Letter: General Nelson A. Miles to
the Commissioner of Indian Affairs


Washington, D. C. March 13, 1917
The Honorable Commissioner of Indian Affairs

Sir:

I am informed that there is a delegation in Washington now who came here from South Dakota and who are representatives of the remnant of what is known as the Big Foot Band of Northern Sioux Indians.

I was in command of that Department in 1889, 1890, and 1891, when what is known as the Messiah craze and threatened uprising of the Indians occurred. It was created by misrepresentations of white men then living in Nevada who sent secret messages to the different tribes in the great Northwest calling upon them to send representatives to meet Him near Walker Lake, Nevada.

This was done, and returning to their different tribes in the Northwest and West, and even in the Southwest, they repeated the false statement to the different tribes that the Messiah had returned to earth and would the next year move East, driving large herds of wild horses, buffalo, elk, deer and antelope, and was going to convert this into an Indian heaven -- in other words, the Happy Hunting Grounds.

This, together with the fact that the Indians had been in almost a starving condition in South Dakota, owing to the scarcity of rations and the nonfulfillment of treaties and sacred obligations under which the Government had been placed to the Indians, caused great dissatisfaction, dissension and almost hostility. Believing this superstition, they resolved to gather and go West to meet the Messiah, as they believed it was the fulfillment of their dreams and prayer and the prophecies as had been taught them by the missionaries.

Several thousand warriors assembled in the Bad Lands of South Dakota. During this time the tribe, under Big Foot, moved from their reservation to near the Red Cloud Agency in South Dakota under a flag of truce. They numbered over four hundred souls. They were intercepted by a command under Lt. Col. Whitside, who demanded their surrender, which they complied with, and moved that afternoon some two or three miles and camped where they were directed to do, near the camp of the troops.

During the night Colonel Forsyth joined the command with reinforcements of several troops of the 7th Cavalry. The next morning he deployed his troops around the camp, placed two pieces of artillery in position, and demanded the surrender of the arms from the warriors. This was complied with by the warriors going out from camp and placing the arms on the ground where they were directed. Chief Big Foot, an old man, sick at the time and unable to walk, was taken out of a wagon and laid on the ground.

While this was being done a detachment of soldiers was sent into the camp to search for any arms remaining there, and it was reported that their rudeness frightened the women and children. It is also reported that a remark was made by some one of the soldiers that "when we get the arms away from them we can do as we please with them, " indicating that they were to be destroyed. Some of the Indians could understand English. this and other things alarmed the Indians and scuffle occurred between one warrior who had rifle in his hand and two soldiers. The rifle was discharged and a massacre occurred, not only the warriors but the sick Chief Big Foot, and a large number of women and children who tried to escape by running and scattering over the parry were hunted down and killed. The official reports make the number killed 90 warriors and approximately 200 women and children.

The action of the Commanding Officer, in my judgment at the time, and I so reported, was most reprehensible. The disposition of his troops was such that in firing upon the warriors they fired directly towards their own lines and also into the camp of the women and children. and I have regarded the whole affair as most unjustifiable and worthy of the severest condemnation.

In my opinion, the least the Government can do is to make a suitable recompense to the survivors who are still living for the great injustice that was done them and the serious loss of their relatives and property -- and I earnestly recommend that this may be favorably considered by the Department and by Congress and a suitable appropriation be made.

I remain
Very truly yours,

(SGD.) NELSON A. MILES
Lt. General, U. S. Army

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