Liabilities of conquest: Wounded Knee and the politics of memoryShow full item record
|Liabilities of conquest: Wounded Knee and the politics of memory
|Grua, David W
|Doctor of Philosophy
|On December 29, 1890, the US Seventh Cavalry held Minneconjou Lakota Chief Big Foot and his followers in custody at Wounded Knee Creek, South Dakota. As the soldiers disarmed the warriors, a single shot caused the cavalrymen to fire at the largely unarmed Indians, resulting in the deaths of hundreds of Lakota men, women, and children, as well as three dozen troopers. The event immediately entered the realm of memory, as defenders and detractors of the cavalrymen sought to determine exactly what had occurred at the creek. A court of inquiry declared that Wounded Knee was a heroic victory over "fanatical," "hostile," and "treacherous" Ghost Dancers. To commemorate the Seventh Cavalry's gallantry, army officials awarded the soldiers twenty Medals of Honor and erected an obelisk at Fort Riley, Kansas, to honor the men slain in the "last battle" of the Indian Wars.^In the years that followed, the Lakota survivors--scattered, impoverished, and marginalized--engaged in the politics of memory in compensation petitions, translated accounts dictated to sympathetic whites, and even on a monument at the mass grave. In response to their compensation claims, government bureaucrats in the early twentieth century responded that, because army officials had classified Big Foot's band as "hostile" in 1890, the survivors were ineligible for reparations.^The Lakotas countered by "reinventing the enemy's language," focusing on key English words and concepts: Wounded Knee was a "massacre" rather than a "battle," Big Foot's band had been "friendly/peaceful" and not "hostile" in 1890, and, because the killings violated the 1868 Treaty of Fort Laramie, the United States had incurred a "liability" that needed to be "liquidated." For assistance, the survivors sought out "good white people," sympathetic individuals who would use their political influence to support the Lakotas' claims. In 1940, nearly fifty years after Wounded Knee, a congressional committee recommended that the United States compensate the survivors for the killings, although the onset of World War II precluded passage of the bill. The survivors' engagement in the politics of memory, however, left legacies that continue to confront the nation's liabilities of conquest.
|Kerstetter, Todd M.
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- Doctoral Dissertations