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Disaster at Wounded Knee

Such violent conflicts were common throughout many territories, and it was not long before the last official military action against Native Americans took place on December 29, 1890. Government officials banned a growing religion known as the Ghost Dance on a South Dakota reservation that month.

As part of the crackdown against the Ghost Dance, the army arrested Chief Big Foot and his Lakota tribesmen and confined them to a camp near Wounded Knee Creek. The day after the arrest, the military attempted to recover the prisoner’s weapons. A gun was accidentally discharged and soldiers opened fire. When the shooting stopped, more than 300 Lakota Indians were dead.

The massacre exemplified a culture at war with the Native Americans on various fronts. Books such as Recollections of a Virginian in the Mexican, Indian, and Civil Wars (1894) describes the physical and psychological warfare involved in fighting Native Americans in the territories:

He told me he hanged all of his prisoners, because the Indians had a great and superstitious horror of hanging; for they believe that no man's soul will be received into the happy hunting grounds that does not pass through the throat, which is impossible when that route is closed by a rope; it must seek another road of exit, and all such souls are rejected at the gates of Paradise. He said a fine moral effect was produced upon the Indians by this method of execution.


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