Thursday, June 30, 2011

BOOKS: Clarence Darrow Twice.

Clarence Darrow in his natural habitat, a packed courtroom weighing life or death for two unpopular defendants, in this case rich teenage murderers Leopold and Loeb in 1924 Chicago.  

I recently had the honor of being asked by the new Washington Independent Review of Books to review the two new biographies of one of my unabashed favorites from American history, lawyer Clarence Darrow.  It ran this week.  Here's what I came up with:
Clarence Darrow: American Iconoclast
Andrew Edmund Kersten

Hill and Wang, 320 pp.

Clarence Darrow is a biographer’s gift. America’s premier lawyer, he lived a fantastic life, fraught with drama, epic achievements and stark character flaws ― all supported by a rich paper trail of letters, trial transcripts, speeches, memoirs and newspaper clips. He had an outgoing, sarcastic personality played by some of Hollywood’s best actors: Spencer Tracy (Inherit the Wind), Orson Welles (Compulsion) and Kevin Spacey (Darrow), among others.
Darrow is best remembered today for defending Tennessee high school teacher John T. Scopes in the 1925 “Monkey Trial,” in which Scopes was accused of violating a state law that barred the teaching of evolution in the classroom. Darrow turned the occasion into an epic clash of science against superstition (his view of religion) and got Scopes off with a $100 fine, later reversed on appeal. But this barely scratches the surface of Darrow’s career. Think of the dozen most important, high-profile legal contests in America’s last 150 years: Darrow appears in at least half of them.
How good was he? 

By the time he defended Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb ― two wealthy Chicago teenagers facing execution in 1924 for murdering Bobby Frank, a younger friend, on a lark ― Darrow had defended more than 100 capital cases and lost only one client to the executioner. He repeatedly defended the most hated, vulnerable people in society, making a trademark of facing down stacked prosecutions and public prejudice. Yes, he also represented plenty of gangsters, politicians, bootleggers and socialites ― someone had to pay the rent ― but he made his mark as Attorney for the Damned.
Darrow is one of the truly interesting people in American history, and if anyone deserves a new biography today, it is him. Now, after a long drought, we suddenly have two very good ones: John A. Farrell’s Clarence Darrow: Attorney for the Damned and Andrew E. Kersten’s Clarence Darrow: American Iconoclast. As they say, when it rains, it pours (though I do think it a bit unfair to each of these fine books that they are being released so closely back to back).

As they should, Kersten and Farrell both inevitably build their stories around Darrow’s famous legal cases ― a series of irresistible dramas, which trace the country’s own emergence into the modern age. Darrow lectured prolifically about philosophy and religion ― his views were mostly cynical and atheistic ― but he spoke most eloquently through the clients he chose to defend. They started with labor leaders such as Eugene Debs (future four-time Socialist candidate for president, charged with conspiracy for leading the 1894 Pullman Strike) and William D. “Big Bill” Haywood (founder of the radical Industrial Workers of the World, or “Wobblies”; accused, with two other defendants, in the 1905 murder of Idaho governor Frank Steunenberg following a labor dispute and found not guilty) ― this at a time when working men’s efforts to assert collective rights against unfettered Gilded Age capitalism was the cutting-edge human rights issue in America.
Darrow defended self-declared Communists at the height of the post-World War I Red Scare. He defended Leopold and Loeb, plus a political assassin named Patrick Eugene Prendergast (convicted of murdering Chicago mayor Carter Harrison, in 1893), on grounds of opposing capital punishment. And, at a time late in his career, when he could charge exorbitant fees, he chose instead to defend Ossian Sweet, a Detroit black man accused of murdering a white man he shot while defending his house. Darrow won him an outright acquittal from an all-white jury.
It is no exaggeration that many of these confrontations were life-and-death, win-at-all-costs, bare-knuckled, adrenaline-pumping affairs covered breathlessly by newspapers coast-to-coast. As a result, this gave Darrow a unique platform to shape modern attitudes toward free speech, civil liberties, racial equality, criminal psychology, the death penalty, fair play for minorities and unpopular defendants, and the legal profession itself.
His dark side

Neither Farrell nor Kersten spares Darrow a good flogging for his many character flaws.  Darrow could be vain, self-absorbed and deceitful ― as in his womanizing and cheating on his second wife, Ruby, with young journalist Mary Field. He could be corrupt. After he defended the McNamara brothers, two union organizers, for the 1912 dynamiting of the Los Angeles Times building, which killed more than 20 people (he pled them both guilty to life sentences), prosecutors charged Darrow with jury tampering. He denied it and won an acquittal in his first trial but escaped jail only by a hung jury in the second. Afterward, with a cloud over his reputation, Darrow justified the tactics. “Do not the rich and powerful bribe jurors, intimidate and coerce judges,” he asked in a letter.
Darrow could also be personally cruel with people he disliked.  Describing his sharp, embarrassing cross-examination of William Jennings Bryan ― the former presidential candidate who led the prosecution against John Scopes in the famous Monkey trial ― he admitted to a friend: “I made up my mind to show the country what an ignoramus he was and I succeeded.”
I particularly enjoyed John Farrell’s richly written and well-structured narrative. Farrell, a Washington-based political journalist (he recently joined the Center for Public Integrity as senior reporter) and biographer of former Democratic House Speaker Tip O’Neill, manages to cut through the complexity of Darrow’s legal cases to expose the human dynamic, the core conflicts and underhanded courtroom tricks, as well as the deeper national issues at stake.
Andrew Kersten, professor of Democracy and Justice Studies at the University of Wisconsin and author of three books on labor history, brings a sharp academic eye to the story. His writing is clear and efficient, and he lets the story shine through. He, too, presents Darrow warts and all, though he occasionally seems a bit too eager to forgive Darrow for his shortcomings.

