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Sitting Bull

(Tatanka lyotake)

Civilization: American — Dakota
   Field of Renown:  chieftain — Sioux
Era:  Indian Wars

Sitting Bull
Sitting Bull was a Dakota Indian best known for his defeat of Colonel George Custer at the Battle of Little Bighorn. He led his first warriors during the Dakota War of 1862, when several Sioux bands killed more than six hundred settlers before the U.S. Army began to retaliate in 1863. Later that year, Sitting Bull led an attack on a small party of Americans repairing an overturned wagon. During the skirmish, the Indian was shot in the hip, but he managed to escape with only minor injuries.

Even after the conclusion of the Dakota War, the Sioux continued to lead raids on forts and settlements in their territory, and Sitting Bullís guerilla team assisted with several of these attacks. In 1868, the U.S. government called for a ceasefire and complied with Chief Red Cloudís demands to remove two military outposts, but Sitting Bull did not agree to the treaty and continued to attack frontiersmen throughout the 1860s and early 1870s. During this same time, the Native American was also made an important Dakota chief. In 1871, the Northern Pacific Railway made plans for a route through Sioux lands, but during a survey of the land they were attacked by Sitting Bullsí warriors. The team returned twice more, both times with a military accompaniment, but they were resisted each time by the guerilla Dakota. The Panic of 1873 temporarily halted railroad construction, but shortly thereafter, Colonel Custerís discovery of gold in the Black Hills triggered the Black Hills Gold Rush as an influx of settlers poured into Sioux territory. All Native Americans not already relocated to a reservation were immediately transferred there, and those who refused to obey were declared hostile and fair targets of Army aggression. The Great Sioux War broke out in 1876, with Sitting Bull at its head. Many Cheyenne had already joined the chief, who was known for his generosity toward his allies, and by the time of George Custerís arrival to the scene, Sitting Bull had amassed more than 2,000 warriors. Custer did not realize the size of the army he would face, and his 7th Cavalry advance party was quickly defeated; many men, including Custer himself, were killed during their retreat. Despite their victory, however, the Sioux earned little respite, and they were soon attacked by thousands of U.S. soldiers who chased Sitting Bull north into Saskatchewan. Finally, in 1881, the chief and his 200 remaining followers surrendered. The Indians were brought to the Standing Rock Agency, after which they were transferred to a military prison for nearly two years. Following their release, Sitting Bullís people were returned to the Agency.

In 1884, Sitting Bull was given permission to leave the reservation and participate in Buffalo Billís Wild West Show, where he rode around the arena and gave speeches urging reconciliation between white men and the Sioux (although it was rumored that he sometimes cursed the audiences in his native language). After the conclusion of his appearances, Sitting Bull returned home, where he converted to Catholicism and gave away much of his earnings to beggars. The Indian Agent at the reservation, however, believed that the chief intended to escape, and he ordered Sitting Bullís arrest. When Sitting Bull refused to comply, a fight broke out, during which he and several of his supporters were killed. Sitting Bullís body was taken to Fort Yates and buried there.

Key events during the life of Sitting Bull:

Dakota War.
Red Cloud's War.
Refused to comply with the Treaty of Fort Laramie.
Start of construction of a railway through Sioux lands.
Panic of 1873 halted railroad construction.
Black Hills Gold Rush.
The Great Sioux War.
  Defeated George Custer at the Battle of Little Bighorn.
Surrendered to the U.S. Army.
Participated in Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show.
  Completion of the Northern Pacific Railway.
Killed while resisting arrest.

Other Resources

Story Links
Book Links
Indian Wars  in  Indian History for Young Folks  by  Francis Drake
Sioux War of 1890-1891  in  Indian History for Young Folks  by  Francis Drake
Sitting Bull  in  Indian Heroes  by  Charles Eastman
Sitting-Bull, the Great Dakota Leader  in  Indian Chiefs I Have Known  by  O. O. Howard
Sitting Bull the War Maker  in  Book of Indian Warriors  by  Edwin Sabin
Ghost Dancers and the Red Soldiers  in  Book of Indian Warriors  by  Edwin Sabin

Image Links

Sitting Bull
 in Indian History for Young Folks

He came out wild with anger
 in Indian Chiefs I Have Known

Sitting Bull
 in Book of Indian Warriors

Short Biography
General Custer Cavalry general whose force was ambushed and massacred by the Sioux at the Battle of Little Bighorn.
Red Cloud Sioux Indian War Chief.
Buffalo Bill Colorful character of the Old American West. Produced a wild-west show that toured eastern towns with western frontier heroes.
Standing Bear Ponca chieftain whose tribe was forcibly removed from their settlement. He later 'sued' the government and won.
Crazy Horse Dakota Indian chief who fought against the American army at Rosebud and Little Big Horn.