The Wounded Knee Massacre occurred on December 29, 1890, near Wounded Knee Creek on the Lakota Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, USA.

In the years prior to this the U.S. Government had continued to take the lands of the Lakota.  The once large bison herds (a staple of the Sioux diet) had been decreased significantly.  Treaty promises to feed, house, clothe and protect reservation lands from encroachment by settlers and gold miners were either not implemented or simply cancelled by new legislation.  As a result there was unrest on the reservations.  It was during this time that news spread among the reservations of a Paiute prophet named Wovoka, founder of the Ghost Dance religion.  He had a vision that the Christian Messiah, Jesus Christ, had returned to earth in the form of a Native American.  The Messiah would raise all the Native American believers above the earth.  During this time the white man would disappear from Native lands, the buffalo herds and all the other animals would return in abundance, and the ghosts of their ancestors would return to earth. Performing The Ghost Dance was a way to invoke this and so it spread among most native tribes, but it was a harmless and sadly futile ritual, and seen as such but local settlers.  But some with questionable agendas, for example land-grabbers and city newspapers back east wanting to sell copy, warned it was a precursor to mass revolution by the tribes, despite it being nothing of the sort.  This was the febrile atmosphere surrounding events leading up to the Wounded Knee encounter.

On December 28th a detachment of the U.S. 7th Cavalry Regiment intercepted Spotted Elk's band of Miniconjou Lakota and some Hunkpapa Lakota near Porcupine Butte and escorted them five miles westward to Wounded Knee Creek where they made camp.  The remainder of the 7th Cavalry Regiment arrived and surrounded the encampment supported by four 1.65” (42mm) Hotchkiss guns.

On the morning of December 29, the troops went into the camp to disarm the Lakota.  This was unnecessary; they posed no threat, were tired and hungry and needed their weapons to eke out an existence.  They tried to give up only old or broken rifles but the Army insisted on continuous, humiliating searches.  A medicine man named Yellow Bird began to perform the Ghost Dance, reiterating his assertion to the Lakota that the ghost shirts were bulletproof.  Tension mounted.

One version of events claims that during the process a deaf tribesman named Black Coyote was reluctant to give up his rifle, claiming he had paid a lot for it.  A scuffle over Black Coyote's rifle escalated and a shot was fired which resulted in the 7th Cavalry's opening fire wildly from all sides, killing men, women, and children, as well as some of their own fellow troopers.  Those few Lakota warriors who still had weapons began shooting back at the attacking troopers, who quickly suppressed the Lakota fire.  The Hotchkiss guns, which could fire one exploding shell a second, were used indiscriminately.  The surviving Lakota fled, but U.S. cavalrymen pursued and killed many who were unarmed.

By the time it was over, at least 150 men, women, and children of the Lakota Sioux had been killed and 51 wounded (4 men, 47 women and children, some of whom died later); some estimates placed the number of dead at 300.  Twenty-five troopers also died, and 39 were wounded (6 of the wounded would later die).  It is believed that many were the victims of friendly fire, as the shooting took place at close range in chaotic conditions. Bizarrely, at least twenty troopers were awarded the coveted Medal of Honour.  in contrast, only three Medals of Honour were awarded among the 64,000 South Dakotans who fought for four years of World War II.

Most of the soldiers were drunk from the night before and some say the 7th Cavalry were looking for ‘payback’ for their humiliation at The Little Big Horn some fourteen years before.  Clearly, the officers totally lost control of their men that morning and to divert criticism before subsequent enquiries they claimed the massacre was in fact a battle although the encounter has gone down in history as an infamous and needless massacre.

Technical notes:

No MIDI this time; I  used all audio backing tracks as the basis for the song, from both Band In A Box’s ‘RealTracks’ and Drums On Demand’s ‘My Co-Writer’.   I did all lead guitar and vocal parts.  I used my trusty Epiphone Flying V for the lead guitar parts and recorded them into Sonar X2 via Native Instruments’ Guitar Rig 5 plugin.

For the vocals I used my usual old RodeNT2 mic, and in Sonar I treated the vocal track with FabFilter’s ProC compressor and ProE equaliser and some reverb from epicVerb, a free plugin.

The project was mixed in Sonar X2 and the final mix was mastered using TRacks3 Deluxe software with a touch more limiting provided by Fabfilter’s ProL limiter.