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U. S. Senate oversight hearing to establish memorial at historic site of Wounded Knee

Contemporary photograph of Wounded Knee Massacre victims laying in the snow.

Contemporary photograph of Wounded Knee Massacre victims laying in the snow.

Editor’s Note: The following are excerpts from testimony presented at the Sept. 25, 1990 hearing on the proposal to establish a memorial at historic site of Wounded Knee. The oversight hearing was held by the Senate Select Committee on Indian Affairs in Washington, D.C.

Dewey Beard (Mniconjou) with his wife, Alice Lone Bear-Beard (Oglala) and their granddaughter, Celene Marie Not Help Him (Oglala/ Mniconjou) - 1920

Dewey Beard (Mniconjou) with his wife, Alice Lone Bear-Beard (Oglala) and their granddaughter, Celene Marie Not Help Him (Oglala/ Mniconjou) – 1920

Celene Not Help Him, Wounded Knee Survivor Descendant

I am Celene (Beard) Not Help Him. I am 62 years old. I was born and raised on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation and still live there. I was raised by Dewey and Alice Beard after the death of my father Webster Sherman Beard in February 1929. I remember these things [the massacre], my grandfather told me to listen close and remember so that I can tell these things someday. I remember what he said.

My grandfather Dewey Beard, also known as Iron Hail, Wasee Maza. He was the Last Survivor of Little Bighorn and also of the 1890 Wounded Knee Massacre. At Wounded Knee he lost his father, mother, two brothers, a sister, his mother, his wife and son. HE and his four brothers, Joseph Horn Cloud, Daniel White Lance, Frank Horn Cloud and Earnest Horn Cloud, survived.

My grandfather was 27 years old at the time of the Wounded Knee Massacre. His father, Horn Cloud, was one of the six to be killed with Chief Big Foot. His mother Brown Leaf Woman was shot from the back into the stomach and killed. His sister, Pretty Enemy, was among the ones shot in the ravine. His two brothers, William and Sherman, his wife, Wears Eagle, were shot in the breast, and his son, Wet Feet, was found still alive, nursing on his dead mother – he died later.

I have heard personally of the accounts of the killing of Sitting Bull, the trip to Wounded Knee, the massacre and burial, from my Grandfather Dewey who died in 1956 at the age of 98.

This is what I remember. The night before there was several tipis. There was a man named Spotted Thunder, also known as Blindman. His wife was really active. She even let go on the warpath one time. She’s the one who told a lot of these things. That evening, they set up their tipis. He hung around to us help his wife and children. HE told them to be careful because they were surrounded by the soldiers. They had rations given to them from the Big Foot Band. He told them to go to bed early because they had to go to Pine Ridge to have a meeting with Red Cloud the next day.

Someone tapped on the tipi door. He told them to come in and an Indian soldier [scout] peeked in. “After you get done, I want you to go to where Big Foot is staying. They have to put up an army tent for him and his wife.” He said that was what he was going to do. He got his coat on and went out, going towards where Big Foot’s tent was.

On the way a white soldier started to push him around really mean. He jerked him and pushed him. Pretty soon he pushed him on his head. He turned around and looked at the white soldier. Then remembered what Big Foot had told him, “If I’m all right and able to run, remember that I’m sick.”

And, when Big Foot told Grandpa Horn Cloud that, he said that he could barely hear him. Big Foot was sick with pneumonia and had lost a lot of weight when he came through what is now known as Big Foot Pass. When he passed the Badlands, he started to have a hemmorrage. He lost a lot of blood. He was really getting cold and sick. He said his feet were burning up, they were getting really hot. So, they wrapped him up to keep warm. When they got there he was really sick. He told them not to start any trouble. He said that there were lots of children and lots of old people, there were more women than men, and he was sick. So he asked that they be humble. “Humble yourself,” he said.

He remembered that as he was walking. He [the white soldier] said something to him in English, but he didn’t understand and asked one of the Indian soldiers what he said. “Don’t pay any attention to him,” the Indian soldier said. So, he went into Big Foot’s tent and Big Foot was glad to see him. He said, “Good you came over. That’s good, come and sit down.” Already Iron Eyes, Spotted Thunder and a few others were there. There were six of them all together and they started talking. They said that the white soldier that was pushing him around went the other way when he went into the tent where Big Foot was.

