A hundred years later, they're still fighting the battle of Wounded Knee - in Congress.
In October, Congress passed a resolution expressing the government's "deep regret" for the bloodshed that ended the Indian wars on Dec. 29, 1890. Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, said the resolution amounted to an official apology.But the word "apology" was stricken from the draft that the descendants wanted passed, and Congress did not act on accompanying demands for reparations and a national monument.
"We were promised things and then the promises never materialized," said Mario Gonzalez, a lawyer for the Wounded Knee Survivors Association, which has 70 to 80 members.
Members of South Dakota's congressional delegation say they'll pursue compensation and a monument next year, and the Bush administration has embraced the idea of a monument.
The tangled politics and historical disputes that still surround the events of 100 years ago surfaced when frustrated descendants bitterly attacked the delegation's two Democrats.
Sen. Tom Daschle and Rep. Tim Johnson are "right-wing Indian haters at heart," said Gonzalez.
He called Daschle the "David Duke of the North," referring to the former Ku Klux Klan leader who ran for U.S. Senate from Louisiana.
"There's a real macho cowboy attitude out there," said Suzan Harjo, a lobbyist for Indian causes in Washington. "If the Congress of the United States had said, `We apologized,' . . . I don't think that would have meant the end of the republic as we know it."
Daschle said he intended to "work doubly hard this next Congress to see if we can obtain the necessary funds for a memorial. That to me is critical."
The delegation also hopes to win compensation in the form of tribal health, education, housing and job benefits, he said.
"That would . . . lead to the greatest reversal of many of the things that have happened in the last 100 years," Daschle said.
A Bush administration official called Wounded Knee a massacre.
"Because of the deaths of women and children and non-combatants and unarmed men, it is a massacre. It is not an incident that should pass on December 29 without recognition on part of the government," said Knute Knudson, a former South Dakotan who is deputy chief of staff for the U.S. Interior Department.
Between 150 and 400 Sioux, depending on the historical account, were killed by U.S. Army cavalry troops at Wounded Knee on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in southwestern South Dakota.
The descendants wanted Congress to declare the site a national monument, which would make it a part of the National Park Service, and pay for the estimated $20,000 in property that was taken from the victims, plus interest.
The congressional delegation, however, was divided on the requests, no committee hearing was held until late September, and money for a park service study wasn't requested until October, when it was too late.
South Dakotans have widely differing opinions, Johnson said. Some wholeheartedly support the Indians' request; others say Indians were to blame for the killings.
The survivors association initially refused to accept the resolution as an apology but reversed itself after Inouye promised to pursue the other requests next year.
"I would sincerely hope that the Wounded Knee Survivors Association would reconsider accepting (the resolution) as the fulfillment of a well-deserved apology from the United States government," Inouye wrote.
The Interior Department's official position is that fewer people were killed than descendants claim. But the department wants to do a year-long study and plans to ask Congress for the money next year, Knudson said.