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Shooting the Bull: A Warrior’s Demise

Shooting the Bull: A Warrior’s Demise
December 17
11:21 2021

Shooting the Bull: A Warrior’s Demise

By John Christian Hopkins

Chief Sitting Bull

It was a bitter cold, pre-dawn morning on December 15, 1890, when an attachment of Indian police entered the village of Sitting Bull.

An Indian agent for the Standing Rock reservation peddled false rumors that Hunkpapa Lakota holy man Sitting Bull – Tatanka Iyotake – was plotting another war. The army decided to arrest Sitting Bull.

Fearing trouble, the cavalry waited just outside the village as a group of Lakota policemen were sent into the old chief’s house to rouse him from bed.

And trouble there would be. Before the skirmish ended Sitting Bull’s bloodied and battered body was left lifeless in the snow.

Sitting Bull may be the most prominent Native American leader in U.S. history; he certainly was to the Hunkpapa Lakotas. Before becoming a holy man Sitting Bull was highly regarded as a warrior.

He had a slow, deliberate way of thinking things over before acting, which led to his early childhood name, Slow.

But Slow was also determined to keep his people free. And Sitting Bull wasn’t sitting still while the Americans invaded his tribe’s land. Though he played no fighting role during the Battle of the Little Bighorn, his influence was felt on the battlefield.

Just days before Custer’s Last Stand – when the Lakota did not even know about the approaching danger – Sitting Bull had had a vision where he reported soldiers falling into the Indian camp upside down. This was taken as sign from the Great Spirit, Wakan Tanka, that the Lakotas were about to have a great victory.

When the battle came to them the Lakota warriors were filled with confidence thanks to Sitting Bull’s Sun Dance vision.

But the holy man had also warned his people not to desecrate the dead soldiers or take any of their things from battlefield, lest the tribe suffer ultimate doom.

The Lakotas ignored this part of Sitting Bull’s dream and Custer’s Last Stand became the beginning of the end of the Indians’ free-roaming way of life.

Sitting Bull led his followers into Canada, where the Canadians said they could live in peace so long as they caused no harm. But there’s no place like home, so Sitting Bull’s band returned to the U.S. and surrendered.

The Indian agent at the Standing Rock Reservation, James McLaughlin, and the federal government sought to diminish Sitting Bull’s influence on his kinsmen every way they could.

Though chiefs often had someone else come to the agency to pick up their rations, the agent made Sitting Bull come in person. The government elevated Red Cloud and Spotted Tail to head chief status, trying to cut Sitting Bull out of the power structure of the tribe.

When Sitting Bull traveled with Buffalo Bill’s wild west show he returned to Standing Rock with no money. This, McLaughlin declared, showed how foolish the old chief was.

But, Sitting Bull had used his money to buy gifts for everyone on the reservation. The agent, in his arrogance, didn’t understand that a chief’s responsibility was to take care of his people before himself.

In the late 1880s the Ghost Dance craze swept across the plains. The dance – a blend of native and Christian religions – was to make the land the way it was before the coming of the white man. The Ghost Dance promised that dead ancestors would return, and the buffalo would once again roam the plains.

The Ghost Dance reached the Standing Rock agency in 1890. Though Sitting Bull took no part in the dance, nor did he seek to end it. This caused the agent and military to fear that the old chief was going to use the frenzied dancers to take to the warpath again.

On December 15th Indian Police were sent to Standing Rock to arrest Sitting Bull. At first the chief gave into their demands, but as a crowd began to gather around his home the elderly holy man balked.

The crowd grew increasingly hostile as people emerged from the teepees and realized what was happening. Someone fired a gun – and Indian policeman Red Tomahawk fired his first shot into the back of Sitting Bull’s head.

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