by David Frances Barry
- Occupation: Chief of the Lakota Sioux Indians
- Born: c. 1831 in Grand River, South Dakota
- Died: December 15, 1890 in Grand River, South Dakota
- Best known for: Leading his people to victory at the Battle of Little Bighorn
Sitting Bull was born a member of the Lakota Sioux tribe in South Dakota. The land where he was born was called Many-Caches by his people. His father was a fierce warrior named Jumping Bull. His father named him "Slow" because he was always very careful and slow to take action.
Slow grew up as a typical child in the Sioux tribe. He learned how to ride horses, shoot a bow, and hunt buffalo. He dreamt of one day becoming a great warrior. When Slow was ten years old he killed his first buffalo.
When he was fourteen, Slow joined his first war party. In a battle with the Crow tribe, Slow bravely charged a warrior and knocked him down. When the party returned to camp, his father gave him the name Sitting Bull in honor of his bravery.
Becoming a Leader
As Sitting Bull grew older, white men from the United States began to enter his people's land. More and more of them came each year. Sitting Bull became a leader among his people and was famous for his bravery. He hoped for peace with the white man, but they would not leave his land.
Around 1863, Sitting Bull began to take up arms against the Americans. He hoped to scare them off, but they kept returning. In 1868, he supported Red Cloud in his war against many of the American Forts in the area. When Red Cloud signed a treaty with the United States, Sitting Bull did not agree. He refused to sign any treaties. By 1869 Sitting Bull was considered the Supreme Chief of the Lakota Sioux Nation.
In 1874, gold was discovered in the Black Hills of South Dakota. The United States wanted access to the gold and didn't want interference from the Sioux. They ordered all Sioux that lived outside the Sioux Reservation to move inside the reservation. Sitting Bull refused. He felt that reservations were like prisons and he would not be "shut up in a corral."
Gathering His People
As the United States forces began to hunt down Sioux that lived outside the reservation, Sitting Bull formed a war camp. Many other Sioux joined him as well as Indians from other tribes such as the Cheyenne and the Arapaho. Soon his camp became quite large with perhaps 10,000 people living there.
Battle of Little Big Horn
Sitting Bull was also considered a holy man within his tribe. He performed a Sun Dance ritual where he saw a vision. In that vision he pictured "American soldiers dropping like grasshoppers from the sky". He said that a great battle was coming and his people would win.
Shortly after Sitting Bull's vision, Colonel George Custer of the United States Army discovered the Indian war camp. On June 25, 1876 Custer attacked. However, Custer didn't realize the size of Sitting Bull's army. The Indians soundly defeated Custer's forces, killing many of them including Custer. This battle is considered one of the great victories for the Native Americans in the fight against the United States Army.
After the Battle
Although the Battle of Little Big Horn was a great victory, soon more United States troops arrived in South Dakota. Sitting Bull's army had split up and soon he was forced to retreat to Canada. In 1881, Sitting Bull returned and surrendered to the United States. He would now live in a reservation.
In 1890, the local Indian Agency police feared that Sitting Bull was planning to flee the reservation in support of a religious group called the Ghost Dancers. They went to arrest him. A gunfight occurred between the police and Sitting Bull's supporters. Sitting Bull was killed in the fight.
Interesting Facts about Sitting Bull
- He worked for a time in Buffalo Bill's Wild West show earning $50 a week.
- He once said that he "would rather die an Indian than live as a white man."
- The Ghost Dancers believed that God would make the white people leave and the buffalo return to the land. The religion ended when many of the members were killed at the Wounded Knee Massacre.
- His birth name was Jumping Badger.
- He was friends with other famous people from the old west including Annie Oakley and Crazy Horse.
Biography >> Native Americans