SITTING BULL’S WAY OF LIFE
Over a century and a half ago, a great man was born into a life that was about as perfect as human life gets. Little did he know that his world would be destroyed, his people massacred, that those who survived would become prisoners of war, that his very identity, character and culture would be maligned.
Born in l83l, born free to roam over the prairies, to hunt, to survive by God-given wits with fellow creatures as companions, free to totally love life, free to be totally self-sufficient, born free of the tyrany of government. Indians were nomadic and hunting buffalo was crucial to their way of life. When the white man couldn’t kill off all the Indians after stealing their land, he proceeded to kill off all the buffalo, and almost succeeded.
Sitting Bull came of age early. By age l4, he had touched an enemy. If you could touch an enemy and not kill him, you were a warrior with honor, the men told of your deeds, the women admired you. It was a society where character and honor were everything. A good character was the only thing a person truly possessed. A person could live with a lot of things, losses, but not a tarnished character. When Sitting Bull grew older and had to fight white soldiers, he said, “The white soldiers do not know how to fight. They are not lively enough. They stand still and run straight; it is easy to shoot them. They do not try to save themselves,. Also, they seem to have no hearts. When an Indian gets killed, the other Indians feel sorry and cry, and sometimes stop fighting. But when a white soldier gets killed, nobody cries, nobody cares; they go right on shooting and let him lie there. Sometimes they even go off and leave their wounded behind them.”
As soon as the Civil War was over, the U. S. government decided to kill off all the Indians and steal their land, so that capitalism could prosper. Americans called this Manifest Destiny, meaning that the Christian God had ordained the superior white race to settle, colonize, subjugate the Indians, and assert a capitalist way of life for the benefit of the white race. Also, the U. S. had large war debts, so they felt they needed to get the gold from the Black Hills, even though the Black Hills was part of the Reservation. General Sheridan sent Colonel George A. Custer into the Black Hills to get the Hills away from the Indians. He announced to the press that gold could be found under every rock and in every stream, knowing this would bring an onslaught of gold-crazed people.
From the beginning, the Indian was treated as a sub-human savage. If he didn’t have the good sense to realize that these Europeon foreigners were his superiors, come to give him the gift of religion and government in exchange for his land, then he deserved to be shot. At one time, it was quite legal to kill Indians, no questions asked. As a matter of fact, a bounty was placed on Indians.
For hundreds of years, the Indians lived in peace and harmony with the animals, who they considered their equals. There was a time when animals weren’t scared to death of people, a time before the white man. Before a warrior killed an animal for food, he prayed to that animal and begged his forgiveness. Indians spoke with the animals and drew strength and knowledge from the animals. But, no more. That is gone.
Indians were organized into tribes, which means that the family was very important, and in Indian way, everyone had a place in their society . A council of elders chosen by the people made decisions based on what would be good for all. They chose the chief, who always listened to the people. It was his job to make sure everyone was taken care of. If someone lacked, he had to give them what they needed. There were no elections, no terms of office, no pay for bureaucrats because there weren’t any. There were no jails, no courts, no police, no judges, no lawyers. All unnecessary. Indians were totally free and independent. Even a child of 6 could understand the law. Disputes were settled by the people, the council, or the chief. If anyone was too disruptive, he or she was given walking papers and told not to come back. In other words, it was a real democracy, since anyone could have a say-so.
Sitting Bull was chosen to be chief at a time when the white man was trying to kill the Indian and take his land. When Indians objected to this behavior, they were declared the enemy and war was made on them. But it was really genocide, since that was the intent. Women and children were targeted.
The year l865, was a turning point for Sitting Bull, for that was the year of the Sand Creek massacre in which hundreds of Cheyennes, mainly women and children were killed. But some escaped and headed north to Sitting Bull, who welcomed them and made room for them in his camp. When he heard their story, he realized that the white man was sly, deceitful, greedy, bloodthirsty, that the white man wanted to kill all the Indians.
There was constant fighting brought about by the white man. Nothing seemed to satisfy him. The white man was sly. He, through the U. S. government, lured the weaker Indians to the Reservations, with promises of good and shelter. However, the minute the Indian fought back, any available Indian was killed in retaliation. Friendly Indians were easier to kill. The white man used germ warfare against the Indians by giving Indians blankets that were infected with smallpox. Not only did it kill an enormous number of Indians, it cloaked the government’s true intentions and caused Indians to suffer a hideous death.
The Hunkpapa chief Four Horns, decided a new chief should be selected in these most treacherous of times. He chose Sitting Bull because he was brave and intelligent. He led the charges on his fast horses, and never reined them back in a battle. A man who had been severely wounded in battle twice; once so badly that he was a cripple. A man who was a peacemaker in the camps and never quarreled. A generous man, who was always capturing horses from the enemy and giving them away, a man who constantly shared his kill with the poor and helpless when hunting, a man who could not bear to see one of the Hunkpapa unhappy. A pleasant man, always making jokes and telling stories, keeping the people in a good humor, a sociable man who had tried to please everybody all his life, who was not haughty or arrogant—in spite of his many honors. A family man, who stood well with matrons and old women whose domestic quarrels he had patched up, whose winter food supply he had filled. A man who had the gift of prophesy who could foretell the outcome of a battle, so that he was almost always victorious. A good singer, always in demand. A man who could speak and think, and never was swindled by the whites. A man whose unshaken purpose was to maintain Hunkpapa laws and customs, and defend the Hunkpapa hunting grounds against the white man. A man who was devoutly religious, whose prayers were strong, and got what he prayed for. Also, Sitting Bull had the support of the warriors and the elders.
With all tribes assembled, including some Arapaho and Cheyenne, except for Spotted Tail of the Brule and Red Cloud of the southern Oglala, Sitting Bull was chosen to be head chief to reunite the whole Teton Sioux nation against the encroachments of the white man. Crazy Horse of the Oglala was chosen second in command. Then the ceremonies began. People recounted Sitting Bull’s many accomplishments, including that he had abolished slavery in his band, had told the people to adopt the captives or set them free. The year was l867.
Sitting Bull never started any war or battle with the whites. He did make demands of the U.S. government that: (l) the roads be closed; (2) the forts be burned; (3) the steamboats be stopped from entering the reservation; and (4) all whites be expelled except for traders.
Sitting Bull composed a new song:
“Young men, help me, do help me!
I love my nation so;
That is why I am fighting.”
From here on, it would be a cat and mouse game with the U.S. government trying to take back Indian lands guaranteed by treaty and Sitting Bull fighting all the way to save his land , his animals, his people, even other tribes. The treaties with Indians were never taken seriously by the U. S. government. It was simply a means used to contain the Indians, who were too strong for the U.S. military to exterminate at that time. Also, Indians were not considered to be moral, intellectual or spiritual. So, quite naturally, the white man felt justified to dispose of the red man who stood in the path of progress. After all, Manifest Destiny was understood by everyone in the nineteenth century, and accepted as a cardinal truth, a mandate from God.
Manifest Destiny was a U.S. policy that perpetuated imperialist expansion, a policy based on the notion that the white race was superior to all other races, that the white man was chosen by God to dominate the earth. In other words, it was all right to kill Indians and steal their land because God had chosen the white man to create a white nation in America.
From then on, a constant stream of delegations would try to get Sitting Bull to sign away his people’s land, to whom Sitting Bull said:
“I wish all to know that I do not propose to sell any part of my country, nor will I have the whites cutting our timber along the rivers, more especially the oak. I am particularly fond of the little groves of oak trees. I love to look at them, and feel a reverence for them, because they endure the wintry storms and summer’s heat, and—not unlike ourselves—seem to thrive and flourish by them. One thing more: those forts filled with white soldiers must be abandoned; there is no greater source of trouble and grievance to my people.”
Then Sitting Bull sent Gall and Bull Owl to meet with the commissioners, and on July 2, l968, they signed the Treaty of Laramie. This treaty established the Great Sioux Reservation, the one which is still referred to today. It was a complete victory for Sitting Bull, although Sitting Bull never signed the Treaty. The U.S. government and military never upheld the Treaty. The military was a frequent violator of the Treaty, as they were just following orders from the Commander-and-Chief. The government also issued hundreds of guns and ammunition to settlers and mercenaries, while Indians kept the peace and honored the Treaty.
Then Sheridan, under orders from the White House, ordered Custer to reconnoitre the Black Hills. He announced gold every where, which set off a stampede of whites for the Black Hills.
So now the Hills were full of miners demanding that the government buy the Hills and use the military to protect them, even though they were there in violation of the l868 Treaty, the Black Hills being part of the Great Sioux Nation and sacred to the Sioux. The military would not protect Indian rights and did not try to dislodge the miners. Also the railroad was trying to get a line through Indian land. Then too, immigrants were swarming all over, brought over by all those handbills distributed by the U.S. government, advertising free land to anyone who would come over and homestead. So the Black Hills were swarming with various white men, and the White House was sending a Commission to try buy out the Indians. The only Indians willing to deal with the U.S. government were the agency Indians, such as Spotted Tail and Red Cloud;, who wanted cash for the Hills. Sitting Bull said he had no land to sell.
“We have plenty of game. We want no white men here. The Black Hills belong to me. If the whites try to take them, I will fight.”
So, the Commission went back to Washington with its tail between its legs. Then the U.S. government, at the urging and money spent by rich industrial Capitalists, deployed its favorite motivus operation. Washington ordered that all Indians turn themselves into the Agencies or they would be considered hostile and war would be declared on them, all because they refused to sell their land. Of course, this directive was to be carried out in the winter of l875, a favorite time for the U.S. to force Indians into a forced march to the reservations.
