December 29, 1890 

 The Wounded Knee Massacre


Pictures of Ghost Dance Shirts

Big Bats Photo Collection

Map of Site

Big Bats Photo Collection


An Account of The Massacre

By August of 1890, the U.S. government was fearful that the Ghost Dance was actually a war dance and, in time, the dancers would turn to rioting. By November, the War Department sent troops to occupy the Lakota camps at Pine Ridge and Rosebud, convinced that the dancers were preparing to do battle against the government. In reality, the Indians were bracing themselves to defend their rights to continue performing the sacred ceremonies. In reaction to the military encampment, the Lakotas planned various strategies to avoid confrontation with the soldiers, but the military was under orders to isolate Ghost Dance leaders from their devotees.

The Hunkpapa Sioux Chief, Sitting Bull, had returned from Canada with a promise of a pardon following the Battle at Little Bighorn and was an advocate of the Ghost Dance. At his request, Kicking Bear traveled to the Standing Rock reservation to preach and made numerous Hunkpapa Sioux converts to the new religion.

 Kicking Bear:
"My brothers, I bring to you the promise of a day in which there will be no white man to lay his hand on the bridle of the Indian horse; when the red men of the prairie will rule the world . . . I bring you word from your fathers the ghosts, that they are now marching to join you, led by the Messiah who came once to live on earth with the white man, but was cast out and killed by them."

Kicking Bear (quoting Wovoka):
"The earth is getting old, and I will make it new for my chosen people, the Indians, who are to inhabit it, and among them will be all those of their ancestors who have died...I will cover the earth with new soil to a depth of five times the height of a man, and under this new soil will be buried the whites...The new lands will be covered with sweet-grass and running water and trees, and herds of buffalo and ponies will stray over it, that my red children may eat and drink, hunt and rejoice."

(Source: Eyewitness at Wounded Knee, 1991)

Reservation agents began to fear that Sitting Bull’s influence over other tribes would lead to violence. By December reservation official grew increasingly alarmed by the Ghost Dance outbreak, and the military was called upon to locate and arrest those who were considered agitators, such as the Sioux Chiefs, Sitting Bull and Big Foot.

On December 15, 1890, Sitting Bull and eight of his warriors were murdered by agency police sent to arrest him at the Standing Rock reservation. The official reason given for the shooting claimed that he had resisted arrest. Fearing further reprisal, some of his followers fled in terror to Big Foot’s camp of Miniconjou Sioux. While many of Big Foot’s group were devout Ghost Dancers, others had already begun to leave the religion. Old Big Foot was a peaceful leader and was not attempting to cause further agitation of the situation. But after the slaying of Sitting Bull, Big Foot was placed on the list of "fomenters of disturbances," and his arrest had been ordered. Upon arrest, his group was to be transferred to Fort Bennett.

Under cover of the night on December 23, a band of 350 people left the Miniconjou village on the Cheyenne River to begin a treacherous 150-mile, week-long trek through the Badlands to reach the Pine Ridge Agency. Although Chief Big Foot was aged and seriously ill with pneumonia, his group traversed the rugged, frozen terrain of the Badlands in order to reach the protection of Chief Red Cloud who had promised them food, shelter, and horses. It is reported that both Big Foot and Red Cloud wanted peace. On December 28, the group was surrounded by Major Samuel M. Whitside and the Seventh Calvary (the old regiment of General George Custer). Big Foots band hoisted a white flag, but the army apprehended the Indians, forcing them to the bank of Wounded Knee Creek. There, four large Hotchkiss cannons had been menacingly situated atop both sides of the valley overlooking the encampment, ready to fire upon the Indians.

A rumor ran through the camp that the Indians were to be deported to Indian Territory (Oklahoma) which had the reputation for its living conditions being far worse than any prison. The Lakotas became panicky, and historians have surmised that if the misunderstanding had been clarified that they were to be taken to a different camp, the entire horrific incident might have been averted.

That evening, Colonel James Forsyth arrived with reinforcements and took over as commander of the operation. The Indians were not allowed to sleep as the soldiers interrogated them through the night. (It has been reported that many of the questions were to determine who among the group had been at Little Bighorn fourteen years earlier. In addition, eyewitnesses claimed that the soldiers had been drinking to celebrate the capture of the ailing Big Foot.)

