With Indians protesting the seizure of land of the Great Sioux Reservation, tensions rose that February. Sitting Bull, holy man of the Hunkpapa Lakota Sioux, had already moved back to the Standing Rock Reservation after retiring from show business, co-starring with Buffalo Bill. But now the new Ghost Dance craze scared the local Indian Service agent James McLaughlin. So he ordered Sitting Bull’s arrest to stop any trouble. During the confrontation on 15 December 1890, police shot and killed Sitting Bull.
The Louisiana Purchase of 1803 turned “French-owned” Indian territory into American land for settlement. Sitting Bull, born in 1831 in possibly Montana (or South Dakota), led his first defense against encroaching settlers in 1864. He joined Red Cloud’s War in 1866 with the Ogalala Lakota and by 1868 the US government had agreed to peace terms in the Treaty of Fort Laramie. The pact included the Black Hills where, in 1874, Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer reported finding gold. Another rush was on.
Red Cloud’s band had by then settled on Indian agency territory but Sitting Bull refused. The government certified all non-reservation Indians “hostiles” and began tracking them down in 1876. On June 25 Sitting Bull’s combined Sioux tribes and Northern Cheyenne met Col. Custer again at the Battle of the Little Big Horn river. When Custer’s death brought thousands of soldiers to the Plains, Sitting Bull fled to Canada, but hunger and desperation forced him to surrender and he finally settled at Standing Rock in 1883.
Show business promoter Alvaren Allen called and the Hunkpapa joined the “Sitting Bull Connection” in 1884, touring parts of Canada and the US. He met Annie Oakley in Minnesota. William Frederick Cody added him in 1885 to “Buffalo Bill’s Wild West” show although Sitting Bull stayed only four months before returning, even more famous, to Standing Rock. Tensions rose with Indian agent McLaughlin over divisions of the Sioux Reservation. Then came the religious revelation of the Nevada Paiute Wovoka.
The “Ghost Dance Movement” of 1889 preached the resurrection of the Indians and disappearance of white civilization. Wovoka joined his prophetic vision of renewal during a solar eclipse to a typical community ceremonial round danced while wearing spiritual Ghost Shirts. Anthropologist James Mooney later contended the source for these was the Mormon temple garments, to protect the pious from evil. The Lakota Sioux added another feature to the “Spirit Dance” – Ghost Shirts claimed to be bullet-proof.
A panicked agent McLaughlin sent Lt. Henry Bullhead, an Indian policeman, to prevent Sitting Bull from fleeing. On 15 December 1890, officers surrounded the house, Sitting Bull refused to go, and the police attacked. In the fight, both Bullhead and Sitting Bull were killed. The chief was buried at nearby Fort Yates and Bullhead was memorialized by the US Bureau of Indian Affairs Office of Justice Services.
Sitting Bull’s last words were reported as, “Do with me what you like. I am not going. Come on! Take action! Let’s go.” His descendants are again taking action – this time against the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) company whose route cuts through the Sioux Reservation originally granted by the Treaty of Fort Laramie in 1868. The pipe would also tunnel under Lake Oahe, the primary source of water for Standing Rock and part of the Missouri River watershed covering one-sixth of the United States.
Last August, Welsh activists Eddie Ladd, Sioned Haf, and Robat Idris, sent a message in support of the “principled stand” against the pipeline and for respect for people, language, and traditions. They wrote with the historic weight of England leaning on them. Now there is on Facebook “Wales Cymru Standing Rock,” continuing this support with the motto Dwr yw Bywyd, Water is Life, or in Lakota, Mni Wiconi.
In January, the Army Corps of Engineers reversed course and joined with the Sioux in US District Court, Washington, rejecting the DAPL claim of necessary legal permission to cross the river. Now President Trump reversed the reversal. Sitting Bull’s people are still fighting for their land.