Sitting Bull

Sitting Bull
Sitting Bull
Sitting Bull in 1882
Tribe Hunkpapa Lakota
Born c. 1831[1]
Grand River, South Dakota
Died December 15, 1890(1890-12-15) (aged 59)
Grand River, South Dakota, Standing Rock Indian Reservation
Native name Tȟatȟaŋka Iyotȟaŋka (born Hoka Psice)
Known for Battle of Little Big Horn, resistance to USA
Cause of death Shot by Indian Police
Resting place South Dakota
Religious beliefs Lakota, Roman Catholic (later in life)
Spouse(s) Light Hair
Four Robes
Scarlet Woman
Children One Bull (adopted son)
Crow Foot (son)
Many Horses (daughter)
Walks Looking (daughter)
(adopted daughter)
Parents Jumping Bull (father)
Her-Holy-Door (mother)
Relatives Big Foot (half brother)
White Bull (nephew)
Sitting Bull Signature.svg

Sitting Bull (Lakota: Tȟatȟáŋka Íyotake (in Standard Lakota Orthography),[2] also nicknamed Slon-he or "Slow"; (c. 1831 – December 15, 1890) was a Hunkpapa Lakota Sioux holy man who led his people as a tribal chief during years of resistance to United States government policies. Born near the Grand River in Dakota Territory, he was killed by Indian agency police on the Standing Rock Indian Reservation during an attempt to arrest him and prevent him from supporting the Ghost Dance movement.

Sitting Bull's premonition of defeating the cavalry became reality. Seven months after the battle, Sitting Bull and his group left the United States to Wood Mountain, Saskatchewan, where he remained until 1881, at which time he surrendered to U.S. forces. A small remnant of his band under Chief Waŋblí Ǧí decided to stay at Wood Mountain. After his return to the United States, he briefly toured as a performer in Buffalo Bill Cody's Wild West Show, earning $50 a week.

After working as a performer, Sitting Bull returned to the Standing Rock Agency in South Dakota. Because of fears that he would use his influence to support the Ghost Dance movement, Indian Service agent James McLaughlin at Fort Yates ordered his arrest. During an ensuing struggle between Sitting Bull's followers and the agency police, Sitting Bull was shot in the side and head by Standing Rock policemen, Lieutenant Bull Head (Tatankapah) and Red Tomahawk Marcelus Chankpidutah, after the police were fired upon by Sitting Bull's supporters. His body was taken to nearby Fort Yates for burial, but in 1953, his remains were possibly exhumed and reburied near Mobridge, South Dakota, by his Lakota family who wanted his body to be nearer to his birthplace. However, some Sioux and historians dispute this claim and believe that any remains that were moved were not those of Sitting Bull.


Early life

By many accounts, Sitting Bull was born in a tipi located near the Grand River near the Standing Rock Indian Reservation in Dakota Territory. His great-grandson Ernie LaPointe contends that family tradition says he was born at the Yellowstone River near present-day Miles City, Wyoming.[3] He was named Slon-He at birth, translated as "Slow" in standard Lakota language. In traditional Lakota fashion, he was later given one of his father's names, Tȟatȟaŋka Iyotȟaŋka, translated as "Sitting Bull", due to a leadership role in a battle between the Lakota and Crow people.

In the Dakota War of 1862, several bands of the Sioux killed 600 settlers and soldiers in south-central Minnesota in response to poor treatment by the government and in an effort to drive the whites away. Despite being embroiled in the American Civil War, the United States Army retaliated in 1863 and 1864, even against bands which had not been involved in the hostilities.[4] In 1864, two brigades of about 2200 soldiers under Brigadier General Alfred Sully attacked a village. The defenders were led by Sitting Bull, Gall and Inkpaduta.[4] The Sioux were driven out, but skirmishing continued into August.

