After a long drive today, I stopped to pay my respects at the Wounded Knee Memorial. I was the only visitor there, so immediately gathered several locals selling crafts. I suggested I was actually interested in what had happened here, and one young man offered to take me across to the cemetery and tell me the full history. Justin (pictured here) was a remarkable storyteller. His family had owned much of the land around the massacre site, and he has six generations of family buried in the cemetery adjacent to the mass grave. He gave me a full history, starting in about 1830, with migrations and battles of a number of tribes and bands as they receded westward in a string of wars amongst various tribes and with the flood of Manifest Destiny. His stories culminated in the massacre and then an addendum of the transfer of individual land rights during and since the 1970’s.
He told me that all of his knowledge came from oral histories from family members. I am sure much of it is captured in the many written studies of Wounded Knee, but it was powerful to hear it from his own mouth. The entire site, the winding creek, the bluffs where the Army set up their Hotchkiss guns, and even the fox holes that the FBI and Army used during the standoff here in 1973 are all right there below the cemetery. Powerful hour; I got lucky today.