Wounded Knee Survivor: The Alice Ghost Horse story

“I have never touched a white man during my lifetime. I just can’t trust any white man and never will because they killed my father and brother for no reason at all.” Alice Ghost Horse

Reprinted with permission from Manny Iron Hawk

WOUNDED KNEE –– In the preface of Rapid City attorney Mario Gonzalez’s book “Politics on Hallowed Ground” is a candid story by Wounded Knee Massacre survivor Alice Ghost Horse/Kills the Enemy/War Bonnet a Hohwoju or Mnicoujou from Spotted Elk’s (Big Foot) band that, “Every American should read.”

The manuscript, presented to Gonzalez by Sam Eagle Staff (Mnicoujou) had been translated from Lakota to English by Sidney Keith (Mnicoujou). Ghost Horse told her story to her son John War Bonnet (Mnicoujou) who wrote it down in Lakota. From there Goldie Iron Hawk (Mnicoujou) kept the letters until 1979 when she gave them to Keith for safekeeping and translation.

Following is Alice Ghost Horse/Kills the Enemy/War Bonnet’s story:

“We were camped at the mouth of Cherry Creek last part of December 1890. I was 13 years old at the time. There was my father (Ghost Horse) and my mother Alice Her Shawl and two younger brothers. The wicasa itacan (male leader) was Spotted Elk (Big Foot).Up the creek was Hump and his followers. Our people were scattered all up and down the creek toward Bridger, South Dakota, a place called now takini (barely surviving). They all lived the farthest away but they were all hohwoju’s just as we were all minneco[n]ju.

Rest of the Lakotas were already assimilated with the whites east end and were already under military rule. They were being trained to be farmers and were given land to plant things. At this time my people were ghost dancing above Plum Creek, straight east of Cherry Creek across the river. We went up there when they have the dances, but children were not allowed in so my brothers and I play near the wagons. The dances usually last four days and quite a few camp up there during that time, we usually go back to Cherry Creek when they get through.

The agent at Fort Bennet (Cheyenne Agency) was a military officer and he would send Lakota scouts to the camp to ask questions about the ghost dance.

The ghost dance was like a sun dance which was held once a year about August. In the ghost dance they form a circle holding hands and they dance stationary not like the sun dance. But they sing and dance. Usually starts at almost sundown and lasts for couple hours. They do this till someone falls or several fall. They wait till they tell what they saw or hear during their trance, the purpose of the dance was to see their dead relatives and converse with them and they continue.

One day some people came from Standing Rock and told Big Foot that Sitting Bull was shot and killed by Indian police, provoked by agent.

Big Foot decided they should flee to Pine Ridge. They thought that Sitting Bull was killed because of the Ghost dance. On short notice it was decided to move out the very next day so they all staked out their horses close by and they all went to bed.

Next day, we packed up in a hurry that morning and we were ready to move out. I was on my horse and my two brothers rode in the wagon. My mother rode in the back with my youngest brother and the other one rode up front with my father. We had an extra horse tied to the team, this one can be rode or used as one of the team.

We crossed Cherry Creek at the mouth where it empties into the river we were to follow the wagon trails that went west all along the river, on the north side. The old wagon trails lead to takini.

We ran all the way, we stopped halfway to water the horses and cook something to eat. My mother had some pemmican which we all shared before we continue on towards takini.

Late afternoon we pulled into takini amid clusters of lean-tos and tents. Most of the people were getting ready for winter by looking at the wood piles. Some had stocks of wood piled high. After we put up our tents my mother started her cooking. She had good soup and kabubu bread and hot government coffee.

After a hearty meal my mother and father went to a meeting at Big Foot’s tent so my brothers and I went down to the river and played for awhile and then came down and then came to bed.

Early next morning I heard my father hitching up the horses so I got up and saddled up my own horse and was ready to go. I planned to ride all the way to Pine Ridge.

First wagon to leave was Big Foot’s wagon, followed by all his relatives. All the horsebacks and some were walking for a time up the hill. We fell in, about the middle of the wagon train and were headed up a long hill east side of the river.

I looked back and could see more wagons joining in and coming and many children were on horseback, too. It was a sight to see. It was also exciting because we were running from the military.