The soldiers ordered that the Indians be stripped of their weapons, and this further agitated an increasingly tense and serious situation. While the soldiers searched for weapons, a few of the Indians began singing Ghost Dance songs, and one of them (thought to be the medicine man, Yellow Bird, although this is still disputed by historians) threw dirt in a ceremonial act. This action was misunderstood by the soldiers as a sign of imminent hostile aggression, and within moments, a gun discharged. It is believed that the gun of a deaf man, Black Coyote, accidentally fired as soldiers tried to take it from him. Although the inadvertent single shot did not injure anyone, instantaneously the soldiers retaliated by spraying the unarmed Indians with bullets from small arms, as well as the Hotchkiss canons which overlooked the scene.

(Hotchkiss canons are capable of firing two pound explosive shells at a rate of fifty per minute.)

Hotchkiss Cannons

Hotchkiss Canons

With only their bare hands to fight back, the Indians tried to defend themselves, but the incident deteriorated further into bloody chaos, and the 350 unarmed Indians were outmatched and outnumbered by the nearly 500 U.S. soldiers.

The majority of the massacre fatalities occurred during the initial ten to twenty minutes of the incident, but the firing lasted for several hours as the army chased after those who tried to escape into the nearby ravine. According to recollections by some of the Indian survivors, the soldiers cried out "Remember the Little Bighorn" as they sportingly hunted down those who fled -- evidence to them that the massacre was in revenge of Custers demise at Little Bighorn in 1876.
(Recorded by Santee Sioux, Sid Byrd, from oral histories of several survivors.)

Many of the injured died of exposure in the freezing weather, and several days after the incident the dead were strewn as far as approximately two to five miles away from the original site. By mid-afternoon on December 29, 1890 the indiscriminate slaughter ceased. Nearly three-hundred men (including Chief Big Foot), women, and children -- old and young -- were dead on the frosty banks of Wounded Knee Creek. Twenty-nine soldiers also died in the melee, but it is believed that most of the military causalities were a result of "friendly" crossfire that occurred during the fighting frenzy. Twenty-three soldiers from the Seventh Calvary were later awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for the slaughter of defenseless Indians at Wounded Knee.

The wounded and dying were taken to a makeshift hospital in the Pine Ridge Episcopal Church. Ironically, above the pulpit hung a Christmas banner which read:

Peace on Earth, Good Will to Men.

A blizzard swept over the countryside the night of December 29, and when it cleared days later, the valley was strewn with frozen, contorted dead bodies. A burial party returned to the site on New Years Day, 1891. The bodies of the slain were pulled from beneath the heavy snow and thrown into a single burial pit. It was reported that four infants were found still alive, wrapped in their deceased mothers shawls.


                     Wagon Full of Bodies                                     Mass Grave

American Horse, Oglala Sioux, and others described the carnage:

"There was a woman with an infant in her arms who was killed as she almost touched the flag of truce...A mother was shot down with her infant; the child not knowing that its mother was dead was still nursing...The women as they were fleeing with their babies were killed together, shot right through...and after most all of them had been killed a cry was made that all those who were not killed or wounded should come forth and they would be safe. Little boys...came out of their places of refuge, and as soon as they came in sight a number of soldiers surrounded them and butchered them there."

(Source: 500 Nations, 1994)

While only 150 bodies were interred in the mass grave, Lakotas estimate that twice as many Indians perished that brutal morning in 1890 -- on a reservation supposedly protected by two treaties.

Black Elk:

"I did not know then how much was ended. When I look back now from this high hill of my old age, I can still see the butchered women and children lying heaped and scattered all along the crooked gulch as plain as when I saw them with eyes young. And I can see that something else died there in the bloody mud, and was buried in the blizzard. A people's dream died there. It was a beautiful dream . . . . the nation's hoop is broken and scattered. There is no center any longer, and the sacred tree is dead."

(Source: Black Elk Speaks, c. 1932)



The following list is a sample of what was compiled by Richard E. Jensen and first published in “Big Foot’s Followers at Wounded Knee” in Nebraska History Quarterly, Winter 1990, Vol. 71, No. 4. 