When Sitting Bull did not come in, Washington declared war on him along with Craz;y Horse and his Oglalas. However, the generals were having a little trouble finding the Indians in the winter on the plains. So they waited until March. Then they attacked the camps of Crazy Horse, Oglala, and Two Moon, Cheyenne. The Indians drove the troops back and escaped, but the military burnt all the food and lodges. Then, the freezing Oglala and Cheyenne set out to find relief in that bitter winter weather. At last, cold and hungry, some sixty miles down the Powder, they found the camp of Sitting Bull.
Sitting Bull heard their story, took them in, fed them, gave them horses, robes, and guns, and told his people to double up and let the refugees have some of their tents. He made them welcome.
For 8 years Sitting Bull had put up with everything and had kept the peace, had honored a treaty he never signed. Now he was angry when he saw what the U.S. soldiers had done to the Oglalas and Cheyennes. He said, “We are an island of Indians in a lake of whites. We must stand together, or they will rub us out separately. These soldiers have come shooting; they want war. All right, we’ll give it to them!” Many a white man lost his horses and his scalp. Runners sped to every camp and agency—Sioux, Cheyenne, and Arapaho. “It’s war! Come to the Rosebud and we’ll fight.” So everyone joined Sitting Bull, even Agency Indians who remembered what happened at Sand Creek. Sure enough, the government took the guns and horses from the agency Indians.
Soon most all Indians headed for Sitting Bull’s big camp. Drums were beating, and every night there was dancing. Here they all come. Crazy Horse with his Oglala; Flying By, Hump, and Lame Deer of the Miniconjou; Spotted Eagle and Two Eagles of the Sans Arc; Four Horns with the Hunkpapa; Two Moon, Ice, and Little Horse of the Cheyenne; other tribes represented included Arapaho, Yankton, Blackfeet Sioux, Inkpaduta’s Santees; even some Brule and southern Oglala including Jack Red Cloud, son of the great chief Red Cloud, who, along with Spotted Tail advised against joining with Sitting Bull. The head men selected the fighting chiefs for each band. Sitting Bull was chosen to lead the campaign, chosen by voice acclamation, without one dissenting voice.
Sitting Bull told the warriors to get ready, start stealing horses from some of those 25,000 whites holed up in the Black Hills. Guns and ammunition were harder to get. What they lacked in weapons, they made up for by being the finest fighting force in the whole world, fighting for a cause that was right, moral, and just, and led by one of the most intelligent, witty, bravest, most generous leaders this world has ever known.
Then Sitting Bull started to prepare himself, so all would go well. He loosened the braids of his long hair, removed the feathers from his head, washed off the red paint, and filled his long pipe, and gathered sage. He called White Bull, Jumping Bull, and Black Moon to accompany him to a hilltop. Here, Sitting Bull prayed and renewed his vow before witnesses:
“Tuncosila, Wakan Tanka, save me and give me all my wild game animals. Bring them near me, so that my people may have plenty to eat this winter. Let good men on earth have more power, so that all nations may be strong and successful. Let them be of good heart, so that all Sioux people may get along well and be happy. If you do this for me, I will perform the sun-gazing dance two days, two nights, and give you a whole buffalo.”
Later, they all smoked the pipe, and returned to camp. Sitting Bull immediately went hunting and shot 3 buffalo, one which he offered up to Wanka Tanka. A few days later, the sun dance began with Black Moon conducting it, and Sitting Bull, having vowed the dance, was Chief of the Dancers.
The virgin cut the sacred tree. The chiefs carried the tree into the circle on poles, where it was decorated and dedicated with symbols and offerings. The alter was built and a buffalo scull placed on it, along with pipes. Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse, and all the warriors had been through this many times. It was part of their life. Sitting Bull fulfilled his vow by giving flesh, l00 pieces. Then he went into the sundance. With no food or water, he danced and prayed. The next day, he appeared to faint. Black Moon and others took and laid Sitting Bull down. He spoke to Black Moon saying he had a vision, his offering had been accepted, his prayers were heard. Black Moon walked to the center and announced, “Sitting Bull wishes to announce that he just heard a voice from above saying, “I give you these because they have no ears.” He looked up and saw soldiers and some Indians on horseback coming down like grasshoppers, with their heads down and their hats falling off. They were falling right into our camp.” The people rejoiced. Later, Sitting Bull warned the people:
“These dead soldiers are the gifts of Wanka Tanka. Kill them, but do not take their guns or horses. Do not touch the spoils. If you set your hearts upon the goods of the white man, it will prove to be the downfall of this nation.”
