In 1890 in South Dakota, there were widespread fears among the white population that the Sioux were going to stage an uprising. A drought and insufficient government rations had led many Native Americans to the brink of starvation, and some had turned to the Ghost Dance religion, a revivalist faith that many whites interpreted as warlike.
The U.S. military tried to relocate the local Sioux to the Pine Ridge Reservation but one band refused to go and fled in the middle of the night. They were eventually tracked down to Wounded Knee Creek. On December 29, the soldiers tried to disarm them. One Sioux refused to give up his gun. A soldier tried to grab it and it went off. The nervous whites then fired into the crowd.
In the ensuing battle 25 U.S. soldiers were killed, but the death toll among the Sioux was far higher. It’s unclear exactly how many were killed but estimates vary from 250 to 300, with at least half of them being women and children who hadn’t resisted. One mass grave, shown here, was used to bury 146 bodies.
Ever since that bloody day, the massacre site has been of deep significance to the Sioux and the Native American community in general. Little has been built there, however, and now a 40-acre plot that’s owned by someone outside the tribe is up for sale.
Some Sioux are calling on President Obama to make the land, already a National Historic Landmark, a National Monument, a status that would give it more federal funding and protection.
The landowner says that he has tried to sell the land to the tribe but was rebuffed. He’s giving the tribe until May 1 to come up with the $3.9 million price tag before he puts it on the open market. Sioux leaders say the Pine Ridge Reservation, one of the poorest regions in the country, has little money to spare and that the asking price is far above market price.
[Photo courtesy Library of Congress]