Happily, neither book falls into the trap of trying to decipher “what would Clarence Darrow do?” about modern issues like the Guantanamo Bay prison, the Patriot Act or other elements of today’s War on Terror. Darrow was far too idiosyncratic for that. In real life, he constantly confounded his friends. He managed to forget all about civil liberties during some of the most shameful World War I-era crackdowns on dissent, and F.D.R. himself lived to regret putting Darrow on a 1930s New Deal program review board only to have Darrow publicly blast the program as autocratic.
For my money, there cannot be enough biographies, movies, documentaries, speeches or memorabilia about Clarence Darrow. And as long as we keep Darrow’s profile high in the American consciousness, it keeps the country and our civil rights safer as a result.

Monday, June 27, 2011

GUEST BLOGGER: Ken Briers on his 1952 Ford Customline Tudor sedan, still running.

Our 1952 Ford Customline Tudor sedan.  (Click on image for full size.)

This is a very special car.   Not many were sold and few survive.  But what really makes it special is its chain of ownership over 55 years: my father and me.  This was my father’s first new car, it became my first car, and it still runs today.

The Ford 1952 Customline Tudor sedan was an all-new product that year.  Ford had to delay its introduction until February due to production restrictions from the Korean Conflict.  This particular car came off the assembly line in Norfolk, Virginia.  My father, Roland Briers, bought it on December 10th, 1952, from Rowley Motors, in Catonsville, MD, for $2,414.53, with a down payment of $435.00.  He received an allowance of $389.53 on his trade-in, a 1939 LaSalle four door with a cracked engine block that my father had bought after being mustered out of the US Navy in 1945. 

How do I know this? I still have the original invoice!  Not only that, I have the 300 and 1,000 mile service receipts and the finance agreement.  My parents chose the Tudor because my brother Karl and I were five and six years old at the time. In those days, before child seats and rear door locks controlled by the driver, we had tried to climb out of the LaSalle’s back seat more than once.

Our first new car

Our 1952 Ford featured a new 215 cubic inch overhead valve six cylinder engine with 101 horsepower. It had a Fordomatic Transmission and two-tone paint (Shannon Green [dark] and Glenmist Green [light]).  Other options included a fresh air heater, turn indictors, a six-tube radio, and whitewall tires. The dealer installed seat covers and antifreeze, and applied undercoating.  From December 1952 until the summer of 1959, our family went everywhere in that Ford, including regular trips to Central Pennsylvania to visit relatives.

By 1962, when I was old enough to drive, my father and I worked together to spruce up the car with new seat covers, new frontend chrome, and a new, brighter coat of paint.  In 1965, my father transferred the title to me.

Ken (2nd from right, in cap and gown) standing with family, including brother Karl (also in cap
and gown), parents Helene and Roland (standing between their sons), and uncles Gordon and
Kenneth Briers (far left and right), at the 1969 graduation from U. of Maryland.   
I drove the Ford through high school and part of my college years.   When my brother Karl learned to drive, I gave him the Ford and bought myself a new 1965 VW 1200 Beatle.  A year later, we both transferred to the University of Maryland, and my brother bought a 1957 Chevrolet.  At that point, after owning it for 14 years, we all decided to keep our original 1952 Ford, but to store it in a rented garage.  

For the next 41 years, other than a move to Ellicott City, MD, it sat undisturbed.

The Rehabilitation.

Then, in summer 2007, my wife Sally suggested that we pull the old Ford out of storage and find someone to fix it up.  She wanted to drive it, and we both thought it would be great to display at shows.   So we asked Roger Bylsma, a friend at the Bay Country Region of the Antique Automotive Club of America (AACA), if he would like to do the work.   Roger agreed.  On August 12th that year, he and I drove to Severn, MD to pick up his son's truck and trailer and continued on to Ellicott City to pull the old Ford out of storage.

After pumping up the tires, Roger and his son David winched the car on to the trailer, then Roger and I took off for his home in Hurlock.  When we got there, I washed the car and it looked surprisingly good for its age.  Over the next two months, Roger replaced all of the brake tubing, rebuilt the brake cylinders, removed the upholstery, washed it, and replaced the foam rubber padding.  Sally and I found new material for the door panels and we had Bonnie Cagle, of Wrights Wharf, MD, repair the seat upholstery, the door panels, and the arm rests. We also replaced two cracked windows with glass with original markings.

