In an earlier day and time, Sitting Bull might very well have been a great and prosperous Indian chief, but instead, he led a faction of the Sioux Nation during the latter half of the 19th century and refused the idea of his people being placed on a reservation. As a great Sioux leader during a dying way of life on the Western Plains, he went down in history for his victory over General George Custer at the Battle of the Little Big Horn in 1876.

Actually, Sitting Bull was never a chief, but instead was a medicine man. However, he led a dwindling number of Sioux away from Federal troops for 5 more years following the Little Big Horn massacre, until, finally, in 1881, with less than 200 followers, he surrendered. They were held in custody for almost 2 years before they were placed on the Standing Rock Reservation in South Dakota, near where Sitting Bull was born.

Sitting Bull was a tall and solid built Indian with long, black, braided hair and the government put him on display riding his horse in parades back East. Annie Oakley, as a member of Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show talked Sitting Bull into bringing along some tribal members and joining up with Buffalo Bill. Annie Oakley was a crack shot with a pistol and Sitting Bull admired her skill so much that he symbolically adopted her as his daughter and named her Little Miss Sure Shot – a name that stuck with her throughout her career. Sitting Bull never actually performed on stage, he was paid $50 a week to ride his horse around the arena during the opening ceremonies, but it is rumored that he made a small fortune selling autographed pictures of himself. The tribal members performed colorful ceremonial dances and rode daring bare back rituals.

When Sitting Bull returned to the reservation following show business, he stubbornly continued to stir unrest among the Sioux. Even after Federal authorities prohibited the ceremonies, Sitting Bull continued to encourage tribal members to perform the new “Ghost Dance,” which the Sioux had come to believe would lead to a rebellion and would bring a savior to defeat the White Man.

At dawn on Dec. 15, 1890, about 40 Indian Police officers descended on Sitting Bull's cabin to arrest him. They pulled the sleeping 59 year old out of bed into the freezing morning hours and made him stand there until his horse could be made ready to mount. An angry crowd began to gather. Suddenly, Sitting Bull started yelling in Sioux language – which the Indian Police also understood – “I am not going. Do with me what you like. I am not going. Come on! Come on! Take action! Let's go!” Another leader on the reservation, “Catch the Bear,” pulled out a gun and fired at the leader of the Indian Police, Lieutenant Bullhead, striking him on the leg, and as he fell from his horse the Lieutenant fired straight at Sitting Bull, striking him in his left side. Another police officer also put a bullet in Sitting Bull, which killed him instantly.

The gun battle escalated, and when it was all said and done, 14 men were dead, six Indian Police officers and eight Native Americans. Hundreds of Sioux fled the reservation for one reason or another, but most of them were soon caught and as prisoners were sent to Wounded Knee, where, two weeks later an anonymous gunshot touched off a massacre that left 300 dead Sioux.

Reference: “They went That A-Way,” by Malcolm Forbes with Jeff Bloch.

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