Sitting Bull - Hunkpapa / Sioux (Lakota)

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 a youngster.
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 didn’t 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 released him.
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 it.
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 didn’t 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 site.
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 didn’t 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 Terry’s 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 wasn’t. 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. Reno’s force was decimated. Custer’s 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 Horse’s 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 Sioux’s 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 Bull’s 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