The Cemetery at Wounded Knee
Picture credit: Napa
So far everything that has been posted on this new Blog has been about people, today it is about a place.
What is the old adage, “write what you know?”
Of all of the places that I have been in my travels in search of Culture, only one has changed my life forever, and that place is Wounded Knee.
On my first trip to Pine Ridge many years ago, Wounded Knee was my destination.
After reading and studying about it for a year, it was time to meet it face to face.
I could not wait to see for myself what it was really like there.
So many feelings rush back now as I remember that first time there.
I drove straight to the Wounded Knee cemetery outside of Pine Ridge and walked around for a bit looking at the grave sites, then turned and started down the hill back towards my Jeep.
Just as I got to the dirt road, a hand was on my shoulder.
I turned and the woman smiled at me and said, ” I have prayed for you to come.”
OK, I was more than a little startled, but not afraid.
As we walked towards my car she said , “will you come to my house, I have something for you?”
She lives/lived directly across from the cemetery, so it was not far.
When we got to her house, she went inside and came back in a few minutes with some papers.
She handed them to me and said, “will you take these with you and show them to others?”
I agreed, there was no hesitation.
It may or may not have come as a shock to her when I told her later that I had a business at UCLA and access to thousands of people every day.
When she heard this, she was delighted.
The papers were actually Petitions to stop the sale of some of the land in the Wounded Knee area.
I knew nothing at that time about the history of all of this, but told her that I would read them when I got home and then ask others to sign if they chose to do so.
This area was/ is so deep and rich in Lakota history and the very thought of this happening, gave me cold chills.
If you have had little or no Native History, the event that happened here was called the Wounded Knee Massacre.
Where she and I stood that day was directly in front of the gully where on December 29, 1890, about 300 (the numbers seem to change with each accounting) innocent men, women and children were murdered by the US 7th Cavalry, using a vicious new weapon called a Hotchkiss or Gatling gun, which was somewhat similar to a present day machine gun.
Many of them were shot in the back, as they ran away.
The US Government had been struggling for years to try to get all of the Lakota to come into the Reservation at Pine Ridge, but many still were refusing.
So, what happened that day was a result of their misguided idea of a final attempt to get them under control.
Later after she went back into her house and before I got ready to leave, I stood there alone for a long time, then walked slowly up the gully, which was several hundred feet long.
I closed my eyes and could feel the sorrow, the pain, of those victims so long ago.
The whole area near the gully is charged with a distinct energy, the mood of it is unmistakably cold and sad.
Many books have been written about this tragic event, one of the best I believe, is Dee Brown’s, “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee.”
Not far away, stands a sign acknowledging Crazy Horse and ” the knee.”
This is a place of tremendous cultural and historical importance to all Lakota people.
And on that hot South Dakota summer day, this place and this woman changed my life forever.
She stood in that hot sun next to my car for hours, pouring her heart out to me about the things that were happening on Pine Ridge every day.
While we talked, a car pulled into her yard and a man got out and asked me if this woman was harassing me.
I gave him a cold look and said, no, she was a friend of mine.
He looked down at my California license plate, smirked and then drove away.
She said that he was one of the “GOON Squad ” who terrorized all those who opposed them.
She and this place made such an impression on me, that as soon as I got back to California I created a website dedicated to the Lakota people and it has been a source of pride for me for more than 15 years.
Students and teachers all over the world have used it and found it of value.
But it wasn’t me, it was the memory of her and Wounded Knee that built it.
I will not mention her name to protect her, but we communicated by mail and phone for years after that.
I took her petition back to UCLA and hundreds of students, faculty and visitors on the campus eagerly signed it.
In the end, it was all for nothing, as the area has now been once again, put up for sale.
For now, Wounded Knee, the cemetery, the church, the gully and the sacred, bitter memories remain undisturbed and basically intact, but who will take over this place of Lakota History and when, is yet to be determined.
This story has been very well covered in the media, but here are two of the best places to learn more: