Indomitable: Sitting Bull


Sitting Bull (Courtesy Library of Congress)

Sometime in the 1830s a Hunkpapa Lakota boy named Jumping Badger, nicknamed Slow, was born to Sitting Bull and Her-Holy-Door. As he grew, Slow was trained in the ways of a warrior and became an excellent huntsman. At 10-years-old he killed his first buffalo and four years later counted his first coup. With the latter feat Slow returned to his family a hero in his own right. Sitting Bull gave his own name to Slow, while he took the name Jumping Bull. The newly named father gave a shield and lance to Sitting Bull, which his young son would cherish for the rest of his days.

Of the many things Sitting Bull is known for one thing worth noting is his generosity. Throughout his tumultuous life he would remain generous to his people, ready to provide for those in need. He could also be generous in fleshing out punishment. The sound of his name literally struck fear in the heart’s of his enemies.

In 1857 Sitting Bull was made chief of the Hunkpapa tribe. But sadness followed close behind this honor for that same year Sitting Bull’s young son died. A widower Sitting Bull was now alone. He adopted his nephew One Bull as his son. Later he added a captured boy to his family. The boy became Sitting Bull’s adopted brother and never returned to his people even when given a chance. When Sitting Bull’s father was killed in a Crow attack, the boy took the name Jumping Bull as his own. Sitting Bull would later marry Snow-on-Her and Red Woman. However, the two women didn’t get along and Sitting Bull eventually threw Snow-on-Her out his tipi. Then in 1871 Sitting Bull was again a widower when he lost Red Woman to illness. He remarried to Four Robes. His new wife asked that he also marry her widowed sister, Seen-by-the-Nation which Sitting Bull agreed to. The marriages were apparently happy ones.

By the 1860s Sitting Bull was actively battling whites and “Long Knives” (United States soldiers) who were encroaching on their land. At the Battle of Killdeer Mountain, the Hunkpapa fought off their blue clad attackers, but were eventually forced to retreat. They suffered an even greater loss when the soldiers destroyed their village and supplies. For days the fleeing Indians were dogged by the army. Sitting Bull’s uncle Four Horns was growing old and worried over the future leadership of the tribe. One suggestion was making Sitting Bull, having already exhibiting leadership qualities, chief of the entire Lakota tribe. This became a reality in 1869. Around this time Sitting Bull would give up his attacks on the whites, preferring rather to retaliate only when attacked.

Sitting Bull (Courtesy Library of Congress)

In late June 1876 Sitting Bull found himself in the middle of the Battle of Little Bighorn, an Indian victory. In a vision Sitting Bull had prior to the battle, he made it clear that the dead were not to be plundered. This was, however, ignored.

For the rest of the next few years Sitting Bull and his band were continually hounded by soldiers. Twice he saved the lives of two whites and adopted them. Both men later betrayed him. As he would hold for much of his life, and for good reasons, Americans could not be trusted to deal squarely with the Indians. Running out of alternatives, Sitting Bull decided they would go to Canada, land of the Grandmother (Queen Victoria). Once in Canada Sitting Bull’s camp was approached by the North-West Mounted Police. From Major James Walsh Sitting Bull learned he would have to obey certain rules. But as long as they were obeyed everything would be, for the most part, all right. For instance if the Indians crossed the border to do some “underhanded” things (e.g. stealing) they would have no sanctuary in Canada. Walsh treated Sitting Bull with respect and the Indian chief took a liking to the major.

A commission was sent from the US to convince Sitting Bull and his people to return. At first Sitting Bull refused to meet with the commission until Walsh was able to convince him to go. The proceedings didn’t get off to such a good start, and ended with Sitting Bull remaining in Canada.

By 1878 buffalo were becoming scarce. Sitting Bull and his people turned south and crossed the border where they hunted buffalo. One day they were hunting and butchering buffalo when they noticed soldiers appear on the scene. They had only become aware of their presence at the last minute and even then didn’t know the soldiers meant to attack. The Lakota were no match for their adversaries and were forced to retreat to Canada.

In 1881 Sitting Bull finally returned to his homeland where he surrendered. He and his group were shipped out to Fort Yates and later Fort Randall where they were kept for sometime before joining other Hunkpapa on the Standing Rock Agency. In 1884 Sitting Bull’s mother, Her-Holy-Door died. Around this time he began losing many member of his family. In Canada his nine-year-old son had died and in 1887 a daughter succumbed to illness. Sitting Bull proved a popular “attraction” as he traveled off of the reservation. He spent a stint with the Wild West Show, as well. Time went by and things got worst. Crops were not bountiful and the reservation was broken up.

Grave of Sitting Bull (Courtesy Library of Congress)

In 1890 Sitting Bull became part of the Ghost Dance movement which brought trouble on his head. On 12 December 1890 the Indian Police were sent out to arrest Sitting Bull. That night Sitting Bull slumbered in a cabin, unaware of the impending danger. He and the other occupants of the cabin were awakened by thumping at the door. The Indian Police busted in announcing their arrival. Three people were able to get out of the cabin while Sitting Bull was being arrested. Pretty soon others on the settlement were awakened and arrived on the scene. A group moved to rescue Sitting Bull, but the Police would not release Sitting Bull so an Indian shot one of them. The wounded man in turn shot Sitting Bull. Within minutes a number of men laid dead or wounded. Sitting Bull’s 14-year-old son, Crow Foot was found hiding in the cabin. Right before the shooting Crow Foot had egged his father on in defying the Police. Now the Police turned on Crow Foot, shooting and killing him as he begged for his life. Sitting Bull was buried at the Fort Yates cemetery.

