South Dakota state historian recognizes the 131st anniversary of the Wounded Knee Massacre by posting a photo of the war loot seized from the dead by one of the U.S. Army murderers on December 29, 1890:
When I ask if that Ghost Shirt is “a trophy ripped from a corpse by one of the US Army soldiers who committed the massacre,” Dr. Jones replies, “To Private Eisenberg it’s fair to assume it was a trophy. To us it’s an important artifact and a part of our history.”
Private Eisenberg is cited in the tag under the right arm of the Ghost Shirt in the display case in Pierre: “Lieutenant James Mann confiscated this ghost shirt from a Private Eisenberg, who removed it from the body of a Miniconjou man who fell at the Wounded Knee Massacre, South Dakota.” So, yes, this is an important artifact demonstrating the indecency shown by a U.S. Army soldier in looting his victims and the broader atrocity of the war our ancestors wage to steal the land we enjoy living on today.
But as friend and fellow ex-pat Ben Nesselhuf notes, pointing out such grim history could cause individuals to “feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress,” and Dr. Jones’s friend and patron the Governor wants to outlaw such bad historical feelings, so he and I both should maybe back off posting photos of Wild West war loot, lest anyone draw connections between the U.S. Army’s dishonorable treatment of the Lakota people, the systematic subjugation of Indigenous people by our European ancestors, and the ongoing systemic racism in the American institutions founded on stolen land.
The Ghost Shirt displayed by Dr. Jones yesterday appears to be different from the renowned Ghost Shirt that George Carlton Crager, an American linguist, interpreter, and soldier, gave to a Glasgow museum when he served as chief interpreter for Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West Show on its 1891–1892 tour through Europe. The Kelvingrove Museum of Glasgow repatriated the shirt to South Dakota in 1999, with an agreement that the shirt would be displayed at the South Dakota Cultural Heritage Museum in Pierre until the Lakota could build a museum with proper preservation capabilities to display the shirt Crager stole. Lakota activists are still negotiating with the Kelvingrove Museum to repatriate other items that Crager took from Wounded Knee.
Cody’s tour of Scotland included 21 Lakota, several of whom were present at the Wounded Knee Massacre. One contemporary report in The Scotsman referred to those Lakota participants as “Buffalo Bill’s hostages from the American Government.” According to a March 1892 article in the Chicago Daily Inter Ocean, the United States government sent Lakota prisoners of war on this tour of Europe to convince their people of white supremacy:
Mr. Crager said that in his opinion the tour had been a wise move on the part of the government. The Indians had become fully impressed with the power and importance of the white race.
He had taken particular pains to take them to several of the most famous centers of European thought and culture. They had traveled through France, Germany, and Italy, and had visited Heidelberg University and the museums of Berlin, Munich, and London. They had also seen the great fortifications and factories, the armies and the ships and ship-yards. They displayed great interest in all these things, and asked many questions. One of the things that had most impressed them was the launching of a big Atlantic liner. In fact, they had received an education in civilization which would enable them to convince their people that the white man was too strong for them to resist” [author not cited, “Our Sioux Swells,” Chicago Daily Inter Ocean, 1892.03.21; reprinted in The William F. Cody Archive, retrieved 2021.12.30].
Remember Wounded Knee, and remember the white racism that has continued ever since.