On Monday, August 27th, my cell phone rang.  Roger was on the line, and he asked me if I could hear the noise. He said: “That’s your engine, running!”  What a great sound it was to hear!

In late September, I got tags and ordered a set of tires.  Meanwhile, Harrison’s Transmissions, in Easton, MD, picked up the Ford to rebuild the transmission. It took a little while to find the right bands and seals, but they didn’t have to replace any of the metal.

We installed the tires on October 16th and the transmission was finished the next Friday.  After 41 years, my father’s 1952 Ford Customline was back on the road!

It's first show

On Sunday, May 4th, 2009, after a bit more tinkering,  our newly reborn 1952 Ford made its debut at the AACA Bay Country Region’s annual Dust ‘em Off Tour.  Having completed the rehabilitation (Not the restoration!) of the car, we took it to the AACA Eastern Spring Meet, in Flintstone, MD, where it earned a Certificate for Historic Preservation of Original Features (HPOF).

On the outside, it looks like new, but underneath it is the same ‘52 Ford I had grown up with and learned to drive on.  I’m sure that my father (and my mother!) would be pleased.

Ken Briers is a former locomotive engineer and a railroad operations consultant who loves trains and old cars, particularly Fords.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

FAMILY HISTORY- GUEST BLOGGER: Wendy Griswold on searching for deported Uncle Wolf Pfeiffer, 1906.

Photo of Wendy's grandparents, Sarah Pfeiffer and Morris (Moshe) Blitz, with their oldest daughter Fanny, taken in New York City, circa 1903.  Of her uncle Wolf, there is no known photo.  

Like most Ashkenazi Jews, I was named for someone I never met, my great uncle Wolf (Velvel) Pfeiffer. I had spent years searching for records of him, but never made any progress until I figured out that everything my mother ever told me about our family history was wrong.

All I “knew” was that he came to Ellis Island with my grandparents, Moshe (Morris) Blitz and Sarah Pfeiffer Blitz, when they emigrated from Austria a century ago.  Wolf was my grandmother's brother.  But the US government initially rejected Wolf because of a physical deformity.  Beyond that, it was all a blur.

Wrong Dates

 The first problem was the dates. My Grandmother always told us that she came over in “1898, the year McKinley was shot.” President McKinley, of course, was shot by assassin Leo Czolgosz in 1901, three years later, but I had a rough timeframe.

So I spent countless hours scouring the Ellis Island database but never found a trace of either my grandparents or Uncle Wolf. I checked records of arrivals via Canada and entry ports other than New York, but found nothing there either. Then one night, too tired to sleep and feeling adventurous, I plugged “Wolf Pfeiffer” into the Ellis Island database search engine and expanded the search dates well beyond 1902 – ignoring  the timeframe of family lore.

And there was his name, staring me right in the face: Wolf Pfeiffer, arrived at Ellis Island, November 3, 1906, on the steamship Bremen out of Hamburg, Germany. What’s more, the record showed him accompanying two children, not my grandparents. The two children were to be delivered to a brother of Wolf’s already living in the US. (Wolf and my grandmother had another brother? Who knew?)  It listed this brother’s address as 336 E. Houston St., which I knew as the place where my grandparents lived on the Lower East Side in New York City (and I have the birth records of their three oldest daughters showing that address).


But what happened to Wolf? My scant knowledge of family legend led me to believe that he must have gotten into the country somehow, but the records disagreed: I found no further mention of him at Ellis Island, no trace of him at any other east coast ports, no census records, no naturalization records, no draft, death, burial, or voter records, no mention in city directories or phone books.

Growing desperate, I turned to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS -- which today houses the Immigration Bureau and happens to have an excellent historical office) and submitted a FOIA request. I asked for anything they might have on a man named Wolf Pfeiffer, and provided all the particulars I could pull together. I waited, and waited, and … finally … got an answer. DHS had nothing, but they suggested I contact the National Archives (NARA) citing such-and-such a case number and ask them.


NARA – bless them -- answered quickly. And what they had was a one-in-a-million shot: the record of a deportation hearing. Very few of the people rejected at Ellis Island knew enough – or were bold enough – to request a hearing. My grandmother – who it now appears had reached America a few years before Wolf, possibly via Canada – had been here long enough to know the ropes. My Uncle Wolf not only requested a hearing, but the file shows that he even managed to get a letter of support from a Congressman.

Reading the brief hearing transcript from 1906 is a chilling window on a long-ago disaster for my family. At the hearing, my grandmother testified and presented her bankbook to show the inspector that she could support another family member, and then the brother I had not previously known about testified that he could give Wolf a job. They deported him anyway. Why? Because the Ellis Island doctor found that Uncle Wolf had bad posture, a curved back. Because of this, the Ellis Island inspectors decided that Uncle Wolf would likely become a public charge and, as a result, could not enter the country. Instead, they decided to divide the family again and deport my uncle back to Europe.

Wolf may have hurt his case at the hearing with something he said.  Wolf doubtless spoke Yiddish, so we have these words through a stenographer, who had it from an interpreter:  “I did not care to come, only to bring these children,” Wolf is noted as saying.   But in my heart, I believe Wolf was rejected because he looked and sounded too much like an Eastern European Jew at a time when prejudice still flourished.  Had his name been William Piper, had he spoken with a different accent or cadence, we could have had a different outcome.

