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Native American Faces

Big Foot

 (unknown - 1890)


Big Foot was the leader of the Miniconjou band massacred at Wounded Knee Creek on December 29, 1890 (seen here in this death image). He and his people lived on the Cheyenne River Reservation in what is present-day South Dakota.

The final break-up of their great reservation in 1889 and the hunger and misery that followed made the Lakota enthusiastically receptive to the Ghost Dance ceremony, a message of messianic renewa, when it arrived among the Lakota in the spring of 1890. The movement swept rapidly through their encampments, causing local Indian Agents to react with alarm and suppress the dancers while others called for troops to restore order.

At the Standing Rock reservation, where Sitting Bull was suspected of encouraging the Ghost Dance in order to provoke an uprising, the crisis led to bloodshed when Indian police sent to arrest the aging holy man killed him in a confrontation with his followers. Fearful of reprisals, many from Sitting Bull's band fled south, where they found a haven with Big Foot. Big Foot decided to lead his people away from the possibility of further violence at neighboring Standing Rock and headed farther south toward the reservation at Pine Ridge, hoping to find safety there.

Increasingly ill with pneumonia, he had no intention of fighting and was flying a white flag when soldiers patrolling for roving bands caught up with him on December 28, 1890. That night Big Foot and his people camped near Wounded Knee Creek, where they were surrounded by soldiers. The next morning, the soldiers set up several large Hotchkiss guns on a hill overlooking the camp and began confiscating the Indians' weapons. When a gun accidentally went off, they opened fire, and within a few minutes, some 370 Lakota lay dead, many of them cut down by the deadly Hotchkiss guns as they sought shelter against a creek bank. The soldiers even pursued fleeing women and children, shooting some as far as two miles from the site of the original confrontation.

Big Foot himself was among the first killed. His frozen corpse lay untouched for three days until it was unceremoniously dumped into a mass grave. (bio courtesy of pbs)

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