Tatanka-Iyotaka also know as Sitting Bull was a great leader of the Sioux who helped his people from the time he was ten until he died on December 15, 1890. He led them in battles including the Little Bighorn, took them to Canada and back, and was eventually shot in the head by one of his own.
Sitting Bull was born sometime between 1831-1834 on the Grand River in what is now known as South Dakota. His name when he was little was "Hunkeshnee" which means "slow". He was given this name because he was never in a rush to do anything and always did it with care. He killed his first buffalo at the age of ten and his first counting coup at the age of fourteen when he helped to defend the Hunkpapa hunting grounds. His next encounter was in 1864 in the battle of Killdeer and then the siege in 1865, which he led against the newly established Fort Rice. All of this showed great bravery and insight. He became a leader of the Strong Heart warrior society as a young man. While in this society he successfully made the Sioux hunting grounds bigger. But the U.S. army kept invading the territory and causing problems within the tribe and native economy. From 1863-1868 the Sioux fought the army's trespasses. Later in his life he became a excellent member of the Silent Easter, a group concerned with tribal welfare. In 1865, Sitting Bull fought against U.S. troops in the Battle of Powder River
Once at a buffalo hunt the Indian boys  were enjoying a mimic hunt with calves that had been left behind. Then a large calf turned meanly on Sitting Bull, whose pony had thrown him. He grabbed both ears of the calf until it was in a buffalo wallow or sitting position. The rest of the boys shouted, "He has subdued the buffalo into sitting position." This incident and because he showed so much bravery as a young man, his father changed his name to "Tatanka-Iyotaka. This name describes a buffalo on its haunches and it doesn't move. Also known as Sitting Bull.


 Sometime between 1867-1868 Sitting Bull became the Sioux first principal chief. Not long after this peace was made with the U.S. government, even though Sitting Bull refused to attend the peace conference or sign the treaty. This treaty in known as the Fort Laramine treaty which promised the Black Hills would always belong to the Sioux. This treaty was broke in 1875 when  the government ordered the Sioux to reservations because gold was found in the Black Hills. They were given a dead line of January 31, 1876 to leave or else the y would be considered an enemy. The Indians ignored this warning and in March, Crook was ordered to attack them.


Inspired by Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse made Crooks troops retreat in the battle of the Rose Bud on June 17. To celebrate he joined more than 3,000 Indians including the Lakota, Cheyenne, and Arapaho in the valley of the Little Bighorn. During this time Sitting Bull did a Sun Dance to their Great Spirit, Wanka Tanka. During this he slashed his arms 100 times as a sign of sacrifice. Also it is believed Sitting Bull received a vision. In this vision he saw where the enemies would be brought into his hands and be destroyed and that the troops would fall into the Lakota camp like grasshoppers falling from the sky. When he woke he told his people of this. He also told them that they should fight to kill and he convinced them if they did not change there way of fighting they would lose all of their land. There are some of the ways that the Battle of the Little Bighorn was won.
At this camp, the Little Bighorn valley, is where the Indians were attacked by General George A. Custer's advanced party of General Alfred H. Terry's column or also known as the 7th calvery. Custer's men were badly outnumbered. They split into three groups and attacked immediately. One was led by Major Marcus Reno, and by Captain Frederick Benteen and the other by Custer. They rushed to encampment as if in fulfillment to Sitting Bull's vision. Then they made a stand on a nearby ride and that is where they were destroyed. The battle only lasted about an hour.
After the Battle of the Little bighorn many of Sitting Bull's people started to surrender but Sitting Bull would not give up. Soldiers found a note that said, "I want to know what you are doing, traveling on this road. You scare all the buffalo away. I want to hunt in this place. I want you to turn back from here. If you don't, I will fight you again. I am your friend Sitting Bull. I mean all the ration you have and some powder. Wish you would write me as soon as you can." Mad about the defeat, the military brought thousands to the area and over the next year pursed the Lakota to surrender. Sitting Bull remained defiant. But in May 1877, Sitting Bull led his people to Canada, out of reach of the U.S. army and as a last hope of justice and freedom. When General Terry went north to offer Sitting Bull a pardon for settling on a reservation, Sitting Bull just sent him away. He said, "If you have one honest man in Washington, send him to me and I will talk to him."
Four years later Sitting Bull found it impossible feed all of his people and he went south to surrender. On July 19, 1881 his young son handed a commanding officer Sitting bull's rifle hoping to teach the boy "that he had become a friend of the Americans." He also said , "I wish to be remembered that I was the last man in my tribe to surrender my rifle." After coming back from Canada Sitting Bull spent two years in Fort Randall in South Dakota as a prisoner of war along with his followers. 


When he was released, he asked for rights to move back and forth into Canada when he wished and for a reservation of his own on the Little Missouri River near the Black Hills. Instead, he was sent to Standing Rock Reservation where he rejoined his tribe. James McLaughlin was determined to refuse the great chief of any special privileges, Sitting Bull was even forced to work in fields. But Sitting Bull knew his rights and when a group of U.S. senators came to the reservation to talk about opening part of the it to whites, Sitting Bull protested forcefully against the plan. He was released to tour with Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show in 1885. He earned $50 a week for riding once around the the arena plus whatever he could charge for autographs and pictures. He only stayed four months. He couldn't stand white society any more but he did shake hands with President Grover Clevland, which he took as evidence that he was still thought of as  a great chief. In 1889 many  natives began a new religion called a Ghost Dance. They believed this religion would bring back their land and remove the whites. Upon his return sitting Bull had another vision like the one before about the battle of the Little Bighorn. In this vision he saw a meadowlark and heard it say, "Your own people, Lakota's, will kill you." Also, when he returned he lived in a cabin near where he was born. He refused to change his way of life and rejected and lived with two wives which were all against reservation rules. Though he didn't like Christianity he sent his kids to a nearby Christian school thinking later generation would need to read and write. The army was afraid  the Ghost Dance would lead to an up rise and sought Sitting Bull could possibly be the instigator. They went to arrest him on December 15, 1890. The police busted into his cabin, drug him outside where his followers were joining to protect him. During this a gunfire broke out and a Lakota police man shot Sitting Bull in the head. Sitting Bull, his son, and twelve others were killed.


Sitting Bull was buried in Fort Yates in North Dakota. In 1953 his remains where moved to Mobridge, South Dakota where a granite shaft marks his grave. He is not only  remembered as an inspirational and fearless leader but as a loving father, a gifted singer, and a man always gracious and friendly towards others whose deep religious faith gave him prophetic insight and lent special powers to his prayers.

Nicole Shoffner

8th American History

Rossville Jr. High

Plains History Project