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Sitting Bull Part 1


Tatanka Iyotaka is famed as the chief medicine man of the Hunkpapa Sioux—known best today as Sitting Bull. He was born in 1830, and earned great respect from the members of his tribe. After the defeat of Custer at the Little Big Horn in 1876, he and the remainder of his tribe escaped into Canada, finally surrendering on a promise of pardon in 1880. Later, when the Ghost Dance craze became active in the Plains, he became the spiritual leader of this frenzy. His death occurred in 1890 as a result of this connection, purportedly at the hands of Lakota policeman Red Tomahawk, although this is obscured by some mystery. One story from a correspondent in Winona stated that he had observed the whole thing, and that policeman Bull Head shot Sitting Bull first, his bullet passing through the man’s body and touching his heart and killing him immediately, and that Red Tomahawk shot him after.

In death, Sitting Bull still held sway, and though the opinions about him were numerous and varied on all sides, it was sure that, as the Minneapolis Journal reported, "it is hardly possible to find another leader of such influence…."

He was believed buried at Standing Rock Agency in Fort Yates, but there were reports that the casket was "very light," and there was a belief "that Sitting Bull’s body [was] still ‘out of ground.’" Certainly Tom Hetlund, a rancher on Bad River in South Dakota, might have agreed, as he reported that there was new excitement among Indians in ghost dances in his area, and that Sitting Bull’s ghost had appeared to a band of upper Bad River Indians and "by motions ordered them to join his followers and avenge his death," though around the same time, Indian agent McLaughlin of Standing Rock Agency was said to have reported, "A large majority of Indian of this agency are loyal. Universal satisfaction exists as a result of Sitting Bull’s death, which breaks up the ghost dance here. No further uneasiness prevails."

Five Indian policemen died in the skirmish that resulted in Sitting Bull’s death, and they were given honors at the agency, with a full military funeral. Sitting Bull’s body was "laid away in the post graveyard" with "few honors." But his burial would become as controversial as his life, as we will hear tomorrow.

Dakota Datebook written by Sarah Walker