15th December 1890 The Death of Sitting Bull

“I wish it to be remembered that I was the last man of my tribe to surrender my rifle.” – Sitting Bull

Today we lament the death of Sitting Bull – arguably the most famous-ever Native American – murdered by Indian “police” during a bungled effort to arrest the legendary 59-year-old Sioux chief. Five years earlier, Sitting Bull had received a vision that he would die at the hands of his own exploited people, as had his fellow heroic resistor, Crazy Horse, with whom Sitting Bull had so famously united to defeat Custer at the Battle of the Little Bighorn in 1876. But Crazy Horse was murdered just fifteen months after what was to be the last great Indian victory, and Sitting Bull would live for another fourteen protracted years – during which time he bore witness to the systematic destruction of the Sioux traditions and desecration of their sacred lands in the Black Hills of South Dakota. These last years of Sitting Bull’s life – following his surrender to the U.S. Army after cold and hunger forced him and his band to return from exile in Canada – saw this great shaman and inaugurated leader of all the Sioux tribes detained for nearly two years as a prisoner of war, confined to a small allotment within the Standing Rock reservation where he was denied the right to hunt, embroiled in a constant feud with U.S. Indian agent James McLaughlin, and even reduced to a “feature attraction” in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West exhibition tour. Yet despite such dishonours enforced upon him in this period of extreme transition as the Great Plains tribes were finally pacified, Sitting Bull remained to his death the white man’s boldest, strongest and most stubborn opponent. He battled the land agreements of 1888 and 1889, which demanded the return of half the Great Sioux Reservation for white settlement and divided the rest into six separate reservations; when the federal government exploited Sioux factionalism amongst the “government-appointed chiefs” in order to obtain the necessary signatures for this new so-called treaty, Sitting Bull alone refused to sign; and, somehow, he remained a beacon of hope amongst his increasingly hopeless people.

Against reservation policy, the Sioux continued to recognise and revere Sitting Bull as their leader. Indeed, so fearful was McLaughlin of the great chief’s support for the ill-fated Ghost Dance – the religious movement that swept through the Great Plains tribes throughout 1890, carrying the promise of an end to White expansionism and the return of the nearly-extinct buffalo – that he ordered Sitting Bull’s arrest under the pretext of a suspected uprising. And so, at 5.30am on 15th December 1890, McLaughlin dispatched thirty-nine tribal policemen who surrounded Sitting Bull’s cabin. A group of Ghost Dancers, determined to protect their leader, opened fire. Sitting Bull was killed in the melee, along with 15 others. Buried in a corner of the Fort Yates military cemetery, even in death the great chief was deemed a threat. His relatives were refused permission to hold a public burial. His body was desecrated by the white man with quicklime and acid to prevent the taking of relics.

It was a tragically senseless death for this holy man who – as a sash-wearer in the Brave Heart soldier society of the Hunkpapa – had sacrificed 100 pieces of flesh from his arm during his legendary sun-dance ceremony that preceded Little Bighorn and vowed to give his life in defense of his people. But was it, as has so often been said, an ignominious death? By his own judgment, Sitting Bull died for that which he loved: “Is it wrong for me to love my own? Is it wicked for me because my skin is red? Because I am Sioux? Because I was born where my father lived? Because I would die for my people and my country?”

The murder of Sitting Bull would trigger the Wounded Knee Massacre just two weeks later, marking the end of the Indian Wars and the total subjugation of the Lakota tribes.

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23 Responses to 15th December 1890 – The Death of Sitting Bull

  1. C. Lacl says:

    I agree that those last years of Sitting Bull’s life are especially tragic. In the span of his lifetime he experienced the battle for and the loss of all that his people had known and revered.

    But I visited Wounded Knee a few years ago and observed a ritual ghost dance. 100 years after the Indian wars it still brought a shiver to me so (not that I’m defending him) I can understand why McLaughlin felt he had something to fear!

    • Paul Wyrd says:

      Yeah, for McLaughlin it must have been so strange witnessing something so different from his own western background.

      Unfortunate that the Europeans and American Indians didn’t merge cultures – that may have led to something extraordinary and a very different America. But that didn’t happen and America seems to really be the Roman empire reinvented. Such a tragedy, such a shame on the Europeans for their behaviour. No one to blame, everyone to blame (especially the Christians (!) who then developed with the American government the Boarding Schools that utterly destroyed generations of Native American people and brought them matricide, paedophilia, alcoholism and self-loathing. So at last the European unthinking morons can say “we’ve civilised these heathen people, praise be to Jehovah!” (sic)

      • Marlana Hendrick says:


      • Anonymous says:

        This bull shit it’s another act by white people to murder take and control was not theirs , everything thing the white man has to this very day they has been stolen!! even their history books remain a lie, Columbus didn’t discover America he discovered native Americans. Now that’s not in the school books. Im so happy I’m not white because to be white is a disgrace!$! The white owes the native Americans, as well as the African Americans what so rightly belongs to them , and that’s everything!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • right on i think he was killed for no reason at all l like to read about the man sitting bull agent mclaughlin was a fool

  2. Ramesses says:

    Manifest Destiny must be one of the most evil concepts in modern history. Sure, invaders have always existed. But such a lame, semi-religious excuse (why not go all the way? at least Islam was more honest) for the theft of land from its indigenous population, and the subsequent murder of millions, is absolute evil.

