Sitting Bulls daughter Standing Holy (below)
Sitting Bull 1831-1890
Sitting Bull was born in 1831 at Grand River,
South Dakota. He was the only son of Hunkpapa Sioux Returns-Again. At
first his name was Slow because he was very deliberate and careful as
His father was a mystic. One night he was sitting by a fire with three other
warriors. He heard a strange noise that sounded vaguely like speech. It
was coming from a buffalo bull that had wandered into their camp. The
bull was saying Sitting Bull, Jumping Bull, Bull Standing With Cow, and
Lone Bull. He took this to mean that the bull was offering him new names
to take for himself or to give to others. He took Sitting Bull for himself.
At 14 years old, Slow counted his first coup. He tagged along with a 20-man
war party to capture horses from the Crows. When he came within sight
of the Crows he charged ahead of the warriors and rode straight toward
one of the Crows. Before the man could fire his arrow, Slow struck him
with his coup stick and galloped far out of range. His father heard of
his bravery and immediately gave him his name Sitting Bull.
The first person he killed was actually a woman, a Crow woman who had
been taken captive. It was really an act of mercy. The other Sioux women
didnt like her and for some reason thought she was a whore. They
were pretty prudish about sexual matters. They lashed her to a pine tree,
heaped brush around it and set it on fire. So she would suffer, he shot
her with an arrow.
His first war wound occurred during a horse stealing raid from the Crow.
They got a large number of horses that they stole at night. The Crows
caught up in the morning. Sitting Bull got into a fight with a Crow chief.
The Crow fired a gun that hit Sitting Bull in the left foot. He walked
with a limp for the rest of his life after that. In return Sitting Bull
killed him. At 25 years old he was the leader of the Strong Hearts, an
elite military society of the Sioux. This allowed him to wear a long red
sash around his shoulders. During some point in battle, he had to pin
himself to the ground by the sash and stay there until another member
Sometime in the 1860s he was appointed the chief of the Hunkpapas. It
was an important time because the whites were encroaching and in fact
had disturbed some of the best buffalo grounds. Miners using the Bozeman
Trail came through too. Red Cloud of the Oglala Sioux lived in the area
where the Bozeman Trail passed between Fort Laramie and Virginia City
and other Montana gold camps, and he constantly harassed the whites going
through. By 1868, the government was ready to make peace. They picked
out a huge reservation that would put the northern Cheyenne, Arapaho,
and the Sioux in the western half of present day South Dakota. This treaty
came to be known as the Treaty of Laramie. It also declared that the Powder
River country immediately west of the reservation as unceded Indian territory
where no whites would be allowed to settle. Father Pierre Jean de Smet
visited in May 1868 to convince Sitting Bull to accept the terms. But
Sitting Bull refused. Red Cloud and some other chiefs did accept the terms.
It was such a large reservation that five agencies were needed to serve
Red Cloud and the others went to live on the reservation while Sitting
Bull and his people lived in the unceded land. In 1872 the Northern Pacific
Railroad came out to survey for tracks from Duluth, Minnesota to the Pacific.
The tracks would go along th south bank of the Yellowstone River in Sioux
territory. The Sioux led several attacks against the survey teams and
their army guards. At one skirmish Sitting Bull did something that was
considered courageous by the Indians and insulting to the soldiers and
it became famous to the Sioux. At the height of the fight, he sat down
on the ground, lit his pipe, sat, and smoked with bullets flying all around.
He didnt budge until he was done and his pipe was cleaned.
Fortunately for the Sioux, a financial panic put off the railroad for
another year. But it was only a matter of time. In 1875, the army decided
to build a new fort in the Black Hills to protect the railroad crews.
Lt. Colonel George Armstrong Custer was sent to find a suitable site.
The site he found had traces of gold and soon a new gold rush was on.
The Sioux were especially mad at this because the Black Hills were a sacred
The army tried to buy the site from the Indians. No agreement could be
reached so the government just decided to take the unceded lands, and
that Sitting Bull and his people would have to go to the reservation.
If they didnt they would be destroyed. Sitting Bull ignored this.
General George Crook led ten companies of cavalry and two companies of
infantry to force them. They attacked 100 tepees at Tongue River. Unfortunately
for the soldiers, this camp was not Sioux but Cheyenne. The Cheyennehad
previously been friendly with the whites, but after that they were enemies.
