A sign at Wounded Knee on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. Photo: Jimmy Emerson

Tim Giago: The Wounded Knee we loved as children

Notes from Indian Country
The Wounded Knee we loved as children

I got an email from a lady who said she was a member of the Gildersleeve family who used to own the Trading Post at Wounded Knee. I didn’t know her so I sent her email to one of the Gildersleeves I knew from my childhood. She immediately responded that she did not know this person either.

But what surprised me is my friend usually responds with more commentary, but this time she was very brief. I thought about that for a couple of days when I got another email from her. And in her second response she said something that stuck in my mind. My friend, JoAnn Gildersleeve, is about 88 years old now and lives on the east coast. Her parents built the Trading Post in the 1920s. We were children together in the village of Wounded Knee in the 1930s.

She reminded me of the fact that we were both getting up there in years and it would not be long before we would make that journey to the Spirit World. And then she wrote, “Maybe when we get there we will find the Wounded Knee that we knew and loved as children.”

Back in those days my father, Tim, was a clerk and butcher at the Wounded Knee Trading Post. We lived in a small cabin in the village of Wounded Knee. Clive and Agnes Gildersleeve owned the Trading Post and their daughter JoAnn was my childhood companion.

Tim Giago. Photo courtesy Native Sun News Today

The village was our playground. We rode our tricycles on the sidewalks in front of the Trading Post and after a hard day of playing, JoAnn would take me to the little house her father hat built for her and set up a table with a teapot and cups and we would have a late afternoon respite enjoying our make believe tea. Often we would see some of the great Lakota leaders come into the Trading Post. Nicholas Black Elk often stopped at the Trading Post. He would visit the gravesite to pray where the Lakota people massacred in 1890 were buried and then come to the Trading Post for coffee and tobacco.

He always had a kind word for JoAnne and me, in the Lakota language of course, as he passed us on his way into the store. He would stand in line with his purchase at my father’s register and if Clive or Agnes were free they would wave him to their registers, but he would only smile and point his lower lip at my father, the Lakota way of saying I am going there. My father always had a joke for Black Elk and of course the joke was always in the Lakota language and he always got a good laugh out of Nicholas.

The Trading Post was often a gathering place for the families of some of the great leaders of the Lakota. The Bull Bears, Red Clouds, Black Elks, Little Wound and the American Horse families often came to visit the gravesite and then stop at the Trading Post. Fools Crow often stopped by because he and my father grew up together at Three-Mile-Creek near Kyle. My dad gave Fools Crow his first horse. When they cleared the streets of Kyle for the annual horse race, my Dad, on his horse Silver Dollar, found that Fool’s Crow, on his horse Cinnamon, was often his toughest competition.

Many of the elders who frequented the store in those days spoke little or no English and so the Gildersleeves were lucky to have my father, a fluent Lakota speaker, working there.

When the American Indian Movement invaded Wounded Knee in 1973 and took the elder Gildersleeves and the other residents of the village hostage, they proceeded to loot and destroy the village and the Trading Post. The ignorant white press called the armed takeover a “liberation.” What in the heck did they liberate? AIM liberated everything they could carry out of the Trading Post including priceless art work by some of the most famous Lakota artists. They liberated the village JoAnn and I loved by burning it to the ground.

The Trading Post and the village are gone forever. This special place that so many of the great and near great Lakota people loved is gone, “liberated” out of existence. It was a gathering place where so many Lakota elders stopped to pray, visit, talk, drink coffee and smoke. There are not too many of us left who remember what a great place Wounded Knee used to be, a place of wonderful childhood memories.

Contact Tim Giago at najournalist1@gmail.com. Tim was inducted into the South Dakota Newspaper Hall of Fame in 2007.

Note: Content © Tim Giago

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