A hundred years later, I stood at Ellis Island, looking through a glass barrier at the room where the hearing had taken place, and held back tears.

The Mystery

So, after all the searching, I know one solid fact: Wolf was deported. What happened after that is a mystery. Did he return to America in first or second class rather than steerage? There would be no record. Did he enter the US through Canada? Did he never come back at all? Is that why there’s no photograph of him?

I have tried to trace my grandmother’s other brother and his children. So far, nothing. Perhaps the spelling of Pfeiffer was simplified or mangled in the documents, or the name Taube became Toby or Ruchel became Rose or Leib became Louie. Maybe they were missed or misspelled on the census. Maybe my research skills are not what they should be. 

I found a record of a Wolf Pfeffer arriving in Philadelphia in 1913, but his age is off by about 10 years. And then another long shot -- I found a notation on the ship manifest of a relative who came later (another son of my grandmother’s previously-unknown brother) indicating that he had been naturalized. Perhaps I’ll get lucky tracking down his naturalization papers – which might lead me to census, marriage, and death records, and eventually to a living relative who is willing to talk to me.

But having converted a similar long shot into what is now a series of fun and rewarding relationships with many long-lost cousins on my father’s side, it’s a shot I’m willing to take.

And maybe someday I’ll find a photo and see the face of my namesake.

Wendy Griswold is a freelance writer and translator and passionate genealogist.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

WOUNDED KNEE: 1890, a take from Johnny Cash.

Links to prior posts in this series:
               --WOUNDED KNEE part 1: The closing frontier;

Before leaving Wounded Knee, here's one more take on the 1890 story -- from country singer Johnny Cash.   He recorded this song during a visit to South Dakota shortly after the 1973 American Indian Movement siege at Pine Ridge.  "Bigfoot," whom Cash refers to, was another name for Sioux Chief Spotted Elk who led the Indians at Wounded Knee that day in 1890 and was one of the first killed in the encounter.   I've included the full lyrics below.   Enjoy.

Johnny Cash - 1974  
But the land was already claimed by a people when the  
cowboy came and when the soldiers came. 
The story of the American Indian is in a lot of ways a story 
of tragedy like that day at Wounded Knee, South Dakota.  

Bigfoot was an Indian Chief of the Miniconjou band,  
a band of Miniconjou Sioux from South Dakota land. 
igfoot said to Custer, stay away from Crazy Horse, 
but Custer crossed into Sioux land, and he never came back across. 
Then Bigfoot led his people to a place called Wounded Knee, 
and they found themselves surrounded by the Seventh Cavalry.  

Big Chief Bigfoot, rise up from your bed, 
Miniconjou babies cry for their mothers lyin' dead.  

Bigfoot was down with a fever when he reached Wounded Knee, 
and his people all were prisoners of the Seventh Cavalry. 
Two hundred women and children and another hundred men 
raised up a white flag of peace, but peace did not begin. 
An accidental gunshot, and Bigfoot was first to die, 
and over the noise of the rifles you could hear the babies cry.  

Big Chief Bigfoot, it' s good that you can't see, 
revenge is being wrought by Custer's Seventh Cavalry.  

Then smoke hung over the canyon on that cold December day, 
all was death and dying around where Bigfoot lay. F
arther on up the canyon some had tried to run and hide, 
but death showed no favourites, women, men and children died. 
One side called it a massacre, the other a victory, 
but the white flag is still waving today at Wounded Knee.  

Big Chief Bigfoot, your Miniconjou band 
is more 'n than remembered here in South Dakota land.  
Big Chief Bigfoot, your Miniconjou band 
is more 'n than remembered here in South Dakota land.

Friday, June 17, 2011

GUEST BLOGGER: Marshall Matz on Indian uprising at Wounded Knee, 1973.

Armed members of the American Indian Movement during 1973 siege at Wounded Knee, South Dakota. Note the American flag hung upside down (distress signal), a frequent protest symbol during the late 1960s  - early 1970s.

Links to prior posts in this series:
               --WOUNDED KNEE part 1: The closing frontier;
               --WOUNDED KNEE part 2: 1890 -- The Massacre. 

On December 29, 1890, the American Seventh Cavalry committed a notorious massacre, killing at least 150 Lakota Sioux men, women, and children, at the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation near Wounded Knee creek in South Dakota. This massacre ended the Indian Wars of that era and any resistance to moving the Plains Indians off their traditional land into reservations. Eighty-three years later, as a protest against decades of poverty, neglect, and broken promises, some 300 descendants of the original Wounded Knee Indians, calling themselves the American Indian Movement (AIM) took up arms and occupied the village of Wounded Knee. For 71 days, they held off the combined force of the US Marshal Service, the FBI, the US military, and state police, until leaders brokered a settlement.

Our Guest Blogger, Marshall Matz, had a unique role in this dramatic stand-off, which he shares with us today for the first time.