We ran like this all morning without stopping, sometimes some riders would come back to check on us at the request of Big Foot. By noon, we stopped to rest but we were not allowed to start a fire so we ate what little mother had for us. In a short while we were on our way with Big Foot and his wagon still leading the way. We were trotting all the way, southerly direction, keeping to the low areas, valleys and creek beds.

My younger brother sat in the back with my mother who kept an eye on me. The other brother rode up front as before, the extra horse still tied to the side of the team.

By mid-afternoon the going was tough but we went below Porcupine Butte still keeping in the draws and gullies, sometimes there was no trail so the going was really rough in the wagons.

Sometimes later the head wagons stopped on top of a hill and they were all looking down at something, my father went to see and my mother came over and started to tighten my cinch and said, there were some cavalry camped below on Wounded Knee creek. She told me we might have to make a run for and she asked me to stay close to the wagon.

My father returned and said Big Foot was very sick and lying in back of the buggy all bundled up. My father said they picked some men to go down and talk to the officers.

I saw four riders riding down towards the center of the camp where they have big guns on wheels. One of the riders had a white flag, a white material tied to a stick riding in front of the other three riders. Soon as they crossed the creek all the soldiers laid down and aim their rifles at them but they kept on going and arrived at the big gun on wheels where there was soldiers and officers standing. They dismounted and had a short talk.

A lone rider galloped up the hill to Big Foots wagon and the officers told them that they wanted to talk to him but his relatives said no that he was very sick and the riders went back to tell them.

Sometime later, a buggy was sent up with a doctor to examine the old man the doctor said he had pneumonia. He gave him some medicine and they loaded him in the special wagon and they took him down.

They talked a long time and finally a lone rider came back and told them to camp along the creek on the west side of the creek.

Everyone pitched their tents as ordered and pretty soon an army wagon was coming along the camp and issued bacon, flour, coffee beans, army beans and hard tack.

By sundown we were completely surrounded by foot soldiers, all with rifles. My mother and I went down to the creek to pick up some wood and go to the bathroom but two soldiers followed us so we hurried back with some sticks.

Everyone went to bed as they were all tired from the hectic trip. Some of the young men stayed up all night to watch the soldiers. Some of the soldiers were drunk saying bad things about the Lakota women. Early next morning, a bugle woke us up. I went outside and noticed all the soldiers were gone but there was a lot of activity at the military camp.

We ate in a hurry because most of the Lakota’s were loading their wagons and my father had the horses and he was saddling up my horse.

At this time a crier was making his way around the Lakota camp telling the men folks to go to the center for more talks so they dropped everything and left but the women continued to pack their belongings in the wagon. I was on my horse just standing there and in a little while there seemed to be an argument at the confrontation which developed into a shouting match. Pretty soon some cavalry men rode in from the center at a fast gallop and they started to search the wagons for axes, knife, guns, bow and arrows and awls. They were really rude about it. They scattered the belongings all over the ground.

The soldiers picked up everything they could find and tied them up in a blanket and took them. They also searched the Lakotas in the center. They emptied the contents on ground in the center in front of the officers and continued to argue with the Lakotas but the Lakotas did not give in.

During the heated discussion a medicine man by the name of Yellow Bird appeared from nowhere and stood facing the east by the fire pit which was now covered up with fresh dirt. He was praying and crying. He was saying to the eagles that he wanted to die instead of his people. He must sense that something was going to happen. He picked up some dirt from the fireplace and threw it in the air and said this is the way he wanted to go back…to dust.

At this time there were cavalry men all on bay horses all lined up on top of the hill on the north side. One officer rode down toward the center at a full gallop. He made a fast halt and shouted something to his commanding officers and retreated back up the hill and they drew their rifles and long knife (swords) and you could hear them load it with bullets.

In the meantime some more cavalry men lined up on the south side. A big gun was also aimed down towards the center where we were… I heard the first shot coming from the center followed by rifles going off all over, occasionally a big boom came from the big guns on wheels. The Lakotas were all disarmed so all they could do was scatter in all directions. The two cavalry groups came charging down, shooting at everyone that was running and is a Lakota.

