The Life and Times of Sitting Bull


Before I get started on the topic of discussion here, I wanted to let you all know that my most recent release, RED HAWK’S WOMAN, is being released today — and in celebration of that release, I’ll be giving away a free ebook.  To enter into the drawing all you need to do is leave a comment on this post.

Here on ancestor week at Petticoats and Pistols, I thought I’d take up an ancestor that is famous in many different regards.  When I grew up, Sitting Bull was known by every child in school.  And though most of us didn’t know much about him, he was often spoken of as being a great warrior.

And so, since many consider him to be a famous ancestor, I thought I’d tell you a little bit about his life — at least that which we know about him.

SittingBull[1]Sitting Bull wasn’t technically a warrior.  Although he had skills as a hunter and a warrior, he was a holy man of the tribe — a medicine man.  He was born around 1830 or 1831 on the Grand River in South Dakota.  He was a Hunkpapa Sioux (or Lakota).  The Sioux (Lakota) tribe has different bands that make up the tribe.  A band is typically several different families, many of whom are related.

As a child, he had a nickname of “Slow.”  His father, Returns Again was an esteemed warrior and so Sitting Bull seemed destined to be the same, except that as a child he showed little skills as a warrior, thus his name, “Slow.”

Interestingly, he received the name Sitting Bull (I have read several different accounts on how he received his name — but this is an unusual one) because of a fight that he had with another young Indian boy who was from a rival tribe, I believe.  In the fight, he killed the other Indian boy (so the story goes), but was, himself, injured and he was called from then on Lame Bull or Sitting Bull because of the injury he received, which made him permanently lame.

But he rose above that and became fearless in everything that he didSitting Bull_Sioux Indian_Buffalo_Bill_[1] — he was also an excellent rider, an extremely good shot and could endure much fatigue without showing it..  He shot his first buffalo calf when he was 10 and another story goes that because his father was considered rich by Indian standards, the meat from his hunting was often given to the poor.  Because Sitting Bull’s tribe hunted to the far north of the country, they had little dealings with the in-coming culture.  It wasn’t until 1862, when the Santee Sioux from Minnesota were pushed West, that Sitting Bull’s tribe learned about what life might hold on one of the reservations.

The 1860’s started in a bad way, and more ill-feelings between the Lakota Sioux and the United States government ensued.  In 1865, Sitting   Bull led a party and attacked Fort Rice in North Dakota. He so distinguished himself that within 3 years, he had become a chief of the Lakota people.  It was also in 1868 that the Lakota made peace with the United States government in treaty.  But that treaty was quickly broken by the United States government in the 1870’s when gold was discovered in the Black Hills.  And thus began the famous Sioux Indian wars of the 1870’s, culminating in the complete destruction of the 7th Cavalry under George Armstrong Custer.

Sitting Bull-Sioux Indian Chief-Custer[1]Sitting Bull did not participate in that fight, but having survived the fight, he took his people north into Canada, where they lived for a period of four years.  However, his people began to starve due to harsh conditions, and they demanded to go back to their own country.  Sitting Bull counseled them to remain where they were and tried to assure them that they could survive in Canada, but most  were determined to return, and Sitting Bull led them back to the United States in 1881.  (As a note, there were several different families from Sitting Bull’s band that remained in Canada, and their ancestors still live there today.)

He was held prisoner until 1883, and in 1885, he joined Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West Show after he had become friends with Annie Oakley.  Although the pay was good, Sitting Bull could little understand the poverty he came to witness while on the road.  He was also routinely booed by the show’s audience, and Sitting Bull is quoted as saying, “[I] would rather die an Indian than live a white man,.”  He quit after only one season.

In the end, Sitting Bull came back to the place where he had been born.  There, he came to support the famous Ghost Dance.  His support of this dance (which determined that the ancestors of the Indians would come back to claim their land), frightened government officials.  It was this, really, that spelled the end of his days.  He was killed by Indian police, in a staged incident where the police insisted he had been resisting arrest.  It was a tragic end, only because this man gave so much of himself for his people.

