The man who was known as Sitting Bull was originally known as Tatanka Yotanka, which describes a bull sitting on its haunches. Even as a young man, Sitting Bull was recognized for his courage! He was seen as being as immoveable as a bull. Again and again, Sitting Bull lived up to that image.
He was born into the Lakota (a Sioux tribe) tribe in 1831, in present-day South Dakota. As early as age fourteen, Sitting Bull was a warrior. He often fought both other Native American tribes and American soldiers. After a battle with American soldiers at Killdeer Mountain in 1864, Sitting Bull became determined to keep his people away from white people. He was also determined to never sign a treaty which would force his people to live on a reservation. Because he was known for his bravery, Sitting Bull became head chief of the Lakota nation in about 1868.
Sitting Bull’s courage was legendary even in his lifetime. Once, during a battle with soldiers near the Yellowstone River, Sitting Bull and several other warriors calmly walked onto the battlefield, sat, and smoked a pipe while bullets whizzed around them! When they finished, they simply walked away.
In 1874, gold was discovered in the Black Hills of South Dakota. The area was sacred to many tribes and was off-limits to white settlement. Once the word got out that gold had been discovered, white settlers and prospectors began pouring into the Black Hills area. This led to conflicts, as the Lakota attempted to defend their land. The US government attempted to buy the Black Hills, but the Lakota refused. The government then announced that the Lakota must be removed to a reservation by the end of January, 1876. If they did not go, they would be considered hostile. Some Sioux chiefs, such as Red Cloud, signed treaties and agreed to be moved to a reservation. Sitting Bull, however, was true to his name and he and his people refused to be moved.
Sitting Bull was also a holy man who had mystical visions. Along Rosebud Creek, Sitting Bull led Lakota, Cheyenne and Arapaho in ancient rituals. He even slashed his arms one hundred times as a sign of sacrifice! As part of the rituals, Sitting Bull had a vision that involved soldiers falling out of the sky into the Lakota camp.
Sitting Bull was inspired by his vision. He and the Oglala Lakota war chief, Crazy Horse, set out with five hundred warriors and defeated American soldiers commanded by General George Crook. They then moved to Little Bighorn River. There they were attacked by soldiers under General George Custer, who was badly outnumbered. Just like Sitting Bull’s vision, the Americans were slaughtered. Every American soldier was killed, including General Custer. The battle at Little Bighorn is known as “Custer’s Last Stand.”
Four years later, Sitting Bull was forced to surrender. He reportedly said, “I wish it to be remembered that I was the last man of my tribe to surrender my rifle.” After being held for several years as a prisoner of war, Sitting Bull was released. He joined Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show, but soon quit. The once proud chief could not stand to ride around for the entertainment of white people.
Sitting Bull died in 1890. He is still remembered and revered by the Lakota people for his fearlessness.
Things to Remember:
- Sitting Bull is responsible for one of the greatest Native American victories ever, at the battle of Little Bighorn
- Sitting Bull was brave until the very end, saying “I wish it to be remembered that I was the last man of my tribe to surrender my rifle.”