Wounded Knee is a small village on the Oglala Sioux Indian Reservation (Pine Ridge), the largest of nine Sioux reservations in South Dakota with a population of 10,000. Wounded Knee has always had special meaning to Indian people as the location of the famous 1890 massacre – their last armed confrontation with the US government. (See: Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee.)

In February 1973, to dramatize the plight of Indian people and pressure both Washington and the local Indian establishment for change, the American Indian Movement (AIM) took over Wounded Knee in an armed conflict. They seized hostages – local officials – and established an armed military perimeter around the village The US government, in turn, cut off food, electricity, and all roads into the town. Still, a steady stream of Indians snuck in to join the protest.

FBI car shot during Wounded Knee siege.
 Gunfire between Indians and law enforcement broke out almost daily. The leaders of the 300 AIM members, Russell Means and Dennis Banks, brought in lawyer William Kunstler (then famous for defending anti-Vietnam War protestors in the Chicago 7 case) to represent them. They demanded investigations of corruption both in the tribal governments and the US Bureau of Indian Affairs. Soon, the siege was making headlines around the world, gaining wide support. (That spring, actor Marlon Brando refused to accept his Academy Award for The Godfather in solidarity with the Wounded Knee Indians).

At the time, I was 27 years old and had recently moved to Washington from South Dakota to take a position with Senator George McGovern (D-SD), the recent Democratic presidential nominee, as Counsel to the Senate Select Committee on Nutrition which McGovern chaired. The Senator had hired me after he “found me” in South Dakota, as he likes to put it, working as an attorney on the impoverished Indian reservations for South Dakota Legal Services. There, I had represented members of the Crow Creek and Lower Brule Sioux Tribes from an office at Fort Thompson. As a result, I had witnessed first-hand the rising Indian grievances, and Senator McGovern viewed me as one of his staff "experts" on the subject.

After the Wounded Knee siege had already lasted many weeks, the AIM Indian leaders decided to invite a group of Washington officials to help mediate a settlement. They invited the two South Dakota Senators, McGovern and Jim Abourezk (D-SD), and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger to make the point that the Reservations were sovereign nations. Secretary Kissinger did not accept the invitation (if he ever received it). Instead, the third seat went to the Senate staff counsel -- me.

I remember vividly being flown by Air Force jet from Andrews Air Force Base, just outside Washington, D.C., to Ellsworth Air Force Base in Rapid City, South Dakota. We were transferred to a helicopter flown directly to Pine Ridge, the “capital” or center of the Oglala Sioux Reservation. Here, the FBI agents took us by car ,across the stark, semi-desert landscape to a point just outside Wounded Knee itself. The FBI and AIM members had both established armed perimeters around the town, and between them was what both sides called “the DMZ” (demilitarized zone), as in the Vietnam War.

At this point, I remember the lead FBI agent telling the Senators (and me, the Counsel) that they could not protect us any further. If we proceeded into occupied Pine Ridge, it was at our own risk. I remember wondering if it was the first time the FBI had told two U.S. Senators that they could not protect them on US soil. For Senator McGovern, who had just recently experienced the heavy security of a Presidential campaign, it was the most striking.

FBI agents gave us a car and we drove forward. I sat in back, with Senator McGovern driving (if I recall correctly) and Senator Abourezk holding a white handkerchief on a stick through the car window to indicate that we were the negotiating team. All the while, I could see armed Indians riding horses on the surrounding hills.

And with that, we drove into Wounded Knee.

Wounded Knee is a small village with only a few buildings….a church, post office and small store (again, if my memory is correct). Wounded Knee was completely armed. All around town we saw young braves with rifles, posted at key locations. Somehow, in all this, I never felt any danger and I don’t believe the Senators did either, but we did not discuss it.

View inside the AIM leadership tent during the siege.

Also, all over town, we ran into newspaper writers and TV crews, many lugging around heavy cameras, lights, and other equipment. (There were only the three major TV networks at the time.) While the Indians kept the FBI out, they made a point to allow the media in, since publicity was a major goal of the siege. They wanted to bring attention to the plight of Indian people and the broken Treaties.

The Indians took us to a farm house for the actual discussions with AIM leaders and their legal counsel, Mr. Kunstler. I remember their starting the session with prayers in the Lakota language as is traditional of all Sioux meetings. Food and coffee was available, not a small point since food shipments had been cut off during the siege.

Once the talks began, both Senators participated in the discussion while I listened and tried to staff them as best I could. While McGovern was better known around the country, Senator Abourezk actually had closer ties to the Reservations having grown up “West River” -- west of the Missouri River where the tribes were located. Senator McGovern is from “East River.”

The Senators promised to use their influence to bring the Indian concerns back to Washington. Ultimately, the siege ended peacefully. As the only staff person present, I served as a liaison to the press and tried to provide some historical understanding to the siege.. After the senators left, I stayed behind for several days, doing what I could to provide a presence and liaison to the Senators.

The Indians ended their siege in early May after 71 days – 38 years ago last month. What had they accomplished? Two of the Indian occupiers had died of gunshot wounds during the siege and a US Marshal was grievously injured. Two years later, on June 26, 1975, two FBI agents were killed near Wounded Knee and Leonard Peltier, an AIM member, was convicted.

