Voices of Wounded Knee

Voices of Wounded Knee

Voices of Wounded Knee

Voices of Wounded Knee


In Voices of Wounded Knee, William S. E. Coleman brings together for the first time all the available sources-Lakota, military, and civilian-on the massacre of 29 December 1890. He recreates the Ghost Dance in detail and shows how it related to the events leading up to the massacre. Using accounts of participants and observers, Coleman reconstructs the massacre moment by moment. He places contradictory accounts in direct juxtaposition, allowing the reader to decide who was telling the truth.


In the summer of 1971 my sons and I drove west in search of information regarding William F. Cody (Buffalo Bill) and his career as a frontiersman and showman. At that time people were alive who had known Cody. We would interview an old-timer and be told of another a few miles ahead — and in this manner we moved across Nebraska and north to South Dakota. I did not expect that search to lead me to this project, one that would span more than twenty-five years of my life.

Several informants told us that Ben Black Elk, an Oglala Lakota who worked near Mount Rushmore, had memories of his father's accounts of a European tour with Cody in 1889 and 1890. This excited us since he was the son of Black Elk, the author of Black Elk Speaks, a book that had inspired a generation of readers.

It was early evening when my sons and I drove into the glade where the Lakotas camped while they worked around Mount Rushmore. The women and children of Black Elk's family lived in a simple wooden house, but the old chief and his son slept in a nearby tent. By the time we arrived, Black Elk had returned to camp after a day spent posing with tourists beneath the massive sculptures of former presidents.

A teenage grandchild directed me to the simple canvas tent. Sitting in it, chatting with his son, was the wizened but still vital Indian chief. Black Elk was a striking man. His hair was still black, his body lean and muscular; but his face, dominated by a prominent nose, was deeply wrinkled.

He immediately turned his attention to my two sons: Wim, seventeen, and Eric, twelve, and greeted them warmly. I knew enough about the Lakotas to understand that they believe that young boys, unlike white men, could be trusted and, more importantly, educated. They had not yet been corrupted by their white elders. I sensed that I was merely an escort.

The three of us were invited into Black Elk's tent. Only two bare mattresses were inside. With Black Elk's permission, Wim set up our tape recorder. Before I could ask a question, Black Elk began to speak, a severe cough punctuating his words. At first he merely recited things he had said many times before, but his eloquence grew as he talked. As he spoke, I interjected questions, but his answers were directed to my sons. He was addressing the future in the hope that the young would create a better world.

“Well, my name is Black Elk, ” he began, “Benjamin Black Elk. I'm the son of Black Elk. You've probably heard of him or probably read his . . .

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