9 Key Facts About Chief Sitting Bull | History Hit

9 Key Facts About Chief Sitting Bull

An iconic figure of in American history, Chief Sitting Bull was one of the last notable leaders of Native American resistance to Western expansionism in the 19th century. Here are 9 key facts about the Lakota Chief.

1. He was born ‘Jumping Badger’

Sitting Bull was born ‘Jumping Badger’ around 1830. He was born into the Lakota Sioux tribe in South Dakota and was nicknamed “Slow” due to his measured and deliberate ways.

2. He earned the name ‘Sitting Bull’ at the age of 14

Sitting Bull earned his iconic name following an act of bravery during a battle with the Crow tribe. When he was fourteen years old he accompanied a group of Lakota warriors, including his father and uncle, in a raiding party to take horses from a camp of the Crow tribe.

He displayed bravery by riding forward and counting coup on one of the surprised Crow, which was witnessed by the other mounted Lakota. Upon his return to camp he was presented with a celebratory feast at which his father conferred his own name Tȟatȟáŋka Íyotake (literally meaning “buffalo who set himself to watch over the herd”), or “Sitting Bull”, upon his son.

3. He supported Red Cloud in their war against US forces

Sitting Bull’s reputation as a courageous warrior continued to grow as he led his people in armed resistance against increasing encroachment into their lands by settlers from Europe. He supported the Ogala Lakota and its leader Red Cloud in their war against US forces by leading war parties in attacks against several American forts.

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4. He became the first ‘Chief of the entire Sioux nation’ (allegedly)

When Red Cloud accepted a treaty with the Americans in 1868, Sitting Bull refused to acquiesce and he henceforth became “Supreme Chief of the whole Sioux Nation” at this time.

Recently historians and ethnologists have refuted this concept of authority, as the Lakota society was highly decentralized. Lakota bands and their elders made individual decisions, including whether to wage war. Nonetheless, Bull remained a hugely influential and important figure at this time.

5. He displayed numerous acts of courage and valour

Bull was renowned for his skill in close quarters fighting and collected several red feathers representing wounds sustained in battle. His name became so revered that fellow warriors took to yelling, “Sitting Bull, I am he!” to intimidate their enemies during combat.


Battle of Little Bighorn. Image Credit: Public Domain

Arguably his greatest demonstration of courage came in 1872, when the Sioux clashed with the U.S. Army during a campaign to block construction of the Northern Pacific Railroad. The middle-aged chief strolled out into the open and took a seat in front of their lines smoking leisurely from his tobacco pipe, all the while ignoring the hail of bullets whizzing by his head.

One might consider this incredibly reckless and foolish, but his fellow men hailed his bravery in the face of the dispicable enemy.

6. The discovery of Gold in South Dakota caused his eventual downfall

The discovery of gold in the Black Hills of South Dakota led to an influx of white prospectors into the region, exacerbating tensions with the Sioux. In November 1875 the Sioux were ordered to move into the Great Sioux Reservation.

The Black Hills Gold Rush began in 1874, and saw waves of prospectors arrive in the territory. Image Credit: Library of Congress / Public Domain

Sitting Bull refused. Warriors from other tribes, including the Cheyenne and Arapaho, joined him to create a large army. As the spiritual leader of this new confederation, Bull predicted a great victory against the Americans, yet the conflicts that would ensue would eventually lead to his downfall.

7. He did not lead his warriors into the Battle of Little Bighorn

On 25 June 1876 Sitting Bull’s vision seemed to have materialised when the camp was attacked by Colonel George Armstrong Custer and 200 soldiers. In the subsequent Battle of Little Bighorn, the numerically superior Indians managed to rout the US Army forces, inspired by Sitting Bull’s vision.

While Bull was actively invovled in the protection of his camp, he did not actually lead his men into battle against Colonel Custer’s forces. Instead, the notorious warrior Crazy Horse led the Sioux into battle.

Colonel Custer was defeated by the Sioux at Little Bighorn, following a prophesy from Sitting Bull. Image Credit: Library of Congress / Public Domain

Despite the victory, the ever increasing American military presence forced Sitting Bull and his followers to retreat to Canada. Eventually however, an acute lack of food led them to surrender to the United States in 1881. Sitting Bull moved on to the Standing Rock reservation.

8. He toured with Buffalo Bill’s famous ‘Wild West Show’

Sitting Bull remained at the Standick Rock reservation until 1885, when left to tour the United States, both with his own show and later as part of Buffalo Bill Cody’s famous Wild West Show. He earned about 50 US Dollars a week (equal to $1,423 today) for riding once around the arena, where he was a popular attraction. It is rumored that he cursed his audiences in his native tongue during the show.

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9. He was killed during a raid on an Indian Reservation

On 15 December 1890, the legendary Native American leader Sitting Bull was killed during a raid on a reservation.

In 1889 policemen were dispatched to the Standing Rock reservation to arrest Sitting Bull. Authorities had begun to suspect he was part of a growing spiritual movement known as the “Ghost Dance,” which prophesied the departure of the white settlers and unity among the native tribes.

On 15 December US police seized Sitting Bull, dragging him out of his cabin. A group of his followers moved to defend him. In the ensuing gunfight, Sitting Bull was shot and killed.

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