It’s a sad story known well. In dead of winter at Wounded Knee Creek in 1890, U.S. soldiers with the Seventh Cavalry Regiment gunned...

It’s a sad story known well. In dead of winter at Wounded Knee Creek in 1890, U.S. soldiers with the Seventh Cavalry Regiment gunned down over two hundred Lakota men, women, and children. Their crime? Taking part in the Ghost Dance ritual. What happened afterwards is a story told less often. David W. Grua, historian and editor with the Joseph Smith Papers project, tells about the competing memory and counter-memory of Wounded Knee as the U.S. Army first shaped the narrative, and later, Lakotas attempted to have their side of the story heard. In his Robert M. Utley Prize winning book, Surviving Wounded Knee: The Lakotas and the Politics of Memory (Oxford University Press, 2016), Grua argues that race, official memory, and public memorialization served the purposes of white supremacy on the northern Great Plains throughout much of the early twentieth century. Official army reports as well as physical memorialization at the massacre site spun a narrative of Indian savagery and white innocence that helped make the case for the twenty Medals of Honor awarded to soldiers who took part in the bloodshed. The truth was, of course, far more complicated, as Lakota activists like Joseph Horn Cloud would prove in an effort to gain restitution and justice from the American government. Surviving Wounded Knee is an important story about what happens to a massacre site once the smoke clears, and is a testament to the power of public history.


Stephen Hausmann is a doctoral candidate at Temple University and Visiting Instructor of history at the University of Pittsburgh. He is currently writing his dissertation, a history of race and the environment in the Black Hills and surrounding northern plains region of South Dakota, Wyoming, and Montana.

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