Friday Oct 06, 2017 · 8:03 PM PDT
See the original story here:
|U.S. Calvary stand at the edge of a mass grave where hundreds of Lakota men, women and children were buried after the Wounded Knee Massacre on 29 December 1890. The Lakota pipe line has now cut through their sacred burial ground.|
American cavalry troops pose at the edge of
a mass grave for some of the victims of the Wounded Knee Massacre.
It has been said that Sunday’s mass shooting in Las
Vegas in which Stephen Paddock open fire with assault weapons modified to fire
automatically on a large crowd of concertgoers is the worst in American
history. That’s not even close to being accurate.
Others more correctly say that Las Vegas was the worst
mass killing in modernAmerican history. Depending on how you define
“modern,” that is closer to accurate.
Paddock's body count of 58 dead victims surpassed the
49 murdered by Omar Mateen when he opened fire inside the Pulse nightclub in
Orlando in June 2016. That led some to proclaim this killing spree to be the
But the history of mass shootings didn’t begin 20 or 30
years ago — or even when Charles Whitman opened fire from the clock tower
at the University of Texas in 1966.
You don’t have to go back much further in American history
to find slaughters even bigger than Vegas. You can start with Wounded Knee on what
is now the Pine Ridge Reservation in southwestern South Dakota.
On the morning of December 29, 1890, Chief
Spotted Elk (Big Foot), leader of a band of some 350 Minneconjou Sioux, sat in
a makeshift camp along the banks of Wounded Knee Creek. The band was surrounded
by U.S. troops sent to arrest him and disarm his followers. The atmosphere was
tense, since an order to arrest Chief Sitting Bull at the Standing Rock
Reservation just 14 days earlier had resulted in his murder, prompting Big Foot
to lead his people to the Pine Ridge Agency for safe haven. Alerted to the
band’s Ghost Dance activities, General Nelson Miles commanded Major Samuel
Whiteside and the Seventh Cavalry to apprehend Big Foot and his followers, and
the regiment intercepted them on December 28, leading them to the edge of the
creek. While confiscating their weapons, a shot pierced the brisk morning air.
Within seconds the charged atmosphere erupted as the Indian men rushed to retrieve
their confiscated rifles and troopers began to fire volley after volley into
the Sioux camp. From a hill above, a Hotchkiss machine gun raked the tipis, gun
smoke filled the air, and men, women, and children ran for a ravine near the
camp, only to be cut down in crossfire. More than 200 Lakota lay dead or dying
in the aftermath as well as at least 20 soldiers.
The number of victims at Wounded Knee varies widely,
depending on which account you read, from 150 up to 300. But whatever the
number, it apparently doesn’t count as “modern.”
And then there is the Sand Creek Massacre of November 29,
1864, in which Colorado volunteers under the command of Col. John Chivington
slaughtered and mutilated anywhere from 70-163 Cheyenne and Arapaho, most of
whom were women and children.
There was one little child, probably three
years old, just big enough to walk through the sand. The Indians had gone
ahead, and this little child was behind, following after them. The little
fellow was perfectly naked, travelling in the sand. I saw one man get off his
horse at a distance of about seventy-five yards and draw up his rifle and fire.
He missed the child. Another man came up and said, 'let me try the son of a b-.
I can hit him.' He got down off his horse, kneeled down, and fired at the
little child, but he missed him. A third man came up, and made a similar
remark, and fired, and the little fellow dropped.
— Major Anthony, New York Tribune, 1879
And then there was the white mob that attacked and burned the Greenwood community
of African-Americans in Tulsa, Okla., on May 31-June 1, 1921, killing as many
As with some of the others, the Tulsa riot
seemed to have started with the explosive accusation that a black man had
sexually assaulted a white woman. (The charges were dropped after the riot.)
On May 31, 1921, hundreds of armed white men
gathered outside the courthouse where the man was being held, and a group of
armed black men arrived to prevent a lynching. A shot was fired. The black men
fled to Greenwood, and the white men gave chase.
The battle that ensued, enabled by the Tulsa police chief,
who deputized hundreds of white men and commandeered gun shops to arm them,
lasted through the night and well into the next day.
When the New York Times wrote that story in 2011 on the
Greenwood killings many survivors were still alive. But it apparently doesn’t
qualify as “modern.”
There were other mass killings. The Colfax Massacre of
1873 in Louisiana resulted in 150 deaths of African-Americans. The list goes on and on.
Many of those massacres have been largely forgotten by a
nation that often wants to erase its bloody history.
Thus the necessity, perhaps, to make a distinction between
modern history and all of history.
In practical terms, one reason is that it's difficult to
determine the exact number of victims murdered in the 19th century — a problem
that persists today, too. There's also a vocabulary issue, as different
words used to describe similar events can affect perceptions of their
significance. "The mid-2000s is around the time that the phrase 'mass
shootings' started being used more and more," Duwe says, "whereas
during the 1980s and the 1990s, the phrase 'mass murder' is used." (His
research uses the term mass public shooting to describe
incidents in which four or more victims are killed with a gun in a public
There’s that. But that’s not the real reason. Emphasis
Many have argued this week and in the past that events
like the Colfax Massacre and Wounded Knee are seen as separate because, within
American history, the deaths of Native Americans and African Americans
have not been seen the same as the deaths of white people — and that
failing to specify "modern" history while talking about events like
Las Vegas only underscores that idea by implying that earlier shootings don't
Massacres of Indians larger than Wounded Knee (I have left out slaughters that happened as part of British and French warfare, or as part of military engagements in the Civil War):
1637: 600-700 Pequot were burned alive in their Connecticut village and escaping survivors shot to death
1644: 500 sleeping Lenape in New York were either burned alive or shot trying to escape
1675: 350 Narragansett in Rhode Island burned alive or shot trying to escape
1692: 300 Abenaki killed in Massachusetts Bay
1712: 300 Tuscarora killed in North Carolina
1712: 1,000 Fox Indians killed near Detroit
1713: 1,200 Tuscarora killed in North Carolina
1832: 150 Menominee in Wisconsin
1840: 150-200 Pomo in California
1846: 200 Wintun killed in the Sacramento River Massacre (California)
1853: 450 Tolowa killed in California
1860: 200-250 Wiyot killed in California
1861: 240 Wailakis killed in California
1863: 290 Shoshoni killed in Idaho
1864: 300 Yana killed in California
1864: 170 Arapahoe and Cheyenne killed at Sand Creek, Colorado (as you noted)
1870: 173 Piegan killed in Montana