Friday, March 22, 2013
American Indians: Sitting Bull
During the Dakota War of 1862, in which Sitting Bull's people were not involved, several bands of eastern Dakota (eastern Sioux) killed an estimated 300 to 800 settlers and soldiers in south-central Minnesota in response to poor treatment by the government and in an effort to drive the whites away. Despite being embroiled in the American Civil War, the United States Army retaliated in 1863 and 1864, even against bands which had not been involved in the hostilities. In 1864, two brigades of about 2200 soldiers under Brigadier General Alfred Sully attacked a village. The defenders were led by Sitting Bull, Gall and Inkpaduta. The Sioux were driven out, but skirmishing continued into August.
Sitting Bull led numerous war parties against Fort Berthold, Fort Stevenson, and Fort Buford and their environs from 1865 through 1868. Although Red Cloud was a leader of the Oglala Sioux, his leadership and attacks against forts in the Powder River Country of Montana were supported by Sitting Bull's guerrilla attacks on emigrant parties and smaller forts throughout the upper Missouri River region. By early 1868, the U.S. government desired a peaceful settlement to Red Cloud's War. It agreed to Red Cloud's demands that Forts Phil Kearny and C.F. Smith be abandoned. Chief Gall of the Hunkpapas (among other representatives of the Hunkpapas, Blackfeet, and Yankton Sioux) signed a form of the Treaty of Fort Laramie on July 2nd, 1868 at Fort Rice (near Bismarck, North Dakota)Sitting Bull did not agree to the treaty. He continued his hit-and-run attacks on forts in the upper Missouri area throughout the late 1860s and early 1870s. The events of –1868 mark a historically debated period of Sitting Bull's life. According to historian Stanley Vestal, who conducted interviews with surviving Hunkpapa in 1930, Sitting Bull was made "Supreme Chief of the whole Sioux Nation" at this time. Later historians and ethnologists have refuted this concept of authority, as the Lakota society was highly decentralised. Lakota bands and their chiefs made individual decisions.
The Panic of 1873 forced the Northern Pacific Railway's backers (such as Jay Cooke) into bankruptcy. This halted construction of the railroad through Sioux territory. After the discovery and new wealth from gold in California, other men became interested in the potential for gold mining in the Black Hills. In 1874, Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer led a military expedition from Fort Abraham Lincoln near Bismarck, to explore the Black Hills for gold and to determine a suitable location for a military fort in the Hills. Custer's announcement of gold in the Black Hills triggered the Black Hills Gold Rush. Tensions increased between the Sioux and European Americans' seeking to move into the Black Hills.
According to the historian Margot Liberty, many Lakota bands allied with the Cheyenne during the Plains Wars because they thought the other nation was under attack by the US. Given this connection, she suggests the major war should have been called "The Great Cheyenne War". Since 1860, the Northern Cheyenne had led several battles among the Plains Indians. Before 1876, the US Army had destroyed seven Cheyenne camps, more than those of any other nation. However, other historians such as Robert M. Utley and Jerome Greene also use Lakota oral testimony as the basis for their conclusions that the Lakota coalition, of which Sitting Bull was the ostensible head, was the primary target of the federal government's pacification campaign.
In 1875, the Northern Cheyenne, Hunkpapa, Oglala, Sans Arc, and Minneconjou camped together for a Sun Dance, with both the Cheyenne medicine man White Bull or Ice and Sitting Bull in association. This ceremonial alliance preceded their fighting together in 1876. Sitting Bull had a major revelation. Sitting Bull's refusal to adopt any dependence on the white man meant that at times he and his small band of warriors lived isolated on the Plains. When Native Americans were threatened by the United States, numerous members from various Sioux bands and other tribes, such as the North Cheyenne, came to Sitting Bull's camp. His reputation for "strong medicine" developed as he continued to evade the European Americans.
The Hunkpapa chief provided resources to sustain the new recruits. Over the course of the first half of 1876, Sitting Bull's camp continually expanded, as natives joined him for safety in numbers. His leadership had attracted the warriors and families of an extensive village, estimated at more than 10,000 people. General Custer came across this large camp on June 25, 1876. Sitting Bull did not take a direct military role in the ensuing battle; instead he acted as a spiritual chief and performed the Sun Dance, in which he fasted and sacrificed over 100 pieces of flesh from his arms.
Custer’s 7th Cavalry advance party attacked Cheyenne and Lakota tribes at their camp on the Little Big Horn River (known as the Greasy Grass River to the Lakota) on June 25, 1876. The U.S. Army did not realize how large the camp was. More than 2,000 Native Americans had left their reservations to follow Sitting Bull. Inspired by a vision of Sitting Bull’s, in which he saw U.S. soldiers being killed as they entered the tribe’s camp, the Cheyenne and Lakota fought back. Custer's badly outnumbered troops lost ground quickly and were forced to retreat. The tribes led a counter-attack against the soldiers on a nearby ridge, ultimately annihilating them.
The Native Americans' victory celebrations were short-lived. Public shock and outrage at Custer's death and defeat, and the government's knowledge about the remaining Sioux, led them to assign thousands more soldiers to the area. Over the next year, the new American military forces pursued the Lakota, forcing many of the Native Americans to surrender. Sitting Bull refused to surrender and in May 1877 led his band across the border into Saskatchewan, Canada. He remained in exile for many years near Wood Mountain, refusing a pardon and the chance to return. When passing the border to Saskatchewan, the Canadian Mounties of the region came and spoke with Sitting Bull about certain rules he and his men had to follow. During this meeting, James Morrow Walsh, commander of the North West Mounted Police, explained to Sitting Bull they were on British soil and so they must obey British law. Welsh clarified that he enforced the law on everyone and that every person had a right to justice. If they obeyed than he would do everything he can to protect him and his men. Walsh became an advocate for Sitting Bull and they became very good friends till the end.
