SITTING BULL

By Christiane Whiteswan Sterne

 

 

(Continued from Previous Page)

 

Washington offered the Sioux, along with some northern members of the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes, a spacious reservation encompassing the entire western half of present-day South Dakota.  Moreover, the proposal — to be known as the Treaty of Laramie — declared that the Powder River Country, immediately to the west of the reservation and reaching as far as the Big Horn Mountains, “shall be considered unprecedented Indian Territory” and that “no white person or persons shall be permitted to settle upon or occupy any portion of the same.”  In other words, this region was to be reserved for the exclusive use of the Native Americans, who were explicitly guaranteed that it would be a sanctuary where they could hunt for as long as the buffalo roamed there.

 

After Red Cloud signed the Fort Laramie treaty of 1868, and agreeing to live on a reservation, his influence waned.  In 1868 the Sioux accepted peace with the U.S. government on the basis of the Second Treaty of Fort Laramie, which guaranteed the Sioux a reservation in what is now southwestern South Dakota, the Black Hills to the Lakota in perpetuity; yet tensions continued.

 

In May 1868, Jesuit missionary Father Pierre Jean De Smet, who for decades had worked among Western Native Americans, visited Tatanka Iyotanka’s camp near the mouth of the Powder River and tried to persuade him to accept the agreement.  Tatanka Iyotanka was unimpressed by the terms; he focused on the fact that the treaty, while generous-sounding, would considerably diminish the vast ancestral range of the Sioux.

 

In an impassioned speech, he told the priest: “I wish all to know that I do not propose to sell any part of my country, nor will I have the white cutting our timber along the rivers, especially the oaks.  I am particularly fond of the little grove of oak trees.  I love to look at them, and feel a reverence for them, because they endure in the wintry storms and summer’s heat, and — not unlike ourselves — seem to thrive and flourish by them.”

 

He refused to sign, although many other Sioux chiefs, including Red Cloud, accepted the terms and retired to the reservation—so large that it was serviced by five separate agencies.  In 1868, widely respected for his bravery and insight, Tatanka Iyotanka became head chief of the Lakota nation.  His disdain for treaties and reservation life soon attracted a large following not only from the Sioux but from the Cheyenne and Arapaho.

 

Over the next few years, both the reservation Sioux and those who, like Tatanka Iyotanka, chose to remain in the unceded area, discovered that the Treaty of Laramie was by no means the last word in the disposition of the old Sioux range.  Predictably, the unceded territory suffered the first incursion. In 1872, surveyors for the Northern Pacific Railroad, seeking the most economical route from Duluth, Minnesota, to the Pacific, decided that the tracks should follow the south back of the Yellowstone River, in lands not ceded by Native American. Officials in Washington expressed no objections; on the contrary, the Army supplied troops to protect the surveyors as they located the tracks where they desired.

 

Tatanka Iyotanka’s legendary courage so often displayed in warfare against other Indians was no less apparent when he fought the whites.  In August, the summer of 1872, a Lakota Sioux force led by Tatanka Iyotanka and Crazy Horse formed a Lakota war party, led a battle and mounted several brisk attacks where a guardian detachment of 500 U. S. Army soldiers were protecting a white survey team party of engineers and railroad workers on the Yellowstone River at its junction with Arrow Creek. At the height of the fire fight, Tatanka Iyotanka led four other warriors, strode out into the opening between the lines of the two forces, seated himself on the ground, filled his pipe, set it alight with flint and steel; sharing his cannupa with them, he sat there smoking while the bullets ripped and buzzed around and past them.  He did not budge until the pipe was finished.  With soldiers in full view, carefully reamed the pipe out; and the bowl scraped clean, when they were finished, casually walked away; once again displaying legendary courage.  The battle was not decisive.

 

Such sporadic combat would inevitably have ripened into full-scale war had the railroad survey been followed up by actual construction.  Disaster was temporarily averted, however, when the U. S. economy sank into depression in 1873 and the Northern Pacific found itself without the funds to build tracks.

 

The next year, the federal government itself set its sights on a precious chunk of the Sioux reservation.  The Army decided that, to guard Northern Pacific workers when the construction got under underway, a new fort should be erected in the Black Hills—a well-watered and heavily timbered region of granite crags on the western edge of the reservation.  A reconnaissance team under Lieutenant Colonel George Armstrong Custer was sent out to locate a suitable site.