The siege of Wounded Knee did provide greater recognition across the country of the difficulties facing modern American Indians. Presidents since that time have all (I believe) recognized the sovereignty of Indian Tribes with Presidential Proclamations pledged to interact with Tribes on a basis of “government to government.”

The sad truth, however, is that not much has changed economically since 1973 to improve the quality of life on American Indian Reservations. Today, unemployment on many Reservations is over 50% and can be as high as 80%. The poorest Tribes in the country are still those in the Missouri River Valley that are the most remote and furthest from major population centers that could allow for gambling or tourism to help the Tribe. This high unemployment cannot help but lead to a breakdown of the social fabric. Alcoholism, diabetes, infant mortality, and violence all far exceed the profile for the rest of the United States.

The United States continues to pay lip service to Indian rights, but has not appropriated the money needed or established the programs necessary to create a private sector economy on the Reservations and break the cycle of poverty. The sad legacy of Wounded Knee will continue until the United States government helps to replace the economy that was lost. The world may be “flat” with a global economy, as New York Times columnist Tom Friedman puts it, but that economy has not reached Indian Country, USA. The United States outsources to India but not to America’s Reservations.

Personally, I have remained involved with the Reservations. My law firm, OFW Law, today has an office on the Lower Brule Sioux Reservation, which we represent in Washington, D.C. The Tribe has given me the title “Ambassador to the United States” and the office of the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) is referred to as the Tribal Embassy.

The Lower Brule Sioux Tribe is working hard to bring private business to the reservations as a spur to breaking the cycle of poverty. To do this, as one strategy, we are focusing our energy on trying to pass an Indian Agriculture Act that would bring many of the highly-successful US Government farm and rural development programs, administered by the Department of Agriculture, to the reservations. This, as a spur to private home-grown business, may well be the best hope for finally bringing a happy ending to the sad history of Wounded Knee, be it 1890 or 1973.

Marshall Matz practices law at OFW Law in Washington, D.C.  Visit him at  

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

WOUNDED KNEE: part 2, 1890 -- The massacre.

Photo taken shortly after the massacre/battle, showing defeated Sioux chiefs guarded by a cavalry soldier.
Links to other posts in this series:
            --WOUNDED KNEE: Sacred ground for American Sioux Indians
           -- WOUNDED KNEE, Part I, The Closing Frontier,

What happened on the snow-crusted plain near Wounded Knee Creek at day-break, December 29, 1890, has been described variously as a battle, a massacre, or a one-sided rout.  In truth, both sides fired gunshots and took casualties -- but it was hardly even.

Numbers tell the story.  Of the 500 US cavalry engaged that day, 23 died in the encounter, dozens were wounded,  and twenty received the Army's Medal of Honor (more than the number given to all the South Dakotans who served in World War II).   Of some 350 Sioux Indians, over 150 were killed, including 44 women and 18 children, and another 50 were wounded.  Some estimates put the Indian deaths closer to 200.  For the next century, arguments would rage over why it happened at all.

Why the Fight

Some basic facts are clear.  The day before, soldiers of the US Seventh Cavalry under Major Samuel M. Whitside, a veteran officer who had served in the Civil War, were patrolling the Dakota Badlands area and came across a large band of Sioux under a chief named Spotted Elk. (also known as "Big Foot").  The army had issued orders that all nomadic Indians must be brought to the nearby Pine Ridge reservation, and Major Whitside, following these orders, decided to escort the Indians in that direction.  They camped along the way by Wounded Knee Creek. 

Artist Frederick Remington captures opening gunfire at Wounded Knee.
But rather than disarm the Indians immediately, which could start a fight, Whitside had decided to wait for reinforements, which came later that night with a heavily armed column under Colonel James W. Forsyth, another veteran officer with both Indian and Civil War experience.  Forsyth's and Whitside's combined force now totalled some 500 men, and included four Hotchkiss guns (similar to Gattling machine guns) that they mounted around the Indian encampment.

At this point, in late 1890, feelings against Indians in America had boiled over.  General Philip Sheridan, famous for his quip "The only good Indians I ever saw were dead," served as Lieutanant General of the Army.  The public still fumed over the killing of General Custer and his soldiers at the Little Bighorn in 1876.  The original reservation granted the Sioux under the 1868 Treaty of Fort Laramie had been sharply cut to barely a quarter its original size, stripped of the Black Huills and other choice land.  In 1879, when General George Crook -- a well known Indian fighter -- negotiated a surrender of Apaches in the southwest, Washington immediately dismissed him from his command for being too lenient.

Nowhere did anger against the Sioux over Custer's defeat at Little Bighorn still linger more strongly than among the Seventh Cavalry, Custer's old command, that lost almost 300 dead that day. 

