Sitting Bull (c.1831-1890) was the Native American chief under whom the Sioux tribes united in their battle for survival on the North American Great Plains.
Following the discovery of gold in the Black Hills of South Dakota in 1874, the Sioux came into improved conflict with U.S. government. The Great Sioux wars of the 1870s would culminate at the 1876 Battle of the Little Bighorn, where Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse and a confederation of tribes would defeat national troops under George Armstrong Custer.
After several years in Canada, Sitting Bull finally surrendered to U.S. forces together with his folks on the brink of starvation, and was finally forced to settle on a booking. In 1890, Sitting Bull was shot and killed while being arrested by U.S. and Indian representatives, fearful that he would help lead the growing Ghost Dance movement aimed at restoring the Sioux way of life. Sitting Bull is remembered because of his amazing courage and his tenacious determination to withstand white domination.
Throughout his childhood he joined in the usual tribal raids for horses from traditional enemies like the Crow and Assiniboin.
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The Lakota Sioux frequently used several titles over the course of their life. In his youth, Sitting Bull was called “Jumping Badger.” Since the Hunkpapa lived and hunted north of the ancient routes of western travel, Sitting Bull had touch with whites until the Santee Sioux uprising in Minnesota in 1862. When the defeated Indians were pushed west to the plains, he discovered from them what life was like within a reservation.
In July 1864, he was one of the defenders when Gen.Alfred Sully used artillery against a Teton encampment in Killdeer Mountain. It was during that period that Sitting Bull formed his resolve to keep his people in the white man’s world and never to sign a treaty that will force them to reside on a booking.Together with other Sioux leaders that he soon took his followers to the pristine shore of the Powder and Yellowstone rivers in which buffalo and other game were plentiful. He continually warned his followers that their survival as free Indians depended upon the buffalo.
During this time, Red Cloud of the Oglala subtribe was the leader of the Tetons, but Sitting Bull’s influence as a sacred man was steadily rising.Starting in the summer of 1865 columns of U.S. soldiers repeatedly invaded the Powder River country. Sitting Bull had intermittent experiences with them, studying their ways of fighting, their weaknesses and strengths. Sitting Bull’s disdain for treaties and booking life soon attracted a large following not only from the Sioux but by the Cheyenne and Arapaho.
In 1873, he and Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer skirmished briefly while Custer was safeguarding surveyors to the Northern Pacific Railroad in Montana Territory.Three years later they met again on the Little Bighorn in the conflict that made both men famous. Sitting Bull wasn’t a war leader in that fight, but he’d predicted that lots of soldiers could collapse, and his followers believed that his magic powers had attracted the success. Although Sitting Bull lived, an undercover and vengeful army forced him to flee to Canada.
Following two years he was allowed to reside on Standing Rock Reservation where he continued to use his influence to maintain Sioux lands from being taken by the authorities. In 1885 he traveled to get a season with Buffalo Bill Cody’s wild west show.
The rise of the Ghost Dance, a tribal faith that proclaimed that all whites would evaporate and dead Indians and buffalo would return, brought him into disfavor with government officials in 1890 because he made no attempt to stop the dancing in Standing Rock. When Indian police were sent to arrest him on December 15, 1890, Sitting Bull was killed in a melee outside his cottage.