    I live in America and sometimes I feel the shame of its history manifest physically from beneath my feet.

    • Marlana Hendrick says:

      In my opinion your exactly correct. I have noticed that the first thing white man does to indigenous people when we want something they have we go in with the bible and cut these indigenous people from their roots. Then we steal their land and everything else that we want. Oil companies have done that to the people who lived in the Rain Forest . First we say how much we love these innocent people and hand them a bible and tell them their faith is wrong and then steal their land right from under their feet. I am a old white woman and I’ve seen this happen every time a white person wants something for free.

  3. David Olivera says:

    The wind is shifting as this nation called United States of America is becoming infused with all the idigenous tribes that were abused and slaughtered in the name of Manifest Destiny, along with every group of people thought less than the white europeans. The browning of America is happening today and those that felt the pain in the so called development and civilization of America will soon be the majority. The Spirits of those who danced the Ghost Dance, opened the hearts of a future generation to the truth of what happen at Wounded Knee, like the Phoenix, we are coming full circle for what the Great Hunkpapas sacrificed their lives and dignity for on that cold winter in 1890. Thank you and R.I.P. Sitting Bull.

  4. crazyhorse says:

    R.I.P sitting bull,gone but will live on through the talking leaves,a true spiritual

  5. Darren Blake says:

    It will all come back to us, all of us who know the truth. These humans, like these, are our future.

  6. Donald Poling says:

    A friend of my father was one of the U.S. Army soldiers who was with the Indian Police at the time. He said that the arrest was peaceful and that Sitting Bull was sitting on a horse when one of the Crow Indian Police said to another “That man doesn’t deserve to live.” My friend turned around, not wanting to witness what was about to happen. The Crow shot Sitting Bull in the back. Only then did a fight break out. My friend’s name was Robert “Bobby” Burns. In 1955 I was 12 and he was 85 when I knew first met him in Juneau, Alaska. He told this story to my father’s 5th grade class (I heard it myself). He died at the age of 106. Other members of the arresting party have told the same story to reporters over time. I don’t understand why it hasn’t gotten into the “official” history.

  7. AnarchistantiChrist says:

    One should see the life and death of Sitting Bull as an epic journey. Whilst the great European Holocaust ‘only’ lasted a handful of years, the holocaust in the New World lasted for centuries. Prior to Columbus the population of the continents of North and South America was probably around 150, 000,000 people, more than the population of Europe from Ireland to the Ural Mountains, from Iceland to Sicily. 400 years later the population had been savagely reduced by a ghastly combination of systematic genocide and mass slaughter, war, famine, desease, confiscated land, and slavery, on an unimaginable scale. When Sitting Bull was killed the population had been reduced by over 95%. That’s well in excess of 100 million people, and even more if one chooses to add all those tens of millions who didn’t get the chance to be born. Arguably, this genocide was the greatest mass-slaughter in history and a catastrophe for the people of the Americas, destroying entire peoples, cultures, and civilizations; reducing the handful of survivours to something close to slavery, robbed, raped, and prisoners in their own lands. Only today, after over four centuries of barbarism and slavery, destruction and mass-murder, are the people beginning to slowly recover and reclaim their rights, and their battles aren’t over yet.

  8. every since I was a kid I have heard this name of Sitting Bull, , or
    no know what kind of man he was,
    I feel he might be dead but is spirit will live generation after generation all people will keep his. Living. until the day I die sitting Bull rest in peace…

  9. “The fearless action of Captain Fechet and his command entitles them to great credit and the celerity of his movements showed the true soldierly spirit.”
    –Major General Nelson A. Miles

    125 years ago today Captain Edmond Gustave Fechét rode to the sounds of the guns in support of the Indian police at the Standing Rock Agency who where attempting to arrest Sitting Bull. [ 4831 more words. ]


  10. Connie Sue Blankenship says:

    We have been told Chief Sitting Bull is my Great Grandfather. My maiden name is Creason. Can anyone provide info.

  11. Roy Spegele says:

    It is so sad what happened to the American Indians in this country,the way they
    were treated and what they lost will never be restored to them.
    Even today the treament is poor at best, and our leader never say or do anything to help these people.

  12. Roy spegele says:

    We have a Senator from Mass. who claims to be a Indian which she is not just
    to say she is don’t make it true ? Won’t take dna test because she knows it a lie,
    just another democrat thinks she can get more votes, what a waste just like her friends the Clintons more lies. The only thing they do right.

  13. Gregg Brown says:

    Sust saw the movie “Woman Walks Ahead.” It’s about a woman (Jessica Chastain), and artist, that wants to paint a portrait of Sitting Bull and was there when he died. Encourage anyone interested in this type movie to see it, now out on DVD. I’m interested to see how accurate the facts are.

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