“American history is longer, larger, more various, more beautiful, and more terrible than anything anyone has ever said about it.” James Baldwin
“Almost thirty years after the hanging of the Dakota, in December 1890, the US Cavalry opened fire on a camp of nearly three hundred Lakota ghost dancers near Wounded Knee Creek on the Pine Ridge Reservation of South Dakota. The fully armed US Cavalry came to one of these camps with a Hotchkiss gun, a cannon with a rotating barrel, and the intention of disarming the Lakota. One Lakota man refused to give up his rifle, and according to some witnesses, the rifle went off when he was grabbed by soldiers. The US Cavalry opened fire. At least 150 Lakota were killed and fifty wounded, including women and children. Because of a blizzard, it would be three days before the dead were buried. Twenty US soldiers were later awarded the Medal of Honor. . . . The Ghost Dancers were . . . seeking meaning. The people had experienced so much loss, it’s impossible to imagine how devastated they were. Centuries of genocide and sickness. Even if General Amherst wasn’t successful with his smallpox blankets, he was willing to try, and as a whole settlers were willing to exploit something they didn’t fully understand. There is no wilderness, Patrick Wolfe writes, only depopulated spaces. So the people danced. They danced to bring visions and bring about a vision: restore the land to its former existence and rid themselves of these white men who brought only hardship and grief. They danced and the government felt this to be a threat. An existential threat perhaps, people who weren’t properly grateful for everything that the Great White Father was doing for them. People who weren’t properly submissive or accepting or willing to assimilate and vanish so that settlers could just take the land and wouldn’t have to steal it. People who wouldn’t just die and needed to be killed.” Patty Krawec
Moving From the Head to the Heart
*When you think of North America before white settlers came, do you think of wilderness?
*Can you explain why U.S. Calvary members would have received the Medal of Honor for what they did at Wounded Knee?
*Can you imagine why the “ghost dancers” would have been seeking meaning for all that had happened to them and their people? What would you say was that meaning?
God in heaven, may we embrace both the beauty and terror of our history, wherever we live.
For More: Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown.
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