Summary and Analysis
On the morning of December 29, 1890, Black Elk sees soldiers riding toward Wounded Knee Creek and, sometime later, hears shots being fired. He puts on his sacred shirt and rides out. About 20 more Indians join him as they ride toward Wounded Knee. There they see cavalry soldiers firing on women and children who are hiding in a gulch. They ride into the fight to try to save their relatives. Black Elk, armed only with his bow, charges a group of soldiers. They hold off the soldiers, but cannot force them into retreat. They see the aftermath of the massacre at Wounded Knee — how men, women, and children were killed trying to escape. Dog Chief tells Black Elk that that morning, soldiers took guns away from Big Foot's people, but Yellow Bird killed a soldier rather than surrender his gun. The soldiers killed Big Foot and there was pandemonium while the Indians tried to retrieve their guns and defend themselves. There were about 100 Indian warriors and 500 cavalry soldiers. Yellow Bird died in the battle. After the battle, a blizzard came up and covered the bodies.
The whites were worried that the presence of Big Foot would catalyze an Indian attack. It was the cavalry's intention to disarm the Indians at Wounded Knee and to ship the more troublesome Indians to Omaha by train. The disarmament proceeded peacefully among the older Indian men, but several young men, including Yellow Bird, refused to hand over their guns and began firing. The cavalry, under Colonel James Forsyth, was well prepared to use whatever force was needed and returned fire, but within five minutes, the Indians broke through cavalry lines. As the battle intensified, and Indian warriors followed women and children seeking shelter in a ravine, the cavalry turned its Hotchkiss guns (precursors of mounted machine guns) on the Indians with deadly effectiveness. Yellow Bird, sniping from a tent, was killed when soldiers set the tent on fire. A total of 153 Indians died in this battle, including Big Foot.