Sitting Bull got ready to fight. He sent couriers to every Sioux, Cheyenne,
and Arapaho camp both on the reservation and off and called for a rendezvous
on Rosebud Creek. Crook had assembled 1,047 soldiers from Ft. Fetterman
and 262 Shoshone and Crow scouts. Colonel John Gibbon brought 450 men
from Ft. Ellis, Montana territory. General Alfred Terry brought 925 men
from Ft. Abraham Lincoln in Dakota territory. Seventh Cavalry was part
of Terrys command. Before the great battle, Sitting Bull participated
in the ceremonial Sun Dance. Sitting Bull had his body pierced 100 times
by his adopted brother Jumping Bull. He stood and danced before the sun
and fasted until the next morning. Finally when he was exhausted, he fainted.
His vision told him the soldiers would be defeated.
The next morning the Sioux left for the Big Horn River. Meanwhile a small
contingent led by Crazy Horse rode back to the Rosebud Creek and on June
17, 1876 took Crook by surprise. The army was disorganized and the attack
took its toll. Only because of their Indian scouts was the army able to
turn them back. Crook called it a victory by the army but it really wasnt.
Crazy Horse was responsible for the death of 28 white men and wounding
50 others. The army was further delayed while it waited for supplies.
On June 25, Custer met the Indians at the Little Bighorn River. They were
able to catch them somewhat by surprise, but the Sioux had so many more
men. Renos force was decimated. Custers cavalry was wiped
out. The warriors took saddles, guns, and other booty from the dead, despite
a warning from Sitting Bull not to take such war prizes.
In September, Crook attacked 35 tepees of a group of Oglala, Brule, and
Miniconjou Sioux northeast of the Black Hills. By the time Sitting Bull
got there it was too late. The whole village had been destroyed, including
the women and children. The white men also taken back the property taken
from the dead soldies. Many of the remaining Indians gave up after that
but Sitting Bull still would not. Colonel Nelson Miles tried to persuade
Sitting Bull to go to the reservation but he would not. A two day skirmish
followed in which Miles used artillery to inflict serious damage on the
Indians. Soon afterward, some of Crazy Horses Oglala signed an agreement
to give up the Black Hills area and go on the reservation.
In May of 1877, Sitting Bull took refuge in Canada. His stay there lasted
only four years. By 1881, he only had about 185 followers left. The canadian
government would not give them a reservation nor would give them any money.
To save his people from starving he gave up and led his band to Fort Buford
about 70 miles south.
For two years he was held at Fort Randall as a prisoner. In 1883, he was
moved to the Standing Rock agency on the Missouri River 325 miles northwest.
In September 1884 showman Alvern Allen took Sitting Bull on a tour of
15 American cities. During this time he met Annie Oakley and was so impressed
with her skill he nicknamed her Little Sure Shot. In 1885, Buffalo Bill
Cody took Sitting Bull on tour with his Wild West Show. He treated him
respectfully and paid him $50 a week. When Sitting Bull retired from show
business that year Cody gave him a fine white horse and a white sombrero.
Sitting Bull would get mad if anyone else put the hat on because the man
who had given it to him had treated him with such dignity. Later on when
the Dawes Act required selling off more of their land Sitting Bull dug
his heels in and got a higher price. He was able to arrange 320 acres
to be given to each Indian family. Shortly after the government cut off
the supply of beef. Many children died that year from childhood diseases
because of malnutrition.
In 1889, the ghost dance religion started up from an Indian Paiute mystic
named Wovoka in Nevada. The religion basically said that victory would
come for the Indians and that by the dance they would see visions of the
future and reconnect with the dead. This religion made the soldiers nervous.
So in 1890 the soldiers sent troops into the field. The Sioux saw this
and headed for the Bad Lands. On December 15, 1890 a force of 40 Sioux
police rode to the Siouxs Grand River camp to arrest Sitting Bull.
At first he started to go peaceably, but then he got stubborn and would
not go. One of his followers, shot a rifle at Lt. Bull Head. At the same
time, the Lt. fired at Sitting Bull. Another man fired at Sitting Bull
fired and killed him too. After that general fighting broke out. Six policeman
and eight of Sitting Bulls followers including his 17 year old son
Crowfoot were killed. He was buried in a home-made coffin in the military
cemetery at Fort Yates.
-Copyright 2001 by Beth Gibson