Sitting Bull

Tatanka Iyotake, known throughout the world as Sitting Bull, ranks as the greatest of all the Sioux Indians. He was chief of a Sioux band and leader of one of the largest assemblies of Indian warriors in North America. He was a medicine man with far-seeing visions and an extraordinary ability to plan and organise.

Sitting Bull was born about 1831 in what is now South Dakota.

He believed that he had been divinely chosen to lead and protect his people, and he established himself in this role while still a young man. While he was in his thirties he was hit by a Crow bullet, which made him permanently lame, but this did not succeed in limiting his activities. During the years after 1866 Sitting Bull and his followers were almost continuously fighting wars. Other Indian tribes increasingly submitted to living on reservations, but Sitting Bull remained apart with his people in the buffalo country, unyielding and quick to challenge white intruders.

In December of 1875, the United States government ordered all the Sioux bands to move onto reservations by the end of January. The Indians scattered, and some time later a group of them arrived at Sitting Bull's camp on the Rosebud River in the valley of the Little Big Horn.

By the spring of 1876, about 3000 Teton Sioux and Northern Cheyenne warriors had assembled at Sitting Bull's camp and had chosen him as their supreme commander.

Sitting Bull's political judgement and his ability to see into the real meaning of a situation were as remarkable as his military skill.

In June of 1876, he vowed to perform the Sun Dance, which would give him a vision of what was going to happen to his people. Sitting Bull had often performed this dance, and his chest and back were permanently marked by wounds from its torture. For this great Dance, Sitting Bull gave 100 pieces of skin from his arms and shoulders. He danced all of one day and night and finally had a vision: many white soldiers would make war an his people, but the Great Spirit would care for his Indians.

Sitting Bull's vision was quickly fulfilled. On June 16, more than 1000 warriors met 1300 government troops at the Battle of the Rosebud. The Indians won that battle and also had a great triumph known as "Custer's Last Stand" at the Battle of the Little Big Horn, which followed on June 25.

After the Battle of the Little Big Horn, government troops constantly attacked the Sioux and Cheyenne Indians who had participated in it, and in the winter following their great victory many of Sitting Bull's followers surrendered. Pursued by the Army and failing in their attempt to save their hunting grounds in the Black Hills and Powder River country, Sitting Bull and his followers escaped to Canada. Sitting Bull pleaded with the Canadians for a reservation, but he did not succeed in obtaining one. He resisted of returning, but when the supply of food was gone and there was nothing more to eat, he led his followers south, and they surrendered at Fort Buford in July 1881. They gave their horses and arms in exchange for a "pardon" for Sitting Bull's past.

For two years the Sioux chief was a prisoner of war at fort Randall. He had become a legend in his own lifetime, and he received a flood of "fan mail".

Placed on Standing Rock Reservation in 1883, Sitting Bull continued to regard himself as chief of his people. In doing so, he excited the jealousy both of the government agent in charge of the reservation and of rival Indian chiefs. For a year he travelled with Buffalo Bill's wild west show, but he spent most of the 1880s quarrelling with the government agent.

When the Ghost Dance movement came to the Dakota reservations in 1890s the quarrel became more severe. In December he was invited to go to Pine Ridge Reservation to greet Wovoka, the great prophet and "holy one" of the new religion. When Sitting Bull requested permission to leave Standing Rock Reservation for this purpose, the agent told the Indian police that Sitting Bull was planning to flee the reservation, and on December 15 they went to arrest him.

Some of Sitting Bull's faithful friends tried to prevent him from being captured, but during the struggle he was killed by Sergeants Red Tomahawk and Bullhead. His seventeen-year-old son and six others also died in the encounter.

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