by Tim Giago (Nanwica Kciji)
March 1, 2009
In nearly every confrontation there are villains and victims.
Oftentimes in order to justify a villainous act, the villains paint
the victims as the villains. And if they repeat the lie often enough,
especially to an ignorant, gullible and compliant press, the lie then
This is what happened in late February in 1973 at a peaceful village
called Wounded Knee. If you have been misled by books such as "In the
Spirit of Crazy Horse" or "The Unquiet Grave," pause and think about
this: Who were the victims and who were the villains?
What crimes against humanity were committed by the owners of the
Wounded Knee Trading Post, Clive and Agnes Gildersleeve? What did the
nearly 60 people residing at Wounded Knee and Wounded Knee proper do
to deserve the pillaging and destruction of their homes?
In the index of Peter Matthiessen's book, In the Spirit of Crazy
Horse, you will not even find the name "Gildersleeve" even though
they were the owners of the Wounded Knee Trading Post, a store that
was looted by the occupiers and eventually burned to the ground.
Instead, in his book and in the book by Steve Hendricks, The Unquiet
Grave, you will read about a "white man" and a woman often referred
to as a "white woman," although Agnes Gildersleeve was an Ojibwa
woman, who "ripped off" the local Lakota people. This apparently
justifies the attacks upon them and the destruction of their business.
Did either of these authors even know Clive or Agnes? Did they get
all of their information about them from the occupiers? Did they do
any research on the Gildersleeves before they colored them as
villains? I think not.
There have surely been white store owners on Indian reservations that
did "rip off" Indian customers and it is easy to suggest that since
some store owners did this therefore the Gildersleeves were probably
also guilty. Not true.
Neither Matthiessen nor Hendricks knew the Gildersleeves and it is
apparent by their books that they had no intention of ever finding
out who the Gildersleeves were. Instead they listened to the
occupiers and looters of Wounded Knee who were trying to justify
their actions in 1973 by vilifying the owners of the Trading Post.
Although I was a small boy when I lived at Wounded Knee where my
father worked as a clerk and butcher at the Trading Post, I remember
the Gildersleeves. They had a daughter my age named Joan. We spent
many warm summer days playing on the sidewalks of Wounded Knee
Village. The Village was called Brennan back in those days named
after a former Bureau of Indian Affairs Superintendent.
Joan had a tricycle with a running board behind the back wheels and I
used to place one foot on the running board while Joan guided it and
we would coast on the sidewalk near the Trading Post. Clive and Agnes
would call to us in the late afternoon and give us a candy treat.
My father, Tim Giago, Sr., always remembered how kind the
Gildersleeves were to him and to the local Lakota customers. He was a
Lakota speaker and he was popular amongst the local Lakota because he
always had a joke or a story to tell them.
The Gildersleeves ran the Wounded Knee Trading Post from the 1930s to
the time it was destroyed in 1973. If they were the "rip offs"
described by members of the American Indian Movement and the authors
and press that later joined in their vilification, would they have
stayed in business all of those years?
Joan Gildersleeve went on the $64,000 Question television show and
won. She became a local celebrity after that.
The Gildersleeves were accused of "exploitation of the mass grave
site at Wounded Knee" where the victims of the 1890 massacre lie
buried, but please let the accusers explain to me why they say this.
The Wounded Knee Trading Post was a grocery and arts and crafts store
that served the entire Wounded Knee District. People living around
Manderson and Wounded Knee often purchased meat, groceries and traded
at the Post. Local craftsmen and artists often sold their wares to
the Gildersleeves who in turn sold them to the tourists that often
visited Wounded Knee especially after the book "Bury My Heart at
Wounded Knee" was published.
For those who think they have read the final word on Wounded Knee
they should read the book Wounded Knee 1973 by Stanley Lyman, former
BIA Superintendent at Pine Ridge and American Indian Mafia by Joe
Trimbach, former FBI Agent in Charge during the occupation of Wounded
Knee. They will see another side of the story.
Clive and Agnes Gildersleeve and the 60 people made homeless by the
occupation are still the victims and not the villains of Wounded
Knee. Last week marked the 36th anniversary of the occupation and let
me remind you that the Gildersleeves lost everything and the other
inhabitants of Wounded Knee made homeless by the occupation have
never seen their homes rebuilt. Who were the real victims of Wounded Knee 1973?
(Tim Giago, an Oglala Lakota, was born, raised and educated on the
Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. He was the founder and
publisher of Indian Country Today, the Lakota Times, and the Lakota
Journal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)