“K” indicates Killed
“W” indicates Wounded but survived
“S” indicates Survived without injury

Afraid Of Bear – K
Afraid Of Bear (young) – K
Afraid Of Enemy – W
Wife, Brown Eyes – W
Son, Scarring Hawk – W
Daughter, Good (Pretty) Spotted Horse – S
Afraid Of Hawk, Richard – S
Afraid Of Left Hand – S
Afraid Of Nothing Bear (Bear Fool) – K
Afraid Of Tomahawk – (deceased before Wounded Knee)
Wife, Bone – S
Son, Yellow Horse – S
Daughter, In Front – S
Appears Twice – K
Arousing Squirrel – K
Mother – K
Ashes – K
Wife, Bear Gone – W
Audacious Bear – (see Industrious Bear)
Axe – (see Brown Sinew)
Back Bone – S
Wife, Stands Looking – S
Son, White Hawk – S
Son, Big Boy – S
Son, King Boy – S
Bad (Bear) Woman – W
Son – K
Bad Boy – S
Bad Braves – K
Bad Hand – (see Wing)
Bad Owner Without Rope – K
Wife – K
Bad Spotted Eagle – K
Wife, White Woman – K
Bear Comes And Lies – K
Bear Don’t Run – K
Wife – S
Daughter, Head Woman – K
Son, Pawnee Killer – K
Daughter, Farms At The River – S
Bear Lays Down – K
Wife – W
Bear Parts (Cuts) Body – K
Wife - S
Son – K
Bear Runs In The Woods – S
Bear Sheds His Hair (Shedding Bear) – K
Wife – S
Daughter, Red Buffalo (Red White Cow) – K
Son, Trouble In Front – K
Son, Runs Behind (Last Running) – K
Mother-in-law – K
Bear Skin Vest – K
Wife – W
Daughter – K
Bear That Shoots – K
Mother – K
Bear With Small Body – K
Wife – K
Son, Takes Away Enemy – K
Son, Smokes Walking – S
Son, Enemy – S
Bear Woman, Edith – S
Daughter – S
Daughter - S
Bear Woman – K
Beard, Dewey W. (Iron Hail) – W
Wife, Wears Eagle (White Face) – K
Son, Thomas Beard – K
Baby, Wet Feet (White Foot) – K
Benefactress – K
Big Foot (Spotted Elk) - K
Wife, Small Tail – K
Daughter, Brings White (White Horse Woman) – K
Big Foot (young) – S
Big Skirt (Shirt) – K
Big (Loud) Voice Thunder – K
Wife – K
Child – K
Billy Woman – W
Bird Shaker (see Brown Bull)
Bird Wings – K
Birds Afraid Of Him – S
Birds Belly – K
Black Bugle – S
Black Crow – S
Black Flutes – K
Black Fox (Coyote) – K
Wife, Brown Hair – S
Daughter, Brings White – K
Good White Cow – S
Grease Leg Bone – K
Grey – S
Grey Hand – K
Wife – S
Son, George Randall – S
Grey In Eyes (Eyes) – K
Grey Owl Woman – S
Hair Pipe – S
Wife, The Hawk – S
Son, Cottonwood – K
Son, Starts The Horse – K
Daughter, Her War Bonnet – S
Handsome – K
Happens – K
Hard To Kill (Young Bear) – S
Wife, Her Elk Tooth – S
Mother – K
Has Scarlet – K
Has The Bell – K
Hat – K
Daughter, Makes Presents – K
Hawk, The – S
Hawk Bear (see Eagle Hawk Bear)
Hawk Feather (see Shoots The Hawk Feather)
Hawk Flying – K
Hawk Woman – S
He (Male) Crow – K
Wife – W
Son, Jackson He Crow – S
He Eagle (see Male Eagle)
Heart Of Timber – K
Help Them (Helps Them Up) – W
Helper, Simon – S
Her Brown Faced Dog – S
Her Cedar – S
Her Eagle – S
Her First – S
Her Good Cloud – K
Her Neck – S
Her Room – S
Her Scarlet Blanket – K
Kill Her White Horse – S
Killed His Choice – S
Killed The Bear – S
Wife – S
Son, Kills Against – S
Kills – K
Kills Assiniboine – K
Kills Close To Lodge, Bertha – W
Kills Crow Indian – K
Kills First – K
Wife, Holy Woman – W
Son, Wounded In Winter – K
Son, Leon Kills First – S
Daughter, Shoots The White – K
Daughter, White Mule – K
Daughter, Mary Kills First – S
Kills In Bush – K
Wife, Shawl Over Head – S
Son, Mad – K
Daughter, Hand – S
Kills In The Middle – S
Kills One Hundred – S
Kills Seneca – K
Kills Tin Cup – K
Kills Two – S
Kills White Man – S
Wife – W
Son, Little Warrior – S
Son, Makes Him Mad – S
Daughter, Runs Off With Horse – K
Kills Who Stand In Timber – K
Wife – K
Knife, Nellie – S
Knocked In The Head – S
Kyle, Charles – K
Wife – S
Child – S
Lap, Mrs. – K
Last Talking – K
Leg – K
Light Hair – K
Liking – W
Little Bear – S
Little Body Bear – K
Wife – K
Son – K
Son – S
Daughter – K
Little Bull – W
Little Cloud – S
Wife – S
Little Elk – K
Wife – K
Little Eyed Woman – S
Little Finger, John – W
Little Water – S
Wife, White Face – S
Daughter, The Voice – S
Daughter, Light Hair Girl – S
Son, Whip – S
Son, Sacred Blanket – S
Son, Animal – S
Son, Not Stingy – S
Little Wound – S
Liver Gall – S
Lives In Iron – S
Lives Reckless – S
Living Bear – K
Living Bull, Helena – S
Son – S
Lodge Napkin – K
Lodge Skin – K
Log – K
Wife – K