My father made it back to our wagon and my horse was trying to bolt so he told me to jump so I got off and the horse ran toward the creek for all its worth. We fled to the ravine, where there was lots of plum bushes and dove into the thicket. The gunfire was pretty heavy and people were hollering for their children. With children crying everywhere, my dad said he was going to go out and help the others. My mother objected but he left anyway. Pretty soon, my father came crawling back in and he was wounded below his left knee and he was bleeding. He took my youngest brother who was 6 years old and he said he was taking him further down the river.

Soon he came crawling back in and said, “Hunhun he, micinsi kte pelo.” He had tears in his eyes so we cried a little bit because there was no time think, my father said we should crawl further down but my mother said it is better we die here together and she told me to stand up so I did but my father pulled me down. With a little effort we were able to crawl to a bigger hiding place bullets were whistling all around us but my father went out again to help and he never came back for a long time.

Some people crawled in. They were all wounded. I recognized Phillip Black Moon and his mother. They were okay. More women and children came crawling in. The young ones were whimpering. Groups at intervals came in. Four of the wounded died right there but there was nothing anybody can do.

A man named Breast Plate (Wawoslal Wanapin) came in and told us that my father was killed instantly. We all cried but for a short while lest we would be heard.

Charge in Kill and Nistuste (Back Hips) came in later but they left again.

They were brave it seemed like an eternity but actually it didn’t last that long. It was getting late, towards sundown more people straggled in. It got dark, and the shooting stopped all of a sudden and we heard a wagon moving around, probably to pick up the dead, killed in the crossfire. None of the Lakotas had guns so they had been engaged in hand to hand combat. At a given signal we all got up, those who could, and walked or limped to the north, tiptoeing our way back through creek beds and ravines. Occasionally, we stumbled over dark objects, which turned out to be dead animals or sometimes dead Lakotas. We heard a child crying for water someplace in the dark, cold night. Many more wounded were crying for help.

We walked in the creek beds a ways north. It must have been Wounded Knee Creek, where we separated into four groups, each to take different routes, to better chance of escaping. By morning our group reached a hill, from there we could see long ways. We stopped there, being careful to find whatever cover there was, by trees. We had traveled mostly a northwesterly direction all night, for the sun-up showed the plains and more level landscapes to the east, the higher buttes and pine covered hills to the west. The sky showed polka dotted white puffs with blue background, changing patterns by the wind strong enough to make eyes water. We had two boys to go stay up on the hill to watch for soldiers in all directions. A rider is following our tracks (the boys hollered down), and like cottontails we dove deeper into the ravine among the brushes and trees. But it turned out some moments later that it was a Lakota wearing a woman’s scarf. It was Nistuste (Back Hips) whom we met earlier. After we shook hands with him we all cried. He told us that after the shooting he escaped to Pine Ridge found all the Oglalas had run away toward the hills. He had stayed up on the hills while scouting the Pine Ridge encampment. He then walked back to Wounded Knee where he found his horse, luckily catching it. He then started tracking our trails northward hoping to meet up with somebody. He insisted that our group go with him back toward Pine Ridge.

Before our group could decide which way to go, some more riders appeared. So [we] took off to the creek to hide. But this one man stayed behind and they rode in yelling, “We are Lakotas. Do not run.” They dismounted at the sight of the four Lakota people, we all got up there and shook hands with them, one woman and three men, we all cried. We hadn’t eaten anything since we left Wounded Knee a day and a half earlier, they had some pemmican which they shared with us. One of the men said there were cattle foraging over the hill that he was going after one. The other two men who had rode in with him went with him. Soon they brought in a quarter of beef, one lady did the cooking from a pail and dishes she had gotten from a deserted log house not far from there. We really ate for once, thanks to the men and nice lady. Nistute (Back Hips). Then the three men rode back towards Wounded Knee but the women stayed with us. That left us with thirteen people, mostly women and children. I was with my mother and brother, a lady who had her braids cut off she was slightly wounded, a lady that always carried a little one on her back; and there was Alex High Hawk, Blue Hair, and five members of the Many Arrows family. We were all there that night.

