Wounded Knee Massacre and the Toy Soldier: A “George Floyd Moment”

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By: Ken Hamilton

While at the American Veterans Monument at Niagara Falls in city’s Hyde Park, Allegheny Seneca Indian and community activist Paul Winnie stands in front of one of the eight small monuments dedicated to American warriors who have been awarded a Medal of Honor for “conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of life above and beyond the call of duty.” That particular monument in which Winnie sadly gazed upon was the one dedicated to then-Niagara Falls resident and US Army Sergeant Frederick E. Toy. Muttering to himself, he softly whispers and calls the monument, “… a George Floyd Moment.” There’s good reason that he wonders why it is still there.


Paul Winnie



In 1890, 30-years after the start of an American Civil War that would eventually lead to the abolition of African enslavement in the United States, American Army expeditionary forces would continuously engage in the mistreatment of its indigenous peoples, the American Indian. One of the most egregious acts perpetrated during the so-called Indian Wars of those days was the December 28th, 1890 massacre of an estimated 250 to 300 Native Americans whereas, according to Myles Hudson, an Editorial Intern at Encyclopedia Britannica, “about half were women and children.”


While this week marks the 31st week since the death of Minnesotan and African-American George Floyd, killed by a Minneapolis police officer that sparked Black Lives Matter protests throughout the country and around the world, it also marks the 130th anniversary of that senseless massacre of relatively unarmed people.

Though the city of Niagara Falls NY is associated with that massacre in Wounded Knee SD, some 1,172 miles away from this city, through Frederick E. Toy, whom reportedly “bravely” shot and killed two unarmed and fleeing Native Americans as they tried to seek refuge in a ravine, one has to wonder why he would be celebrated with such a monument by the city through its Niagara Falls Veterans Monument Commission. While this reporter sought comment sent several requests to the commission’s vice-chairman Stan Zimmerman, Zimmerman has yet to respond.


Paul Winnie at Frederick Toy Memorial


However, Niagara Falls community activist Ken Cosentino said that in his contacts with both City Council Chairman Chris Voccio and Zimmerman, both declined any action pending a decision by the federal government to rescind such honors by those whose actions that led up to the awards were questionable. That inaction not only includes the removal of the Toy monument, but also publicly questioning the merit in it remaining in place.

While the single death of George Floyd was terrible, effectively due to a white Minneapolis police officer kneeling on a handcuffed and subdued Floyd’s neck until he was dead, how much more terrible would have been the actions if white army non-commissioned officer killing two unarmed fleeing Indians on their own property?

How many people in the world know anything about Minneapolis as compared to their knowledge of a world-famous city like Niagara Falls? The Cataract City not only has a Seneca Indian Reservation within its city limits in the form of a casino resort, and a nearby Tuscarora Indian Reservation a stone’s throw away, as well as 23% of the city’s population being African-American. Can there be little wonder why Winnie wonders why there is little government and area concern over the toy monument?


Zimmerman is a retired educator, school principal and retired soldier. As such, he likely knows more about the Wounded Knee Massacre than does ‘almost’ anyone of the city councilmen, whom by the councilmen’s predecessors chartered the commission that Zimmerman often leads. But it is likely that given the near 1,200-miles distance of Wounded Knee, and the commonality of such events as the Wounded Knee in the 1950s-1960s media of “cowboy and Indian” culture in which many Niagarans experienced in their childhood, the ignorance of such real events would go unnoticed in American school text books, as did the racism against blacks and most other minorities – almost!

Four of the five councilmen understandably said of Sgt. Toy that they didn’t have enough information to come to a conclusion as to do anything about the sergeant’s monument.  While it is incumbent upon them, because the monument commission acts in agency for them, now is the time that they should learn. Councilman Bill Kennedy, Jr. was the “almost” among his peers. When I ask him for a comment, he said that he would have it written and sent to me via email.  Kennedy’s comments shed much light on the massacre and Toy monument, and he espouses a position that his colleagues may want to somehow embrace.



Councilman Bill Kennedy with Native Americans


The following is in full what Kennedy submitted in what he titles My Research and Opinion on Wounded Knee:

“On this, the 130th anniversary of the Wounded Knee Massacre, I wish to first express my deepest sympathy for the Lakota people who are still healing from this tragedy. On December 29th, 1890, an estimated 250 – 300 Lakota were brutally slaughtered by the 7th cavalry; half of those killed were women and children. Their only “crime” was being Indigenous. This occurred during a time in history when Indigenous people were colored over as savages who deserved to be exterminated. What happened at Wounded Knee was an act of genocide, there is no doubt about that.

