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Sitting Bull & Sacagawea Graves

Today marks the anniversary of two controversial events having to do with the burial sites of two of our most famous Native Americans.

Sitting Bull was killed on the Standing Rock Reservation in 1890. He was buried at Fort Yates, on the North Dakota side of the reservation. On this date in 1953, a group stole the bones and reburied them near Mobridge to help promote the Sitting Bull Stampede Rodeo.

Most Lakota maintain that the stolen bones aren’t Sitting Bull’s. In fact, North Dakota sued South Dakota and tested one of them – and it was female. Historian LaDonna Brave Bull noted that the grave had already been robbed or opened six times between 1890 and 1900. She says the people of the reservation’s Rock Creek district believe the bones were removed long ago and reburied in an unmarked grave, making neither of the so-called “official sites” the true resting place.

Another controversy surrounds the death and burial of Sacagawea. Many maintain that she died on this date in 1884. Most historians, however, believe she died much earlier -- in 1812 at Fort Manuel Lisa. If the 1812 version is true, Sacagawea became ill and died when she was approximately 25 years old. This version centers on the journal of the fort’s head clerk. His entry states, “This Evening the Wife of Charbonneau, a Snake (woman), died of a putrid fever. She was a good and the best woman in the fort, aged about 25 years. She left a fine infant girl.”

In 1962, another piece of evidence came to light in the form of an account book, dated 1825-28, belonging to William Clark. On the cover, he listed the whereabouts of his expedition members, which included the notation: “Se-car-ja-we-au Dead.”

But some historians note that Charbonneau had two wives, and both were Snake – or Shoshone – women. And many oral traditions say that Sacagawea lived to be about 100 years old and is buried on the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming.

According to those oral histories, Sacagawea left Charbonneau and headed west from St. Louis, visiting several tribes before settling with the Commanche. There, she married and raised a family. When her new husband died, she traveled up the Missouri River in search of her own people and was reunited with son Jean Baptiste, the baby she carried during the Lewis and Clark Expedition.

Today, there are monuments to Sacagawea at both the presumed site of her 1812 death in South Dakota and the 1884 gravesite in Wyoming.

Dakota Datebook written by Merry Helm

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