After Wounded Knee

After Wounded Knee

After Wounded Knee

After Wounded Knee

Synopsis

On a cold winter's morning more than a century ago, the U.S. Seventh Cavalry attacked and killed more than 260 Lakota men, women, and children at Wounded Knee Creek in South Dakota. In the aftermath, the broken, twisted bodies of the Lakota people were soon covered by a blanket of snow, as a blizzard swept through the countryside. A few days later, veteran army surgeon John Vance Lauderdale arrived for duty at the nearby Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. Shocked by what he encountered, he wrote numerous letters to his closest family members detailing the events, aftermath, and daily life on the Reservation under military occupation. He also treated the wounded, both Cavalry soldiers and Lakota civilians. What distinguishes After Wounded Knee from the large body of literature already available on the massacre is Lauderdale's frank appraisals of military life and a personal observation of the tragedy, untainted by self-serving reminiscence or embellished newspaper and political reports. His sense of frustration and outrage toward the military command, especially concerning the tactics used against the Lakota, is vividly apparent in this intimate view of Lauderdale's life. His correspondence provides new insight into a familiar subject and was written at the height of the cultural struggle between the U.S. and Lakota people. Jerry Green's careful editing of this substantial collection, part of the John Vance Lauderdale Papers in the Western Americana Collection in Yale University's Beinecke Library, clarifies Lauderdale's experiences at the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.

Excerpt

In March 1994 James M. McPherson came to town. The Pulitzer-Prize- winning historian and author of the grand Civil War narrative, Battle Cry of Freedom spoke one evening to a rapt Lincoln, Nebraska, audience of academics, history buffs, and students. The subject of Dr. McPherson's lecture was the motivations of the nineteenth-century warriors for the Blue and Gray, what they fought for and why (see his What They Fought For, 1861-1865, [Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1994]). Describing his research in progress, he detailed his methods and offered some initial conclusions while effortlessly illuminating the master historian's art and craft.

What struck this listener was the (seemingly) severe restriction that McPherson had placed on his data, the raw material from which he had constructed his argument. From the vast Civil War documentation--a body of work that America's Indian war studies can never challenge--he used only contemporary first-person accounts, the diaries of participants and their letters to intimates, accounts that largely were never meant for outside eyes. This historian, therefore, had factored out the self-serving reminiscence, the grossly embellished newspaper story, and the politic official report. What remained for his examination was the work of a host of authors exposing their innermost thoughts, beliefs, prejudices, and motivations, a literature that possessed a remarkable potential for creating new insights on a familiar subject.

Move, if you will, from the Civil War army to its scaled-down descendant of the 1890s, to a cultural struggle between the United States and the Lakota people, and to a letter writer who initially states, "I shall not be able to give . . .

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