WALL, S.D. — An electrical fire has destroyed a museum in South Dakota dedicated to telling the story of the 1890 Wounded Knee Massacre on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.
The Sunday night fire burned 80 percent of the building in the town of Wall along with the 30 exhibits inside, the Rapid City Journal reported Friday.
“It’s like a parent losing a child,” said Steve Wyant, the museum’s co-founder.
Fire investigators determined that faulty wiring beneath the floor sparked the fire, Wyant said. He was unable to estimate the financial loss.
The museum off Interstate 90 detailed the events of Dec. 29, 1890, when U.S. Army soldiers demanding the surrender of Lakota Indians opened fire. About 300 men, women and children died.
Wyant, 67, lives in Fort Collins, Colo., and has no American Indian heritage. He found inspiration for the museum after visiting the massacre site and reading an account of what happened there.
He hired contractors for the building, and writers, researchers and graphic designers for the exhibits. He charged a $5 admission and regularly let school children in for free. Donations, fundraising efforts and Wyant’s own money helped cover expenses.
The museum’s goal was “to promote tolerance and understanding and share the story of what occurred,” Wyant said.
“When we opened in 2003, we didn’t know if anyone would show up,” he said.
The 10-year-old museum drew about 7,500 people each year.