But there is something to be learned from the life of this very famous man.  It has been said, and I forget by who, that those who do not know history (real history, not that which is generally taught in school) are destined to repeat it.  And so to this end, I would like to cut and paste a piece written by an unknown Lakota upon the anniversary of the death of Sitting Bull.

T?at?á?ka Íyotake

(Tatanka Iyotaka)
By: ~Anonymous Lakota

Saturday, December 15th, 2002 was the 112th Memorial anniversary of the assassination of Tatanka Iyotaka, more commonly known as Sitting Bull. This inspirational leader was murdered deep within Lakota Nation territory, a vast area encompassing much of the central and northern Great Plains. Tatanka Iyotaka in his day was one of the most influential leaders on the prairie. Today, he is the most recognizable Indian in the world.


Tatanka Iyotaka was not impressed by white society and their version of civilization. He was shocked and saddened to see the number of homeless people living on the streets of American cities. He gave money to hungry white people many times when he was in the large cities.


He counseled his people to be wary of what they accept from white culture. He saw some things which might benefit his people; but cautioned Indian people to accept only those things that were useful to us, and to leave everything else alone. Tatanka Iyotaka was a man of clear vision and pure motivation.

Sitting Bull autograph dated on card’s  reverse June 12th 1889.




As is often the case with extraordinary people, Tatanka Iyotaka was murdered by his own people. The colonial force set the weak of his own race against him. A tactic they continue to use. Indian police today carry on the tradition started by the assassins of Tatanka Iyotaka and Tasunke Witko. Indian police harassing, arresting, even killing other Indian people keeps the colony in control. Seeing that their paychecks, just like those of the elected tribal/band councilors, come from the colonial government points to that quite clearly.




The unrelenting love for his land and his people caused the enemies of the Lakota to fear Tatanka Iyotaka. The Hunkpapa Oyate and the Titonwan Lakota had many powerful leaders, but Tatanka Iyotaka will forever remain the icon of traditional, full-blood strength and dignity
Taken from the website:
What is the moral of this story you might ask?  What is to be learned from it?  I think it would go something like this:  beware the person, people or agency who would tell you bad things about those to whom you are close — and also those who are different from you.  Before you believe what is told to you about another, question that person yourself.  Live in his shoes for a few days before deciding you’re angry.  We are all God’s children.  Unfortunately, there are those who specialize in evil, and there are those who profit from brother fighting brother.  Such people are the real crazy ones — those who would sell their soul for worldly profit.
RedHawksWoman-R -- first draftWell, that’s all for today — on Ancestor day.
Don’t forget that my newest release, RED HAWK’S WOMAN, goes on sale today.  Unfortunately, the Samhain Publishing website is down today — and I haven’t yet been able to get the book up on my own website, so for now, the place to buy this book would be your favorite online bookstore.




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KAREN KAY aka GEN BAILEY is the multi-published author of American Indian Historical Romances. She has written for such prestigious publishers as AVON/HarperCollins, Berkley/Penguin/Putnam and Samhain Publishing. KAREN KAY’S great grandmother was Choctaw Indian and Kay is honored to be able to write about the American Indian Culture.
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50 thoughts on “The Life and Times of Sitting Bull”

  1. A sad end for such a proud and great leader. Thanks for sharing this, Karen. I’ve always admired Sitting Bull and it’s nice to learn more of his story.

  2. I knew some facts but learned so much more from your article. I tend to question most of what is taught once I learned that the victor gets to say what ever makes him look good. Unfortunately, I don’t think we have learned from our past. Those in power do what they want and people are still fooled by those in charge. Tolerance and accepting our differences needs to be taught. Thanks for your post – always informative and thought provoking.

    • Hi Catslady!

      Thank you so much for your comment. Made me feel good. I’ve always admired Sitting Bull, also, and I, too, believe that it would be good to learn from the past.

      I so agree with you.

  3. Kay,

    I truly loved this post. Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse are so important to History and they are ever told. Thank you for such a great post.