Lone Child – K
Long Bull – K
Long Bull – S
Wife, Badger – K
Daughter, Weasel – K
Daughter, Helen Long Bull – S
Long Feather – S
Long Holy – S
Long Medicine – K
Long Woman (see High Hawk)
Looking Elk – W
Wife, Lydia Looking Elk – W
Pass Water In Horn – K
Peaked – K
Picket Horse – K
Picks And Kill – S
Pipe On Head, James – S
Mother, Runs On – S
Sister – K
Plain Voice – K
Pretty Bear – K
Son, Cub Bear – S
Pretty Bold Eagle (see Henry Three)
Pretty Hawk – K
Wife – K
Baby, White Woman – K
Pretty Shield – S
Wife – S
Daughter, Her Shawl – S
Daughter, Yellow Eyes – W
Pretty Voice Elk – K
Produce (From) – K
Put Away Moccasins – W
Quit On Him – S
Rattles – K
Rattling Leaf – K
Really Woman’s Son – K
Red Belly – S
Son, Brings Yellow – S
Daughter, Stands Up For Him – S
Runs Off With Horses – K
Red Eagle – K
Wife, Her Black Horses – W
Daughter, Her Eagle Body – K
Daughter, Cedar Horse – K
Daughter – S
Red Ears Horse – K
Sister – K
Red Fingernail Woman – S
Red Fish – K
Wife – K
Red (Scarlet) Horn – K
Son, Good Scarlet Horn – S
Red Horn Bear – S
Red Juniper – K
Red Other Woman – K
Red Shell – K
Red Stone – S
Red Water Woman – K
Roots Its Hole – K
Rough Feather – S
Run As Though His Hair Fussed – W
Running Hawk, George – S
Running In Lodge – K
Running Standing Hairs – K
Wife – K
Daughter – K
Runs After – K
Runs After It – S
Runs Around Lodge – W
Runs Fast – S
Sack Woman – W
Son, White Cowboy – W
Sacred Face – K
Sacred In Appearance – K
Scabbard Knife – K
Wife – K
Scares The Bear – K
Wife, Yellow Bird Woman – K
Grandchild – K
Grandchild – K
Scarlet Calf – K
Son – K
Son – K
Scarlet Otter – K
Scarlet Rotation – S
Scarlet Smoke – K
Scarlet Tipi Top – S
Scarlet White Buffalo – K
Scatters Them – K
Scout – S
Scout Tent – S
Sees The Bear – S
Sees The Elk – S
Seventeen, Patrick – S
Shakes The Bird (see Brown Bull)
Shaving Bear – K
Wife – S
Child – K
Child – K
Child – K
Child – K
Shell Necklace – S
She Wears Eagle – S
Shoot At Accurately – K
Son, K
Shoot The Bear (see I Shot The Bear)
Shoots The Bear, George – K
Wife – K
Shoots (With) The Hawk Feather – K
Mother – K
Shoots The Right – K
Son, Bad Wound – K
Shoots Straight – K
Wife – S
Child – S
Short Hair (Close Haired) Bear – K
Wife – S
Child – K
Child – K
Child – K
Shot Him Off – S
Shot In Hand – K
Shows His Cloud – S
Sinew Belly – S
Singing Bull – K
Wife – K
Son – K
Grandson, James Red Fish – S
Granddaughter, Scarlet Coat – K
Sits Poor, Frank – S
Sits Straight (see Good Thunder)
Slippery Hide – K
Small Bodied Bear – K
Snow Over Her – S
Sole Of Foot – S
Wife, The Ring – K
Daughter, The Brownie – S
Spotted Bear, John – S
Spotted (Speckled) Chief – K
Spotted Eagle – S
Wife, Good Horse – S
Spotted Elk (see Big Foot)
Spotted Elk – K
Wife – K
Son – K
Son – K
Son – K
Tattooed – S
Three, Henry – K
Thunder – K
Thunder Hawk Woman – K
To Laugh – K
Touches The Ground – S
Trotter – K
Trouble – K
Trouble In Front (see Bear Sheds His Hair)
Trouble In Love, Mrs. – K
Twin Woman – K
Two Arrows (see Male Eagle)
Two Lance – S
Unintentionally Brave – K
Unties Shoestring – S
Up To His Waist – K
Wife – K
Son, Important Man – K
Used For Brother – K
Walking Buffalo – W
Walking Bull – K
Wife – K
Walks Red – K
Son, Chief Boy – K
Walks With Circle – S
War In His – K
Warrior – S
Water Snake – K
Wears Calfskin Robe – K
Wife – S
Son, Chases And Kills – S
Wears Fur Coat – S
Wears Yellow Robe – S
Weasel – K
Weasel Bear – K
Wife, Louise Weasel Bear – W
Whip – K
Whirlwind Bear – K
Whirlwind Hawk – K
Wife – K
Daughter – K
Daughter – K
Daughter – K
Son – K
Son – K
White American – K
White Beaver Woman – K
White Bull – K
Wife, Clown Woman – K
Son, Blue Horse – S
Daughter, Pretty Hair – K
White Cow Comes Out – S
White Eagle – S
White Face Sun – K
White Face Woman – S
White Feather – K
White Hair – S
White Hat – K
White Horse – S
White Lance (see Horn Cloud)
White Man – K
Wife, Medicine Woman – W
Son – K
Son – K
Daughter – K
White Man – K
Wife, Never Misses It – W
White Wolf – K
White Woman Hand – S
Wild Man – S
Wind – K
Wind In Guts – S
Wing – K
Son – K
Winter – K
Without Robe – K
Wolf Eagle – K
Son, Good Boy – K
Wolf Ears, Edward – K
Wife – W
Son, White – K
Son, Feather Enemy – K
Daughter, Medicine Lake Girl – K