Source: Utley, Robert M. The Lance and the Shield: The Life and Times of Sitting Bull

35 thoughts on “Indomitable: Sitting Bull

  1. Why did he return to surrender, I wonder? I suppose he may have thought that his surrender would help his people somehow or maybe he just wanted to be home with the rest of his people in the midst of their humiliation and demise. Where is his grave?


    • Sitting Bull surrenders because his people were cold and starving. Poor man, he stuck it out so long only to have to do what he had tried so long to avoid.

      His grave was originally at the Fort Yates cemetery in ND. However in the 1950s family members moved his body to Mobridge, SD where he was buried.

      Thanks for your comment!


    • It’s too bad Sitting Bull and the others couldn’t have gotten better treatment. Early on, he said he would give up his fighting if the settlers and soldiers would clear out of their territory. But even if they had done that then, more people would have come later. Sad story all the way around. Thanks for your comment. Glad you liked it.


  2. I generally refrain from imposing my 21st century values on the actions of individuals from the past, but I have a hard time understanding how the vast majority of people (apparently) had no issue with the way Indians were treated. I also have a hard time understanding why the way they were treated is not today categorized as the barbarism it was.

    Your post is an nice summation of the life of a man caught in an impossible situation, who did the best he could.


    • Yes it is rather appalling when seen through modern eyes. But then many people regarded the Indians as savages and brutal murderers. I learned something curious too, which I never knew. The Indians thought that the dead appeared in the spirit world in the same condition they had appeared in this world. That explains the mutilation of the dead!

      I’m glad Sitting Bull met Walsh as it showed him that we were not all dishonest. I wonder if Sitting Bull would have left Canada had Walsh not been replaced with someone less kindly? Probably so, given the food scarcity.

      Thank your for your comment!


  3. I have to say that post made me very sad. However, History can be that way. WE were friends with a Native American Indian family when my husband was in college and his tribe paid for him to go to school..Apparently the government gives money to the tribes now, but I am not sure how all that works..All I know he was going to college for free. I am sure the casinos help too. Thanks Alesia


    • Yes, I believe there are a number of scholarships for people with (proved) Indian blood in them.

      A couple of years ago I was reading (don’t recall all the particulars) an article which said that the Indian reservations contained a lot of the US’s water supply, minerals and oil. I don’t guess their land could be taken away from them nowadays without a big protest, that is should anyone attempt to take their land away from them. Thanks for your comment!


  4. The genocide of native Americans was opposed by many liberal thinking people of the day. However, the manifest destiny thinkers far outnumbered them. It was much like the civil rights struggles that continue this very day. Very difficult obstacles are in place to hinder anyone trying to change the status quo. BTW, the area you wrote about is rather near to my home.


    • It’s a sad event in history. It’s too bad it wasn’t worked out in a more peaceful manner.

      “the area you wrote about is rather near to my home”

      How ’bout that! I thought just came to mind. Perhaps Sitting Bull had romped around on the area where your home now sits? 😀 Thanks for your comment.


    • In my humble opinion, it was a foolhardy thing for Crow Foot to do. But I don’t think his actions warranted his death, even if the Indian Police had lost some of their own men in the fracas, it wasn’t really Crow Foot’s fault. 😦 Thanks for your comment.


  5. So sad. I heard of him, but not this detailed. Love Indian American history. I am so sad that it came to him and his son being killed in the end. He seems very fair and honorable. Thanks for writing this.


  6. Thanks for a well written post, I liked reading it! I recently read a book by Ernie LaPointe (great-grandson of “Sitting Bull”) it is called “Sitting Bull – His life and legacy”. It differs from the usual tale in a few but important ways, I recommend it!


    • You’re welcome, glad it was to your liking!

      I’ll have to see if the local library has that book. Written by Sitting Bull’s g-grandson? That has to be interesting!

      Thanks for your comment.


  7. I am not familiar with the Ghost Dance Movement. Maybe you can construct a post around this. Also, in a conversation that I had with a young Navajo man, he asked that we not use the term “Indian”, but rather “Native American”, as none of them came from India. We still come from our culture (which was informed during our youthful years of reading stories and watching movies about Cowboys and Indians).


    • I may just do that! Thanks for the suggestion.

      Always been curious what their preference was, whether “Indian” or “Native American”. Thanks for the info. Having used the terms interchangeably, I’ve wondered if the Native Americans found the use of “Indian” offensive. As someone who is supposed to be 1/8 Cherokee it’s never really bothered me to be called Indian. But then that’s just me.

      Thanks for your comment!


    • The comments are always interesting to read. More fun than watching television which I don’t watch anymore most of the time except PBS.


      I have ancestors taken captives by Aboriginal peoples in 1704 at Deerfield, Massachusetts. The French and the English would raid each other.villages. Two young kids, a boy and a girl, were taken captives with 140 other people. Some people died. These two kids, Josiah Rising and Abigail Nims were adopted by Aboriginal peoples and used later by Sulpicians as interpreters. They later married and became the ancestors of the Raisenne family.


    • Heh, me and you both. The only thing we watch anymore are old westerns or something like Gomer Pyle or Hogans Heroes.

      Very interesting. There seem to be many instances, especially when they’re children, that these captives end up living with their captors as family. And even when given a chance don’t wish to leave. Will indeed have a look at that link tomorrow.


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