The fickle winds swirled me around, like I was
a snowflake dashing among the bullets
and over the frozen dead at Wounded Knee.
I, who could read the spirit of The People
and also read the books of the Wasi’chu.
I, who was shunned as neither Brulé nor white.
I, a ghost in the land of the Ghost Dance.
After I shot the yellow leg leader
of the Šahíyena scouts who hunted and
drove us to that place where the winter winds
tossed away our life and lives like dried leaves,
I once again became one of The People,
not a murderer as the Whites said.
I was a warrior, only now one in a place of ghosts.
On December 29, 1890, a detachment of the U.S. Army’s 7th Cavalry Regiment entered a camp of about 350 Miniconjou and Hunkpapa Lakota people at Wounded Knee Creek to disarm them before returning them to the Pine Ridge Reservation. But then a shot rang out, and some 300 Lakota men, women and children were gunned down. The Wounded Knee Massacre is viewed as the end point of the so-called “Indian Wars” between Native and European American people.
But a week later, a young Brulé man named Plenty Horses, recently returned to the Rosebud Reservation from the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania, shunned by his people for being like a White and by the Whites for being Indian, shot and killed Lt. Edward W. Casey, commandant of the 8th Cavalry’s Cheyenne Scouts. By doing so, he hoped to regain standing among his people as a warrior.
Charged with murder, Plenty Horses was eventually acquitted based upon his need to be regarded as an enemy combatant in order to provide a validation of the Army’s massacre at Wounded Knee. It was indeed, a time and place buffeted by winds of hatred, confusion and tragedy. I hoped to somehow express that “world turned upside down” state of Plenty Horses’ unique situation on the anniversary of the Wounded Knee Massacre with this piece.
– Joseph Hesch
© 2015, poem, Joseph Hesch, All rights reserved; photograph of Plenty Horses (1890) by John C.H. Grabill, from the Grabill Library of Congress, LC-DIG ppmsc 02524, public domain