Just then, my grandfather’s little brother, Joe Horn Cloud Jr., came in. Grandmother Big Foot told Joe “Can you go and tell one of the soldiers to fix along the bottom of the tent,” she said. “It’s really cold they’ve got a really big stove in here, but I think it [the tent] is about two feet off the ground. It’s really nice and hot, but we’re sitting on the ground and it’s really cold there. Your Grandpa’s cold.

Joe Horn Cloud Jr. went outside and got two soldiers to fix the tent. HE went back inside the tent and started talking. He said that there were four soldiers standing in back of us and two more on each side of the tent. Pretty soon they [the soldiers] got tired and kneeled down and sat down. When we talked Indian, the Indian soldiers talked to the white soldiers – maybe they were telling what we said.”

They said, “They wouldn’t let us go to sleep. All night they tortured us by gunpoint. They asked us who all was in the Battle of Little Big Horn, the battle with Custer.” He said, “We can’t tell anything – so we told them we don’t know. They were saying things to us in English, but we can’t tell them what we don’t know. Besides, the interpreter is not that good, he said. “Maybe he tells them something else or is afraid to say anything.”

He said, “The day before we were tired and cold and hungry. When we ran away from Standing Rock, after they killed Sitting Bull, we don’t eat that good and we don’t sleep that good.”

“We made a short stop at Red Water Creek. That’s where we used to live. Right where that sweat lodge is now, that’s where Big Foot and his family stopped. They built a fire to make some tea for him. He drank a little bit, but he said he didn’t feel like eating, he was cold and really sick.

They started out and caped at Red Elk Springs. That’s where they spent the overnight.

“By noon we packed everything up and headed out for Pine Ridge. We got to Porcupine Butte.

The first ones go in, down in the middle where Big Foot is going. We are the last because there are some other people coming slowly and because when we went fast, he [Big Foot] would start hemorrhaging. Just then, two of the scouts came back and said “Alert” or get ready for trouble because we spotted some horseback riders. We watched them and it looked like there was going to be a bunch of them and they are coming this way. There were white soldiers and Indians. We stopped just where we are, I don’t know what we are waiting for, but we just stopped.

“A white man came over and talked to Big Foot. “Are you Big Foot? I’m looking for Big Foot.” Big Foot said, “That’s me. What is it?”

“We’re looking for you,” said the soldier. ‘Can you talk?’ They asked him, ‘When we get to Pine Ridge we want you to put down 25 guns.’ He [Big Foot] said that he could do that. All the soldiers came down around them and, then, there were two wagons that came alone. It looked like they were really heavy, he said. Some more came and just before we got to Wounded Knee we got the news that there were Hotchkiss guns all around them, two on each side. They surrendered and the soldiers took them to Wounded Knee.

“The soldier said that they were going to camp there overnight. He said that ‘After you put up your tipi and get ready, we will give you rations.’ Since Big Foot was really sick, he agreed to stop there for the night. So, they all got their rations and built fires and were cooking. After they ate, that’s when they told Grandpa Horn Cloud to go to Big Foot’s tent. They sat with him all night. They were torturing us and made us sit up all night. We were cold and tired and half starved. But we have to do what we’re told.”

“One of the six men sitting there almost went to sleep, that’s when the soldier poked him really hard with his gun barrel. We all looked and we didn’t like how they treated him, but he said remember they told us not to get mad or start trouble. ‘It’s me that almost went to sleep,’ he said. So, he told us not to sleep, after a while everything was okay. That morning they told him to go back to his tipi, go eat breakfast and come right back. So we all went back to our tipis and when we got there the wives had already cooked breakfast and the children were already eating.

“His mother-in-law dished up a bowl of soup and handed it to him. They were eating when someone came over and tapped on the door. It was a woman, she said, ‘Did you know there were two soldiers in back of your tipi. Ever since your husband got out of that Big Foot tipi they’ve followed him. They are doing the same thing with my husband. Looks like something’s wrong with her.’ He finished eating and told them he was going back to Big Foot’s tent. Two soldiers were following him, one white and one Indian. When he went into Big Foot’s tipi, they went the other way.