Crazy Horse and Gall, Two Moon and Ice, along with many others believed in Sitting Bull’s prophecy, having seen them come true in the past. Ten days later, the prophecy was fulfilled. For as long as people lived who witnessed this, the Sun Dance on the Rosebud was not forgotten. The sun dance pole stood for many years, for no Indian would go near that holy ground where Sitting Bull shed his blood for the people. Finally, some white men removed it, and built a road over the top of it, in a way typical of white men.
Sitting Bull constantly sent out scouts, who eventually found Crook with l000 soldiers and 260 scouts coming into the Rosebud. Crazy Horse led the attack and sent Crook on the run. Many soldiers died.
Still Sitting Bull waited and watched. Standing on a hilltop, Sitting Bull raised his hands to the sky, prayed and cried:
“Wakan Tanka, pity me. In the name of the nation, I offer You this pipe. Wherever the Sun, Moon, Earth, Four Winds, there You are always. Tuncosila, save the people, I beg You. We wish to live. Guard us against all misfortunes and calamities. Take pity.”
Then he left tobacco ties as offerings. The next day, the hill side was littered with Custer and his 7th Cavalry. Also, Reno didn’t fare too well, either.
Consummate leader that he was, wary as one of his fine wild animals, Sitting Bull, smelled a trap at the Little Big Horn. And he was right. The U.S. was coming with its full force to rub out the Indians, but failed due to the strong prayers of Sitting Bull, and the excellence of his warriors, the best in all the world. Had Sitting Bull the mind of the white man, he would have chased the soldiers to the ocean, killing their women and children as he went. However;, Sitting Bull was guided by a respect for life, rather than a love of money, which is why he felt sad when he saw not everyone had heeded his warning. He said, “Because you have taken the spoils, henceforth you will covet the white man’s goods, you will be at his mercy, you will starve at his hands. The soldiers will crush you.”
Right after the battle, the white man, seeing that the whole 7th Cavalry was wiped out in just one day, made up poor excuses and slandered Sitting Bull in the press. The U.S. government quickly realized they had to present Sitting Bull as a savage, godless demon to the public, which is where the media did their patriotic best to distort the whole event, and cover up the true intentions. It must be remembered that Sitting Bull and all the Indians only defended themselves from annihilation.
Sitting Bull moved his camp to Twin Buttes on the Grand River. Near him were some Oglala, Brule, and Minniconjou, camped at Slim Buttes, all within the Great Sioux Reservation. General Crook with about 2000 soldiers attacked the Slim Buttes camp before dawn, killing old men and women, children, women with their babies. Sitting Bull, who was hunting, heard of the attack and came running. He couldn’t get into the camp right away because there were too many soldiers, so he kept firing from the edges. Next day, Crook began moving out toward the Black Hills, after getting the survivors to surrender. Sitting Bull tried to break their line, but there were too many. As soon as the soldiers had moved out of the camp, Sitting Bull called off his warriors and went into the burnt out camp. There, in addition to the atrocities, he found a note from Crook attached to one of the captives he had released. He wrote: (l) White men do not make war upon women and children. (2) Tell Sitting Bull he would kill all Indians until the last one had been killed or made prisoner. (3) The Sioux should surrender immediately rather than expose their wives and children to these kinds of accidents.
Sitting Bull tried to keep the bands together to fight the soldiers, but the U.S. government had a way of luring people with promises only to turn on them in the end. The U.S. government tricked some Sioux and Cheyenne to go with the soldiers and fight against Sitting Bull.
From then on, the situation deteriorated. Miles was sent to harass, bully, and bribe the Indians with empty promises of how much better off they would be if they returned or turned themselves into the Agencies. In the meantime Washington sent Commissioners to get the Black Hills. This time, they didn’t offer payment; instead, it was either sign or you don’t get your rations. The pretense of getting three fourths of the full blood males to sign was dropped. Anyone could sign. In short, the treaty was worthless. Sitting Bull would not come into the Agency, nor would he sign away the Black Hills. But through devious fraud and theft, and sell-outs (hangs-around-the-fort), the Black Hills were gone.
Sitting Bull held out as long as he could. He let the people decide who wanted to go to the Agency and who wanted to go with him to Canada. Then he went to find Crazy Horse. Crazy Horse said he had to stay with the old and the women with children. They were starving since the U.S. government had ordered all the buffalo to be killed. He said that Spotted Tail had urged him to come to Fort Robinson just to look around to see that his people would be better off. But anyone wishing to go with Sitting Bull was free to go. Some Oglalas joined with Sitting Bull.
Sitting Bull had a heavy sadness, prophet that he was, he knew he would never see his friend again. Now he was alone. While out hunting antelope, a wolf spoke to Sitting Bull, who memorized his song:
“I am a lonely wolf, wandering pretty nearly all over the world. He, he, he!
What is the matter? I am having a hard time, Friend.
This that I tell you, you will have to do also.
