January 1, 1889 - On this day a medicine man of the Nevada Paiutes called Wovoka had a powerful vision during a solar eclipse. He saw a world in which all the Paiute dead would be resurrected, and the all white people would go away.
Wovoka claimed that in order to make this vision a reality, all the tribes would need to follow a righteous path of non-violence and perform a special Ghost Dance. The news spread quickly and Wovoka's message was eagerly embraced, especially by battered and starving tribes like Sitting Bull's Lakota.
By the following winter, a hotspot of the Ghost Dance movement was on the Pine Ridge Reservation where many of the Sioux tribes were relegated. The Federal Agent in charge had outlawed the ritual for fear that it was a war dance. When the Indians defied him and kept dancing, he called in the military to break it up.
The 7th Cavalry arrived, the same regiment that Sitting Bull had obliterated in the Battle of the Little Bighorn 13 years prior. A botched attempt to arrest Sitting Bull ended with a firefight. A show horse that had been presented to Sitting Bull by Buffalo Bill responded to the gunfire as it had been trained to do. It sat back on its haunches and offered a hoof to shake hands. When the smoke cleared, Sitting Bull and fourteen others were dead.
In the wake of their leader's death, many members of the Lakota tribe fled the reservation. The 7th Cavalry set out to round them up, and less than 2 weeks later most of the refugees had surrendered peacefully. During a search for weapons at a camp along Wounded Knee Creek, a medicine man named Yellow Bird encouraged the other Indians to start dancing in a show of defiance to the soldiers. A young warrior named Black Coyote refused to hand over his gun. In some accounts it is said that he was deaf and couldn't understand what the soldiers were asking. Whatever the case, as the soldiers moved in to disarm him a shot rang out. Then all hell broke loose.
What started as brutal hand-to-hand combat escalated quickly as the army unloaded rapid-fire Hotchkiss guns on the camp where the women and children were seeking shelter. The massacre lasted less than an hour. When it was over 84 men, 44 women, and 18 children had been killed. The army lost 25 men.
Despite the many innocent people who were killed, there were more Medals of Honor awarded for this incident than for any other battle in US Army history.
Wovoka slipped into obscurity. He went back to using his white name, Jack Wilson. He did the sideshow circuit at county fairs and appeared as an extra in silent movies. He died in 1932.