Researcher: Rachel Sahlman
Sitting Bull, whose Indian name was Tatanka
Iyotake, was born in the Grand River region of present-day South
Dakota in approximately 1831. His nickname was Hunkesi, meaning "Slow"
because he never hurried and did everything with care. Sitting Bull
was a member of the Sioux tribe, and he joined his first war party
against the Crow at age 14. The Sioux fought against hostile tribes
and white intruders. Soon, Sitting Bull became known for his
fearlessness in battle. He was also generous and wise, virtues admired
by his tribe.
Sitting Bull became a leader of the Strong Heart
warrior society, and he successfully increased Sioux hunting grounds.
However, the U.S. army continually invaded this territory, creating
problems within the native economy. From 1863 to 1868, the Sioux
fought the army's encroachment. In approximately 1867, Sitting Bull
became the first principal chief of the entire Sioux nation. Shortly
thereafter peace was made with the U.S. government, although Sitting
Bull refused to attend the peace conference or sign the treaty. The
Fort Laramie treaty promised the Black Hills would remain in Sioux
However, in the mid-1870s, gold was discovered,
and press reports brought a rush of prospectors. By 1875, more than a
thousand prospectors were camping in the Black Hills. The government
ordered the Sioux to their reservations. They were given a deadline of
January 31, 1876, and anyone who did not comply was considered
hostile. The demand was ignored by the Sioux and in March, General
George Crook set up a camp in order to attack the natives.
Sitting Bull and the Sioux realized they
could not defeat the army alone, and they must stand with other
tribes. They were joined by the Cheyenne and Arapaho, and on June
17, they forced a retreat of U.S. troops at the Battle of the
Rosebud, then set up camp at Little Bighorn. After the battle,
Sitting Bull performed an important religious ritual called a Sun
Dance. The Sun Dance was a type of self-torture which included a
loss of consciousness. When Sitting Bull emerged from his trance,
he told of his vision of soldiers falling from the sky.
Sitting Bull's prediction
came true on June 25 when Lieutenant Colonel George Armstrong Custer
led his soldiers into the village along the Little Big Horn River. By
the end of the day, Custer and his army of more than 200 soldiers were
dead. Sitting Bull thought by winning this battle, the U.S. government
would leave him alone, but the fight had just begun. As the battles
continued, many of Sitting Bull's followers surrendered. However,
Sitting Bull would not give up. Soldiers chasing him found a note that
read "You scare all the buffalo away. I want to hunt in this place. I
want you to turn back from here. If you don't, I will fight you
In 1877, Sitting Bull and his followers
escaped into Canada. However within four years, famine forced them
to surrender. Sitting Bull was held as a prisoner of war for two
years, before he was sent to join other Sioux at Standing Rock
Agency in North Dakota. In 1885, Sitting Bull joined Buffalo
Bill's Wild West Show and traveled throughout the United States
and Canada. Some believe he was allowed to join the show to keep
him away from the reservation.
When Sitting Bull returned to the
reservation in 1889, many natives had joined a new religion called
the Ghost Dance. They believed an Indian messiah would return
their lands and remove the whites. Because of this new religion,
Indian police arrested Sitting Bull on December 15, 1890 as a
precaution. They planned to send him to prison, but when his
warriors attempted to rescue him, Sitting Bull was killed. He was
buried at Fort Yates. In 1953, his remains were moved to Mobridge,
Bibliographic Citation Format:
Author's last name, first name, middle
initial. "Title of biography." SPECTRUM Home & School Magazine.
[http://www.incwell.com/Spectrum.html] (date accessed). © K. B.
want no white person or persons here. The Black Hills belong to me. If
the whites try to take them, I will fight. "If the Great Spirit had
desired me to be a white man he would have made me so in the first
place. He put in your heart certain wishes and plans, and in my heart
he put other and different desires. It is not necessary for eagles to
-Tatanka Yotanka (Sitting Bull), Hunkpapa Lakota Sioux (1831-1890)
am a red man. If the Great Spirit had desired me to be a white man he
would have made me so in the first place. He put in your heart certain
wishes and plans, in my heart he put other and different desires. Each
man is good in his sight. It is not necessary for Eagles to be Crows.
We are poor..but we are free. No white man controls our footsteps. If
we must die...we die defending our rights."
Sitting Bull Hunkpapa Sioux
If a man loses anything and goes back and lokos carefully for it, he
will find it, and that is what the Indians are doing now when they ask
you to give them the things that were promised them in the past; and I
do not consider that they should be treated like beasts, and that is
the reason I have grown up with the feelings I have….I feel that my
country has gotten a bad name, and I want it to have a good name; it
used to have a good name; and I sit sometimes and wonder who it is
that has given it a bad name.
Tatanka Yotanka (Sitting Bull)
my brothers, the spring has come; the earth has received the embraces
of the sun and we shall soon see the results of that love! Every seed
has awakened and so has all animal life. It is through this mysterious
power that we too have our being and we therefore yield to our
neighbours, even our animal neighbours, the same right as ourselves,
to inhabit this land. Yet hear me, my people, we have now to deal with
another race - small and feeble when our fathers first met them, but
now great and overbearing. Strangely enough they have a mind to till
the soil and the love of possessions is a disease with them . . . They
claim this mother of ours, the earth, for their own, and fence their
neighbours away; they deface her with their buildings and their
refuse. They threaten to take [the land] away from us. My brothers,
shall we submit, or shall we say to them: "First kill me before you
take possession of my Fatherland."
Sitting Bulls Speech at the Powder River Council, 1877.
"Is it wrong for me to love my own? Is it wicked for me because my
skin is red? Because I am Sioux? Because I was born where my father
lived? Because I would die for my people and my country? God made me
Chief Sitting Bull