Whatever I want, I always get it.
Your name will be big, as mine is big. Hau! Hau!”
From here on, the U.S.government ordered the army to round up all Indians who were roaming around the Reservation, hunting, send them to the Agencies, confiscate their guns and horses, keeping them as prisoners of war, pay some Indians to assassinate their own chiefs; the Agencies were to keep the peace by withholding rations. The army swarmed all over the Reservation. Sitting Bull usually avoided them, sometimes took a few shots at them. During one of these skirmishes, White Bull was shot through the arm breaking the bone. Miles captured some of Sitting Bull’s warriors and held them captive on a boat. He told Sitting Bull to come in and surrender or he would kill the warriors. Sitting Bull told White Bull to go in, and take anyone with him who wanted to go to the Agency, which White Bull did. Sitting Bull was by no means willing to go in and give up his hard-earned guns and horses, only to starve at an Agency.
Sitting Bull, and in fact, all the Indians, saw the white man as an inferior human being, who did not live by any virtues or values, who was motivated by greed, who would lie, cheat, steal and murder to acquire material things, who wanted to own everything, privatized, if you will. Whereas, Indians shared the land, believing that everyone had a right to exist, even the animals and plants. Indians fought to defend their families and hunting grounds, whereas whites sent an army to fight for land and resources to present to rich men. An Indian chief was chosen to lead because he had demonstrated to have strong character assets, whereas a president or senator was chosen by a few rich people to be served by the poor. In other words,
Indians saw Sitting Bull as a man who could lead his warriors, whereas, they saw the president as a coward who hid inside like a woman, and sent someone else to fight his battles.
Late spring, l877, Sitting Bull arrived in Canada. He could finally rest for awhile from the U.S.government’s attempts to kill him and his people. But generals and commissioners were constantly coming over to try get Sitting Bull to come back. It was a total embarrassment to the U.S. that Sitting Bull had defeated their little army and wiped out that cur known as Custer.
It was not very pleasant for the U.S. commissioners, to sit and listen to the frank reproaches to these ‘savages’ whom they had condemned and despised and had come so far to ‘pardon’. Also, it was unpleasant because all was spoken in the presence of the officers of the British government, with which Americans were none too friendly in feeling just after the Civil War. Particularly, as both the Americans and the Canadians knew very well that Sitting Bull’s stand was thoroughly justified by the corruption of the Indian Bureau, the unnecessary Indian wars, the abuses of the Indian trade, the theft of Indian land, and the indiscriminate killing of Indians, mainly women and children. There sat Terry, who had been in command of the troops when Custer fell, and when thousands of American soldiers could not keep the peace on the frontier. And in the same room sat the Canadians who—with a mere handful of policemen—controlled the Indians of a territory far larger than the country of the Sioux, and all without any bloodshed whatever. And there sat Sitting Bull, the man whose warriors had inflicted the most complete disaster to American arms in the history of the United States, pointing out the differences in the two groups of officials in the most dramatic way, pointing out the justice of the Canadians compared to the corruption and inadequacy of the U.S. government. Sitting Bull said:
“I am innocent. My people at the Agencies are being abused. Many Sioux, mainly women and little children, have been killed by soldiers, for no reason other than these soldiers enjoy killing and torture. All my wild animals have run away at the smell of too much blood. I only wished for peace and a chance to trade, The Sioux had never sold their country, nor taken annuities in payment; the Americans stole my country, and the gold in the Black Hills. We asked the Americans to give us traders, instead they give us death. All of them robbed, cheated, and laughed at us. They never tell the truth. They said they did not wish to fight, yet why did they come into my country shooting at me? Evervthing bad began with them. I have never heard a good word of them. If they liked me, why did they drive me away?”
So the Commission west back to the U.S. to report that Sitting Bull would not be returning soon, if at all.
Sitting Bull heard with great sadness, that Crazy Horse had been stabbed in the back when he came into Fort Robinson. Later, Chief Joseph and his Nez Perce, almost made it to Sitting Bull before Miles captured him. All winter long, across the Rocky Mountains, Chief Joseph led his people, hoping to reach Sitting Bull before the army imprisoned them on a reservation. He was only 40 miles from the Canadian line, when Miles opened fire on him and his people. Indian sources say that Joseph had crossed into Canada when Miles overtook them, and slaughtered them. However; about l00 Nez Perce escaped and joined Sitting Bull. Chief Joseph was forces to surrender. Instead of keeping their promise, the U.S. imprisoned this great chief instead of giving him a reservation.
