When he was born he was named Jumping Badger but when he became a teenager and started fighting against other Indian tribes he became known as a mighty warrior and his father gave him his name (Sitting Bull), as a symbol of honor and he took the name Jumping Bull. During the celebration he gave his son one of the best horses in their tribe and a blessed feather for his hair which he always wore.
In 1862, a war broke out between the U.S. and the Dakota Indians. The Dakotas killed around 600 settlers and soldiers so the U.S. sent in reinforcements but the problem was they didn’t distinguish Indian tribes and they attacked the Lakotas who had nothing to do with the war. Sitting Bull was shot by a soldier and the bullet went through his hip and lower back but he recovered well. Keep in mind during part of this period the U.S. was involved in a Civil War while at the same time trying to protect settlers as they moved West into Indian territory. Various forts started popping up further and further west.
The unprovoked attack by the U.S. inspired Sitting Bull and another tribe led by Chief Red Cloud to proactively attack U.S. forts and disrupt settlers through various attacks on wagon trains and cabins. They wreaked so much havoc that in the 1868, the U.S. wanted to sign a treaty and give in to some of Red Cloud’s conditions which included shutting down certain forts. Sitting Bull was not willing to sign the treaty as he firmly believed the U.S. wouldn’t honor it, and he always felt the Lakotas shouldn’t have to give up their land.
Sitting Bull continued coordinating battles and raids with other tribes for several years especially when the Northern Pacific Railroad started surveying their way through Lakota territory. Not only did they have to fight the U.S. Army, the railroad was also hiring their own mercenaries to fight the Indians. In this case the Indians won as they continued to halt the railroad’s progress and they went bankrupt.
When gold was discovered in the Black Hills of Dakota, people started flooding into the territory; the problem being it wasn’t U.S. land it belonged to the Indians through a treaty. The U.S. tried to immediately negotiate a new treaty with the Indians (once again Sitting Bull refused to sit down and talk), so they could take the land. Even without a treaty, the U.S. government made the declaration that any Indians who didn’t move off the land would be treated as hostiles. I’m embarrassed that our country did this.
By this point, most of the major tribes including the Cheyenne, Dakota, Lakota, and Sioux Indians now understood that their lands weren’t safe and would be taken from them treaty or not, so they began fighting back and Sitting Bull was considered the Chief among Chiefs from 1868 to 1876. He recruited other Indian tribes into his camp in preparation for a major battle. He was considered a visionary and he had one about a great battle between the Indian tribes and the U.S. Army that they would win.
Chief Sitting Bull knew they would have the element of surprise should the army come after them as they had thousands more warriors than what the U.S. army would expect. The army was used to having a large advantage when they’d fight and in most cases they could be called squirmishes not all-out battles. Often times they’d come across Indians who would ride off and not engage. General Custer mentioned many times how frustrated he was that the Indians wouldn’t fight because he was always looking for one.
I cover The Battle of Little Big Horn in another post about General Custer so I won’t duplicate it but the bottom line is the U.S. Army approached an Indian camp but due to the terrain they couldn’t tell for sure how many Indians there were. Their scouts could only get so close because the Indians had scouts of their own and they didn’t want to get caught and take away their element of surprise. The scouts were able to tell Custer and the other generals that they believed there were a lot of Indians because of all the smoke coming from the camp.
The army broke up into three divisions with General Custer leading the one from the north. They were going to do their best to attack around the same time but without communications it wasn’t going to be perfect. One of the other divisions became engaged first and they realized they were in trouble as there was way more Indians than they had expected. They retreated and got to another division that was going to attack and talked them out of it and convinced them to retreat as well but unfortunately, General Custer didn’t get this news. At this point he realized the odds were terrible but he wasn’t going to leave the other divisions to fight on their own so he and his men charged in and were massacred. Even the Associated Press Reporter that had been following General Custer’s men was killed.
Sitting Bull was seen as a hero even though he didn’t fight in the battle but instead provided them with spiritual guidance. The military and politicians in D.C. were humiliated because their American hero General Custer was dead.
Five years after the Battle of Little Big Horn, Sitting Bull and a small band of his tribe (186 people), were captured and brought to one of the forts. They were moved to a reservation and Sitting Bull continued to be rebellious as he was so upset that their culture was being decimated. Because Sitting Bull had such a great reputation he was given the opportunity to perform in Wild Bill Cody’s Wild West Show. Most people hadn’t seen an Indian before so they’d introduce him and he’d ride around the arena so people could see him. He was paid $50 a week for his services which was a lot of money back then especially for someone who lived on a reservation.
When he returned home after the show was over, Sitting Bull started having problems with the local police mostly because of his political views; the police didn’t want other Indians to revolt. At 5:30 in the morning on December 15, 1890, 39 police officers showed up at Sitting Bull’s home and started taking him away. He was resisting arrest when other people started gathering around and they were protesting the police. Tempers began to flare and a gun fight broke out among Sitting Bull’s supporters and the police. A total of eight police officers were killed including the man who was in charge of the raid, and eight Indians were killed including Sitting Bull who didn’t have a gun.
He was 59 years old when he died and he left a tremendous legacy. Shocking from a political perspective, but the U.S. Postal Service put his image on a stamp in 1989. I say this because he was responsible for the death of an American hero. He was a great man who didn’t want to give up his Indian culture. He wasn’t a warrior when he became an adult he was more of a spiritualist and strategist. He loved his people especially children. Not a perfect man, but I respect so much that he didn’t want to give up his heritage.