That infamous distinction might instead apply to the Wounded Knee Massacre, perpetrated by the United States Army’s 7th Cavalry Regiment in 1890 as a violent apex of anti-Indian gun control and property confiscation policies.
The US government’s then-continued practice of illegally seizing Lakota land, part of a broader trend of purposeful treaty infringements on the part of the federal government as related to the Indians, precipitated the growing resentment and mistrust between the two parties. This, coupled with the then-rapidly and widely spreading cultural phenomenon known as the spiritual Ghost Dance movement, catalyzed a growing government perception of unrest among the native populations of the region that apparently required decisive and quite violent suppression. A letter written to the Aberdeen Sunday Pioneer by L. Frank Baum (of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz fame) conveys the popular sentiment of the time which underpinned these events:
The Pioneer has before declared that our only safety depends upon the total extermination of the Indians. Having wronged them for centuries, we had better, in order to protect our civilization, follow it up by one more wrong and wipe these untamed and untamable creatures from the face of the earth. In this lies future safety for our settlers and the soldiers who are under incompetent commands. Otherwise, we may expect future years to be as full of trouble with the redskins as those have been in the pas (emphasis added).
On 28 December of that year, the bulk of the 7th cavalry arrived at the Wounded Knee encampment in modern South Dakota, where a detachment of the unit had previously “escorted” a Lakota band and held them overnight. The next day, soldiers entered the camp to forcibly disarm the men and unknown events subsequently sparked a nearly full-scale massacre of the Lakota at the hands of the cavalry. The troops engaged the Lakota men, women, and children with small arms and an additional four M1875 Hotchkiss mountain guns. The cavalry slaughtered at least 150 men, women, and children and wounded 51 (the latter included 47 women and children). Some estimates put the actual number of Lakota dead closer to 300.
According to various eyewitness reports:
There was a woman with an infant in her arms who was killed as she almost touched the flag of truce… a mother was shot down with her infant; the child not knowing that its mother was dead was still nursing. … The women as they were fleeing with their babies were killed together, shot right through… and aftermost all of them had been killed a cry was made that all those who were not killed or wounded should come forth and they would be safe. Little boys… came out of their places of refuge, and as soon as they came in sight a number of soldiers surrounded them and butchered them there. – American Horse, Chief, Oglala Lakota.
I know the men did not aim deliberately and they were greatly exited. I don’t believe they saw their sights. They fired rapidly but it seemed to me only a few seconds till [sic] there was not a living thing before us; warriors, squaws, children, ponies, and dogs… wend down before that unaimed fire. – Captain Edward Godfrey, Commander, Co. D (7th Cavalry).
[General Nelson Miles] discovered to his horror that helpless children and women with babies in their arms had been chased as far as two miles from the original scene of encounter and cut down without mercy by the troopers. … Judging by the slaughter on the battlefield it was suggested that the soldiers went berserk. For who could explain such a merciless disregard for life? – Hugh McGinnis, 1st Battalion, Co. K (7th Cavalry).
…a large number of women and children who tried to escape by running and scattering over the prairie were hunted down and killed. … [Wounded Knee was] the most abominable criminal military blunder and a horrible massacre of women and children. – General Nelson Miles, Commander, Military Division of the Missouri.
Three days later, the Army hired civilians to bury the dead Lakota in a mass grave overlooking the site.
For his part, General Miles relieved and unsuccessfully sought to obtain a court martial for the 7th Cavalry’s commander, Colonel James Forsyth. In an uncanny moment of prescience (or perhaps, just well-informed judgment), a few days prior to the massacre Miles sent the following telegram to General John Schofield, Commanding General, United States Army:
The difficult Indian problem cannot be solved permanently at this end of the line. It requires fulfillment of Congress of the treaty obligations that the Indians were entreated and coerced into signing. They signed away a valuable portion of their reservation, and it is now occupied by white people, for which they have received nothing.
They understood that ample provision would be made for their support; instead, their supplies have been reduced, and much of the time they have been living on half and two-thirds rations. Their crops, as well as the crops of the white people, for two years have been almost total failures.
The dissatisfaction is wide spread, especially among the Sioux, while the Cheyennes have been on the verge of starvation, and were forced to commit depredations to sustain life. These facts are beyond question, and the evidence is positive and sustained by thousands of witnesses (emphasis added).
Additionally, Pine Ridge Indian agent Valentine McGillycuddy provided the following feedback when asked about the Indians’ new Ghost Dance movement and its perceived “hostilities:”
As for the “Ghost Dance” too much attention has been paid to it. It was only the symptom or surface indication of a deep rooted, long existing difficulty; as well treat the eruption of small pox as the disease and ignore the constitutional disease.
As regards disarming the Sioux, however desirable it may appear, I consider it neither advisable, nor practicable. I fear it will result as the theoretical enforcement of prohibition in Kansas, Iowa and Dakota; you will succeed in disarming and keeping disarmed the friendly Indians because you can, and you will not succeed with the mob element because you cannot.
If I were again to be an Indian agent, and had my choice, I would take charge of 10,000 armed Sioux in preference to a like number of disarmed ones; and furthermore agree to handle that number, or the whole Sioux nation, without a white soldier. …
P.S. I neglected to state that up to date there has been neither a Sioux outbreak or war. No citizen in Nebraska or Dakota has been killed, molested or can show the scratch of a pin, and no property has been destroyed off the reservation (emphasis added).
I suppose the moral of the story here is that if you are proposing yet more gun control in response to the Orlando shooting, and you are not discussing gun control on the State as part of that discussion, then your principles are simply too inconsistent to be respectable. The greatest perpetrators of mass murder in human history are well-armed governments whose victims are typically disarmed, ostracized, persecuted, marginalized, and then ultimately eliminated altogether.
Might does not make right. One cannot claim to support an individual’s right to self-defense while simultaneously lobbying for infringements upon that person’s free choice of how best to prepare themselves for such defense.