 Big Foot
Bigfoot's Lakota name was Si Tanka ,"Spotted Elk"

The son of Lone Horn, Spotted Elk became chief of the Minneconjou ("Planters by the River") after the death of his father in 1874. One of the seven subdivisions of the Teton Sioux, the Minneconjou lived in northwestern South Dakota with the Hunkpapa, another band of the Teton Sioux led by Sitting Bull. Native accounts of Spotted Elk describe him as a great hunter. He was also a skilled horseman who possessed a string of fine ponies, most often obtained from the Crow or other enemies. He was best known, however, for his political and diplomatic successes. An able negotiator, Spotted Elk was skilled at settling quarrels between rival parties and was often in great demand among other Teton bands.

After the Sioux War for the Black Hills in 1876-77, the Minneconjou were placed on the Cheyenne River Reservation in South Dakota. Being a person accustomed to finding ways of reconciling disparate views, Spotted Elk sought means to adapt to white ways. According to Native accounts, Spotted Elk was among the first American Indians to raise corn in accordance with government standards. Moreover, he traveled to Washington, D.C. and requested that a mission school be established near the forks of the Cheyenne River. While the Indian Bureau tentatively agreed, the matter was set aside and eventually forgotten.

In 1889 Kicking Bear introduced the Ghost Dance religion to the Minneconjou. The ritual dance was developed by the Paiute medicine man Wovoka, after speaking to the creator. It was believed that the Ghost Dance would restore the world to its aboriginal state; it promised for the return of Native ancestors and all plant and animal life. Devastated by war, hunger, and disease, the Minneconjou welcomed the new religion. While their dancing never became violent, several other Sioux, who were angered by the 1883 prohibition of the Sun Dance and other "barbarous" customs by the Secretary of the Interior as well as the 1889 reduction of Sioux holdings to six small reservations, turned the Ghost Dance into a movement advocating violence against their white oppressors. Consequently, the U.S. Office of Indian Affairs outlawed the Ghost Dance in 1890.