 

The stage was set for war between Tatanka Iyotanka and the U. S. Army, when Custer, a reckless glory-monger, found a way to win himself national headlines while on the mission, when geologists with the party detected traces of gold and confirmed that gold had been discovered in the Black Hills of Dakota Territory, an area sacred to the Lakota as well as many tribes and placed off-limits to white settlement by the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868. 

 

On July 30, Horatio Nelson Ross, a member of Custer’s expedition discovered gold in the Lakota sacred land.  Custer sent glowing reports to the east which led the press to hail his discovery as the new gold center; thus ending any hope of a peaceful, reasonable settlement to the plains conflict.

 

Despite the ban, by the middle of 1875, a rush of nearly a thousand white prospectors invaded lands guaranteed to Native Americans by the treaty, and illegally camped in the Black Hills, which the Sioux regarded as a sacred dwelling place of Wakan Tanka.   This outrage the Lakota would not tolerate—provoking them to defend their land!

 

When government efforts to purchase the Black Hills failed, the Fort Laramie Treaty was set aside; November 1875, President Grant (known to Native Americans as “The Great Father”) — ordered that those Sioux who had been resisting whites’ incursions were to return and settle onto their reservations.  The Commissioner of Indian Affairs, following his instructions, added that if the order was disobeyed, “they shall be deemed hostile to the U. S. and treated accordingly by the military force.”

 

Federal officials opened the Black Hills for mining, never mind the land belonged to the Lakota Nation and not the United States of America.

 

Washington’s answer to this problem of their own creating was to demand that Tatanka Iyotanka lead his people onto the reservation.  Even had he been willing to comply, he could not possibly have moved his village 240 miles (390 kilometers) in the bitter cold by the specified time.  He declined the invitation.   Tatanka Iyotanka and his people held their ground.  The die was cast.

 

TATANKA IYOTANKA vs. GEORGE A. CUSTER

Although the two men were superficially similar—both were cavalry leaders of great personal bravery, Tatanka Iyotanka and George Armstrong Custer stood for very different things.  Tatanka Iyotanka stood for in inalienable right of the Lakota people to exist on the Great Plains as a sovereign and free nation; Custer defended the right of his people to invade and occupy the Lakota country.  Although numerous treaties guaranteed these lands to the Lakota in perpetuity, “wasichu” continued to build roads and forts into Lakota territory.  Even a railroad was under construction through Lakota land.  The Lakota would not tolerate this invasion, and the United States government was pressured politically to provide protection for their citizens in Lakota country, never mind the nature of their trespass.  War was inevitable, and swift in coming.

 

Tatanka Iyotanka was known for his stubborn determination to resist domination by white man leaving a note that read:  “You scare all the buffalo away.  I want to hunt in this place.  I want you to turn back from here.  If you don’t, I will fight you again.”

 

Tatanka Iyotanka and most other off-reservation chiefs ignored the ultimatum.  In March, 1876, three columns of federal troops under General George Crook, Gen. Alfred Terry and Col. John Gibbon, moved into the area; took to the field with ten companies of cavalry and two of infantry to make good the Indian commissioner’s threat.  Their forces attacked an Indian encampment of about 100 tipis under a high bluff on the Tongue River; they set fire to the tipis, but hampered by a late-winter blizzard, failed to win a clear victory.  Ironically their victims were Cheyennes, who, hearing of soldiers abroad, had been hastening across the Sioux range to find safety on the reservation.  In the past this Cheyenne band had been friendly to whites, but after the unprovoked assault; they became implacable enemies.

 

PREPARATION FOR THE BATTLE

In May, 1876, all 12 companies of the Seventh Cavalry joined up at Fort Abraham Lincoln.  A force under the command of General Terry rode out of Abraham Lincoln on May 17.  On May 29, General George Crook’s troop rode out of Fort Fetterman.

 

Tatanka Iyotanka summoned the Lakota; took in some Cheyenne refugees.  Calling a council, he said, “We must stand together or they will kill us separately.  These soldiers have come shooting; they want war.  All right, we’ll give it to them.”  He sent couriers to every Sioux, Cheyenne and Arapaho camp, both on reservation and off, summoning them to his camp, a rendezvous, at Rosebud Creek in Montana Territory.  Hundreds of men, weary of reservation life, sensing the Black Hills too would be lost if nothing were done, needed the call.  Now, in June, they were joined in a single great Indian army—and the soldiers were coming to meet them. 

 

Three hordes of bluecoats were converging on the Indian camp.  Nearest to them was General George Crook—known to the Indians as “Three Stars”—advancing with 1,047 soldiers from Fort Fetterman in the south and 262 Shoshoni and Crow scouts acquired while en route.  From the west, following the Yellowstone River, approached Colonel John Gibbon with some 450 men out of Fort Ellis in Montana Territory. And from the east, out of Fort Abraham Lincoln on the Missouri in Dakota Territory, came 925 men under the command of General Alfred Terry.  Terry’s force included the 7th Cavalry under the impetuous Lieutenant Colonel Custer, who had brought on much of this trouble by his ballyhoo of gold in the Black Hills.  General Alfred Terry and Colonel John Gibbon moved into the area, took the field against the hostiles, Tatanka Iyotanka responded by summoning the Lakota Sioux, Cheyenne, and certain Arapaho to his camp on Rosebud Creek in Montana Territory.   On June 7, Terry and Custer reached the Powder River estuarial plain.

 

TATANKA IYOTANKA HAS A WAKAN VISION

Early in June of that bloody year 1876, Tatanka Iyotanka of the Sioux made ready to supplicate the diety, Wakan Tanka (Great Mystery) the lodges of the Lakota and Saheila (Cheyenne) stretched along the banks of Rosebud Creek in southeastern Montana.  He scrubbed all paint from his face. High above the encampment, taking three witnesses with him, having climbed a lonely butte, sat Tatanka Iyotanka. I n his hands were his Cannupa; the stem bound with springs of fresh picked sage.  He alternately smoked and prayed, sending a sacred voice skyward and to the sun.  “Wakan Tanka, save me and give me all my wild game animals. Bring them near me, so that my people may have plenty to eat.”

 

These things he had asked many times, but now he wanted a more immediate favor.  The Sioux were facing a showdown with the U. S. Army, and he wished for divine aid in battle—and perhaps even a portent of how the fighting would go. I n hopes of winning his god’s blessing, he made a vow to sponsor a Sundance, the most solemn of religious ceremonies.  The great man further promised to offer up, during its performance, “a scarlet blanket”— sacrifice a copious flow of his own blood for a vision that would guide THE PEOPLE; and his vision came. He saw many, many bluecoats ( white soldiers who had been sent to protect the gold prospectors) attacking the encampment.

 

General George Armstrong Custer and a regiment of the 7th Cavalry attacked the seven bands of the Lakota Nation along with several families of the Cheyenne and Arapaho. The attack was clearly a violation of their treaty.

 

All that could be done to ensure success in war had already been done. From this bluff along Rosebud Creek about 60 miles south of its confluence with the Yellowstone River, Tatanka Iyotanka overlooked an awesome assemblage of Sioux-perhaps 15,000 souls, among them some 4,000 fighting men.  Most of the bands here belonged to the Teton Sioux tribal division that, for nearly a century, had dominated a range extending from the western portion of present-day North and South Dakota deep into Montana, Wyoming and Nebraska.

 

The great camp had no acknowledged supreme leader, but one man claimed the deference of every warrior present: Tatanka Iyotanka, chief of the Hunkpapa band, who could count more than 60 coups.  True, there were chiefs who credentials as warriors were as great or greater. For instance, Crazy Horse or the Oglala band was considered a fighting man without peer. But Tatanka Iyotanka was something more, something extraordinary. He was said to be a familiar of the spirit world, which spoke to him in dreams or through animals. A member of his own band said with stark simplicity, Tatanka Iyotanka was “big medicine.”

 

He needed all his gifts now, and all the guidance the his offering of blood might win, for the whites intended to crush the Sioux once and for all.   Surveying almost three miles of tipis stretched out before him, Tatanka Iyotanka prayed: “Let good men on earth have more power, let them be of good heart, so that all Sioux people may get along well and be happy.”  

 

SUNDANCE

And so the time had arrived for Tatanka Iyotanka to sacrifice the scarlet blanket on his people’s behalf and to arrange to lead his people in Sundance ritual, offering prayers to Wakan Tanka, Great Spirit and slashing his arms one hundred times as a sign of sacrifice. 

 

First, men noted for their bravery were sent out to select a symbolic a suitably forked cottonwood tree which they ceremonially struck with their coup sticks.  Then a group of chaste women went to the spot and helped to fell the tree.  Once down, its branches were trimmed away as high as the fork.  Finally, the tree was carried back to camp by the men; they had to bear the burden on poles, since contact with the symbol was forbidden to everyone except the priests who presided over the ritual and those who had previously danced the Sundance.

 

Preparation entailed painting the tree red on the west side, blue on the north, green on the east and yellow on the south, then erecting it in a hole. At the top were bound a red robe, offerings of cherry wood sticks and tobacco, and two pieces of dried buffalo hide, one cut in the shape of a buffalo and the other in the shape of a man.

 

At daybreak on the day of Tatanka Iyotanka’s sacrifice, the priests who supervised the ceremony went to summit of a nearby hill and prayed for blue skies on that day; Tatanka Iyotanka would be called upon to stare at the sun, periodically shifting his gaze to the bottom rim of the sun to avoid blinding himself.

 

Tatanka Iyotanka could not have underestimated the ordeal ahead.  He was 45 years old that summer of 1876, and he had been through this blood-letting ceremony before, as scars on his chest and back attested. However, since the idea of sacrifice held a very intense and personal meaning to a devout Sioux, he must have felt something bordering on grim ecstasy.  Moreover, there was the very real, mundane need to retain the respect and prestige he had already earned; only by constant demonstration could a leader lay valid claim to greatness.

 

His hands and feet had been painted red by the priests, and across his shoulders were blue stripes in token of the sky.  Now there was the matter of the scarlet blanket he had promised Wakan Tanka, and he was about to offer it up.

 

He strode to the sacred tree and sat on the ground, legs outstretched, leaning against the trunk.  He began to pray, a wailing singsong petition. His chosen assistant was Jumping Bull, an adopted Assiniboine brother. Years before, the Sioux had killed all the members of a family except Jumping Bull, then an 11-year-old boy, who had excited Tatanka Iyotanka’s admiration by fighting fearlessly in the face of death.  Sparing the boy, he had raised him up as a Hunkpapa warrior and given him one of the names derived from his father’s vision.  Today he called upon Jumping Bull to serve in his immolation.

 

With a needle-pointed awl in one hand and a sharp knife in the other, Jumping Bull knelt beside his brother.  He began to draw blood at Tatanka Iyotanka’s right wrist, piercing the skin with the awl and lifting a matchhead-sized bit of tissue, which he sliced off with the knife.  The blood came immediately.  Jumping Bull moved up the arm with quick precision: pierce, lift, cut—50 cuts from wrist to shoulder.  The vigilant witness could attest that Tatanka Iyotanka’s expression did not change and that there was no alteration in the monotonous wailing of his prayer. Jumping Bull turned to the left arm and duplicated the scarification.  Soon the blood covered both arms, dripping from the motionless fingers. Slashing his arms 100 times in sacrifice; this was Wakan Tanka’s scarlet blanket.  The blood gradually congealed, but the chief’s agony was only beginning.

 

The young dancers had leather thongs inserted through incisions in their chests or backs.  There remained the performance of the sun-gazing dance. Tatanka Iyotanka rose from his place against the sacred trunk, stood facing the sun and began bobbing up and down on his toes in a rhythmic dance that lasted all day.  He prayed as he danced and, from time to time, looked straight at the sun as it ascended toward the zenith, coursed down toward the west and disappeared in the ground haze above the crests of the Big Horn Mountains.

 

He continued dancing and dancing, with no food or water to replenish his energies, through the hours of darkness and into the next morning, driving himself to a state of utter exhaustion that would bring on the rite’s climax. That moment arrived around noon, when Tatanka Iyotanka staggered a few steps and sank to the ground. He had fainted—or, in the Sioux interpretation, actually died a passing death.  When he emerged from the trance, consciousness began to creep back.  Out of the mists around him he heard a disembodied voice and saw human forms taking shape and moving against the blackness of his delirium.  They were soldiers of the white man’s army, entering the great Sioux encampment.  But surely they were not coming as conquerors; these were men in defeat, their heads bent and campaign hats falling.

 

When he became conscious again, Tatanka Iyotanka knew there was to be a victory and so informed the Sioux. He received a vision of soldiers falling into Lakota camp like grasshoppers falling from the sky.  But he was nonetheless troubled, because the vision had also carried a warning. “These soldiers are gifts of Wakan Tanka,” he told his people.  “Kill them, but do not take their guns or horses.  If you set your hearts upon the goods of the white man, it will prove a curse to this nation.”

 

After the ceremony’s completion, the great camp was moved.  While boys rounded up the stock, the women took down the tipis, folded the heavy hide covers, and packed household goods and children on horse-drawn travois—simple sledges that were made of poles.  Before night had fallen the campground was empty.  The chiefs and the massed bands were traveling westward together, up and over a hilly saddle and on toward their established encampment into the valley of the Little Bighorn River, which the Native Americans called the Greasy Grass. 

 

On June 18, the tribes united in their struggle for survival on the Northern Plains, remaining defiant toward American military power and contemptuous of American promises to the end.

 

They were not fleeing, even though General Crook was almost upon them. The Sioux had not foregathered only to run away, and they confident in their numbers and their pride.  This time they would strike first and in force.  The warriors painted their faces and bodies for war, and took up their coup sticks, weapons and shields of buffalo hide.  About half of the warriors had guns.  A few carried modern repeating rifles, but most possessed only old Muzzle-loaders.  The rest were armed with bows and arrows, lances and war clubs.

 

Inspired by Tatanka Iyotanka’s vision, the Oglala Lakota war chief, Crazy Horse set out for battle with a band of 500 warriors.  Led by Crazy Horse, a scout reported the presence of General Crook’s troops; the warriors left camp and rode back across the saddle toward Rosebud Creek and southward.  It was then—early in the morning of June 17—that they took Crook’s troops by surprise at the Battle of the Rosebud.  In a brilliant display of generalship, unprecedented in Crook’s experience of Native American-style warfare, Crazy Horse launched wave after wave of mass attacks; a bitter day of fighting that cut deep into the white army’s disorganized defenses.  When a twist of fate and the skill of Crook’s Indian scouts deflected the Sioux onslaught, Crazy Horse made an orderly withdrawal from the battlefield.  After the engagement, Crook claimed a victory, but it could not have been a very satisfactory one.  Crazy Horse’s assault drove Crook’s force to stop his advance in its tracks, forcing him to halt, regroup from the encampment, and wait for supplies and reinforcements.  He fought no more that month.

 

Tatanka Iyotanka did not participate in the combat at Rosebud Creek.  He may have been there—accounts differ—but on that day, only the third after the Sundance, his racked body was in no condition for battle.  In any event, no matter how the Battle of Rosebud was viewed, it certainly could not be regarded as the fulfillment of his prophecy.  The 28 white men who were killed there, and the 50 or so wounded, had in no way been brought to disgrace.

 

Crook was stopped; his troops were forced to retreat in the Battle of Rosebud; but Gibbon and Terry were still coming.  Custer was under orders to circle about and swing up on the Native Americans from the south, pinching them against Gibbon’s force, but he threw strategy to the winds when he came across the broad trail left by the moving Sioux encampment.  The men of the 7th Cavalry were rousted from the bedrolls at midnight on June 25th, 1876.  The troops marched until two o’clock a.m.  After dawn the next morning, Custer’s Crow Indian scouts reported the location of the Indian encampment.

 

To celebrate the victory of Rosebud, the Lakota had moved their camp to the valley of the Little Bighorn River and were joined by 3,000 more Native Americans who left their reservations to follow Tatanka Iyotanka. 

 

Uninterested in sharing the glory of a victory with the other commanders, George Armstrong Custer and his 7th Cavalry of badly outnumbered troops, raced after the Native Americans, following the trail that led toward the Little Bighorn River.  When he found them, he committed a disastrous error of judgment.  Against a numerically superior enemy, he split his force, sending Major Marcus Reno and about a fourth of the men to create a diversion, while he took five companies of cavalrymen to strike the Sioux camp from another angle.

 

Custer was reckless; the Sioux were overconfident.  Despite several  sightings of the approaching enemy, they failed to realize the immediacy of their danger.  Not the first military force to relax after and illusory victory, they might have been caught unprepared but for two Hunkpapa boys out looking for stray horses.  These youths crossed the cavalry’s trail and found a pack shucked by a mule during the night’ march.  They broke it open and were breakfasting on the hard bread it contained when an Army patrol, looking for the lost pack, stumbled on them.  One boy was killed; the other got back to the encampment to raise the alarm.