In September, Sitting Bull and about 100 Hunkpapa Sioux came across a small party near what is now Marmarth, North Dakota. They had been left behind by a wagon train commanded by Captain James L. Fisk to effect some repairs to an overturned wagon. When he led an attack, Sitting Bull was shot in the left hip by a soldier.[4] The bullet exited out through the small of his back, and the wound was not too serious.[5]

Red Cloud's War

Sitting Bull led numerous war parties against Fort Berthold, Fort Stevenson, and Fort Buford and their environs from 1865 through 1868.[6] Although Red Cloud was a leader of the Oglala Sioux, his leadership and attacks against forts in the Powder River Country of Montana were supported by Sitting Bull's guerrilla attacks on emigrant parties and smaller forts throughout the upper Missouri River region.

By early 1868, the U.S. government desired a peaceful settlement to Red Cloud's War. It agreed to Red Cloud's demands that Forts Phil Kearny and C.F. Smith be abandoned. Chief Gall of the Hunkpapas (among other representatives of the Hunkpapas, Blackfeet, and Yankton Sioux) signed a form of the Treaty of Fort Laramie on July 2, 1868 at Fort Rice (near Bismarck, North Dakota).[7] Sitting Bull did not agree to the treaty. He continued his hit-and-run attacks on forts in the upper Missouri area throughout the late 1860s and early 1870s.[8]

The events of 1867–1868 mark a historically debated period of Sitting Bull's life. According to historian Stanley Vestal, who conducted interviews with surviving Hunkpapa in 1930, Sitting Bull was made "Supreme Chief of the whole Sioux Nation" at this time. Later historians and ethnologists have refuted this concept of authority, as the Lakota society was highly decentralised. Lakota bands and their chiefs made individual decisions.

The Great Sioux War of 1876–1877

Sitting Bull

Sitting Bull's band of Hunkpapa continued to attack migrating parties and forts in the late 1860s. When in 1871 the Northern Pacific Railway conducted a survey for a route across the northern plains directly through Hunkpapa lands, it encountered stiff Sioux resistance.[9] The same railway people returned the following year accompanied by federal troops. Sitting Bull and the Hunkpapa attacked the survey party, which was forced to turn back.[10] In 1873, the military accompaniment for the surveyors was increased again, but Sitting Bull's forces resisted the survey "most vigorously."[11]

The Panic of 1873 forced the Northern Pacific Railway's backers (such as Jay Cooke) into bankruptcy. This halted construction of the railroad through Sioux territory. After the discovery and new wealth from gold in California, other men became interested in the potential for gold mining in the Black Hills. In 1874, Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer led a military expedition from Fort Abraham Lincoln near Bismarck, to explore the Black Hills for gold and to determine a suitable location for a military fort in the Hills.[12] Custer's announcement of gold in the Black Hills triggered the Black Hills Gold Rush. Tensions increased between the Sioux and European Americans' seeking to move into the Black Hills.[13]

Although Sitting Bull did not attack Custer's expedition in 1874, the US government was increasingly pressured to open the Black Hills to mining and settlement. It was alarmed at reports of Sioux depredations (encouraged by Sitting Bull). In November 1875, the government ordered all Sioux bands outside the Great Sioux Reservation to move onto the reservation, knowing full well that not all would comply. As of February 1, 1876, the Interior Department certified as "hostile" those bands who continued to live off the reservation.[14] This certification allowed the military to pursue Sitting Bull and Lakota bands as "hostiles".

According to the historian Margot Liberty, many Lakota bands allied with the Cheyenne during the Plains Wars because they thought the other nation was under attack by the US. Given this connection, she suggests the major war should have been called "The Great Cheyenne War". Since 1860, the Northern Cheyenne had led several battles among the Plains Indians. Before 1876, the US Army had destroyed seven Cheyenne camps, more than those of any other nation.[15]

But, other historians such as Robert Utley[16] and Jerome Greene[17][18] also use Lakota oral testimony as the basis for their conclusions that the Lakota coalition, of which Sitting Bull was the ostensible head, was the primary target of the federal government's pacification campaign.

