Lieutenant James D. Mann’s “Incidents of the Wounded Knee Fight”

I thought, “The pity of it! What can they be thinking of?” I knew what must be the inevitable consequence to them with so many soldiers present.

Second Lieutenant James D. Mann at target range camp at the Fort Riley, Kansas in 1888.

Second Lieutenant James D. Mann at target range camp at the Fort Riley, Kansas in 1888.

On 28 December 1890, First Lieutenant James D. Mann, K Troop 7th Cavalry, was left in charge of his battalion’s camp at the Wounded Knee Post Office while Major Whitside rode out with over 240 troopers to meet and capture Big Foot and his band of Miniconjou Lakota. Lieutenant Mann sent the following message at 1:30 p.m. from the cavalry camp to the Assistant Adjutant General of the Department of the Platte headquartered in the field at the Pine Ridge Agency.

Major Whitside with all mounted men and mountain guns left camp at 12 m. to meet Big Foot’s band, reported to be in camp at the crossing of the Porcupine, having been reported there by Little Bat. We have in camp here two of their men, holding them as prisoners.
I have just been informed by Vespucius, a halfbreed, who has driven from the agency to this point, that he met about 50 strange Indians, who were about 9 miles from the agency and heading in that direction. These, I learn from our prisoners, are from Cherry creek and are trying to get into the agency.[1]

Lieutenant Mann was severely wounded during the skirmishing along White Clay Creek on 30 December 1890 in what became known as the Mission Fight. While recovering in the post hospital at Fort Riley, Kansas, in January he dictated to one of his brothers his account of the battle at Wounded Knee. Lieutenant Mann succumbed to his wounds on 15 January 1891. Almost a half century later Mann’s account was published by a cousin, Lieutenant Colonel Frazer Arnold, in The Cavalry Journal in 1939. It is reproduced here in its entirety.

Before all of Big Foot’s band came in [on 28 December 1890], two bucks were brought to camp. I had a boy with me from one of the agency stores and, through him, asked one of the bucks why they were coming in. He answered, “Because Red Cloud sent for us.” I then asked him if they had seen anything of Colonel Henry’s soldiers. [Major Guy V. Henry, 9th Cavalry, was scouting farther north at the confluence of Wounded Knee Creek and the White River.] He answered “No, but if they had, they would have run them out of the country quick enough.” I thought both of these answers sounded ominous, and the boy thought so, too, for he said, “Yes, you are nice Indians to talk of running the soldiers out of the country.”

The night before the fight, the Indians had asked for tents, saying they had not enough tent room, so we put up Wallace’s mess tent and some “Sibleys,” but when we went into them in the morning, there were no evidences of their having been occupied, except Wallace’s, which was occupied by Big Foot, who was sick.

The morning of the 29th we started to disarm them, the bucks being formed in a semi-circle in front of the tents. We went through the tents searching for arms, and while this was going on, everyone seemed to be good-natured, and we had no thought of trouble. The enlisted men were not allowed to go inside the tents and only took the arms as we handed them out. The squaws were sitting on bundles concealing guns and other arms. We lifted them as tenderly and treated them as nicely as possible. Had they been the most refined ladies in the land, they could not have been treated with more consideration. The squaws made no resistance, and when we took the arms they seemed to be satisfied.  Wallace (Captain George D. Wallace, 7th Cavalry, West Point, ’72) played with the children chucking them under the chin and being as pleasant with them all as could be. He had picked up a stone war club, which he carried with him. I think we got about thirty pieces of various kinds from the tents.

As soon as we had finished this search, the squaws began packing up, which was a suspicious sign.

While this was going on, the medicine man, who was in the center of the semi-circle of bucks, had been going through the “Ghost Dance” and making a speech, the substance of which was, as told me by an interpreter afterwards, “I have made medicine of the White Man’s ammunition. It is good medicine, and his bullets can not harm you, as they will not go through your ghost shirts, while your bullets will kill.”

Inset of Lieut. S. A. Cloman’s map of Wounded Knee depicting the scene of the fight with Big Foot’s Band, December 29, 1890.

(Click to enlarge) Inset of Lieut. S. A. Cloman’s map of Wounded Knee depicting the scene of the fight with Big Foot’s Band, December 29, 1890.

During this time the detachments that had been detailed to make the search of the tents had resumed their places, but I had to fill in on the “left,” instead of on the “right,” where I should have been. [This positioning would place Mann nearest the apex of the ‘V’ formed by B and K Troops.] I had a peculiar feeling come over me which I can not describe–some presentiment of trouble–and I told my men to “be ready; there is going to be trouble.” We were only six or eight feet from the Indians, and I ordered my men to “fall back.” I finally got them back about twenty-five feet. Then it seemed that at some signal all the bucks threw off their blankets and drew their weapons. My mind was never clearer than at this moment, and I saw distinctly what was coming. I thought, “The pity of it! What can they be thinking of?” I knew what must be the inevitable consequence to them with so many soldiers present.

