john c. h. grabill


American soldiers placing native bodies in mass graves after the 1890 Massacre at Wounded Knee, during which over 150 Lakota men, women and children were murdered by the United States government in an attempt to seize their land. The relationship between the Lakota people and the American settlers had been steadily deteriorating, and reached a breaking point when the government attempted to force the Lakota to surrender their weapons. 

An eyewitness account by Lakota holy man Black Elk recounts, “I did not know then how much was ended. When I look back now from this high hill of my old age, I can still see the butchered women and children lying heaped and scattered all along the crooked gulch as plain as when I saw them with eyes young. And I can see that something else died there in the bloody mud, and was buried in the blizzard. A people’s dream died there. It was a beautiful dream … the nation’s hope is broken and scattered. There is no center any longer, and the sacred tree is dead.”

While many soldiers were awarded the Medal of Honor for their involvement in the massacre, there is a growing belief that these medals should be rescinded and the massacre formally condemned. As Lakota tribesman William Thunder Hawk explains, “the Medal of Honor is meant to reward soldiers who act heroically. But at Wounded Knee, they didn’t show heroism; they showed cruelty.”

Photograph captioned “Gen. Miles and Buffalo Bill viewing hostile Indian camp near Pine Ridge, S.D., January 16, 1891, photo and copyright 1891 by Grabill.”, 1/16/1891

File Unit: John C. H. Grabill versus William H. Cody, alias Buffalo Bill; Nate Saulsbury; John M. Burk, alias Arizona John; and Rand McNally & Company, a corporation, 9/18/1893 - 5/2/1894Series: Civil Case Files, 1871 - 1911Record Group 21: Records of District Courts of the United States, 1685 - 2009

Growing tensions surrounding communities of Lakota Sioux on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota erupted into violence 125 years ago with the Wounded Knee Massacre on December 29, 1890, which left an estimated 150-200 Lakota Sioux men, women and children dead, and 25 U.S. Army soldiers dead.

William “Buffalo Bill” Cody had been approached earlier to intercede due to his past familiarity with Sioux spiritual leader Sitting Bull, but this would prove fruitless after Sitting Bull was killed during an attempted arrest 2 weeks prior to the massacre.

More on the 125th anniversary of the Massacre at Wounded Knee: