The Bismarck Tribune from Bismarck, North Dakota on December 11, 1975 · 10
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The Bismarck Tribune from Bismarck, North Dakota · 10

Bismarck, North Dakota
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Thursday, December 11, 1975
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0 Page Itt-Thursday. December 11. !97S-The BISMARCK TRIBUNE These eight drawings, part of a series of 36, were drawn by Sitting Bull in 1 870 as a kind of pictorial autobiography. The first picture shows him killing a white man near Devils Lake. rai w& ':m m im Siiiing Bull 4 Great Indian Leader Still Controversial 85 Years After Death By BOB SCHMIDT Tribune Staff Writer Sitting Bull, one of the most controversial and mysterious figures in American history, was killed 85 years ago this Monday, Dec. 15, 1890, by Indian police trying to arrest him at his camp on the Grand River, about 40 miles southwest of Fort Yates on the Standing Rock Agency. The events surrounding his life and death were often sensationalized, slandered or inaccurately recounted. Historians and writers disagree about his role in the Indian 'Scare' of 1890. One thing is clear till the time of his death, he openly opposed the government's assimilation of Indians into the American way of life, and for that he was tagged a malcontent and a dangerous influence. Typical of the newspaper accounts concerning Sitting Bull is this one which appeared in The Bismarck Tribune two days after the chief's death. "Minneapolis Evening Tribune: The arch-fiend of the latest Indian disturbance is its first victim. There is no doubt that Sitting Bull fomented the seditious and rebellious spirit which led to the recent outbreak of savage and religious fanaticism with its threat of border warfare, and that he has been the first to fall in the conflict thus precipitated seems like righteous retribution. The government is to blame for not having hanged the murderous old redskin long ago. . . ." Most newspaper accounts and other stories about Sitting Bull in 1890 indicate he was just a hostile Indian medicine man and a thorn in the side of then Standing Rock Indian agent Maj. James McLaughlin. In an Oct. 17, 1890 letter to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, McLaughlin, who never had good words for the Sioux chief, labeled Sitting Bull as a man "of low cunning, devoid of a single manly principle in his nature or an honorable trait of character, but on the contrary is capable of instigating and inciting others to do any amount of mischief. He is a coward and lacks moral courage. ..." However, Stanley Vestal, who conducted intensive research into the chief's life and death for a sympathetic biography entitled, "Sitting Bull, Champion of the Sioux," saw him in another light. Vestal labeled the Sitting Bull legends as mere fabrications, in general, many of which were concocted by war correspondents. From the author's following account, written in 1932, one can perhaps grasp Sitting Bull's true stature: ". . .they said that Sitting Bull was not a warrior, though the pictorial record of some 40 of his exploits (verified repeatedly during his lifetime) has lain in the Museum at Washington, D.C., for two generations. They said he was not a chief, though scores of agency men saw him inaugurated as head chief of all the non-agency Sioux. They said he was a coward, though no one who has the slightest knowledge of Plains Indians can believe a coward could for years have been leader of the warlike Sioux and Cheyennes. They called him a hostile because he went as far away from white men as it was possible to go. They called him a beggar when everyone knows he was the very last Indian to give up his hunting and ask for rations at an agency. They accused him of opposing civilization because he resisted the hasty policy of land-hungry politicians. Finally, they said he was crazy and killed him because he dared hope for the second coming of Christ." Adds Vestal, ". . . .the popular legend of his life. . . .from the date of his birth to the manner of his death, is a tissue of error and falsehood." Since the last great upheaval, culminating in the Battle of the Little Big Horn on June 25, 1876, the Indians had been on reservations. Even Sitting Bull had returned from Canada in 1881, served as a prisoner of war until 1883 and had then made his home on the Grand River. For the next seven years, Sitting Bull and McLaughlin vied for the mastery at Standing Rock. Writes Vestal, "McLaughlin had been sent out to destroy Sioux civilization. Under the old Indian Bureau that was his job." McLaughlin set up rival chiefs at the agency to break Sitting Bull's influence. But for nearly two years, Sitting Bull was powerful enough to persuade the rival chiefs from signing a treaty to give the government some 1 1 million acres of the great Sioux reservation to white settlers. However, McLaughlin secretly convinced his four created chiefs to sign the treaty. Sitting Bull, who was not informed of the council to sign the treaty, arrived too late to halt the transfer. "After Sitting Bull's failure to block the cession of 1889, his enemies closed round him like wolves around a dying buffalo; his rivals took new heart and kept pressing their McLaughlin to let them get at the chief," wrote Vestal. It was the introduction of the "Messiah" doctrine Ghost Dance religion to the Sioux in 1890 which apparently triggered the Indian 'Scare' or Uprising of 1890, and led to Sitting Bull's death. In the words of Vestal, the doctrine "taught that the Messiah had returned to earth this time in the flesh of an Indian, that the Messiah was coming from the West with all nations of the Indian dead, with buffalo and horses; that he would remove the white men by supernatural means, and all the Indians, dead and living, would be reunited upon a regenerated earth. All that was required to bring about this millennium was to dance the Ghost Dance regularly until he came. . . ." The Bismarck Tribune of Oct. 27, 1890, reported that Kicking Bear, a Minniconjou Sioux from the Cheyenne River reservation, brought word of the new religion to Sitting Bull and "considerable excitement" had been stirred up. Accounts vary as to Sitting Bull's actual role in the Ghost Dance religion. Some say he took no stock in it but permitted his followers to participate because, as their chief, it was his duty to grant them what they wanted, if possible. Others, like McLaughlin, said the chief was the instigator of the "craze" and was using the religion to try to regain his power and influence which he lost when the land treaty was signed. When the Messiah Doctrine was introduced the situation among the reservation Sioux was ripe for the new religion, and rumors of Indian uprisings. States Gen. Nelson Miles, who fought the Sioux and other tribes for nearly 20 years, "they signed away a valuable portion of their reservation, and it is now occupied by White people. They understood ample provision would be made for their support; instead, their supplies have been reduced and much of the time they have been living on half and two-thirds rations. Their crops for two years have been almost a total failure. The disaffection is widespread. . . ." In May and June Sioux Indian agents branded a rumor the Sioux were planning an outbreak as "an idle rumor" and unfounded. However, in a June 18 letter, four months before the Ghost Dance came to Standing Rock, to the Indian commissioner, McLaughlin wanted Sitting Bull arrested: "There are a few malcontents here, as at all Sioux agencies, who cling tenaciously to the old Indian ways and are . slow to accept the better order of things, whose influence is exerted in the wrong direction, and this class of Indians are ever ready to circulate idle rumors and sow dissensions among the more progressive; but only a very few of the Sioux could now possibly be united in attempting any overt act against the government, and the removal from among them of a few individuals, such as Sitting Bull would end all trouble and uneasiness in the future." The request to have Sitting Bull arrested was ignored by the Indian Bureau, but leading men of the agency faction kept urging McLaughlin to let them go after the chief. Subsequently, the agent organized Indian police to arrest Sitting Bull "at the proper time." Writes Vestal, "McLaughlin knew the Ghost Dance was harmless and dying; all his reports stress this fact. But down at Pine Ridge (in South Dakota) the new agent, a political appointee, Dr. R.F. 'Young-Man-Afraid-of-the-Indians' Royer, got scared and yelped for troops. They arrived there Oct. 19, and immediately the frightened Oglala fled to the Badlands. As the Indians fled west, the settlers fled east; it was comical. But the Ghost Dance became front page news, the army had to conceal the ridiculous nature of its errand, and the papers began to say that McLaughlin also had 'lost control of his Indians'." The following appeared in the Nov. 18, 1890 Tribune: "There are grave fears of an uprising among the Indians of Standing Rock and other agencies. Settlers are now becoming thoroughly alarmed lest the redskins break loose and go on a campaign of pillaging. (The Indians) seem more determined than ever to engage in warfare with Uncle Sam's troops." Tribune correspondents in a Nov. 22, 1890 story criticized the sensationalized accounts: ". . . .thus far there have been no hostile demonstrations whatever, and there has been absolutely nothing upon which to found any excuse for the exodus of settlers from the surrounding country except the newspaper fictions." But the reports that Sitting Bull was one of the instigators behind the rumored uprisings put more pressure on the War Department. On Nov. 27, 1890, Buffalo Bill arrived in Bismarck with a commission from Gen. Miles to arrest Sitting Bull. . - . . AV! , v-7& W i m i f .- ( : i. i'.y I " . w niiiiMiiiiiiii mill iliimii linn i ' "" T tlr ftff' A mi I mi i Sitting Bull wearing the brass crucifix given him by Father Pierre Jean DeSmet in 1 868. McLaughlin, surprised at Buffalo Bill's arrival, dispatched a telegram to the Indian Commissioner, saying, "I have matters well in hand and when the proper time arrives can arrest Sitting Bull by Indian police without bloodshed." William F. Cody's (Buffalo Bill) arrest order was subsequently rescinded and McLaughlin began to build his case for the immediate arrest of Sitting Bull. On Dec. 4, 1890, the agent requested authorization to arrest the chief when he thought best. When higher approval came through, McLaughlin organized his police and on the afternoon of Dec. 14, 1890, the Indian police, backed by two troops of U.S. cavalry, left Fort Yates for the south country to bring back Sitting Bull, dead or alive. Sitting Bull knew in advance that he was going to be. arrested, but he did not flee. The Indian police arrived at the chiefs camp early on the morning of Dec. 15 as directed. But before they could take him from the camp, Sitting Bull's followers were aroused and attempted a rescue. During the bloddy battle which followed four Indian policemen were killed. Policemen Lt. Bullhead and 1st Sgt. Shave Head were mortally wounded, and as there was danger that Sitting Bull might be rescued, he was shot by Bullhead and Red Tomahawk. The chief was not armed at the time and was being held helpless by the police. The cavalry came to the rescue of the policemen and the "hostiles," whose grievance was with the Indian police, retired without attempting to fight the soldiers. In addition to Sitting Bull, seven members of his band were killed, including his son Crow Foot, who was dragged from a hiding place in Sitting Bull's cabin and killed despite pleas for mercy. So ended the life of one of the most misrepresented and many-sided men in our country's history. In his book, "My Friend the Indian," McLaughlin wrote: "The arrest of Sitting Bull was demanded made necessary as a peace measure. If he had been allowed to continue stirring up the Indian people, if he had not been summarily prevented from leaving the Reservation as he intended, there is no possible doubt he would have led an outbreak that might have cost hundreds of lives and the outlay of much treasure in its suppression I stood for peace, the peace of the community and welfare of the well-disposed Indians, and thought that the arrest would be made without bloodshed." Vestal, however, sums up Sitting Bull's death as follows: "All along the agent had been lenient, had told the Indians no one would prevent them from dancing. The whole affair was merely the last round of that long bout between the Indian Bureau and the War Department for control of the Indians. Sitting Bull was an innocent bystander, the football of bureaucratic politics." .a ' : - 'v , . J f r- - I . - ijuMUju'jaL JijiMii' i '" '- --kj v-.iis? - - v. Sitting Bull's wives and daughters stand in front of the cabin by the Grand River where the Sioux chief was slain in 1890. Doomed Man Saw Treachery in Agent During the late 1800's and even the early part of this century, few press accounts of the Indian wars and Sitting Bull were obtained from the Indian point of view. In the book, "A Warrior Who Fought Custer," interpreted by Thomas B. Marquis, is the following: "I am not ashamed to tell that I was a follower of Sitting Bull. I have no ears for hearing anybody say he was not a brave man. He had a big brain and a good one, a strong heart and a generous one. In the old times I never heard of any Indian having spoken otherwise of him. If any of them changed their talk in later days, the change must have been brought about by lies of the agents and soldier chiefs who schemed to make themselves appear as good men by making him appear as a bad man." When, on the same day, Standing Rock Indian Reservation agent Maj. James McLaughlin received the military order for Sitting Bull's arrest, the Sioux leader dictated the following letter to the agent: "I wish to write a few lines today and let you know something. I held a meeting with all my Indians today, and am writing to you this message (from them). God made you made all the white race, and also made the Red race and gave them both might and heart to know everything in the world, but gave the whites the advantage over the Indians. But today God, our Father, is helping us Indians, so all we Indians believe. "Therefore, I think this way: I wish no man to come to me in my prayers with gun or knife. Therefore all the Indians pray to God for life, and try to find out a good road, and do nothing wrong in their life. This is what we want, and to pray to God. But you did not believe us. "You should say nothing against our religion, for we said nothing against yours. You pray to God. So do all of us Indians, as well as the whites. We both pray to only one God, who made us all. "Yet, you my friend, today you think I am a fool, and you gather up some of the wise men among my people on your side, and you let the white people back East know what you think. I know that, but I do not object; I overlook that, because I am foolish enough to pray to God. - "Therefore, my friend, you don't like me. Well, my friend, I don't like it myself when someone is foolish. You are the same. You don't like me because you think I am a fool, and you imagine that, if I were not here, all the Indians would become civilized, and that, because I am here, all the Indians are fools. I know this is what you publish in the newspapers back East. I see it all in the paper, but I overlook that. "When you were here in my camp, you gave me good words about my prayers, but today you take it all back again ..." if

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