“After awhile they [the soldiers] called for a meeting. They said, “All of you get out and go to the center and bring your gins. Do it fast so that when you get done, when the meetings over, we’ll head out to Pine Ridge like we said we were going to.”

Joe Horn Cloud Jr. was going back and forth. He said he went to talk to his grandfather and was coming back when one of the white soldiers said, “Little boy, you’re too little to be out here. Go back to your tipi and stay with your mother. All of the soldiers have hot stomachs.”

He went to grandfather Horn Cloud to tell him what the soldier said.

Then a guy came along, his name was Black Hawk. He can’t hear good but he could talk. He’s not mute. He pointed out at his gun in the area. He said, “Look at this. Look at this gun. This is my gun. Ever since I got it, I don’t shoot two-legged. I only shoot four-legged to feed my family. But today, they told me to put it on the center. I hate to part with it. It’s the only way I feed my family.

“There was a soldier come on one side of me and one on the other. ‘They tried to take the gun away…’” Then, he said down where the soldiers were staying around, a voice came from there and that flag they have, it went down and they started firing. It was dark, but you could see the fire go through. ‘While the firing was going’, Grandfather stood up and run to where his father and Big Foot was. He said they were the first ones to die. One leaned sideways, the other had his face down. He saw it was no use and he went back to the tipi and ran to his wife. There was no one there at the camp. His horses were running around. Some were still tied down and were pulling hard. He was standing there when he saw a man. He was trying to say brother-in-law. He was shot and his jaw was hanging. He was trying to talk but his tongue was hanging too. He was trying to get help for his wife. He helped him to take her to the dry creek towards the west. He took her there but said he didn’t know what happened to her. He kept running.

Alex White Plume, fifth member of the executive committee of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, chairman of the OST Parks and Recreation Committee and a member of the Sitanka Wokiksuye (Big Foot Memorial Ride) Manderson, S.D.

Sitanka Wokiksuye was established in 1985 for two purposes: (1) to build character in our membership by making them aware of the hardships our people had to endure in the 1800s, and (2) to bring the descendents of the 1890 massacre victims out of 100 years of mourning.

For the past four years, members of Sitanka Wokiksuye have been retracing Chief Big Foot’s flight from Cherry Creek to Wounded Knee. They arrived at Wounded Knee on Dec. 28 of each year for special prayers. This enables them to experience the hardships our people had to endure a century ago and makes them better appreciate the meaning of life as an Indian person. 1990 will mark the fifth year we have retraced Big Foot’s trail.

On Dec. 29, the riders will honor the descendants of the 1890 massacre victims. This will mark the end of 100 years of mourning. The spirits of Chief Big Foot and the men, women and children killed by the Seventh Cavalry will be released, in accordance with sacred Lakota ceremonies. The “wiping of tears” will take place when the spirits are released.

Black Elk said that the sacred hoop of the Lakota people was broken by the 1890 massacre. He prophesied that the Seventh Generation of Lakota would mend the hoop and rebuild the nation. We are the seventh generation and we are making his prophecies come true.

The Lakota people are a proud people who believe in maintaining the traditional ways. We believe in our language and our religion. We believe in our people. We have survived the North American Continent for thousands of years, and we plan to be here forever.

The United States needs to admit that its soldiers were wrong at Wounded Knee when they killed and wounded unarmed men, women and children. The United States needs to make a meaningful apology for the 1890 Massacre and establish a national monument and memorial at the mass grave site. The apology can be sincere when it is accompanied by something that will bring lasting value to the Sioux people.

Editor’s Note: On Sept. 25, 1990 a hearing on the proposal to establish a memorial at the historic site of Wounded Knee commemorating the 1890 Wounded Knee Massacre was held. The oversight hearing was held by the Senate Select Committee in Indian Affairs in Washington, D.C. It is apparent that there are some uninformed individuals who do not know the history of the many efforts made by the Wounded Knee descendants or of the Oglala Sioux Tribe to establish a memorial at Wounded Knee. We recently published a list of traditional elders, including Chief Fools Crow, who traveled to Washington in 1976 in an effort to meet with President Gerald Ford and to secure funds to build a memorial, museum and hotel at Wounded Knee.

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