Next morning we got ready to leave and found Dog Chasing with two women had come in sometime during the night. The men who rode out must have sent them in, with them upping our numbers to 16. We left bright and early, the men walking ahead a little ways. Very good fortune it was, for I was again riding a horse with my little brother and my mother on foot was leading the horse.

Along the way I must have dozed off and on half asleep and half awake. I didn’t know anything for a while. When I became clear headed again, we were heading down a hill. Down at the bottom of the valley stood a long house and even a wooden floor and a fireplace which they fired up and we rested and got warmed up. Some daylight left, we started off again covering some miles before dark. It started to cloud up, clouds rolling in from the west and the north, cloud waves seeming to roll over the hills and valleys like water, from misty fine drops somewhere closer to a drizzle.

It started then, the wind came. Some minutes later it turned into a blizzard but one of the men had steered us toward a cabin which he had spotted from a butte some miles back. This blessed haven we reached along a creek, so we stayed warm sitting out the storm. We had plenty of meat from the last butchering to keep us fed. Later in the night their voices woke me up, loud voices, high pitched women arguments to scatter or stay together, the calmer voices of the male sometime whispering as we listened. I sat up in a hurry when a new meaning came to my senses. I got scared for the first time. My heart was beating faster, my breathing became harder and shorter. Quickly moving closer to my mother and squirming closer to my mothers body was to me natural as a cottontail jumping from danger into its lair. The noise the women thought they heard was maybe a rumbling of horse running or of buffalo stampeding or maybe even of cavalry men.

But it turned out that they may have heard something then imagined their fears into loud noises. For sometimes we just sat there staring at the darkness only the occasional, flickering fire light and dying embers to see by. During the night riders went some place and came back and they said in a low voice, “It is time to go.” No one complained, all acted on instinct to survive. It was still cloudy and dark when we left the cabin. The men loaned us their horses so some of us rode double, sometimes the snow would blow but we kept on moving into a deep draw, where the wind wasn’t blowing so much, so we kept to the lowlands.

Finally, we stumbled into a camp of Oglala who ran away from Pine Ridge during the shooting. They were camped in a nice place among the pine trees. At the end of the camp we came across Short Bull’s tent. All of the people came to welcome us and the rest of group were all taken into different tents and were all fed good. We stayed at this camp for three months and the sun kept coming out higher and higher. Soon the snow was melting and all knew that it was spring.

One day a rider came into the camp and said there was going to be a meeting [treaty] at Pine Ridge. Next day, early as usual, we headed for Pine Ridge again. It must be quite a ways because we camped in a deep gully. When we started out again the next day, it was a long caravan of bugg[ie]s, travois, horseback and on foot. The chiefs were walking in front, followed by the young warriors on horseback.

Over the last hill we could see many tents and cavalry all over the place, dust was flying, horses were tied to hitching posts face to face.

We made camp near the posts. Can Hahaka (Plenty Limbs) and Iron Thunder came to the camp and said they came after all the hohwojus, Cheyenne River people who were wounded or deceased, that they belonged to our band.

In Pine Ridge my mother reluctantly signed our names as survivors, along with the rest of the family.

They pitched up 3 big tipis in the center where they told us to go. I remember there was Black Moon and his mother and brothers, Iron Horn and Wood Pile was there. There were many hohwojus that showed up at the tipi. Even some we thought had been killed. Ashes was a young girl then and she was there too. I noticed other people were Blue Hair, Ax, Brown Eagle, and Can Hahaka (Plenty Limbs).

We left for hohwoju country Cherry Creek. We were traveling in five wagons, one wagon was loaded with oats and hay, another one of rations, one wagon full of soldiers was leading the way as escorts, out of Pine Ridge in a different direction so we won’t have to go through Wounded Knee.

Despite all these nice things being done for us, I can’t forget what happened at Wounded Knee. Some nights I cry thinking about it. Many months afterwards. I have never touched a white man during my lifetime. I just can’t trust any white man and never will because they killed my father and brother for no reason at all.”

Ghost Horse, born in 1878 and died in 1950, lived out her life after the Wounded Knee Massacre in the community of Cherry Creek on the Cheyenne River Indian Reservation.

(Contact Ernestine Anunkasan Hupa at anunkasan@gmail.com)

 

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