116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
History Center exhibit shows local links to Wounded Knee occupation
5 activists were tried in Cedar Rapids after the 1973 siege
CEDAR RAPIDS — Fifty years after the occupation of Wounded Knee, S.D., by Native Americans, a new History Center exhibits explores the Linn County connections to the federal trials that followed the siege.
“It’s a story that hasn’t really been told in Linn County since the events happened,” said Tara Templeman, The History Center’s curator and collections manager.
“There’s a lot of people who don’t know Cedar Rapids had any role in the decisions that were made after the occupation of Wounded Knee.”
The “Occupied Wounded Knee 1973” exhibit will be open for viewing the next six months.
On Feb. 27, 1973, about 300 members of the Oglala and Lakota tribes and activists from the American Indian Movement began a protest about corruption and abuse of power at Wounded Knee on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.
The site was chosen because of its history — nearly 300 Lakota people were killed there Dec. 29, 1890, by U.S. Army soldiers. The protest developed into a 71-day siege, with gunfire exchanged between law enforcement and AIM activists.
The two AIM leaders — Russell Means and Dennis Banks — were charged with federal crimes and tried in Minnesota, where a federal judge acquitted them in 1974, citing gross misconduct by prosecutors.
In June 1975, the trial for three other AIM activists — Leonard Crow Dog, Stanley Richard Holder and Carter Camp — was moved to U.S. District Court in Cedar Rapids, with federal Judge Edward J. McManus presiding. The three faced charges involving weapons and the beating of four postal inspectors during the Wounded Knee siege.
The city prepared for the arrival of hundreds of AIM activists, but it was actually national and international media that swarmed the city.
Family and friends of the three defendants set up camp in Seminole Valley Park, and tribal members used the Peoples Church at Sixth Street and Third Avenue SE as their headquarters and for news conferences.
The trial, expected to last up to two months or longer, was over in four days, with the jury returning guilty verdicts.
In June 1976, McManus presided over the monthlong murder trial of Darelle Butler and Robert Robideau in Cedar Rapids. The two AIM members were accused of killing two FBI agents in June 1975 on the Pine Ridge reservation, where unrest had continued after the siege.
Actor Marlon Brando and comedian Dick Gregory showed up in Cedar Rapids on July 7 to lend support to the defendants, who a jury found not guilty.
The History Center exhibit includes historical artifacts, including the peace pipe used during the trial for Native Americans to swear on instead of the Bible.
The peace pipe is in two pieces — a sign of respect for Indigenous people since a ceremony is to begin as soon as the pipe is fitted together, Templeman said.
Also included in the exhibit are interviews with people who witnessed the national event unfold in Cedar Rapids. History Center Executive Director Jason Wright said he frequently hears “jaw-dropping” stories about the trials from Linn County residents.
Testimony from court documents is part of the exhibit. Visitors are able to step into the role of juror by entering a makeshift jury box and reflecting on what it would have been like to make those decisions 50 years ago, Templeman said.
The exhibit also explores current tribal life on the 2.1 million acre Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, which is among the largest in the United States. The reservation has the lowest life expectancy in the nation and its unemployment rate is in the range of 80 percent.
The exhibit was made possible by $17,500 in donations from Fred Pilcher, Janet Manatt Pilcher and an anonymous donor and by a $7,500 grant from Humanities Iowa.
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IF YOU GO
What: “Occupied Wounded Knee 1973” exhibit
Where: The History Center, 800 Second Ave. SE, Cedar Rapids
Hours: Noon to 4 p.m. Tuesday; 4 to 8 p.m. Thursday; noon to 4 p.m. Friday; 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday
Cost: $7; $5 for students with ID; free for children 4 and younger and members of The History Center