Later that same year, Spotted Elk and his followers moved to Cherry Creek where they had planned on joining Chief Hump and his band of Minneconjou in their dancing. The latter, however, defected and surrendered his band to the agency on December 9, 1890. Disillusioned, Spotted Elk and his tribe moved back to their camp below the forks of the Cheyenne River. While he did not participate in the Ghost Dance thereafter, many of his tribesmen continued to dance, spurred on by the medicine man Yellow Bird.

On December 15, 1890, the Standing Rock Reservation police killed Sitting Bull over a dispute regarding the Ghost Dance ceremony. After hearing of Sitting Bull's death, Spotted Elk decided to migrate to the Pine Ridge Reservation. On December 28, the Minneconjou were intercepted by an army detachment under the command of Major Samuel Whitside. Spotted Elk, who was suffering from pneumonia at the time, ordered his band's surrender. His tribe was then escorted to Wounded Knee Creek where they set up camp. Shortly thereafter, Colonel James Forsyth arrived and assumed command of the situation. On the morning of December 29, when the colonel ordered the tribe to surrender their weapons, a fight erupted in which Spotted Elk and nearly 200 Sioux men, women, and children were killed, along with 25 soldiers.

Hyde, George, A Sioux Chronicle, Norman, University of Oklahoma Press, 1956.
McGregor, James H., The Wounded Knee Massacre: From the View Point of the Sioux, Rapid City, South Dakota, Fenske Printing, 1940.
Sneve, Virginia Driving Hawk, They Led a Nation: The Sioux Chiefs, Sioux Falls, South Dakota, Brevet Press, 1975.
Utley, Robert M., The Last Days of the Sioux Nation, New Haven, Connecticut, Yale University Press, 1963.
Waldman, Carl, Who Was Who in Native American History, New York, Facts on File, 1990.




Life of Sitting Bull

Sitting Bull

A Hunkpapa Lakota chief and holy man of the Hunkpapa band of the Lakota Nation was known for his leadership and compassion for his people. He was born around 1831 on the Grand River in present-day South Dakota, at a place the Lakota called "Many Caches" for the number of food storage pits they had dug there,

Sitting Bull was given the name Tatanka-Iyotanka, as an adult which describes a buffalo bull sitting intractably on its haunches. It was a name he would live up to throughout his life.


As a young man, Sitting Bull became a leader of the Strong Heart warrior society and, later, a distinguished member of the Silent Eaters, a group concerned with tribal welfare.

He first went to battle at age 14, in a raid on the Crow, and saw his first encounter with American soldiers in June 1863, when the army mounted a broad campaign in retaliation for the Minnesota uprising, in which Sitting Bull's people played no part.

The next year Sitting Bull fought U.S. troops again, at the Battle of Killdeer Mountain, and in 1865 he led a siege against the newly established Fort Rice in present-day North Dakota.

Sitting Bull's courage was legendary. Once, in 1872, during a battle with soldiers protecting railroad workers on the Yellowstone River, Sitting Bull led four other warriors out between the lines, sat calmly sharing a pipe with them as bullets buzzed around, carefully reamed the pipe out when they were finished, and then casually walked away.

The stage was set for war between Sitting Bull and the U.S. Army in 1874, when an expedition led by George Armstrong Custer confirmed that gold had been discovered in the Black Hills of Dakota Territory, an area sacred to many tribes and placed off-limits to white settlement by the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868. Despite this ban, prospectors began a rush to the Black Hills, provoking the Lakota to defend their land. When government efforts to purchase the Black Hills failed, the Fort Laramie

Treaty was set aside and the commissioner of Indian Affairs decreed that all Lakota not settled on reservations by January 31, 1876, would be considered hostile. It was a bad winter and the people could not move their camps. In March, as three columns of federal troops under General George Crook, General Alfred Terry and Colonel John Gibbon moved into the area.

Sitting Bull and those who camped together gathered for the annual Sun Dance. During this ceremony, Sitting Bull had a vision in which he saw soldiers falling into the Lakota camp like grasshoppers falling from the sky. Inspired by this vision, the Oglala Lakota war chief, Crazy Horse, set out for battle with a band of 500 warriors and on June 17 he surprised Crook's troops and forced them to retreat at the Battle of the Rosebud. To celebrate this victory, the Lakota moved their camp to the valley of the Little Bighorn River, where they were joined by more Indians who had left the reservations because of the starvation.

