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Sitting Bull's Gravesite


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 on December 15th, 1890. The Lakota remembered him as an inspirational leader, fearless warrior, a loving father, a gifted singer, a man who was affable and friendly, and whose deep religious faith gave him prophetic insight. He was buried at Fort Yates, on the North Dakota side of Standing Rock reservation. On this date in 1953, a group from the South Dakotan side 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 says that the grave had already been robbed or opened six times between 1890 and 1900. Artist Frank Fiske once opened it just to make sure Sitting Bull was there. 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 “official site” the true resting place of Sitting Bull’s bones.

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 in 1812 at Fort Manuel Lisa – that’s a difference of 72 years. 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 John Luttig, the head clerk of Fort Manuel Lisa. His entry for December 20th, 1812, 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.” Sacagawea had suffered from this same fever when she gave birth to her first child, Jean Baptiste.

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 and included the notation: “Se car ja we au Dead.”

Historian Brave Bull points out that Manuel Lisa had signed a charter with Charbonneau and Sacagawea to start the fur trading business, and she believes that Sacagawea was buried in the high hills overlooking the Missouri River behind the fort.

Other historians disagree; Charbonneau had two wives, and both were Snake – or Shoshone – women, as mentioned in Luttig’s journal. Many oral traditions say that Sacagawea lived to be about a hundred years old and that she died, and is buried, on the Shoshone Wind River Reservation in Wyoming.

According to these oral histories, Sacagawea left Charbonneau and headed west from St. Louis after the expedition ended. On her travels, she visited several tribes before finally settling with the Commanche. There, she married a man named Jerk Meat and raised a family with him. When he died, she traveled up the Missouri River in search of her own people and was reunited with her son, Jean Baptiste, who was the baby she carried with her during the Lewis and Clark Expedition.

As Brave Bull says, you have to decide for yourself which ones you want to believe. You just have to want to know more…

Dakota Datebook written by Merry Helm