Battle of the Little Bighorn

Little Bighorn battlefield

During the period 1868–1876, Sitting Bull developed into the most important of Native American chiefs. After the Laramie Treaty of 1868 and the creation of the Great Sioux Reservation, many traditional Sioux warriors, such as Red Cloud of the Oglala and Spotted Tail of the Brulé, moved to reside permanently on the reservations. They were largely dependent for subsistence on the US Indian agencies. Many other chiefs, including members of Sitting Bull's Hunkpapa band such as Gall, at times lived temporarily at the agencies. They needed the supplies at a time when white encroachment and the depletion of buffalo herds reduced their resources and challenged Native American independence.

In 1875 the Northern Cheyenne, Hunkpapa, Oglala, Sans Arc, and Minneconjou camped together for a Sun Dance, with both the Cheyenne medicine man White Bull or Ice and Sitting Bull in association. This ceremonial alliance preceded their fighting together in 1876.[15] Sitting Bull had a major revelation.

At the climactic moment, "Sitting Bull intoned, 'The Great Spirit has given our enemies to us. We are to destroy them. We do not know who they are. They may be soldiers.' Ice too observed, 'No one then knew who the enemy were – of what tribe.'...They were soon to find out."(Utley 1992: 122–24)

Sitting Bull's refusal to adopt any dependence on the white man meant that at times he and his small band of warriors lived isolated on the Plains. When Native Americans were threatened by the United States, numerous members from various Sioux bands and other tribes, such as the North Cheyenne, came to Sitting Bull's camp. His reputation for "strong medicine" developed as he continued to evade the European Americans.

Sketch of Sitting Bull; Harper's Weekly, December 8, 1877 issue.

After the January 1st ultimatum of 1876, when the US Army began to track down Sioux and others living off the reservation as hostiles, Native Americans gathered at Sitting Bull's camp. The chief took an active role in encouraging this "unity camp". He sent scouts to the reservations to recruit warriors, and told the Hunkpapa to share supplies with those Native Americans who joined them. An example of his generosity was Sitting Bull's taking care of Wooden Leg's Northern Cheyenne tribe. They had been impoverished by Captain Reynold's March 17, 1876 attack and fled to Sitting Bull's camp for safety.[15]

The Hunkpapa chief provided resources to sustain the new recruits. Over the course of the first half of 1876, Sitting Bull's camp continually expanded, as natives joined him for safety in numbers. His leadership had attracted the warriors and families of an extensive village, estimated at more than 10,000 people. General Custer came across this large camp on June 25, 1876. Sitting Bull did not take a direct military role in the ensuing battle; as a head chief, he was charged with defensive responsibilities.

Custer’s 7th Cavalry advance party of General Alfred Howe Terry’s column attacked Cheyenne and Lakota tribes at their camp on the Little Big Horn River on June 25, 1876. The U.S. Army did not realize how large the camp was. More than 2,000 Native Americans had left their reservations to follow Sitting Bull. Inspired by a vision of Sitting Bull’s, in which he saw U.S. soldiers being killed as they entered the tribe’s camp, the Cheyenne and Lakota fought back. Custer's badly outnumbered troops lost ground quickly and were forced to retreat. The tribes led a counter-attack against the soldiers on a nearby ridge, ultimately annihilating most of them.

The Native Americans' victory celebrations were short-lived. Public shock and outrage at Custer's death and defeat, and the government's knowledge about the remaining Sioux, led them to assign thousands more soldiers to the area. Over the next year, the new American military forces pursued the Lakota, forcing many of the Native Americans to surrender. Sitting Bull refused to surrender and in May 1877 led his band across the border into Saskatchewan, Canada. He remained in exile for many years near Wood Mountain, refusing a pardon and the chance to return.[19]


Hunger and cold eventually forced Sitting Bull, his family, and nearly 200 other Sioux in his band to return to the United States and surrender on July 19, 1881. Sitting Bull had his young son Crow Foot surrender his rifle to the commanding officer of Fort Buford. He told the soldiers that he wished to regard them and the white race as friends. Two weeks later, the Army transferred Sitting Bull and his band to Fort Yates, the military post located adjacent to the Standing Rock Agency, which straddles the present-day boundary of North and South Dakota.