“For Wounded Knee, 20 soldiers were awarded the Medal of Honor, our Nation’s highest and most esteemed award. One of these recipients was Sgt. Frederick Ernest Toy, a resident of Niagara Falls. I am not at liberty to speak of Sgt. Toy’s character as I clearly did not know the man. Sgt. Toy received his Medal of Honor for “bravery,” and there is nothing brave about genocide. According to his superior, Captain Edgerly, who recommended Toy for the award; “I saw the sergeant deliberately aim at and hit two Indians who had run into the ravine; his coolness and bravery exciting my admiration at the time.”

“For context, this band of Lakota under Chief Spotted Elk were targeted for practicing a spiritual ceremony known as the “Ghost Dance,” which frightened the settlers at the time and was deemed a threat. Historically, the United States government has had a bloody past with those who were here first. For example, President Andrew Jackson’s Indian Removal Act of 1830 resulted in the infamous Trail of Tears, which resulted in the deaths of thousands of Indigenous people. For some, 1830 and 1890 seem like ancient history. This is not the case for our Indigenous families who still suffer from this generational trauma, living on reservations without clean water and fighting for their rights. In fact, it wasn’t until 1978 with the passing of the American Indian Religious Freedom Act that practices such as the Ghost Dance became legal. Still today there are elders who were abused in American and Canadian reformation and boarding schools, something our governments would rather we NOT talk about which is an issue itself. If these atrocities occurred in Nazi Germany, we wouldn’t even have to debate whether or not Sgt. Toy’s name should be removed from the statue. For comparison: 20 million Native Americans died due to the European invasion, and an estimated 6 million Jews died during the Holocaust. Today, we would deem these actions as an act of terrorism.

“For these reasons, I am in full support of the removal of Sgt. Frederick Toy’s name from the Medal of Honor Veteran’s Monument at Hyde Park. While the Veteran’s Monuments are something [that] we should be proud of, the acts of Sgt. Toy on Dec. 29th, 1890 are not. There is no honor in genocide. I support the rescinding of all 20 medals by the “Remove the Stain Act,” introduced to Congress in 2019 by Senator Elizabeth Warren. These great statues, one of which bears the name of my grandfather Delbert Kennedy, a World War II veteran, should be valued and protected in our community. Yet the Medal of Honor statue is disfigured by including Sgt. Toy’s name next to 6 American heroes who earned their medals. The legacies of these 6 will forever live in the shadow of Wounded Knee unless we make this right and remove Sgt. Toy’s name. I am asking for Congressional and public support in these matters.”


Minorities are understandably more sensitive to such incidences of George Floyd-types, so much so that many African- and Indian-Americans have called for the removal of statues of Christopher Columbus. Little wonder why the Seneca Paul Winnie wonders about the lack of outrage about Frederick E. Toy’s monument that sits with six others who likely undoubtably were awarded their Medals of Honor for “conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of life above and beyond the call of duty.” Second LT John P. Bobo’s is a stellar example of such. In times past, though Councilman Kennedy took the lead in this one, such situations would have been delegated to minority members of a political body for decisions. Former Niagara County Legislator Renae Kimble was often the go-to source when she was the only elected minority official in Niagara County. City councilmen, such as Andrew Walker, Charles Walker, Robert Anderson, Jr. – who initiated the Niagara Falls Veterans Monument Commission, and then, after Anderson, would have been Councilman Ezra Scott, Jr., but he elected not to run for reelection.

Nonetheless, because Scott has, unlike the others, remained relevant, Scott was questioned on the issue of Wounded Knee.

Scott, more briefly, said, “Understanding history and how we often may not have the full story, it’s fair to understand an individual’s thoughts and stance evolving once becoming enlightened.”

In essence, Scott said that once you know something different that you thought that it is incumbent to act upon that same thing in a different way than was acted upon when in ignorance.

Former Niagara Falls City Administrator Albert Joseph has a mixed view on the subject. While Joseph is excited about the prospects of Congresswoman Deb Haaland rising to the position of Secretary of the Interior {mentioned later in this article], Joseph, a former USAF captain who was offered the rank of major, but opted to retire after a long enlisted and commissioned service, said that he would not be in favor of unilaterally taking away everyone’s medals. “There may be some who have, through courage and actions beyond the call of duty, deserved the medals, and others may not have.”

By no stretch of the imagination is Joseph anti-Indian; sometime after his term as city administrator, Joseph moved to El Paso TX and worked for ten years with the Pueblo Indians as a housing director, helping the tribes to get the much-needed housing infrastructure that they deserved.

“Instead of a Carte Blanche, taking away every medal won that day, a review of each case is warranted, “he said.


In June of 2019, Congressman Denny Heck of Washington State, along with Congresswoman Deb Haaland of New Mexico — the first female Native American congresswoman and a prospective Secretary of the Interior under prospective President Joseph Biden, introduced a bill to examine and rescind the medals that were awarded for service during the Wounded Knee Massacre. Introduced into the Senate by Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, if passed in both houses, regardless of who is president, will most likely pass.

