Sitting Bull was born
around 1834 in the region of the Grand River
, present-day South Dakota
, the son of a sub-chief. He soon established himself as a hunter
of the Hunkpapa Teton band of the Sioux
or Lakota (meaning "allies") tribe, at fourteen years of age accompanying his father on the warpath against the Crow. It was during this campaign that he was given his name Yatanka Yotanka
, or "Sitting Bull," after scalping an enemy. After that he became a very influential member of his tribe as a shaman
(medicine man), peacemaker and organiser.
Sitting Bull's Importance
Sitting Bull is remembered for his stand against the settlers
. His vision of the Indians' battle
with the settlers, which came between 17 March and 17 June 1876, is very well known. In his vision Bluecoat soldiers
were entering his camp
. The Great Spirit gave them to him, he said, because they "had no ears." By this, Sitting Bull meant that they refused to listen to reason and so war was coming to them. And come the war did. Sitting Bull united tribes in the Battle of the Little Bighorn, and organised the battle tactics
. He did a good job with his preparations, as the warriors killed about 268 US soldiers, and only 24 Sioux warriors were killed.
Sitting Bull is also famous for his tour with Buffalo Bill
Cody's Wild West show, an outdoor entertainment that used characters from novels and solidified the Indian
myths. For four months Sitting Bull showed off as Custer's slayer. He never toured again, his agent James McLaughlin complaining to S.C. Armstrong on 9 November 1885 that, instead of making him more docile, the tours had made him "very pompous and insolent." Before this people had seen Sitting Bull as the most notorious chieftain
of them all, described as "savage
, unmerciful" in Henry W. Longfellow's "The Revenge of Rain-in-the-Face," published on 1 March 1887.
Achievements and the Effect on Indian-Settler Relations
Sitting Bull led attacks on white settlements in the Great Plains north-central region, both during and after the American Civil War
(1861-65). Sitting Bull's fame grew when he led a raid against Fort Buford in 1866, where the Missouri
Rivers' met. In 1868, Sitting Bull was made war chief of the whole Hunkpapa Tribe, when Crazy Horse
joined his camp temporarily. He remained on the warpath from 1869 to 1876. General P. H. Sheridan started a campaign against Sitting Bull because of the latter man's refusal to go on reservation.
Brulés tribes joined the Hunkpapa Sioux. Sitting Bull held a Sun Dance. This was a very painful ceremony that required great bravery. It was after this ritual that Sitting
Bull received his vision. He began preparations for the defeat of the whites.
The first battle after the Sun Dance was the Battle of the Rosebud, on the 17 June. Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse led half their warriors into an attack against General Crook's Bluecoats. Although the Indians lost 36 warriors and the Bluecoats only 10, the greater number of Indians forced the whites to retreat. The Sioux and their allies then moved westwards, in preparation for the famous Battle of the Little Bighorn
. Trickles of Indians who had escaped from reservations with stolen weapons
joined up with them.
commanded a regiment
of the Seventh United States Cavalry. It comprised thirty-one officers, five hundred and eighty-five men, as well as scouts from the Arikara (Sahnish) and Crow tribes. Altogether there was a force of about six hundred and fifty-five. On 25 June 1876, Custer approached the huge Indian camp and divided his troops. Major Reno led three companies to attack the southern end of the camp. Gall, war-chief to the Hunkpapa Sioux, led the charge upon Reno's men. Crazy Horse joined him and together they drove away the soldiers.
Sitting Bull also had the idea of ambushing Custer's men. As Custer's column advanced, the general watched the camp. He saw only women and children, and so moved in to attack the encampment. The Indians surprised Custer and forced him
back to the high-ground. Gall and Black Moon chased them northwards and Crazy Horse attacked from the west. They soon surrounded Custer's troops, and in the space of an hour, all 225 men in his company lay dead.
By annihilating so many US troops, the Indians had set the entire nation against them. Sitting Bull led his people into Canada
where the US cavalry
was not allowed to follow. The United States
offered Sitting Bull a full pardon
, but Sitting Bull didn't return until 1881.
When Sitting Bull and his tribe returned to the United States they settled at Standing Rock Indian reservation. However, Sitting Bull continued being hostile to the settlers. Because of Sitting Bull's influence, the Sioux Indians refused to sell their land to the Europeans in 1888. The situation worsened when the Indians began following the Native American messiah Wovoka, who introduced the Ghost Dance. This was a revivalistic religion that promised the defeat of the white man and the return of the old way of life. Sitting Bull approved of the Ghost Dance but didn't join in. Nevertheless, Sitting Bull was considered the leader of an expected rebellion, and so
the authorities arrested him on 15 December 1890. His captors killed him the same day when his followers attempted to rescue him. This incident probably elevated
Sitting Bull's status to that of a martyr
to other Indians, who followed his example and continued being hostile to the settlers.