Lakota Country Times: Guns taken from Wounded Knee massacre sold at auction

Remains of Lakota men, women and children who were massacred at Wounded Knee in South Dakota on December 29, 1890, are buried in a mass grave in January 1891. Image from Library of Congress

Lakota Elder Questions Sale Of Wounded Knee Rifles
By Jim Kent
Lakota Country Times Correspondent  

Rapid City, S.D. - Three rifles removed from the site of the Wounded Knee Massacre by a non-Native woman have been sold at public auction for $137,000. More than 80 other Native American cultural items obtained by the owner of “Nellie Woodard Dry Goods” in Chadron, Nebraska at the turn of the 20th century were also sold by Heritage Auctions.

The 1890 massacre of hundreds of men, women and children at Wounded Knee Creek has caused historical trauma for the Lakota people over several generations.

Heritage Auctions’ web site referred to all of the items sold as “The Rathbun Family Collection”. The rifles are designated as having been “picked up on the battlefield”. The background explanation states that Nellie Woodard, owner of a dry goods store in Chadron, and her son Raymond “gathered 3 Indian rifles from the battlefield which they took home to Chadron. The 3 guns became revered family relics, carefully preserved for future generations.”

Paul Rathbun is Nellie Woodard’s great-grandson and the consignor of the Wounded Knee rifles. In his statement on Heritage Auctions’ web site Rathbun notes the impact being at the Wounded Knee site had on his grandfather, Raymond Woodard, and claims it caused generational trauma in his family.

Lakota elder Marcella LeBeau stands beside the Wounded Knee Massacre Ghost Dance Shirt she helped return to the Lakota from Scotland’s Kelvingrove Museum in 1999. Photo courtesy Gerri LeBeau

“My father and his brothers would talk of the collection and the rifles their father gathered,” Rathbun advised in his statement. “They would weep and moan remembering Raymond’s experiences and the way his visit to the site affected him.”

Lakota elder Marcella LeBeau is former secretary of the Wounded Knee Survivor’s Association on the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation. She was instrumental in returning a Ghost Dance Shirt to the Lakota in 1999 after it had been seen in Scotland’s Kelvingrove Museum by a Cherokee man. The shirt had been taken from the body of a Wounded Knee Massacre victim.

LeBeau’s first concern about the Wounded Knee rifles is how they were obtained.

“Because it (they) would be taken from someone who was massacred at that time,” explained LeBeau. “And I believe that…that it is wrong to do that. That it isn’t a right thing to do. I believe that they should be returned to where they came from…to the Lakota people…who were killed, murdered, massacred at that time.”

Marcella LeBeau added that the impacts of the Wounded Knee Massacre are still felt by the Lakota people. LeBeau said that she can’t imagine how anyone could sell something taken from the Massacre site.

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Among the other items sold at the auction were “An Important pair of beaded hide moccasins belonging to Chief Red Cloud” for $23,750.00; “Chief Red Cloud's Personal Catlinite Pipe Bowl and Wood Stem” for $17,500.00; Spotted Elk Catlinite Pipe Bowl and Stem for $14,375.00; . A Wonderful Beaded Wood Stirrer for "Dog Soup: with 1896 Inscription for $1,625.00; “Two Desirable Wounded Knee Images” -- one shows bodies scattered around the massacre site -- for $812.50; and a “Most Unusual Cabinet Photo of Burial in Tree," which shows the image of Native American remains in a tree, for $187.50.

One of the 3 rifles sold was identified by Heritage Auction or Paul Rathbun as: “Wounded Knee: A Wonderful Indian Gun Picked up on the Battlefield” and sold for $30,000. The other rifles sold for $55,000 and $52,500 respectively. The total amount garnered by Heritage Auctions for The Rathbun Family Collection was $343.107.

Calls to Heritage Auctions over a weeks’ time to obtain a comment regarding the collection and contact information for Paul Rathbun were not returned.

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