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.
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 did — 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 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.
By: ~Anonymous Lakota
|Sitting Bull autograph dated on card’s reverse June 12th 1889.|