In an attempt to repress a religious movement, US soldiers slaughtered hundreds of Lakota men, women, and children in 1890. Ironically, they were awarded medals of distinction for their actions. But how many of them received the most prestigious military honor?
The United States Army awarded 20 Medals of Honor to soldiers for their actions during the Wounded Knee Massacre. Unarmed women and children were among those slain by US troops during the massacre.
What Happened During the Wounded Knee Massacre?
In January 1891, a group of United States Army men marched by their commander for the last inspection. Even though they were in a windswept, seemingly empty South Dakota valley, it was a festive event. Company after company paraded by, only their general and tiny clusters of the civilians they had lately subdued observable.
A few weeks before, 500 of these marching warriors slaughtered at least 300 Lakota men, women, and children. Twenty troops would shortly be awarded the Medal of Honor, the highest and most prestigious military honor, for their conduct at Wounded Knee.
More than a century later, legislators and activists are urging President Joe Biden to remove the medals granted to the soldiers who took part in the atrocities. Wounded Knee, once celebrated as a victory over an implacable foe, is now regarded as an outright massacre. (Source: National Geographic)
Was it a Battle or Massacre?
People began to argue about interpreting what happened at Wounded Knee as soon as word spread. Following the massacre, Forsyth was dismissed from command. His acts were scrutinized, but he defended them and was immediately reinstated. The gathering of troops in the Dakotas was depicted as a necessary struggle in American publications, while local white settlers praised it as a victory over a warlike tribe.
Meanwhile, Lakota and other Native Americans viewed it as a message that the US administration would go to any length to exterminate them. I had no idea how much was lost at the time. The hoop of the nation is broken and scattered. There is no longer a center, and the sacred tree has died.Black Elk, Lakota Medicine Man, Massacre Survivor
It would be the last large skirmish in a century of armed conflict between Native Americans and American troops. (Source: National Geographic)
Should the Medals Of Honor Be Taken Back?
The Army awarded 20 Medals of Honor to soldiers who participated in the crime in 1891.
As historians probed more into the catastrophe’s events, public perception of it altered over time. Dee Brown’s 1970 account of how white Americans’ acts along the frontier affected Native Americans, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, sold millions of copies and made Wounded Knee a national name.
And as part of the more extensive campaign for Native American sovereignty, members of the American Indian Movement brought the tragedy to light, including during a 1973 takeover of Wounded Knee in which two activists were shot. (Source: National Geographic)