Also while in Canada Sitting Bull met with chief Crowfoot, who was a chief of the Blackfeet, long-time powerful enemies of the Lakota and Cheyenne. Sitting Bull wished to make peace with the Blackfeet Nation and Crowfoot. Being a renowned advocate for peace himself, Crowfoot eagerly accepted the tobacco peace offering. Sitting Bull was so impressed by the Blackfeet chief that he named one of his sons after him. Sitting Bull and his men only stayed in Canada for 4 years. Due to the smaller size of the buffalo in Canada, sitting Bull and his men found it difficult to find food enough to feed is people. His people were starving and exhausted. Furthermore, due to Sitting Bull’s presence in the country there had been a growth in tension between the Canadian government and the United – States government. Before Sitting Bull left Saskatchewan, it was rumored that he met with is good friend Walsh for the last time before going back to the States. When meeting with his friend for the last time, it was whispered that he gave Walsh his headdress due to the respect he had of him and the friendship he had with him and it is now at the Royal Ontario Museum.
Hunger and desperation eventually forced Sitting Bull, and 186 of his family and followers to return to the United States and surrender on July 19, 1881. Sitting Bull had his young son Crow Foot surrender his Winchester lever-action carbine to Major David H. Brotherton, commanding officer of Fort Buford in the parlor of the Commanding Officer's Quarters in a ceremony the next day. He told the 4 soldiers, 20 warriors and other guests in the small room, that he wished to regard the soldiers and the white race as friends but he wanted to know who would teach his son the new ways of the world. Two weeks later, after waiting in vain for other members of his tribe to follow him from Canada, the Army transferred Sitting Bull and his band to Fort Yates, the military post located adjacent to the Standing Rock Agency, which straddles the present-day boundary of North and South Dakota. Sitting Bull and his band of 186 people were kept separate from the other Hunkpapa gathered at the agency. Army officials were concerned that the famed chief would stir up trouble among the recently surrendered northern bands. On August 26, 1881, he was visited by the census taker William T. Selwyn, who counted twelve people in the Hunkpapa leader's immediate family. Forty-one families, totaling 195 people, were recorded in Sitting Bull's band. The military decided to transfer him and his band to Fort Randall, to be held as prisoners of war. Loaded onto a steamboat, the band of 172 people was sent down the Missouri River to Fort Randall (near present-day Pickstown, South Dakota on the southern border of the state). There they spent the next 20 months. They were allowed to return north to the Standing Rock Agency in May 188.
In 1884, Sitting Bull was allowed to leave the reservation to join Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West show as a Show Indian. He earned about $50 a week for riding once around the arena, where he was a popular attraction. Although it is rumored that he cursed his audiences in his native tongue during the show, the historian Utley contends that he did not. Historians have reported that Sitting Bull gave speeches about his desire for education for the young, and reconciling relations between the Sioux and whites. The historian Edward Lazarus wrote that Sitting Bull reportedly cursed his audience in Lakota in 1884, during an opening address celebrating the completion of the Northern Pacific Railway. Sitting Bull stayed with the show for four months before returning home. During that time, audiences began to consider him a celebrity and a romanticized warrior. He earned a small fortune by charging for his autograph and picture, although he often gave his money away to the homeless and beggars.
In 1883, rumors floated that Sitting Bull had been baptized into the Catholic Church. James McLaughlin, Indian agent at Standing Rock Agency, dismissed these reports, saying that "The reported baptism of Sitting-Bull is erroneous. There is no immediate prospect of such ceremony so far as I am aware."
Sitting Bull returned to the Standing Rock Agency after working in Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show. In 1890, James McLaughlin, the U.S. Indian Agent at Fort Yates on Standing Rock Agency, feared that the Lakota leader was about to flee the reservation with the Ghost Dancers, so he ordered the police to arrest him. On 14th December 1890, McLaughlin drafted a letter to Lt. Bullhead that included instructions and a plan to capture the chief. The plan called for the arrest to take place at dawn on December 15, and advised the use of a light spring wagon to facilitate the chief's removal before his followers could rally. Bullhead decided against using the wagon. He intended to have the police officers force Sitting Bull to mount a horse immediately after the arrest. Around 5:30 a.m. on December 15, 39 police officers and four volunteers approached Sitting Bull's house. They surrounded the house, knocked and entered. Bullhead told Sitting Bull that he was under arrest and led him outside. The camp awakened and men converged at the house of their chief. As Bullhead ordered Sitting Bull to mount a horse, he explained that the Indian Affairs agent needed to see him and then he could return to his house. Sitting Bull refused to comply and the police used force on him. The Sioux in the village were enraged. A Sioux known as Catch-the-Bear shouldered his rifle and shot Bullhead who, in return, fired his revolver into the chest of Sitting Bull. Another police officer, Red Tomahawk, shot Sitting Bull in the head, and the chief dropped to the ground. He died between 12 and 1 p.m. A close-quarters fight erupted, and within minutes several men were dead. Six policemen were killed immediately and two more died shortly after the fight. Sitting Bull and seven of his supporters lay dead, along with two horses.
Sitting Bull's body was taken to Fort Yates to be placed in a coffin (made by the Army carpenter) and for burial. In 1953 Lakota family members exhumed what they believed to be his remains, to be reinterred near Mobridge, South Dakota, his birthplace.
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