Sitting Bull and his band of 185 people were kept separate from the other Hunkpapa gathered at the agency. Army officials were concerned that the famed chief would stir up trouble among the recently surrendered northern bands. On August 26, 1881, he was visited by the census taker William T. Selwyn, who counted twelve people in the Hunkpapa leader's immediate family. Forty-one families, totaling 195 people, were recorded in Sitting Bull's band.[20]

The military decided to transfer him and his band to Fort Randall, to be held as prisoners of war. Loaded onto a steamboat, the band of 172 people was sent down the Missouri River to Fort Randall (near present-day Pickstown, South Dakota on the southern border of the state). There they spent the next 20 months. They were allowed to return north to the Standing Rock Agency in May 1883.

Wild West Show participation

In 1884, Sitting Bull was allowed to leave the reservation to join Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West show as a Show Indian. He earned about $50 a week for riding once around the arena, where he was a popular attraction. Although it is rumored that he cursed his audiences in his native tongue during the show, the historian Utley contends that he did not.[21] Historians have reported that Sitting Bull gave speeches about his desire for education for the young, and reconciling relations between the Sioux and whites.[22] The historian Edward Lazarus wrote that Sitting Bull was reported to have cursed his audience in Lakota in 1884, during an opening address celebrating the completion of the Northern Pacific Railway.[23]

Sitting Bull stayed with the show for four months before returning home. During that time, audiences began to consider him a celebrity and a romanticized warrior. He earned a small fortune by charging for his autograph and picture, although he often gave his money away to the homeless and beggars.[24] In 1883 Sitting Bull embraced the Roman Catholic faith and was baptized by a French-speaking Jesuit priest.[25][26]

Death and burial

Monument at Sitting Bull's alleged grave, Mobridge, South Dakota, 2003

Sitting Bull returned to the Standing Rock Agency after working in Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show. In 1890, James McLaughlin, the U.S. Indian Agent at Fort Yates on Standing Rock Agency, feared that the Lakota leader was about to flee the reservation with the Ghost Dancers, so he ordered the police to arrest him.[27] On 14 December 1890, McLaughlin drafted a letter to Lt. Bullhead that included instructions and a plan to capture the chief. The plan called for the arrest to take place at dawn on December 15, and advised the use of a light spring wagon to facilitate the chief's removal before his followers could rally. Bullhead decided against using the wagon. He intended to have the police officers force Sitting Bull to mount a horse immediately after the arrest.[28]

Around 5:30 a.m. on December 15, 39 police officers and four volunteers approached Sitting Bull's house. They surrounded the house, knocked and entered. Bullhead told Sitting Bull that he was under arrest and led him outside.[29] The camp awakened and men converged at the house of their chief. As Bullhead ordered Sitting Bull to mount a horse, he explained that the Indian Affairs agent needed to see him and then he could return to his house. Sitting Bull refused to comply and the police used force on him. The Sioux in the village were enraged. A Sioux known as Catch-the-Bear shouldered his rifle and shot Bullhead who, in return, fired his revolver into the chest of Sitting Bull.[30] Another police officer, Red Tomahawk, shot Sitting Bull in the head, and the chief dropped to the ground.

A close-quarters fight erupted, and within minutes several men were dead. Six policemen were killed immediately and two more died shortly after the fight. Sitting Bull and seven of his supporters lay dead, along with two horses.[31]

Sitting Bull's body was taken to Fort Yates to be placed in a coffin (made by the Army carpenter)[32] and for burial. In 1953 Lakota family members exhumed what they believed to be his remains, to be reinterred near Mobridge, South Dakota, his birthplace.[33] Some Sioux and historians dispute this claim and believe that any remains moved were not those of Sitting Bull.[34]


Sitting Bull, 1882

Following Sitting Bull's death, his cabin on the Grand River was taken to Chicago to become part of the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition. The cabin was exhibited along with Native American dances.[35]

Sitting Bull was the subject of, or a featured character in, many Hollywood motion pictures. Among them are:

As time passed, Sitting Bull became a symbol and archetype of Native American resistance movements as well as a figure celebrated by his former enemies:

  • On September 14, 1989, the United States Postal Service released a Great Americans series 28¢ postage stamp featuring a likeness of Sitting Bull.[36]
  • On March 6, 1996, Standing Rock College was renamed Sitting Bull College in his honor. Sitting Bull College serves as an institution of higher education on Sitting Bull's home of Standing Rock in North Dakota and South Dakota.
  • The American historian Gary Clayton Anderson of the University of Oklahoma published Sitting Bull and the Paradox of Lakota Nationhood a revisionist examination of the Lakota medicine man. Anderson stresses the Little Big Horn not so much as a mishap by Custer but in light of past succeses the Lakota Nation and the merits of Sitting Bull himself.[37]
  • Legoland Billund, the first Legoland park, contains a Lego sculpture of Sitting Bull, the largest sculpture in the park.
  • Sitting Bull is featured as the leader for the Native American Civilization in the computer game Civilization IV.[38]
  • Sitting Bull is lionized as one of 13 great Americans in President Barack Obama's children's book, Of Thee I Sing: A Letter to My Daughters.[39]
  • in August 2011, a research team led by Eske Willerslev, an ancient DNA expert at the University of Copenhagen, announced their intention to sequence the genome of Sitting Bull, with the approval of his descendents using a hair sample obtained during his lifetime [40]


See also


  1. ^ Encyclopedia Britannica. 20. 1955. p. 723. 
  2. ^ New Lakota Dictionary, 2008
  3. ^ Jess Blumberg, "Sitting Bull's Legacy", Smithsonian, 31 October 2007, accessed 4 October 2011
  4. ^ a b c "The US Army and the Sioux". National Park Service. Retrieved February 19, 2011. 
  5. ^ Vestal, Stanley (1989). Sitting Bull, Champion of the Sioux: A Biography. University of Oklahoma Press. p. 63. ISBN 0806122196. Retrieved February 19, 2011. 
  6. ^ Utley 1993, p.66-72.
  7. ^ Utley 1993, p.80.
  8. ^ Utley 1993, p.82.
  9. ^ Utley, Frontier Regulars 1973, p.242.
  10. ^ Bailey 1979, p.84-5.
  11. ^ Utley Frontier Regulars 1973, p.242.
  12. ^ Utley Frontier Regulars 1973, p.244.
  13. ^ Bailey 1979, p.106-7.
  14. ^ Utley Frontier Regulars 1973, p. 248.
  15. ^ a b c Liberty, Dr. Margot. "Cheyenne Primacy: The Tribes' Perspective As Opposed To That Of The United States Army; A Possible Alternative To "The Great Sioux War Of 1876"". Friends of the Little Bighorn. Retrieved 13 January 2008. 
  16. ^ Utley, Robert M. (1993). Sitting Bull: The Life and Times of an American Patriot. New York, New York: Henry Holt&Co.. pp. 88, 122. ISBN 080508830X. 
  17. ^ Greene, Jerome (1993). Battles and Skirmishes of the Great Sioux War, 1876-77: The Military View. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press. p. xvi, xvii. ISBN 0806125357. 
  18. ^ Greene, Jerome (1994). Lakota and Cheyenne: Indian Views of the Great Sioux War, 1876-1877. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press. p. xv. ISBN 0806132450. 
  19. ^ Wood Mountain, Saskatchewan official site
  20. ^ Ephriam D. Dickson III, The Sitting Bull Surrender Census: The Lakotas at Standing Rock Agency, 1881, Pierre: South Dakota State Historical Society Press, 2010, pp. 23-33.
  21. ^ Utley 1993, p.263
  22. ^ Standing Bear 1975, p.185
  23. ^ Lazarus 1991, p.106
  24. ^ Utley 1993, p.264
  25. ^ Whittaker, A Complete Life of General Custer, Volume 2, p. 535
  26. ^ "Sitting Bull becomes a Catholic". New York Times. 1883-04-13. Retrieved 2011-04-11. 
  27. ^ Nichols, Roger L.; University of Oklahoma (2003). "American Indians in U.S. History". Norman Press. p. 160. 
  28. ^ Utley, Robert M. (2004). "The Last Days of the Sioux Nation, 2nd Edition". Yale University Press. p. 155,157. 
  29. ^ Utley, Robert M. (2004). "The Last Days of the Sioux Nation, 2nd Edition". Yale University Press. p. 158. 
  30. ^ Utley, Robert M. (2004). "The Last Days of the Sioux Nation, 2nd Edition". Yale University Press. p. 160. 
  31. ^ Dippie, Brian W. The Vanishing American: White Attitudes and U.S. Indian Policy. Middleton, Conn.: Wesleyan University Press, 1982
  32. ^ Snider, G.L., A Maker of Shavings, the life of Edward Forte, formerly 1st Sergeant, troop "D", 7th Cavalry 1936
  33. ^ "Bones of Sitting Bull Go South From One Dakota to the Other.". Associated Press in The New York Times. April 9, 1953. Retrieved 2008-05-29. "A group of South Dakotans today lifted the bones of Sitting Bull, famed Sioux Indian medicine man, from the North Dakota burial ground in which they had been buried sixty-three years and reburied them across the state line in South Dakota near the Chief's boyhood home." 
  34. ^ Barry, Dan (January 28, 2007). "Restoring Dignity to Sitting Bull, Wherever He Is". New York Times. Retrieved 2008-05-29. "Then, in 1953, some Chamber of Commerce types from the small South Dakota city of Mobridge executed a startling plan. With the blessing of a few of Sitting Bull’s descendants, they crossed into North Dakota after midnight and exhumed what they believed were Sitting Bull’s remains." 
  35. ^ Barker 1994, p.165.
  36. ^ United States Postal Service, Postal History Web site
  37. ^ Sitting Bull and the Paradox of Lakota Nationhood. Prentice Hall, ISBN 9780321421920. Retrieved October 23, 2010. 
  38. ^ Sid Meier's Civilization IV, IGN Entertainment, 
  39. ^ James White. Barack Obama names Sitting Bull as inspirational American in new children's book. Mail Online (Posted: November 17, 2010)
  40. ^ Genome of a chief, Science News, Web edition: Tuesday, August 17th, 2010