As time passed, plenty gave way to famine. Followers drifted away. Eventually, Sitting Bull had to rely on others to feed him. The Queen would not grant him a reserve. The hand writing was on the wall. By this time, Sitting bull’s camp consisted chiefly of old people, the young had taken off seeking new adventures. But the old weren’t going to go anywhere without their old leader, who had piloted them through war, famine, and exile. Sitting Bull loved these people. All his life long, he had made so many sacrifices for them. Out on the lonely hills he had fasted and prayed for them; in the tortures of the Sun Dance, he had shed his blood for their success and safety; in battle and in the hunt he had risked his skin and covered himself with sweat and dust to keep them supplied with horses and hunting grounds. Yet, there was no doubt in Sitting Bull’s mind that he would be murdered by these Americans. He had no choice. And why not? He remembered Ash Hollow, Sand Creek, the dead women and children at Slim Buttes, Killdeer Mountain, General Sully’s massacre at Fort Rice. He knew all the broken treaties, cheating traders, and thieving Indian agents, the cruel wrongs of the Santees before the Minnesota Massacre, the dead cow at Laramie, and the rank injustice which had driven Chief Joseph’s followers to fly to him for refuge. He had seen Gall’s gaping bayonet wounds, and heard how Crazy Horse was lured to surrender and afterward stabbed from behind. He recalled how Dull Knife’s people had been locked up at Fort Robinson and starved for eight days, and then shot down as they staggered away over the moonlit snow. And within 6 months a portion of his own camp had been fired into at Camp Poplar, while they were negotiating for surrender.
Most of these so-called accidents had been brought about by soldiers, agents, licensed traders—all of them official representatives of the U.S. government. Sitting Bull knew that Jumping Bull was in irons, and on returning to Wood Mountain , had been told that his elder daughter, Has Many Horses, who had recently returned to the States with her new husband, had been seized and shackled there. He knew that LeGare, the French trader, would be paid for bringing him in. Yet, his people were starving. He asked the Canadians for rations. They refused.
The next day, July l0, l88l, LaGare started out with 40 lodges, l87 people, heading for the United States. On the way, they passed miles of carcasses of buffalo, half skinned, bones gleaming. Sitting Bull may have noted there was no room for either one of them.
On they went to Ft. Buford. It was here that Sitting Bull surrendered. He had to let go all his fast horses. When the men lined up to turn over their weapons, Sitting Bull gave his rifle to his 8-year-old son,
Crow Foot, to hand to the soldier, saying, “My boy, if you live, you will never be a man in this world, because you can never have a gun or pony.” ( How prophetic! Since Crow Foot would be killed along with Sitting Bull.) “The land I have under my feet is mine again. I never sold it. I never gave it to anybody.”
Sitting Bull insisted that the Canadians be present as witnesses. Accordingly, there was an agreement. Sitting Bull gave up his arms and horses and in return received a “pardon” for his past. He was promised a soft bed and rations. He was supposed to go to the Little Missouri; instead his people were sent to the Standing Rock Agency at Ft. Yates.
Sitting Bull, himself, was sent to Ft. Randall, where he was held as a prisoner-of –war. Right away the U.S. broke its agreement, in its usual fashion. However, Sitting Bull received good treatment from the soldiers. In time, officers grew to like him. They allowed him to administer to his little camp. Sioux chiefs came from all over to ask his advice. He was deluged with fan mail from all four corners of the world. When one old soldier came forward and testified that Sitting Bull did not kill Custer, he was released to Ft. Yates, where he thought he would be chief.
Part of the plan to wreck and break the power of the Indian nations was to lure or force chiefs unto the reservations with the promise of good treatment and rations for the people. Once cornered on the reservation, the Agencies were told to strip the chief of any authority he once had. James McLaughlin, Agent at Ft. Yates, was a very narrow and jealous hearted man. He had been sent to destroy the Sioux civilization, and to break the Chief, a task he could never accomplish. Because he couldn’t stand Sitting Bull, McLaughlin sent him off the reservation, which included going with Bill Cody’s Wild West Show. It only increased Sitting Bull’s popularity with all people, especially white people. He had visited with the President, Heads of State, and other important people. They all called him chief, even if Agent McLaughlin refused.
The U.S. government was not through carving up the Great Sioux nation. Since it was inevitable, Sitting Bull bargained for the best price, $l.25 an acre. However, General Crook brought another Commission to Standing Rock to get a new price, but he found himself up against Sitting Bull, so he told McLaughlin to swing the session. [Part of an Agent’s duties as a Government employee was to select Puppet chiefs, ones who could be bribed to do as they were told.] McLaughlin met with the token chiefs at night. He told them what to say and do. Sitting Bull was not told of the meeting with the Commissioners. Everything went as planned. The token chiefs signed away most of the land that made up the Great Sioux Reservation, sold for a few cents, now only a memory, the death of a nation. It was the beginning of the end.
