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The Ghost Dance


The Ghost Dance, a religious belief originating in 1889, spread quickly among the Plains Indians. The doctrine included the belief that the White men would be driven from the land and the buffalo would return. Sitting Bull led the movement among the Northern Plains Indians and so terrified the settlers that forts were quickly constructed and local militias hastily organized.

On the order of Indian Agent James McLaughlin, Indian Police attempted to capture Sitting Bull to diminish the threat of any uprising. Red Tomahawk was one of thirty-nine Indian Police who went to Sitting Bull’s camp just before daybreak on December 15, 1890. Having surprised Sitting Bull in his sleep, they attempted to remove him from the camp and meet up with a troop of United States Cavalry waiting a short distance away.

However, the alarm sounded, alerting over one hundred of Sitting Bulls supporters, and a shooting ensued. Policemen Bull Head and Shave Head were shot, and as Bull Head fell he shot Sitting Bull in the side. Red Tomahawk, standing behind Sitting Bull, shot the old medicine man in the head.

On this date in 1925 Red Tomahawk went to Bismarck, accompanied by a number of men from the reservation, to restate his role in the death of Sitting Bull and to obtain his pension for his association with the Indian Police. Applying for the pension required Red Tomahawk to provide a record of his service, which included his role in the effort to remove Sitting Bull from the Grand River camp. Objections to his claim of killing Sitting Bull came from the son of Bull Head and friends of Shave Head, who were also credited with firing the fatal bullet. With supporters by his side, Red Tomahawk supplied the details of the failed arrest.

The 1890s were a turbulent time in Native American / US Government relations, and the government recognized Red Tomahawk for his service. The silhouette of his profile adorns North Dakota highway markers, and as late as 1927 a Fort Yates store devoted a calendar to him. Frank Fiske of the Sioux County Pioneer also reflected the attitude of the times when he wrote of such recognition … “that we may not forget that to be brave, competent and faithful is a trait exemplified of the Sioux by Red Tomahawk – who killed Sitting Bull.”

Dakota Datebook written by Jim Davis

Sioux County Pioneer December 29, 1927
The Bismarck Tribune April 4, 1925