Further reading

External links

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • Sitting Bull — und Buffalo Bill …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Sitting Bull — ( Taureau assis ) nom angl. de Tatanka Iyotake (v. 1834 1890), chef des Sioux du Dakota, qu il refusait de laisser parquer dans une réserve …   Encyclopédie Universelle

  • Sitting Bull —   [ sɪtɪȖ bʊl; englisch »sitzender Stier«], Lakota Tatanka Yotanka, Häuptling der Hunkpapa Sioux, * im heutigen South Dakota um 1831, ✝ bei Fort Yates (North D.) 15. 12. 1890; auch einflussreicher Medizinmann; seit den 1860er Jahren einer der… …   Universal-Lexikon

  • Sitting Bull — (1834 90) a ↑native American chief of the Sioux tribe who helped ↑Crazy Horse to win a victory over General Custer s army of US soldiers in the battle at the ↑Little Bighorn in 1876. He later performed in ↑Buffalo Bill s Wild West Show …   Dictionary of contemporary English

  • Sitting Bull — 1834? 90; a principal chief of the Dakota Indians: fought in the Battle of the Little Bighorn …   English World dictionary

  • Sitting Bull — Cet article concerne le personnage historique. Pour le film de western, voir Sitting Bull (film). Sitting Bull …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Sitting Bull — 1834 90, American Indian warrior: leader of the Hunkpapa; victor at Little Bighorn, 1876. * * * born с 1831, near Grand River, Dakota Territory, U.S. died Dec. 15, 1890, on the Grand River in South Dakota Teton Sioux chief under whom the Sioux… …   Universalium

  • Sitting Bull — noun a chief of the Sioux; took up arms against settlers in the northern Great Plains and against United States Army troops; he was present at the Battle of Little Bighorn (1876) when the Sioux massacred General Custer s troops (1831 1890) •… …   Useful english dictionary

  • Sitting Bull — Tatanka Iyotanka also known as Sitting Buffalo Bill …   Eponyms, nicknames, and geographical games

  • Sitting Bull — Sit′ting Bull′ n. big 1834–90, Lakota Indian leader …   From formal English to slang

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