On December 15, 1890 Tatanka Iyotanka (Sitting Bull) was shot to death by tribal police officers Red Tomahawk and Bull Head. Many of his followers fled to seek refuge with his half-brother, Si Tanka (Big Foot). Because Big Foot had been affiliated with the new religious formation known as the Ghost Dance, and fearing arrest and reprisals, Big Foot set out for Pine Ridge after an invitation from Chief Red Cloud to join him there and assist him in finding a path to peace.
Big Foot’s followers numbered around 300 and fled to Pine Ridge under a white flag of peace. They had no intention of fighting and in fact their intentions were just the opposite; all they wanted was to find a place of peace.
On December 28 they were intercepted by the 7th Cavalry, the same branch of the U. S. Army that was headed by George Armstrong Custer in 1876 at the Little Bighorn. Big Foot’s band was pushed to make an encampment at Wounded Knee creek. They were stripped of their weapons.
The next morning, December 29, while forced to line up for further searches a weapon discharged and the massacre at Wounded Knee began. Without weapons, the Lakota warriors shouted to the women and children to flee and they fought the soldiers with their bare hands.
Big Foot was shot to death while lying in his tent suffering from pneumonia.
American Horse, a prominent Lakota leader said, “There was a woman with an infant in her arms who was killed as she almost touched the flag of truce … A mother was shot down with her infant; the child not knowing its mother was dead, was still nursing. The women as they were fleeing with their babies were killed together, shot right through and after most all of them had been killed a cry was made that all those who were not killed or wounded should come forth and they would be safe. Little boys came out of their places of refuge, and as soon as they came in sight a number of soldiers surrounded them and butchered them.”
More than 20 Medals of Honor were given to the soldiers involved in this pitiless massacre. To the Lakota people, even to this day, December 29, 1890 is a “Day that will live in infamy.”