Setting the Record Straight Regarding ‘Remove the Stain Act’

The Honorable John F. Reed, Chairman
The Honorable James M. Inhofe, Ranking Member
Senate Armed Services Committee
U.S. Senate
Washington, DC 20515

Dear Chairman Reed and Ranking Member Inhofe:

I am writing you regarding S.1073 “Remove the Stain Act” to implore the Senate Armed Services Committee to take no action on this historically deficient bill. In doing so, I wish to set the record straight regarding the Army’s actions at Wounded Knee and the men who were awarded Medals of Honor for their gallantry, heroism, and fortitude on that battlefield.

I am a retired Army officer with three decades of active service in uniform, a military historian who has researched and written about the Army’s actions at Wounded Knee for two decades, and a descendant of a survivor of the Battle of Wounded Knee. Retired from active service, I now serve on the faculty and staff at the U.S. Army War College at Carlisle Barracks. However, I am writing to you as a private citizen, not in an official capacity.

Major Samuel M. Whitside, 7th Cavalry, at Pine Ridge Agency, 16 Jan. 1891. Cropped from John C. H. Grabill’s photograph, “The Fighting 7th Officers.”

My great great grandfather was Brig. Gen. Samuel M. Whitside, who, as a major in the 7th Cavalry in 1890, commanded that regiment’s First Battalion, captured Chief Spotted Elk’s band near Porcupine Butte, and escorted them to his camp at the Wounded Knee Creek crossing. Most of the soldiers who were killed the following day were from his battalion, and he was consulted on most of the medals awarded to 7th Cavalry troopers.

The Senate Armed Services Committee should allow the “Remove the Stain Act” to die in committee for three reasons, which I explain in detail on the following pages.

1) It all but ignores, and at times misrepresents, the well documented historical record that articulates the Army and the War Department’s official position on Wounded Knee and the honors conferred.

2) It presents only the perspective of the Lakota peoples, whose ancestors were the very forces that opposed U.S. Soldiers at Wounded Knee.

3) It does what has never been done in our Nation’s history, that is, consult the perspective of the opponent of our U.S. Soldiers in a particular conflict to determine if medals should be rescinded.

To pass such an Act now or any time in the future would set a precedent for all future generations of Americans to rescind any medal from any conflict to which such a generation may take umbrage, regardless of the facts and established record.

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First Sergeant Dora Sherman Coffey, B Troop, 7th Cavalry – Killed in Action

It was bitterly cold.  The warriors’ blankets covered them completely, exposing only their eyes.  My first sergeant and I, with a few men, started the search of the line.
Captain Charles A. Varnum

Calvary First Sergeant chevrons, 1872-1902.[1]

Dora S. Coffey, the young twenty-four-year-old first sergeant of Captain Charles Varnum’s B Troop, was assisting his commander with the search of the warriors at the Indian council circle the morning of December 29, 1890, when the first shots rang out at the camp along the Wounded Knee Creek. Coffey was killed by a gunshot wound to the head according to newspaper accounts, likely occurring during the opening volley. Continue reading

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Investigation of the White Horse Creek Tragedy

I then called to the captain that it was squaws, and he replied “Don’t kill the squaws.” I said – it is too late, I am afraid they are already killed.
–First Sergeant Herman Gunther

Three weeks after Wounded Knee an Indian policeman named Red-Hawk, who had been searching for his sister since the battle, found her remains and those of her children near White Horse Creek. He returned to the Pine Ridge Agency and reported his discovery of the bodies. Major General Nelson A. Miles, perhaps concerned with Captain Edward S. Godfrey’s testimony two weeks earlier that “My men had killed one boy about 16 or 17 years old, a squaw and two children,” gave Captain Frank D. Baldwin instructions to locate the bodies and determine what happened. On January 21, 1891, Baldwin submitted the following report:

Captain Frank D. Baldwin at the Pine Ridge Agency, 13 January 1891.

Captain Frank D. Baldwin at the Pine Ridge Agency, January 13, 1891.

I proceeded this morning at 7 A.M., under escort of a detachment of the 1st Infantry, mounted to White Horse Creek, about eleven miles distant, where I found the bodies of one woman, adult, two girls, eight and seven years old, and a boy of about ten years of age. They were found in the valley of White Horse Creek, in the brush, under a high bluff, where they had evidently been discovered and shot. Each person had been shot once, the character of which was necessarily fatal in each case. The bodies had not been plundered or molested. The shooting was done at so close a range that the person or clothing of each was powder-burned. The location of the bodies was about three miles westward of the scene of the Wounded Knee battle. All of the bodies were properly buried by the troops of my escort. From my knowledge of the facts, I am certain that these people were killed on the day of the Wounded Knee fight, and no doubt by the troop of the 7th Cavalry, under the command of Captain Godfrey.

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First Lieutenant Horatio Gates Sickel, Commander, E Troop, 7th Cavalry

…in remaining with a detachment of Troop “E”, 7th Cavalry, in a dangerous and difficult position in order to protect against possible mutilation the bodies of soldiers of his command already killed by the Indians….
–Colonel James W. Forsyth

Lieut. Horatio G. Sickel - Fighting 7th Officers - J. C. H. Grabill - colorized by Amy Gigliotti

First Lieutenant Horatio G. Sickel, Jr., E Troop, 7th Cavalry, at Pine Ridge Agency, 16 January 1891. Cropped from John C. H. Grabill’s photograph, “The Fighting 7th Officers.” Colorized by Amy Gigliotti.

Two weeks short of his thirty-seventh birthday, Horatio G. Sickel, Jr., was commanding E Troop during the Pine Ridge Campaign while Captain Charles S. Ilsley was commanding the 2nd Battalion. Lieutenant Sickel had served in E Troop for eight years and had been with the regiment since being transferred to it following the battle along the Little Big Horn River just a couple of weeks after graduating from the United States Military Academy in 1876. The troop’s second lieutenant was Sedgwick Rice, a civilian appointee that had been with the unit since transferring to the 7th Cavalry four years earlier. Lieutenant Sickel’s senior non-commissioned officer was First Sergeant Charles M. Clark, a veteran enlisted man with over twelve years in the saddle with the regiment and at least one prior enlistment with the 6th Infantry. E Troop had its full compliment of officers, fourteen of its fifteen non-commissioned officers, and forty-three of its forty-five privates at Wounded Knee, twelve of which were recently assigned from the recruiting depot at Jefferson Barracks, comprising twenty-eight percent of the troop’s junior enlisted soldiers.[1] Continue reading

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