McLaughlin and some Indians, including Sitting Bull’s brother-in-law Gray Eagle, started picking at Sitting Bull to give up his old Indian ways. But Sitting Bull refused to give up his ways and continued to officiate ceremonies and minister to his people who still followed him. He was offered a fine house within the Agency, but he refused that too, preferring to live as far from the Agency as he could. Sitting Bull prophesied a bad year ahead, that the sun would burn up everything, and people would go hungry. All this came to pass. Catherine Weldon, a white woman from Brooklin, New York, and a representative of the National Indian Defense Association, came to help Sitting Bull fight the cession. McLaughlin hated her guts and tried in every way to discredit her. Catherine financed Sitting Bull’s campaign, give him money, supplied him with maps and land lists, taught him English, while she learned Lakota. [Catherine was an artist.] Finally McLaughlin became so annoyed with her that he barred her from the Reservation. But that didn’t stop her.
As for the land cession, people were paid nothing, and rations were reduced. [This is what is called a foreign policy. Once a nation’s populace is slaughtered, and a puppet (democratic!) government is installed, food is withheld to keep the rabble citizens in line, food being used as a weapon.] In addition, there was grippe, whooping cough, and measles, along with drought. In those days farm relief depended upon an Indian war. However, all the Indians were contained on the reservations.
So, some clever person in Pierre made up the story that soon the Indians would attack, in hopes the story would generate some Federal dollars to give some relief to white farmers suffering from drought, poverty, and an economy out of whack. All it needed was an incident to ignite it. And that came in the form of the ghost dance. It was a crazed Christian version of the Second Coming of the Messiah, an Indian come to chase out the whites and restore the dead Indians and buffalo, if only the Indians would dance.
Sitting Bull did not believe in it, but he allowed his people to dance, if it made them happy. The Sun Dance had been outlawed. Indians had few rituals left that they could practice. Besides, in the ghost dance, one might go into a trance, and see a dead relative. But Sitting Bull was a pagan, and clung to his Sioux rituals. Even Catherine Weldon tried to put a stop to the dancing as she pointed out it would be used as a weapon against the Indians. She had done her best, but no one would listen. Sitting Bull drove her to Cannonball, where she departed for good.
Sitting Bull had a strange foreboding. He sang the eagle’s song:
“My Father has given me this nation,
In protecting them I have a hard time.”
Enemies were all around Sitting Bull as he passed through Ft. Yates, for McLaughlin was scheming with some jealous-hearted Indian police to kill Sitting Bull.
Then, while Sitting Bull was looking for his circus horse, who was hiding from him, he heard the meadowlark say, “The Sioux will kill you!” The U.S. Government wanted Sitting Bull dead, but they didn’t want to be blamed for it. Actually, Sitting Bull was the political football between the Indian Bureau and the War Department, with the added twist of a nervous little Agent, McLaughlin, who couldn’t stand the fact that a pagan savage was highly regarded by a lot of white people. The Ghost Dance came in very handy to carry out the government plan. The new Agent on the Pine Ridge became nervous and yelped for troops, who arrived October 19, l890. Frighten Oglala headed to the badlands while frightened settlers headed east.
By about that time, the Ghost Dance and the Sioux were front page news, which attracted Buffalo Bill, who used this as an opportunity to gain huge publicity for his Wild West Show. He persuaded General Miles to give him an order to arrest Sitting Bull. When he arrived at Ft. Yates, he was met with McLaughlin and his militia who took Bill to the Officers’ Club in an attempt to get him drunk. Cody was a fly in the ointment, and they didn’t want any interference with the plan to kill Sitting Bull. The government and certainly the army, never forgave Sitting Bull for wiping out Custer. Also, Sitting Bull made them look like cold-blooded killers.
In spite of their best efforts, Cody kept his feet and head, and was on the road the next morning at about 11:00 o’clock, with eight newspaper men and a wagon load of candy, bound for the Grand River and Sitting Bull. However, McLaughlin had Cody’s order rescinded and removed him from the Reservation. In the mean time, Sitting Bull was trying to get a pass to go to Pine Ridge, which, of course, McLaughlin would never allow. Sitting Bull wrote a letter, which in part says:
“All the Indians pray to God for life, and try to find a good
road, and do nothing wrong in their life. This is what we
want, to pray to God. But you did not believe us.
You should say nothing against our religion, for we said
nothing against yours. You pray to God, so do all of us
You think I am a fool, and you gather up some of the wise
men among my people on your side, and you let the white
people back East know what you think. I know that, but I
do not object; I over look that, because I am foolish enough
to pray to God.
Therefore, you don’t like me, because you think I am a
fool, and you imagine that, if I were not here, all the Indians
would become civilized, and that, because I am here, all the
Indians are fools.
When you were here in my camp, you gave me good words
about my prayers, but today you take it all back again. And there
is something else I want you to know. I am obliged to go to Pine
Ridge Agency and investigate this Ghost Dance religion.
The policeman told me you intend to take all our ponies, and
guns, too. So I wish you would let me know about that.