They were attacked on June 25 by the Seventh Cavalry under George Armstrong Custer, whose badly outnumbered troops first rushed the encampment, as if in fulfillment of Sitting Bull's vision, and then made a stand on a nearby ridge, where they were destroyed. June 25, 1876 is one of the greatest victories of the Lakota, Cheyenne and Arapahoe people.

Public outrage at this military catastrophe brought thousands more cavalrymen to the area, and over the next year they relentlessly pursued the Lakota, Cheyenne and Arapahos who had split up after the Custer fight. Forcing Indian leader after leader to surrender and be placed on the reservations. But Sitting Bull, Black Moon and Four Horns remained defiant against the U.S.

In May 1877, Sitting Bull led his band across the border into Canada, to join with others who were already in Canada, beyond the reach of the U.S. Army, and when General Terry traveled north to offer him a pardon in exchange for settling on a reservation, Sitting Bull angrily sent him away.

Four years later, however, finding it impossible to feed his people in a world where the buffalo was almost extinct and Canada refusing to feed his people. Sitting Bull finally came south to surrender. On July 19, 1881, he had his young son Crow Foot hand his rifle to the commanding officer of Fort Buford in Montana, explaining that in this way he hoped to teach the boy "that he has become a friend of the Americans."

Yet at the same time, Sitting Bull said, "I wish it to be remembered that I was the last man of my tribe to surrender my rifle." He asked for the right to cross back and forth into Canada whenever 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, and when his reception there raised fears that he might inspire a fresh uprising, sent further down the Missouri River to Fort Randall, where he and his followers were held for nearly two years as prisoners of war.

Finally, on May 10, 1883, Sitting Bull rejoined his tribe at Standing Rock. The Indian agent in charge of the reservation, James McLaughlin, was determined to deny the great chief any special privileges, even forcing him to work in the fields, hoe in hand. But Sitting Bull still knew his own authority, and when a delegation of U.S. Senators came to discuss opening part of the reservation to white settlers, he spoke forcefully, though futilely, against their plan.

The Death of Sitting Bull

Sitting Bull return to Standing Rock after the time with the Wild West Show, He moved to the area where he was born along the Grand River. Sitting Bull had another mystical vision, like the one that had foretold Custer's defeat. This time he saw a meadowlark alight on a hillock beside him, and heard it say, "Your own people, Lakotas, will kill you." Nearly five years later, this vision also proved true.

In the fall of 1890, a Miniconjou Lakota named Kicking Bear came to Sitting Bull with news of the Ghost Dance, a ceremony that promised to rid the land of white people and restore the Indians' way of life. Lakota had already adopted the ceremony at the Pine Ridge and Rosebud Reservations, and Indian agents there had already called for troops to bring the growing movement under control. At Standing Rock, the authorities feared that Sitting Bull, still revered as a spiritual leader, would join the Ghost Dancers as well, and they sent 43 Lakota policemen to bring him in. Before dawn on December 15, 1890, the Indian policemen burst into Sitting Bull's cabin and dragged him outside, where his followers were gathering to protect him. In the gunfight that followed, one of the Lakota policemen put a bullet through Sitting Bull's head.

Sitting Bull was buried near the military cemetery in Fort Yates, North Dakota where a small monument marks his original gravesite. In 1953 his remains were moved to a burial site near Mobridge, South Dakota. This grave is located South of the Grand River Casino where a large monument has been created as his memorial. The citizen of Mobridge with the consent of some of Sitting Bull’s relatives said they removed his remains in the middle of night and placed a granite shaft marks his grave. The State of North Dakota claimed that Mobridge removed the bone of a woman and not Sitting Bull. The controversy of where Sitting Bull bones lies is still in debate today.

Sitting Bull’s life has been one of controversy and legend. His people will remember him as an inspirational leader, fearless warrior, a loving father, a gifted singer, spiritual man who loved his people and his land. The world will remember him as a great warrior and a man who stood up for his people.

We remember our great leader by commemorating his death on December 15 as a tribal remembrance.


In 1885, Sitting Bull was allowed to leave the reservation to join Buffalo Bill's Wild West, earning $50 a week for riding once around the arena, in addition to whatever he could charge for his autograph and picture. He stayed with the show only four months, unable to tolerate white society any longer, though in that time he did manage to shake hands with President Grover Cleveland, which he took as evidence that he was still regarded as a great chief.