A remarkable plan of the Wounded Knee Massacre

Pvt. James Hade 6th Cav. del., SCENE of the FIGHT with BIG FOOTS BAND. Showing position of Troops when first shot was fired from Sketches made by Lieut. S. A. Cloman Art’y Engr. Officer, Division of the Missouri. NP, ND but ca. Jan. 1891.
Blueprint map, 10 7/8”h x 12 ¼”w plus margins.

An extraordinarily rare plan documenting the massacre at Wounded Knee, sketched and printed within days of the event.

Wounded Knee was the last major encounter with the Sioux and effectively marked the end of centuries of Indian Wars. It came at a time of deep public anxiety about the emergence among the Sioux of the Ghost Dance religion, which promised a resurgence of the vast buffalo herds, the return of the ghosts of Sioux ancestors, and the banishment of whites from the Great Plains. The fears were unfounded, as there was no hard evidence that the new religion had produced outbreaks of violence.

Nevertheless the government cracked down. On December 28, 1890 the 7th Cavalry Regiment under Col. James Forsyth rounded up a band of Sioux under Big Foot (aka Spotted Elk) and marched them to a camp by Wounded Knee Creek in the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. The next morning, as soldiers attempted to disarm the band, a gun went off and the cavalry opened fire indiscriminately, killing as many as 300 Sioux, mostly women and children. Many of the victims had attempted to flee but were cut down after being chased for miles. Twenty five cavalrymen also died, both at the hands of the Sioux and by friendly fire.

Major General Nelson Miles, Commander of the Military Division of the Missouri and Forsyth’s commanding officer, was sharply critical of the colonel’s conduct. In a letter to his wife written within days of Wounded Knee Miles described the event as “The most abominable criminal military blunder and a horrible massacre of women and children.” He relieved Forsyth of duty and convened a court of inquiry in January 1891, which criticized some of the officer’s tactical dispositions but absolved him of responsibility for the massacre. His career prospered, and he was eventually promoted to major general.

Offered here is an extraordinary blueprint plan of the tactical dispositions at Wounded Knee on the morning of December 29th, produced immediately after the massacre to support General Miles’ investigation. The plan was based on sketches made by Lieutenant Sydney Amos Cloman of the 1st Infantry Regiment, whom Miles had appointed Acting Engineer of the Division of the Missouri and who arrived on the scene within a week of the massacre. According to one source, “Cloman’s  completed map was one of the principal pieces of evidence during the Wounded Knee Investigation, and was used as a reference by most every officer that testified.” The engineering department of the Division of the Missouri printed a mere twenty blueprint copies of the map (Captain William Marshall, Appendix HHH of the Annual Report of the Chief of Engineers…for the Year 1891). Whether these were ready in time for the court of inquiry is not clear, but they must have been prepared within weeks of the events depicted. The map was also reprinted as a lithograph later that year in the Annual Report.

The plan depicts the site of Big Foot’s camp, the various troops of the 6th Cavalry, and the geographic features of the area around Wounded Knee. Even a cursory examination makes clear that the Sioux had no chance, as they were backed up against a ravine and surrounded by units of the 6th Cavalry, with a battery of Hotchkiss guns positioned on a hill to the northwest. The Sioux had room neither to maneuver nor escape.

An extraordinary rarity depicting the great tragedy marking the end of the Indian Wars in the West.

Much background was obtained from Sam Russell, Army at Wounded Knee, “a blog dedicated to documenting through primary sources, the Army’s actions at Wounded Knee.” Some details also provided by the Wikipedia entry for the battle. The only institutional holding of the map I have been able to locate is in the James Forsyth Papers at Yale. Not in OCLC.


Very good, with older folds, some minor wear, and light fading at right edge.