Please answer soon.
Another message reached McLaughlin that afternoon: a military order for the arrest of Sitting Bull.
The military could have arrested Sitting Bull, but McLaughlin didn’t want that. He wanted the Indian police to carry out the order. Lieutenant Bull Head and Sergeant Shave Head were only too eager to arrest Sitting Bull. On December l5, l890, Bull Head, Shave Head, Red Tomahawk, and others came in the night to Sitting Bull’s cabin. They manhandled him while he was telling them to allow him to get dressed. The military police tried to force him outdoors half dressed. There was a scuffle. Soon people started to arrive. Shave Head and Red Tomahawk grabbed Sitting Bull and were hanging on to him. Then through the crowd came Catch-the-Bear, Strikes-the-Kettle, brave Thunder, Spotted Horn Bull, and Blackbird, all itching for a fight for anyone foolish enough to lay hands on the great Chief. Catch-the-Bear slammed a
Cartridge into his Winchester and was growing for Bullhead. Sitting Bull , who had been reluctantly going along, yelled to take action. Catch-the-Bear fired, hitting Bullhead in the leg. Bull Head and Red Tomahawk both fired at Sitting Bull, killing him instantly. There was a bloody fight. Bull Head was mortally wounded. The Indian police took him inside Sitting Bull’s cabin. While moving the bed, they found Crow Foot, Sitting Bull’s son, hiding under the bed. The boy begged for his life, but Red Tomahawk slapped him in the face with his rifle butt and pushed him out the door where he shot Crow Foot. Shortly, thereafter, the military arrived and began firing on the Indian Police and anyone else who looked like they might be causing a problem.
McLaughlin and the U.S. Government accomplished their goal: Sitting Bull was dead, the Indians were blamed for killing him, the military looked like the good guys, the Ghost Dancers were frightened and on the run, and most of all, the settlers received guns and ammunition to defend themselves against the hordes of savages who were gearing up to attack them.
Later, a relative of the Indian Police began to mutilate Sitting Bull’s body. Friends and relatives of Sitting Bull fled when they saw the troops coming. Sitting Bull’s warriors had been killed, 7 in all. The Indian Police threw Sitting Bull’s body into a wagon like a dog, and loaded the dead Indian police on top. The caravan was brought to the new station on Oak Creek, present day town of McLaughlin.
The Indian Police were buried with much pomp and circumstance in the Roman Catholic cemetery with a granite shaft to commemorate their burial. Sitting Bull was dumped into a pine box, the military poured 5 gallons of chloride of lime on his body, which they buried in the corner of the military cemetery, buried like a felon. The New York Herald had this to say:
“It is stated today that there was a quiet understanding between the officers of the Indian and military departments that it would be impossible to bring Sitting Bull to Standing Rock alive, and that if brought in, nobody would knew precisely what to do with him. He would, though under arrest, still be a source of great annoyance, and his followers would continue their dances and threats against neighboring settlers. There was, therefore, cruel as it may seem, a complete understanding from the Commanding Officer to the Indian Police that the slightest attempt to rescue the old medicine man should be a signal to sent Sitting Bull to the happy hunting ground.”
The friends and relatives of Sitting Bull had their houses ransacked, their horses and cattle stolen. They fled in fear of their lives, and with good reason, and headed toward the Pine Ridge Agency. On the way, they met up with the Oglala Pine Ridge ghost dancers. It was at this time that the massacre at Wounded Knee took place, December, l890.
So this was the death and burial of one of the greatest men that ever lived. However, just as Hitler didn’t kill all the Jews in Europe, so the U.S. Government didn’t kill all the Indians in America, but they gave it their best shot. This is America's shameful secret, which it has never been honest about. The U.S. assassinated the great Indian leaders, the U.S. tried to assassinate the Lakota culture as well, without ever fully understanding it.
Like any great person, Sitting Bull’s words speak to all people, all races. The petty murderers are dead now. They are not remembered because there is nothing memorable or significant about their lives. They had nothing important to say. Yet Sitting Bull’s words are as profound today, as when he spoke them over 100 years ago. I leave you with a quote from Sitting Bull:
“Behold, the spring has come.
The earth has received the embraces of the sun.
Soon we shall see the results of that love.
All of nature is awake and has a place in the sun.
Therefore, we yield to our neighbors,
Even our animal neighbors,
The same right to inhabit this land.
But now another race of people have come.
They build many things and leave behind much refuse.
They make many laws which the rich may break,
But the poor may not.
They are like a spring freshet
That overflows its banks.
We cannot contain them
But we do not sell our land, our Mother.”
The information for the writing of this paper was taken from Sitting Bull, Champion of the Sioux, by Stanley Vestal, first printed in l932 by Houghton Mifflin Company. For a more detailed account, you may refer to this book.