Incident at Wounded Knee
The incident began in February 1973, and represented the longest civil
disorder in the history of the Marshals Service.
The town of Wounded Knee, South
Dakota was seized on February 27, 1973, by followers of the American Indian Movement (AIM), who staged a 71-day occupation of the area. In response to the
incident, Marshals Service volunteers stepped forward from all ranks of service
to assist in a resolution. U.S. Marshals, Chief Deputies, Deputies, and support
personnel alike were ready to make the sacrifices required to join the historic operation.
At its conclusion, U.S. Marshal Lloyd Grimm (District of Nebraska) would lie seriously wounded, as would an FBI
agent. Two Indians would also unfortunately be killed. Exposure to personal danger, extreme
weather conditions, prolonged hours of duty, and absence from home were just a
few of the many frustrations people of the Marshals Service faced at Wounded
Deputy U.S. Marshals at the aftermath of the
71 day occupation by the AIM Movement
On May 8, 1973, the confrontation at Wounded Knee ended after ten
weeks of para-military action and negotiations. On this date, the occupiers of Wounded Knee surrendered their
arms and the U. S. Marshals Service took control of the town.
When the Wounded Knee operation
was initiated it came within the purview
of the Special Operations Group (SOG),
which had been formed only two years
before. SOG is a highly trained, highly motivated group of volunteers who can
provide a self-sustained mobile quick reaction
force capable of a federal response to a civil disturbance or riot
situation where military intervention is
inappropriate. Since Wounded Knee,
SOG has responded to numerous calls of
the Attorney General and the Federal
For two and a half months in early
1973, hundreds of stories were filed by
the networks, wire services, and print
media bringing the Wounded Knee situation
to the American public. For the
U.S. Marshals Service there was definitely
a sharpening of skills and experience in
command, control, administration,
logistics and operations, and it is in these areas that the Service
gained its greatest
Ingenuity, self sacrifice and heroic actions
were commonplace during those
days in 1973.
Typical of these were the
actions of Inspector Wayne McMurtray,
Southern District of Mississippi, who was one of two Deputy Commanders
of the Special Operations Group and
participated in many SOG operations.
However, at the time of this Wounded
Knee operation he had only participated
in a few previous SOG missions. From
the beginning of the Wounded Knee
operation, McMurtray was assigned as
the Specialty Unit Commander with the
responsibility of suppressing any heavy
fire on the Marshals roadblocks that surrounded
the armed AIM dissidents occupying
the unhappy hamlet.
first day of this operation at the
roadblocks, there were six FBI agents being
attacked and pinned down. McMurtray
and Deputy Jim Propotnick (later became
Chief Deputy U.S. Marshal, District of
Hawaii) were ordered to repel the attack
with an armored personnel carrier. McMurtray and Propotnick arrived at
the roadblock just as a group of the
dissidents were about to overrun it.
However, with Propotnick driving and
McMurtray on top of the armored personnel carrier firing,
they were able to successfully repel the attack.
During another instance on a cold,
windy afternoon in late February, one of
the Marshals Service roadblocks was
pinned down by heavy gun fire from
within the hamlet. McMurtray moved
up into a forward position and attempted
to suppress the fire from an exposed hillside
position. When the dissidents realized
they were receiving accurate fire
from McMurtray's position, they shifted
their fire and pinned Wayne down. He
then radioed the Command Post for
more ammunition and fire support and
shortly thereafter was surprised to see Associate
Director William Hall supporting
him on his left with effective fire from an
anti-sniper weapon. With the additional
assistance of Jesse Grider from the Headquarters staff, who
was handling the ammunition,
they soon gained fire superiority.
Another time McMurtray headed to a
USMS roadblock that was pinned down
by sniper fire of undetermined position.
Wayne moved to an exposed position to
draw fire and determine the sniper's location,
which was quickly accomplished.
During this exchange of fire, shell fragments
were thrown into Wayne's face,
causing heavy bleeding. Wayne's heroic
actions exposed the sniper's position and
after radioing for a helicopter, the snipers
were flushed with gas grenade 'launchers
and automatic rifle fire.
McMurtray also remembers the cold,
long, and dark nights at Wounded Knee when the dissidents used
with dual spotlights (nicknamed by our
people as "Spotlight") to harass U. S. Marshals'
roadblocks. After receiving permission
from the SOG Commander to put a stop
to this harassment, McMurtray moved
out by night to a forward position near a
road which was frequented by "Spotlight".
By ingenious action he was able to
disable the spotlights, and the automobile
was immediately abandoned by the
Wayne's actions were typical
of the heroism and imagination shown by
USMS personnel at Wounded Knee
time and time again.