philip Wells was role-played as a translator between Big Foot and the Army. He didn’t actually take sides, but clearly he was under the control of the Army’s general.


In the past war times, massacres happened a lot. This document is one of the many that explained the actual event of the Massacre at Wounded Knee. This document existed because secondary sources about the event might not be as vivid as ones described by Philip Wells. Philip Wells wanted us to understand what was the actual reason why this massacre happened, since he was acting as a interpreter for both sides and can easily grasp the idea of what is happening on both sides. He portrayed the scene by using dialogues so the image it gives the readers can be more colorful and lively. He intended this piece of work to be seen by people in the perspective where it was the Indians who made the initiative to attack the Army while they were inspecting them. In addition, Philip Wells tried to justify his action and involvement in the massacre by saying it was a matter of self-defense when he shot down an Indian. The document acts as a sort of justification that Philip Wells was innocent, since he was attacked by an Indian in an instant. Philip Wells explained himself well in the scene of the trouble. What’s on the surface is the massacre itself; however, the document meant that this massacre was justified through the act of self protection from the Indians as they make the sudden attack, zooming out from behind with guns in hand.



The act of justifying an action sometimes is necessary for those who aren’t fully involved with the situation. As mentioned earlier, this document clearly states its position of justification. Philip Wells not only vividly clarify the details of the event, but also made the point where Big Foot was guilty for deceiving the Army by not handing the arms he and his tribe brought when they surrendered. The time period of this massacre was at the late 19th century, showing how the use of technology was involved in the massacre such as Hotchkiss guns used in the arm and the cannons fired during the massacre.  Under the circumstances of justification, this piece was created, reflecting how the conflict between Big Foot’s tribe and the army they encountered have the disability of trusting their own enemies even after they have surrendered. To point out what was earlier stated, Philip Wells was under the control of General Forsyth, therefore he had no choice but to do whatever the general commands, which includes killing an Indian since the enemy considered him as part of the army. His perspective showed that he was highly conflicted in his involvement with the massacre and the killings and was very aware of the consequences when the Sioux hadn’t turned in their guns.



Philip Wells was obviously biased towards the army since he was hired by them. We do not know the perspective of the Sioux tribe from this piece though, due to their position as the opposing team. We can verify this piece by comparing what has been published earlier about the information of the same massacre. This piece does indeed reflect an accurate reference to its time period because of its technology used in those days. However, this piece does not specify how the Sioux tribesman felt like. They might have doubts about the general for certain reasons, but we do not know because of the limitation of information. If this article was told in the perspective of a Sioux tribesman, they might have done the same to justify their act of attacking the army by explaining what they’ve heard or saw. 


A) Which main topic does the artifact relate to? In what ways?

                  I think this artifact is related to the Balance of Power: Empires Rise and Fall, because the way how two opponent conflict with each other is just like balancing their own power, striving to expand their power, but one of the empires would fall after being the weak and defeated one. In this particular primary source, the empire of the Sioux tribe fell, considering the number of casualties caused from the massacre. 

B) Which other main topics does it also relate to?

           This artifact can also relate to Communication and Transportation Revolution, because the most important tactic of winning a war/fight is to have good communication with your own troops and armies. Without good communication, you will have a hard time mastering the troops in certain strategies of how you want the war to be fought. For example, if you didn't communicate well with your troops and tell them their positions and placement during the war, the army will be in a mess, with soldiers running in and out of sites, trying to figure out when and where they should make their initiative to attack their opponents. Another important criteria is the significance of transportation. Without good transportation, your troops will suffer. For example, if your troop is travelling through a blizzard during a cold winter season on bare foot, the possibilities of increasing death tolls will be miraculously high. People may starve along the way if they hadn't reach their destination sooner. 

2) Why did you choose this artifact, and how much time did you spend creating and/ or processing it?

                 OPVL Handouts gives a very organized way of generating your own thoughts and connections to the original primary source, thus choosing this makes it very easy for the readers to have a better understanding without reading information out of the blue. I spent about one hour creating this artifact, which included choosing a primary source from the main website, Eyewitnesshistory.com. This decision part has been hard, because some of the primary sources were difficult to relate to, such as, I find the "Buffalo Hunt" really hard to relate to because it only gave information about how the hunt was made and I didn't really think there's a significance in creating that sort of article;  however, other people might  find it easy to connect and relate to that article. I think it varies in different people. 

3) What insights and understanding have you gained from the creation and/or processing of this artifact?

                 In this artifact, it is very clearly understood in the perspective from the attacking side, though you do not know the insights of the people in the tribes, since the narrator is talking from the point of view standing in the attacking side. This artifact gave me a better understanding of the massacre in a way that the details were clearly depicted without the need of searching up in other internet sources. However, there's a disadvantage to this, because primary sources are usually very biased towards only one perspective.  

4) Does this artifact reflect your best work and/or ideas? Why, or why not?

                This artifact doesn't really reflect my best work because it limits my thoughts by categorizing it into different topics, whereas it would be much more easier to elaborate my thoughts when it is not categorized.

5) Rate this artifact on a scale of -5 to 5 for the following 4 criterion:

   A) impact on the quality of your portfolio                  2

   B) Impact on your level of happiness/enjoyment        1

   C) impact on your learning                                        3

   D) Level of creativity and originality                          2

6) Any additional comments.