It began 100 years ago with a scuffle after a gun was fired and ended a few moments later when the Hotchkiss guns of the U.S. Army 7th Cavalry decimated the Indian village of Wounded Knee. Some 300 Indians - mostly women and children - and 31 soldiers were killed.
On Saturday, Indians from the Oglala Sioux tribe and others will mark the centennial of the Wounded Knee massacre and press again for inclusion of the site, some 85 miles southeast of Rapid City, S.D., into National Park Service system as a National Park Site.The confrontation on Dec. 29, 1890 - generally termed a "massacre" by historians and Indians but referred to as a "battle" by the War Department, predecessor agency to the Department of Defense - was the last armed conflict in the 30-year effort by the Army to subdue the Plains Indians.
"The event remains one of the most controversial and emotional of the 400-year struggle between whites and Native Americans for the control of the land," according to the National Parks and Conservation Association, which is aiding the drive to have the site designated a National Park Site.
Not only was it the last armed conflict, the incident also marked the end of the Ghost Dance religious movement among the Lakota Sioux. That movement included a mystical belief in the return of the buffalo and an ancestral way of life.
The power and influence of the Ghost Dance movement spooked white settlers, the government and the Army. Fear of its power may have prompted the violence at Wounded Knee.
"The United States needs to admit that its soldiers were wrong at Wounded Knee when they killed and wounded unarmed men, women and children," Alex White Plume, a member of the Oglala Sioux executive committee, told Congress last September as it considered special status proposals for the 20 acres of land on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.
Commemoration of the massacre's centennial began Friday, when a group of Sioux riders arrived at Wounded Knee after retracing the flight from the cavalry of Chief Big Foot from Cherry Creek to Wounded Knee.
It was during the effort to disarm Big Foot's band that the gun discharged and the massacre began.
On Saturday, ceremonies will include a prayer service, a grand entry of the Big Foot riders, escorting descendants of survivors, into the Wounded Knee village and memorial reading of the names of the victims.
According to White Plume, 1990 will mark the end of 100 years of mourning by the descendents of the massacre and the release of the spirits of Chief Big Foot and the men, women and children who were killed.
"Black Elk said that the sacred hoop of the Lakota people was broken by the 1890 massacre," White Plume said.