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‘I call him brother’: An unlikely friendship brings healing to

Karen Little Thunder, second from right, on a May 2016 walk to the site of the Battle of Blue Water near Lewellen, Nebraska. Walking with her (from left) are MagajuWin Little Thunder, Tim Schaaf and Phil Little Thunder Sr.

‘I call him brother’: An unlikely friendship brings healing to old wounds Jul 16, 2017


JRENAE BLUM Nebraska Game and Parks Commission

Karen Little Thunder was never told about the massacre, growing up.

For many years, she did not know about the September morning when her great-great-grandfather, Little Thunder, went out to meet a United States Army general under a white flag with the offer of a handshake. Or how the soldiers maneuvered to block the path of escape while they deliberated. Or how the women and children ran to the caves for safety, where they were gunned down.

She learned the details of the affair as an adult. The 1855 attack, now known variously as the Battle of Blue Water, the Battle of Ash Hollow, or the Harney Massacre, took place six miles northwest of the Ash Hollow area near present-day Lewellen, Nebraska. It was perpetrated in revenge for the killing of a band of soldiers near Fort Laramie the previous year.

Led by Gen. William S. Harney, the command of 600 men set upon a village of several hundred Lakota, killing 86 people and capturing 70 women and children. Little Thunder was among the wounded. Four of Harney’s men were killed, seven wounded, and one declared missing and presumed dead. The Lakota camp was burned, and the possessions of the fallen looted.

In 2012, one of Karen’s cousins wrote an article about the massacre for a tribal newspaper, which was published online. A month later, the following comment appeared:

“Nobody got slapped. Nobody got killed. He bought me dinner, actually,” Karen says. At the end of the dinner, they decided to meet again.

Karen learned that Paul works as a substance abuse counselor, dedicated to healing in the same way she is. Like her, he also was interested in seeing Harney Peak renamed.

Over the course of a year, Paul and Karen assisted with an effort led by Lakota leader Basil Brave Heart to change the name of the mountain, which is sacred to the Lakota and other indigenous peoples. Paul testified on behalf of the Harney family. In August 2016, the United States Board on Geographic Names announced that the name of the Black Hills’ highest peak had been changed to Black Elk Peak.

Paul met other members of the Little Thunder family, and together they arranged a series of ceremonial walks to facilitate healing. On July 22, they will meet at the massacre site for a 10-mile walk to Ash Hollow. It is open to the public.

“I call him brother,” Karen says of Paul. “Yes, I would say we are friends. But I prefer to call him brother.” Developing that sense of kinship was a gradual process, she says. During a drive in Colorado after meeting at the massacre site, “Paul shared some personal experiences with me, and I shared some of my own with him. And it was at that point that I knew I could trust him.”

Jul 16, 2017


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