John Forsyth

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Wounded Knee, Battle of (1890).The final major encounter between Indians and the U.S. Army, Wounded Knee grew out of the revitalization movement known as the Ghost Dance that swept western Indian reservations in 1889–90. On the Sioux reservations of North and South Dakota, people embraced the new religion with fervor. Fearful of violence, agents called for military assistance, and strong forces were dispatched. The overall commander, Maj. Gen. Nelson A. Miles, pressed for the imprisonment of such “troublemakers” as Sitting Bull and Big Foot.

On 15 December 1890, Sitting Bull was killed while resisting arrest by Indian policemen. Big Foot eluded arrest when he led his band of Lakota Sioux in a trek toward Pine Ridge Agency; his intent was not hostile, as assumed, but peaceful. Intercepted, the band was escorted to Wounded Knee Creek to be disarmed. Col. James W. Forsyth and the Seventh Cavalry, about 500 strong and bolstered by four small‐caliber cannon, surrounded the Indian village of about 350 people. Neither side intended a fight, but the disarming process built tension and suspicion. A rifle accidentally discharged touched off battle.

After a brief exchange of close range fire and hand‐to‐hand fighting, the Indians scattered and the artillery opened fire. The village was flattened, and Indians fleeing in all directions were cut down. About 200 of Big Foot's people, including women and children, were killed or wounded, while the troops lost 25 killed and 39 wounded. After Wounded Knee, General Miles maneuvered his forces in such fashion as to bring about the surrender of the Ghost Dancers. The Indians, and even General Miles, accused the troops of indiscriminate massacre. Although few such incidents can be documented, the tragedy at Wounded Knee poisoned relations between whites and Indians; today, it still symbolizes the wrongs inflicted by one race on the other.
[See also Plains Indians Wars.]


Robert M. Utley , The Last Days of the Sioux Nation, 1963.
Richard E. Jensen,, R. Eli Paul,, and and John E. Carter : Eyewitness at Wounded Knee, 1991.

Robert M. Utley

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John Forsyth, 1780–1841, American cabinet member, b. Fredericksburg, Va. He began law practice in Augusta, Va., and was in the House of Representatives from 1813 until his election to the Senate in 1818. In Feb., 1819, he resigned to become minister to Spain. After serving again in the House of Representatives (1823–1827), as governor of Georgia (1827–1829), and for a second time as U.S. Senator (1829–34), he became Secretary of State under President Jackson and continued to hold the office during President Van Buren's administration. As Secretary of State he was concerned chiefly with gaining compensation from France for plundering U.S. ships during the Napoleonic Wars, with the question of the annexation of Texas, with the Caroline Affair, and with the disputed boundary between Maine and New Brunswick, Canada.

See biography by A. L. Duckett (1962).

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Wounded Knee, Battle of the last major confrontation (1890) between the US Army and American Indians, at the village of Wounded Knee on a reservation in South Dakota. More than 300 largely unarmed Sioux men, women, and children were massacred. A civil rights protest at the site in 1973 led to clashes with the authorities.