The Shooting
And so on the morning of December 29, 1890, at daybreak, Colonel Forsyth ordered his Seventh Cavalry troops to gather the Indians in their camp, separating men from women, and demand they surrender their guns.  Both sides seemed itching for a fight.  By one account, a Sioux medicine men named Yellow Bird began to perform the Ghost Dance -- a mystical ritual that many Sioux believed made them bulletproof.    Forsyth demanded he step, but the medicine man refused.  
Then another Indian named Black Cayote, known to be deaf, apparently failed to hear the order to disarm.  When soldiers approached him, he grew agitated and pulled out his rifle.  Two soldiers grabbed him from behind.  In the struggle, his gun went off.  At that moment, dust flew in the air -- parhaps part of the Ghost Dance -- and a handful of Sioux pulled rifles they had concealed inside blankets.  They began firing at the soldiers.    [Click here for a detailed account by Colonel Forsyth's Indian interpreter that day: ]

A photo of Indian survivors after the Wounded Knee massacre.

Once it started, the soldiers immediately raised weapons and returned fire full force at close range.  Dozens of Indian men fell in the first volleys, including Chief Spotted Elk.  The Indian gunfire quickly ceased, but the soldiers kept shooting (and many soldiers ended up falling to  friendly fire).  The Sioux women and children, originally separated from the men, ran from the camp toward some nearby ravines for safety.  In the confusion and excitement, several cavalry soldiers jumped on horses, chased them down and shot them.  The Hodgkiss machine guns joined the melee by raining bullets into the Indian tents.   

The whole affair ended in barely a few minutes.  The chasing and killing of those who ran off to nearby ravines,  mostly women and children, lasted perhaps another hour.   When it was over, the land was covered with bodies.  Four Sioux infants were discovered still alive in the arms of dying or dead mothers.  

The Reaction
Back east, in cities like New York and Philadelphia, newspapers quickly told the story about a great battle in the Dakotas.  Public sentiment stood solidly behind the soldiers, reflecting both support for US troops in the field and continuing bitterness at hostile Indians threatening settlers.  

The only apparent strong objection at the time -- outside the Indians themselves -- came from within the Army.  General Nelson Miles, another longtime Indian fighter and Civil War veteran who'd won the Medal of Honor for his role in the 1863 Battle at Chancellorville, had recently been named Major General and senior officer for the Dakota Territory.  Miles loudly complained that Forsyth had allowed his soldiers at Wounded Knee to break discipline and commit an unneeded massacre.  He relieved Forsyth of his command and convened an Army Court of Inquiry into the matter. 

Americans at that point, howver, were in no mood to second-guess the soldiers.  The Court of Inquiry criticized Forsyth, but it exonerated him of any wrongdoing.  The Secretary of War -- at that point a former Pennsylavania congressman named Alexander Ramsey -- ultimately bent to public demands and reinstated Forsyth to his command, promoting him to Major General.
Map showing carveup of the original 1868 Sioux
reservation by later treaties.

The December 1890 massacre at Wounded Knee (along with a fight the next day at nearby Drexel Mission) marked the last major encounter of the great Plains Indians Wars of the 1800s.  The Sioux give up any organized resistance and, for the next 83 years, would stay on their reservations.  Later treaties would strip away more lands as poverty and social conditions continued to deteriorate.  It would take decedes for the US government to grant the Sioux basic elements of citizenship,  decades more for basic constitutional civil liberties, and still more for the right to vote in elections.  

Large sums of money promised to the tribe members under treaties vanished in the bureaucracy of the US Bureau of Indian Afffairs and inefficient or corrupt local leaders.

Americans would tend to forget about the Sioux and other Indians after the 1890s -- at least the real life ones -- except as colorful villains in western movies, novels, and TV shows.  

Until the next major act of the drama -- the Wounded Knee uprising of 1973.

Monday, June 6, 2011

WOUNDED KNEE, part I: The closing frontier.

Lakota Lake, Black Hills, South Dakota.
Click here for other parts of this series:

Wounded Knee is a stark, remote place in western South Dakota with freezing winters, blazing hot summers, and hard, rocky ground tough for raising crops.  Wounded Knee Creek itself is a narrow, shallow, twisting stream  -- barely 100 miles start to finish -- that snakes across the barren landscape through today's Pine Ridge Indian Reservation before vanishing into another stream just south of Badlands National Park.  

This creek never held much appeal for the Lakota Sioux Indians.  But just north sat something much better, the Black Hills, a natural wonder of peaks and streams, lush grasslands and deep forests, rich with game -- bison, deer, and bighorn sheep.  This was land worth fighting for.   The Sioux -- a loose confederation of tribes -- had already dominated the North American plains for two centuries by the 1770s when they first moved into this area, captured it from the Cheyennes, and made it central to their culture, religion, and survival.  

By the time white settlers began reaching this area in the early 1800s, they found Sioux tribes -- Lakota, Oglala, and others -- covering vast stretches from Minnesota to the Dakotas, Wisconsin, Iowa, Missouri, and as far west as Montana and Wyoming.  (Note: This wasn't all their land; Sioux constantly fought with other tribes and permanent borders or settlements had little meaning on this frontier.)   At first, relations between Indians and this handful of white settlers were calm.  Tribes signed dozens of treaties with settlers during the 1820s and 1830s, setting vague boundaries and promising friendships.   But as the trickle of settlers began to grow, demands for land increased.  In 1851, the US government agreed to pay the Lakota Sioux $1.6 million for the entire Iowa territory plus large chunks of Minnesota in the Treaty of Traverse des Sioux.  (Click here for full text.)   Many Sioux objected to this rich deal -- ceding 24 million acres in one stroke -- but tribal chiefs insisted. 

