Historically, Wounded Knee is generally considered to be the end of the Indian Wars, the collective multi-century series of conflicts between colonial and U.S. forces and the native Indian tribes. It was also responsible for the subsequent severe decline in the Ghost Dance movement. However, it was not the last armed conflict between Native Americans and the United States.
A related skirmish took place at Drexel Mission the day after the Battle of Wounded Knee that resulted in the death of one trooper and the wounding of six others from K Troop, 7th Cavalry, with an unknown number of Lakota casualties. Lakota Ghost Dancers from the bands which had been persuaded to surrender had fled after news of Wounded Knee reached them, and they burned several buildings at the mission. They ambushed a squadron of the 7th Cavalry responding to the incident and pinned it down until a relief force from the 9th Cavalry arrived. It had been trailing the Lakota from the White River. Lieutenant James D. Mann, who had been a key participant in the outbreak of firing at Wounded Knee, died of his wounds 17 days later at Ft. Riley, Kansas on January 15, 1891. This engagement is often overlooked, being overshadowed by the previous day's tragedy.
On the morning of December 29, the troops went into the camp to disarm the Lakota. One version of events claims that during the process of disarming the Lakota, a deaf tribesman named Black Coyote was reluctant to give up his rifle, claiming he had paid a lot for it. A scuffle over Black Coyote's rifle escalated and a shot was fired which resulted in the 7th Cavalry's opening fire indiscriminately from all sides, killing men, women, and children, as well as some of their own fellow soldiers. The Lakota warriors who still had weapons began shooting back at the attacking soldiers, who quickly suppressed the Lakota fire. The surviving Lakota fled, but U.S. cavalrymen pursued and killed many who were unarmed.
By the time it was over, more than 300 men, women, and children of the Lakota had been killed. For this 1890 offensive, the Army awarded twenty Medals of Honor, its highest commendation. Some of the citations on the medals awarded to the troopers, at Wounded Knee, state that they went in pursuit of Lakota who were trying to escape or hide. Another citation was for conspicuous bravery in rounding up and bringing to the skirmish line a stampeded pack mule In 2001, the National Congress of American Indians passed two resolutions condemning the awards and called on the U.S. government to rescind them. The site of the battlefield has been designated a National Historic Landmark.
The Wounded Knee Incident began on February 27, 1973, when approximately 200 Oglala Lakota and followers of the American Indian Movement (AIM) seized and occupied the town of Wounded Knee, South Dakota, on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. The protest followed the failure of an effort of the Oglala Civil Rights Organization (OSCRO) to impeach tribal president Richard Wilson, whom they accused of corruption and abuse of opponents. Additionally, protestors attacked the United States government's failure to fulfill treaties with Indian people and demanded the reopening of treaty negotiations.
Oglala and AIM activists controlled the town for 71 days while the United States Marshals Service, FBI agents, and other law enforcement agencies cordoned off the area. The activists chose the site of the 1890 Wounded Knee Massacre for its symbolic value. Both sides were armed and shooting was frequent. A Cherokee and an Oglala Lakota were killed by shootings in April 1973. Ray Robinson, a civil rights activist who joined the protesters, disappeared during the events and is believed to have been murdered. Due to damage to the houses, the small community was not reoccupied until the 1990s.
The occupation attracted wide media coverage, especially after the press accompanied two U.S. Senators from South Dakota to Wounded Knee. The events electrified American Indians, who were inspired by the sight of their people standing in defiance of the government which had so often failed them. Many Indian supporters traveled to Wounded Knee to join the protest. At the time there was widespread public sympathy for the goals of the occupation, as Americans were becoming more aware of longstanding issues of injustice related to American Indians. Afterward AIM leaders Dennis Banks and Russell Means were indicted on charges related to the events, but their 1974 case was dismissed by the federal court for prosecutorial misconduct, a decision upheld on appeal.
Wilson stayed in office and in 1974 was re-elected amid charges of intimidation, voter fraud, and other abuses. The rate of violence climbed on the reservation as conflict opened between political factions in the following three years; residents accused Wilson's private militia, Guardians of the Oglala Nation (GOONs), for much of it. More than 60 opponents of the tribal government died violently during those years, including Pedro Bissonette, director of the Oglala Sioux Civil Rights Organization (OSCRO).
Wounded Knee is today a census-designated place in Shannon County, South Dakota, United States. The population was 382 at the 2010 census. The town is named for the Wounded Knee Creek which runs through the region. The bones and heart of the Sioux chief Crazy Horse were reputedly buried along this creek by his family following his death in 1877. The town lies within the Pine Ridge Reservation, territory of the Oglala Lakota (Sioux). Today about 72.2% of families and 81.1% of the population lives below the poverty line, including 83.8% of those under age 18 and none of those aged 65 or over.
Tourist coming to see the historic site to today look at this a very poignant and thought provoking place. As you get surrounded by youths as you drive in, selling sage bundles or just begging. The cemetery is very sad but well worth the effort off route to see it. The town could be quite hard to find as it is not very well marked, only a couple signs hand painted by the native Americans. The roads in the area are in extremely bad condition, so bad that you might wonder if you should be there. If you come here with no expectations, you won't be disappointed. Remember that this is a sacred place and you are not allowed to remove anything. All in all a very sad place, the whole thing is a sad fact of American history and you might find yourself humbled in many ways.