  4. Thanks for the very informative post. It was a sad ending to a brave man. You are so right that danger comes from greedy men and those who prosper by causing dissension and fear of those who are different. It is sad too that much of history being taught in schools today is IMHO “interpretive” and not necessarily truth.
    Thanks for sharing your post and giveaways.

    • You know, it was writing historical romance that woke me up to the fact that our history that we learn in school is much distorted. And you’re right — the victor gets to say whatever he likes, sad to say.

      Someone once said the look for who you can’t speak openly about — it is that person or persons who rule you. Interesting thought.

  5. Thanks so much for the lesson on Sitting Bull. I am sure that there are many lessons for us to learn from the true past. I always learn so much from your posts. Thanks again.

  6. I have always been interested in the Native-American Culture. They were the first Americans and we took their land. People can learn so much from them especially Sitting Bull.
    Thanks for this post and I would love to read RED HAWK”S WOMAN! I have read Melinda Elmore’s Books and they really showed me the true Native-American beliefs.

    • Hi Rebecca!

      I do believe that we have much to learn from those who were here before us. I like the idea of having to walk in another man’s shoes before one decides whether or not he’s angry. There’s always the other side to the story. : )

  7. Hey karen,
    Like u said, history in school do NOT teach/tell u everything.
    What a sad ending, as well the treatment he received during his life. I see he still was a giving person no matter how
    he was treated. As u mentioned even to this day, the translation holds true.

    • Hi Jeannie!

      Yes, it was romance writing that opened my eyes to the fact that the history we learn in school is much, much distorted. Interestingly enough. Real history is very exciting, I think.

  8. Thank you for the very interesting post. I really found it interesting that Sitting Bull gave money to hungry white people who were homeless. Wow!

    Smiles & Blessings,
    Cindy W.

    countrybear52 AT yahoo DOT com

    • Hi Cindy!

      You know, I did, too. But once I researched some Indians who had gone on tour in England in the 1840’s — and their response to the culture around them was much the same, I must admit. A lot of that sort of thing is written about in my book LAKOTA PRINCESS. : ) Thanks for your post.

  9. The history of Sitting Bull is fascinating! There is so much more I learned today than years past. I so will check out the site. Too, those labels, or stimgmas such as “Slow” may be just a selective part of a person but there are so many more strengths in history. Being deaf, I remember the deaf and dumb labeling me but obviously wrong. 🙂

    Congrats on the release! Cathie

    • Hi Caffey!

      Thank you so much for your post. And thanks for telling me a bit about yourself. I can certainly see that one would be sympathic to the whisperings of others in this regard. Thanks so much!

  10. Thanks so much for the info on Sitting Bull. I had not heard the information. My interests in the people, has greatly increased over the years, this just helps me put the things in order around me.

  11. I enjoyed the post on Sitting Bull. As usual, I always find your post very educational. When I was in school, we did not have this kind of history on the American Indians.

  12. Karen, I’m late to the party due to delayed email, but I love your post! I supposedly have Lakota ancestors, so I’ve studied the culture and Sitting Bull, but I love learning new tidbits!

    Happy release!!

    Nancy Haddock

    • Hi Nancy!

      Thank you so much. Well, you know the party goes on all day long, so it’s not really late. Lucky you to have some Lakota ancestors. Such a beautiful people. : )

  13. Enjoyed reading your post! Service seems to be the motto of
    our two families. We have had 24 family members who have served in the military on behalf of our country beginning with WWII. We were blessed in that they all came home safely. The early veterans have all gone to their rest except for a few “Cold War” and Vietnam era members. We were represented in the services by four of the younger generation in Kuwait and Iraq (including one female) and this month one of the youngest grandsons returned from a deployment in Afghanistan! God bless all who have served our country over the years!

  14. So interesting reading about Sitting Bull. Unless we research info on a character we sometimes only have the Hollywood version of what that person is like. I did not know that he knew how to sign his name. I learn all kinds of things from this website.

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