Red Cloud's War

The surge of white settlers after the Civil War -- prompted in part by gold discoveries in Montana -- finally pushed tensions over the edge.  Red Cloud was chief of the Oglala Lakota Sioux in Montana when he joined with Cheyennes and Arapaho in 1866 in a two-year wave of strikes against settlers and cavalry throughout Montana and Wyoming.   It was a bloody guerilla war and culminated in the Battle of the Hundred Slain (or "Fetterman Massacre" to the cavalrymen) when Red Cloud's warriors managed to wipe out an entire 81-man detachment from Fort Kearny led by a Captain William J. Fetterman.  Red Cloud had used a decoy -- the already prominent Crazy Horse -- to lure the cavalrymen into a massive ambush. 

Battle of the Hundred Slain (Fetterman Massacre) -- by artist Harold von Schmidt.
After this, the US government sought peace and signed the 1868 Treaty of Fort Laramie click here for full text.  This treaty gave Red Cloud's Lakota Sioux perpetual rights of "absolute and undisturbed use and occupation" covering a swath of land -- far too big to call simply a "reservation" - that included not just the Black Hills but virtually all western South Dakota.  For the foreseeable future, so long as both sides kept promises, it seemed to create a workable peace -- enough good land for the Sioux, and enough good land for the settlers.   

The great Sioux War

Contemporary 1875 cartoon of Red Cloud turning
down Grant's offer of meaningless trinkets.
 But it wasn't good enough.   In 1874, prospectors found gold in the Black Hills, bringing yet another new wave of settlers into Sioux territory.  By now, the mid-1870s, migration from the East had become a torrent. Over 120,000 white settlers would move into the Dakotas during the 1870s, plus hundreds of thousands more into the nearby new states of Iowa and Nebraska.  These settlers, in turn, were followed by over 50,000 miles of new railroad track laid across the west between 1865 and 1875.  The great herds of buffalo -- staple food for the Sioux - began to disappear and cavalry forts dotted the landscape.  

Red Cloud himself led a delegation of Sioux leaders to Washington, DC, in 1875 to meet President Ulysses Grant and ask him to keep the US government's 1868 treaty promises.  Instead, they received an ultimatum from the US Congress -- a draft treaty demanding they leave the Dakotas in exchange for a one-time payment of $25,000 and the right to resettle in "Indian Territory" (today's Oklahoma).   Red Cloud and the others refused to sign it.

This was this spark that led to the Great Sioux War of 1876-77, climaxed by its signature battle in which warriors under Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse annihilated General George Armstrong Custer and much of his Seventh Cavalry at the Little Bighorn.  (More on this later.)  

The roundup
Winning this battle and killing Custer ultimately meant doom for the Sioux.  The American public, shocked by the Little Bighorn massacre, rallied around the fallen cavalrymen and turning General Custer into a martyred hero.  They found totally unacceptable the whole idea of armed, hostile frontier tribesmen killing soldiers and settlers while blocking national expansion.  The warring Sioux had to be disarmed and neutralized -- immediately.  Within weeks after Little Bighorn, the US government forced Sioux chiefs to sign a new treaty (click here for text) drastically cutting back the size of Red Cloud's reservation, stripping it of the Black Hills and Badlands, requiring it be crossed by roads, and making most aspects of Indian daily life totally dependent on largesse from the US government.  At the same time, the US Cavalry began a concerted effort to round up in all the remaining nomadic tribes.  

Over the next few years, as more and more Indians were crowded into the reservations and circumstances grew desperate, many Indians began looking for salvation through a cult called the Ghost Dance,which alarmed many white settlers and soldiers.  Cult followers believed they were bulletproof during the dance, and new violence seemed inevitable. 

Things reached a head in December 1890.  By this time, Crazy Horse had been killed by soldiers, Sitting Bull had recently been killed during an arrest, and Red Cloud, still on the reservation, was growing increasing frustrated trying to negotiate with Washington.  One day that month, after a brutal winter storm,  soldiers from the Seventh Cavalry happened to come across a group of about 350 Sioux wandering near the Dakota Badlands, led by a chief named Spotted Elk.  All but about 120 of the Indians were women and children.  

The cavalrymen, under Major Samuel Whitside, decided to escort the indians to the nearby Pine Ridge Reservation -- a small southern carveout from the original 1868 treaty lands.  Rather than try to disarm the Indians immediately, Major Whitside decided to wait for reinforements.  He ordered his cavalrymen to march together with the Indians for about five miles, then camp by Wounded Knee Creek.  

Later that night, a heavily armed column of cavalrymen under Colonel James Forsyth joined Whitside, bringing the cavalry total to some 500 men, including four Hotchkiss guns (similar to Gattling machine guns) which they mounted around the Indian encampment.  The next morning, December 29, they planned to disarm the Indians and deliver them to the reservation.

It would not be peaceful.