Nearly two centuries before the trouble at Pine Ridge, South Dakota began, the Sioux tribes left their historical homelands at the headwaters of the Mississippi River and moved westward to the great plains of Nebraska and the Dakotas.
One reason for their departure was that their enemies, the Ojibwas, had obtained firearms from the French and thus made life uncomfortable for the Sioux.
Another reason for the move to the great plains was the abundance of buffalo discovered there. In the early 1700s, the Sioux acquired the horse and this gave them great mobility, especially for hunting and war-making activities and their territory extended from Minnesota to the Rocky Mountains, and from the Yellowstone River to the Platte River.
The Sioux were quick to see the value and potential of the hundreds of miles of open range available to them. They were proud and powerful warriors and maintained their mastery over the region. (Alexander Kelley)
In 1868, government policy was implemented that was designed to bring all Plains Indian tribes under direct control of the government in Washington. In April of that year, the Sioux signed a treaty which stated optimistically at its outset, “From this day forth, all wars between the parties of this agreement shall cease forever.”
The treaty required the Sioux to give up a large part of their land in return for a guarantee that the rest of their land (portions of South Dakota, Nebraska and Wyoming) would be “set apart for their absolute and undisturbed use and occupation.” The government abandoned three forts on the Bozeman Trail, but established Indian agencies and agents. (Alexander Kelley)
In December of 1890, approximately 350 to 375 Sioux men, women, and children under the leadership of Chief Big Foot journeyed from the Cheyenne River Indian Reservation to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation at the invitation of Chief Red Cloud to help make peace between the non-Indians and Indians.
The journey of Chief Big Foot and his band of Minneconjou Sioux occurred during the Ghost Dance Religion period when extreme hostility existed between Sioux Indians and non-Indians residing near the Sioux reservations, and the US Army assumed control of the Sioux reservations.
Chief Big Foot and his band were intercepted on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation at Porcupine Butte, surrendered unconditionally under a white flag of truce, and were escorted to Wounded Knee Creek, on the Lakota Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in the US state of South Dakota. (Congress)
However, Sitting Bull, “being in open rebellion against constituted authority, was defying the Government, and encouraging disaffection, made it necessary that he be arrested and removed from the reservation.”
At daybreak, a force of thirty-nine policemen and four volunteers (one of whom was Sitting Bull’s brother-in-law, ‘Gray Eagle’) was dispatched to the Standing Rock Reservation.
Sitting Bull accepted his arrest quietly at first, but then got stubborn and refused to accompany them. The policemen took him out of the house; but, getting outside, they found themselves completely surrounded by Sitting Bull’s followers, all armed and excited. (Eye witness account by McLaughlin, Indian Agent, 1891)
“While the troops were searching for arms among the Indians’ tepees at Wounded Knee, Dec. 29 (1890,) the Indians suddenly attacked them. The soldiers turned on them with machine guns and rifles, almost abandoning tactics in their wrath at the treachery of the savages.” (Daily Bulletin, January 9, 1891)
“The wounded Indians lying on the battle-field fought like fiends. They continued shooting until they were killed or their ammunition was exhausted. There were many single-handed ferocious combats between wounded soldiers and Indians.” (Daily Bulletin, January 9, 1891)
A few minutes later, the plain was covered with the dead and dying. More Indians had been killed there than in any fight for the thirty years preceding. (Alexander Kelley)
“The result was the killing of thirty men and three officers and about 160 Indians. The fight was a hot one and no mercy was shown on either side. It is now reported that the Sioux tribe numbering about 3,000 warriors has left the Agency and gone on the warpath, notwithstanding, a dreadful blizzard is and has been raging for some days past.” (Pacific Commercial Advertiser, January 9, 1891)
Historians regard the 1890 Wounded Knee Massacre as the last armed conflict between Indian warriors and the US Cavalry which brought to a close an era in the history of this country commonly referred to as the Indian wars period characterized by an official government policy of forcibly removing the Indian tribes and bands from the path of westward expansion and settlement through placement on reservations. (Congress)
As a time comparison (and not associated with Wounded Knee,) failing health for some months made it seem advisable that King Kalākaua should seek to regain it by a voyage to the more bracing climate of California, and inspired with this hope, he left his kingdom in November (1890.) The voyage and change of circumstances at first seemed to benefit him. (Privy Council)
“The United States steamer Charleston, with King Kalākaua, of Hawaii, on board, entered the harbor at 11 o’clock this morning. Colonel McFarlane, chamberlain to King Kalākaua, stated that the king visited California for the benefit of his health and eyesight, which is somewhat impaired.”
“The king would probably remain in California five or six weeks, and during that period would visit the southern part of the state, but would not go east. The king is accompanied only by Colonel McFarlane and a few servants.” (Los Angeles Herald, December 5, 1890)
On December 18, the Daily Alta California announced that local favorites from San Francisco and Oakland would be competing in the baseball game, which would be held December 20 at the Haight Street grounds, where the bleachers could seat 14,000 fans.
The king and his party arrived at 2:15 pm. The band played ‘Hawaii Ponoʻi’ and the game began. Despite a triple by Picked Nine right fielder Ebright, the All-Californians won 12-8. The king did not stay for the whole game. He was a sick man suffering from kidney disease. (San Jose Mercury News)
Then, the sad news …
“The announcement yesterday of the death of King Kalākaua fell like a clap of thunder from the skies. Although we all knew that he was not a well man when he left here and that he had in his system a most insidious disease …”
“… yet the reports of the decided improvement in his health from the voyage over and the bracing climate of California deceived us as to his frail hold on life.” (Pacific Commercial Advertiser, January 30, 1891)
“He passed away at exactly 2:35 pm of Tuesday, January 20, 1891 … Kalākaua I was buried with great state on February 15th, 1891, another guest in that mausoleum which is so fast filling with the mortal remains of Hawaiian royalty. His sister Liliʻuokalani reigns in his stead”. (Gowen)