|More than 50 people attended a presentation on the 1890 Wounded Knee Massacre by Jerome Greene, a 1968 BHSU graduate. Greene read excerpts from his manuscript including first-hand survivor accounts obtained from his research. The presentation, part of the Swarm Week festivities, was sponsored by the BHSU Alumni Office with support from the Case Library for Western Historical Studies. Greene is one of several alumni being honored this homecoming. He received the “Special Achievement Award” from BHSU.
The massacre at Wounded Knee happened more than a century ago; however, the bloodshed of Dec. 29, 1890, lingers on in the minds of many, according to Jerome Greene, a 1968 graduate of Black Hills State University.
“Why it happened … will, in all probability, remain unresolved,” he said during a presentation in the Jacket Legacy Room. Greene’s presentation was part of Swarm Week festivities which culminate Saturday with the homecoming parade, tailgate and football game. Greene’s visit to campus was sponsored by the BHSU Alumni Office, with support from the Case Library for Western Historical Studies. Greene is one of several alumni being honored this homecoming. He received the “Special Achievement Award” from BHSU. Johanna Meier, who received the “Special Service Award,” also gave a presentation this week to MUS 185 music class at BHSU.
Greene is the author of many articles, books, contributed chapters, reviews, and government reports pertaining to Indian-white relations in the trans-Mississippi West and other aspects of American History and cultural resources preservation. His latest project focused on Wounded Knee. “I felt it was a good time and opportunity to plunge into Wounded Knee,” Greene said adding that it’s been a study he’s been totally absorbed in for the last 11 years. “It’s a troubling story.”
During his presentation, Greene read excerpts from his manuscript, including first-hand survivor accounts obtained from his research, offering a glimpse into the events leading up to the massacre, the slaughter of that December day, and the decades following Wounded Knee.
Toward the late 19th century, the Indians way of life was in shambles. Deprived of their land and disease stricken, the Lakota were desperate, Greene said. They turned to the Ghost Dance, a religious movement promising the restoration of their way of life. Army officials feared the Ghost Dance would cause an Indian uprising. On Dec. 29, 1890, officials, who had escorted 340 Lakota people to Wounded Knew, began to disarm the Indians. Greene said one of the Indians struggled to keep his gun because he paid a lot for it and during the struggle the gun went off. The army officials responded by firing guns at men, women and children. Greene said at least 146 Lakota people died at Wounded Knee but the actual number of deaths contributed to the massacre is much higher, and the precise number may never be known.
Even Gen. Nelson Miles, who played a major role in many of America’s campaigns against the Indians, believed the massacre at Wounded Knee was unjustified and completely avoidable, according to Greene. Miles later became the survivors’ biggest champion for some sort of appropriation or compensation for the tragedy at Wounded Knee. As time went on, the number of survivors dwindled and the likelihood of any rectification dwindled too.
Greene ended his presentation with a story which he said epitomized the massacre. John Little Finger, a survivor of the massacre, took his grandson out fishing. His grandson caught a glimpse of Little Finger’s scars and asked what happened. Little Finger proceeded to tell him they were scars from when he was shot. The little boy replied, “Grandfather, why would anyone want to shoot you?”
Greene enrolled in the United States Army after graduating high school in Watertown. He then went on to further his education, earning his bachelor’s degree in history education from Black Hills State University and his master’s degree in history from the University of South Dakota. He also completed doctoral work in American History at the University of Oklahoma.
Greene officially retired in 2007 but continues his love of writing and making appearances around the nation speaking about history. Greene has been a part of numerous history projects including completing a special reconnaissance study of Indian-U.S. Army Battlefields of the Northern Plains for the American Battlefield Protection Program and conducting oral history interviews with Pearl Harbor survivors for the USS Arizona Memorial. He is a member of the boards of editors for South Dakota History, Montana: The Magazine of Western History, and the Campaigns and Commanders Series by the University of Oklahoma Press.