Many politicians and public policymakers would then be freely obligated to make the decision to remove on federal property any and all such permanent and paper citations of any individual so honor from public display.

What then, to the Frederick E. Toy Monument in Niagara Falls?

Is the monument a public or private monument that was commissioned by the city and sits on public property?

In my opinion, the monument is city property; and the council who commissioned and paid in-part for its construction can with the stroke of a pen rescind any decision that the commission makes. Therefore, it is likely that, upon the passing of the Warren-Heck bill, the Toy monument will be sanded smooth and polished in preparation for the next American service member who is awarded the Medal Honor for actual “conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of life above and beyond the call of duty.”


The Niagara Reporter will be closely following this particular story, and in no way is advocating violence or desecration of any structure.


I was an American warrior in Vietnam. As any good soldier, sailor, airman or Marine, I, for the most part, followed the orders of those under whom I served.

In the summer of 1972, as a young sailor aboard the cruiser USS England I served in the Tonkin Gulf along the coast of what was then North Vietnam. My job was in the ship’s Combat Information Center where, among other things, I tracked the US Navy and USAF bombing raids on the Vietnamese’ war and support facilities to ensure the safety of those aircraft. England’s mission was to weed out any enemy aircraft and destroy them with our terrier missiles; and, in the event that a pilot was shot down and could make it into a position for safe pickup, England had a Sea Knight helicopter embarked for the rescue.

Prior to my naval service, in 1968 I became acutely aware of the actions of one US Army Lt William L. Calley and his involvement in the My Lai massacre of a reported 22 unarmed Vietnamese village civilians. Naturally, as a youngster, my heart went out to the villagers. However, as an actual war veteran, I begin to better understand the thinking of Calley. Having been flooded with a high tide of adrenaline and testosterone, and having a brain and heart ebbing in compassion, my views had honestly changed. To quote the Civil War Union Army General William T. Sherman, “There is many a boy here today who looks on war as all glory, but boys, it is all hell.” I was one of the boys that looked at war as all glory.


William Calley

At sea aboard USS Mount Whitney (LCC/JCC 20) April 19, 2003– In the evening sun SN Josh Jones from Springfield, Missouri stands the forward look out post from behind the large binoculars known as “The Big Eyes”. USS Mount Whitney and embarked staff are deployed to the Horn of Africa region, participating in Operation Enduring Freedom and the global war on terrorism. (Official U.S. Navy Photo by PH2 Steven G. Crawford)

It was easy to feel so when stationed a few miles off the shore where through a pair of Navy Big Eyes binoculars and four terrier missiles on the rail, I could feel relatively safe watching the bombs fall from the planes and destroying the enemy’s facilities that aided their aims in war.  But, years later, the other part of Sherman’s quote came home to my heart: that is, “War is hell.” The hell comes later when the adrenaline and testosterone wanes, and the heart ebbs with tears and flood itself with humanity, and the brain comes to realize that there were fathers in those factories who didn’t want war and wouldn’t be coming back home to a subsequently starving family of women and children. Whereas, for me, the war wasn’t hell, but the memories of it are. And while I don’t regret answering my country’s call, I do regret the country calling any of us for a situation that could have been settled diplomatically – and such should be the issue of the Wounded Knee Massacre.

How can I blame Sgt. Toy for accepting a Medal of Honor and all that came with it, when it is not known if he ever asked for it in the first place; or blame him for following orders?

However, there is nothing to suggest that he actually warranted the medal, especially under the circumstances of the battle. After all, 78-years after Wounded Knee, LT Calley was convicted and went to jail for similar actions.  In the black Hills of the Dakotas, Toy faced nowhere near the danger that Calley faced among the rice paddies of southeast Asia.

I’d have to say that whether or not Haaland’s bill passes and is signed by the president, that local policymakers, politicians, and commissioners, at the very least write a writ, much like Kennedy’s and Scott’s, acknowledging the situation, agreeing that Toy likely didn’t earn the Medal of Honor, nor any accolades, during that massacre, and then do whatever is necessary as they await what Washington might do.

The local politicians should treat this situation in the same way that they treated the Floyd protests, but in a way whereas to abate any protest at all – and that is by doing the right thing. Kennedy and Scott have given you both the necessary information and the right mindset; it is up to you to follow-up.

After all, in my oft-re-quoting of the words of former Speaker of the House Thomas P. “Tip” O’Neill, “All politics are local.” In this federated republic of ours, not only are we in Niagara Falls not confined by Washington in what we do in this situation – since this is not federal property, nor a federal decision as to what we do with it – Washington is supposed to be doing what its constituents tell it to do, and not the constituents being constantly under the guidance and thumb of the Beltway.

If it is a George Floyd moment, would you take your knee off the neck?

It is easier to be a politician than a service member; and that is why so few politicians are veterans.

Stay tuned.

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