Yesterday, when we wrote about the Orlando shooting we mentioned that several news outlets called it the “deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history.” Yeah, well, turns out it’s not. It could be the worst mass shooting by a single individual, but Unicorn Booty contributor Devin Bannon commented (via social media) on this horrifying piece of history:
I learned this morning that Orlando was not actually the greatest mass shooting in American history. That unfortunate record has been held for 126 years by the massacre at Wounded Knee, when 250-300 innocent Native Americans were gunned down by U.S. military cavalry. Remembering this doesn’t diminish anything about Orlando. It just gives me a chill to consider that this sick story of guns and cross-cultural misunderstanding (read: hatred) is woven deeply in our country’s history and in our blood. One thing the two tragedies have in common: They were dancing. In both cases, the innocent were killed because they were dancing.
Bannon then posted a link to a University of Nebraska site detailing the history of the Great Plains (and the Wounded Knee Massacre specifically). It notes, “These people were guilty of no crime and were not engaged in combat. A substantial number were women and children.”
In short, the U.S. agent assigned to oversee the region where the massacre occurred was notoriously ignorant and afraid of Native Americans; from the time he arrived, he began sending nervous dispatches about an impending uprising from Native Americans on a nearby reservation. A drought had caused the local Lakota Sioux tribe to despair over the inadequate food rations provided to reservations by the U.S. government. And in response, some started performing the “Ghost Dance”.
The University of Nebraska explains:
the Ghost Dance blended the messianic account of Christianity with traditional Native beliefs. This new religion told of the return of the Messiah to relieve the suffering of Native Americans and promised that if they would live righteous lives and perform the Ghost Dance in the prescribed manner, the European American invaders would vanish, the bison would return, and the living and the dead would be reunited in an Edenic world.
The President of the U.S. responded to the agent’s increasingly fearful dispatches by sending U.S. troops along with newspaper reporters to the region; local businesses, eager to profit off of the new visitors, exaggerated the threat of an uprising and it became major news nationwide.
Literate Native Americans read these reports and got increasingly nervous. Then, for some reason, the U.S. government recruited a local squatter named John Dunn to tell the local Native Americans to reduce tensions by safely staying on their reservation; instead Dunn told them that the U.S. troops planned to imprison the men and deport them to an island in the Atlantic.
Naturally frightened, the Native Americans fled their reservation and the troops followed, confining them within Wounded Knee Creek. An American colonel told the some of the tribesmen that he wanted them to surrender their firearms and to relocate to another camp, something they might have interpreted to mean exile in hostile “Indian territory” — they were alarmed by the prospect.
The story goes that the nervous Native Americans began performing the Ghost Dance, and the ignorant troops interpreted the ritualistic singing and throwing of dirt into the air as a incitement to violence. Troops surrounded the dancers and when a serviceman tried to wrestle away a rifle from one of the Native Americans, the rifle discharged and the troops began shooting. Outnumbered and outgunned, the Lakota tribesmen fled and the troops pursued them, shooting and killing escapees as far as three miles away. Approximately 27 troops died along with 250 Lakota tribesmen.
It’s sad when you think that both the Lakota tribesmen and the LGBTQIA people at Pulse were gathered in places meant to protect them, places where they could commune with their own and dance in a way they uniquely understood. In both cases, the shooters were largely ignorant and prejudiced against the people they killed, a lack of understanding mixed with negative stereotyping made the victims seem much more threatening than they actually were.
Firearm deaths in the U.S. continue to disproportionally kill people of color. You may recall that the Pulse nightclub was holding a Latinx night the night of the shooting — most of the people killed were Latinos, Latinas and Latinx. The legacy of gun violence against indigenous Americans continues, behooving us to remember this tragic historical tale.
UPDATE: A respected journalist chided us for posting this story stating that “comparing the slaughter in a gay bar carried out by one man with two guns and explosives to the massacre of innocents by the U.S. Army acting under war orders is ridiculously wrong.” We’d like to point out that both incidents are in facts acts of war, seeing as the shooter attributed his violence as part of Daseh/ISIS’ continuing war on Westerners and LGBT people.