In front of me were four bucks–three armed with rifles and one with bow and arrows. I drew my revolver and stepped through the line to my place with my detachment. The Indians raised their weapons over their heads to Heaven as if in votive offering, then brought them down to bear on us, the one with the bow and arrow aiming directly at me. Then they seemed to wait an instant. The medicine man threw a handful of dust into the air, put on his war bonnet, and then I heard a gun fired near him. This seemed to be the signal they had been waiting for, and the firing immediately began. I ordered my men to fire, and the reports were almost simultaneous.

After the first fire the Indians broke and ran back among their women and children, and some secreted themselves in the tents, keeping up their firing from there. One of them secreted himself in one of the “Sibley” tents and, cutting slits in it, out of which he could see, picked off a number of our men before we could locate him. One of my men, noticing where the shots came from, said: “I will get the ——– out of there” and ran up to the tent. I called to him to “come back,” but he kept on and with his knife slit the tent from top to bottom. Before he could do more, the buck had fired at him. He stepped back and exclaimed, “My God, he has shot me. I am killed. I am killed.” He turned and started to run back to us but, before reaching us, he fell dead. A Hotchkiss gun was brought up, and a couple of shells exploded in the tent. There was no more shooting from there after that, but we did not know whether or not the buck was dead. To avoid the loss of any more men from him, we threw a fire-brand on the tent and burned it down, revealing the buck lying dead.

After the battle we found Wallace lying dead in front of a tent with two bullets through his body and a wound on his head, with empty revolver in his hand. I think someone must have reached out of the tent and struck him on the head with a war club after he was down, and possibly it was done with the war club he had been carrying. By this time all the Indians had been killed except a few who had secreted themselves in a gully, and these were dislodged by the Hotchkiss guns.

This photograph, taken in January 1891, was probably the Indian shooting from the Sibley tent that Lieut. Mann described in detail. The photograph is credited to L. T. Butterfield of Chadron, Nebraska.

(Click to enlarge) This photograph, taken in January 1891, was probably the Indian shooting from the Sibley tent that Lieut. Mann described in detail. The photograph is credited to L. T. Butterfield of Chadron, Nebraska.[2]

It was during this latter firing that Lieutenant Hawthorne was wounded.

I do not see how any disposition of the troops could have been made to have prevented the fight. I have thought over and over about this, and the only thing I can see would have been to place a man behind each buck, with his revolver against the buck’s head, with instructions to shoot if he made the least move, and I doubt if even that would have done any good.

This band of Indians was a sullen, hard lot, and they had made up their minds to die.

They were crazy with religious frenzy and believed they were going to exterminate the soldiers.[3]


[1] John R. Brooke, Sioux Campaign 1890-91, vols. 1 and 2 (Philadelphia: Historical Society of Pennsylvania, 1919), 603.
[2] L. T. Butterfield, photo., “The Medicine Man,” (Chadron: Northwestern Photographic Co., 1891), on file at The Beinecke Rare Boot and Manuscript Library, Yale University Library, New Haven, Connecticut.
[3] James D. Mann, “Incidents of the ‘Wounded Knee Fight,’ December 29, 1890, as related to his brother by Lieutenant James D. Mann, K Troop, 7th Cavalry,” as quoted by Frazer Arnold in his article “Ghost Dance and Wounded Knee,” The Cavalry Journal, May-June, 1934, (Fort Riley: The United States Cavalry Association), 19-20.

Citation for this article: Samuel L. Russell, “Lieutenant James D. Mann’s ‘Incidents of the Wounded Knee Fight,’” Army at Wounded Knee (Carlisle, PA: Russell Martial Research, 2015-2016, posted 24 Feb 2016, accessed date __________.

About Sam Russell

I am a fifth-generation retired Army officer with twenty-nine years of commissioned service. I have been researching the frontier Army for over eighteen years and am interested in documenting the lives of the soldiers that participated in the battle of Wounded Knee using primarily official reports, diaries, letters, newspaper articles and other primary source documents. My interest in Wounded Knee stems from my kinship to one of the principal participants. I am the great-great-grandson of Samuel M. Whitside, who was a major and battalion commander at the battle. I welcome and encourage comments on posts and pages and am always interested in any new primary sources. If you have copies of letters, diaries, etc, from participants and are willing to share, please contact me. Disclaimer: The views expressed in this blog are strictly my own, and should in no way be construed as official Army or U.S. Government positons.
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3 Responses to Lieutenant James D. Mann’s “Incidents of the Wounded Knee Fight”

  1. Jeff Rasley says:

    Thank you for the information about my ancestor, Lt. Mann. I have written about him previously unaware of your article and blog posts. I am currently working on an article, which will include references to your “Army at Wounded Knee” publications, specifically the “letter” purportedly dictated by Lt. Mann to his brother. I would like to see the earliest account of the letter (Frazer Arnold’s?), but cannot find it online. If you can lead me to it, I would be most appreciative.


    • Sam Russell says:

      Mr. Rasley… Thank you for your comment. I would like to read the articles you mention that you’ve written on your ancestor. Regarding Lieut. Mann’s account recorded by his brother, excerpts were printed in contemporary newspapers, but Frazer Arnold’s article is the only version I’ve seen that contains the entire account. I know nothing of an original document written in his brother’s hand. Certainly there would have been an original; I’ve just never seen a reference to it.

      Warmest regards, COL(Ret) Sam Russell


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