 

Even so the Native Americans were not fully ready when Major Reno’s diversionary attack came across the river, striking the southern Hunkpapa sector of the great camp.  The boy’s warning caught Tatanka Iyotanka in the council lodge; he hurried to his own tipi and took up his weapons, a .45 revolver and an 1873 model Winchester carbine.

 

One Bull, his 23-year-old nephew, joined him, and they galloped from the camp to meet the soldiers. Tatanka Iyotanka sat on his war horse and watched as Reno’s men began to fall. Within minutes, the major was trying to withdraw.  “There were plenty of warriors to meet them,” Tatanka Iyotanka said afterward.  Indeed, Reno, against perhaps 1,000 warriors, never had a chance. When the disorganized force plunged back across the river after about 45 minutes of fighting, almost half of Reno’s 150 men were killed, wounded or missing.  Custer had divided his command into three elements.  This was a serious mistake in view of the great concentration of warriors.

 

Thus the fulfillment of the prophecy began to unfold.  There were indeed plenty of warriors, and there was no need of Tatanka Iyotanka’s maimed arms that day. Nor was his advice needed in matters of tactics; Crazy Horse and other war chiefs would make his vision come true.  So, when One Bull quirted his horse into the stream to follow Reno’s retreating men, Tatanka Iyotanka called him back.  It was time, he told his nephew, to make provision against the likelihood of more bluecoats returning to attack the women and children.  He first looked after his family, then made medicine for the warriors.

 

They rode north, downstream through the encampment, until they came upon a scene of wild confusion.  Boys were rounding up horses from the pack herd; barking dogs and excited children were everywhere underfoot; and hundreds of women milled about, uncertain whether to stay or flee. Confusion became pandemonium when a line of soldiers on gray cavalry mounts—Custer’s troopers—appeared along the crest of the low hills across the river.

 

Tatanka Iyotanka looked on from a distance,  as a great mass of Sioux, exultant after cutting up Reno’s force, gathered to overwhelm Custer. Commanded by Lt. Col. G. A. Custer, troopers rode into the valley; charged and rushed the encampment! Mounted Sioux and Cheyenne warriors began to appear on both flanks of the cavalry; firing broke out--the battle began!  They were quickly driven away to a low eminence and made a stand on a nearby ridge, now known as “Last Stand Hill.” Instead of charging, the troopers dismounted.  The deadly drama was hidden in a great cloud of dust; but the chief had seen the outcome before, in his vision. 

 

Between June 25 and June 26, 1876, in fulfillment of Tatanka Iyotanka’s vision, the Lakota Sioux, and Cheyenne, with the aid of other tribes, under the battlefield leadership of Crazy Horse and Gall, attacked Custer and his 7th Cavalry contingent of badly outnumbered troops; destroying them to the last man-- annihilating the punitive expedition.

 

Nobody has ever been able to determine with certainty how Custer himself was killed, except that his body was found with a bullet wound in the head and one in the chest.  Another of Tatanka Iyotanka’s nephews, 26-year- old White Bull, a formidable fighting man, believed he was the slayer.  A tall soldier with yellow hair and moustache saw me… When I rushed him, he threw his rifle at me without shooting.  I lashed him across the face with my quirt, striking the coup.  He hit me with his fists on the jaw and shoulders, then grabbed my braids with both hands and tried to bite my nose off.  He drew his pistol.  I wrenched it out of his hand and struck him with it three or four times on the head, knocked him over, shot him in the head and fired at his heart.”  Custer’s death was only one satisfaction of many.  In the space of an hour, the Sioux had virtually destroyed the core of the 7th Cavalry. Custer’s contingent of 215 men was completely wiped out.  Indian losses were not recorded; but whatever the total, the victory was worth it.

 

It is not known whether Tatanka Iyoanka offered up any particular thanksgiving to Wakan Tanka for the day’s outcome; he may have felt that he had already fulfilled his part of the bargain with his offering of the scarlet blanket.  Nevertheless, he had reason for new concern before the day was out.  He had told the Sioux that Custer’s troopers were gifts from their god to be slain, but he had warned against looting.  The warning went unheeded.  By nightfall the camp was laden with booty—cavalry saddles, uniforms, pistols, carbines and about 10,000 rounds of cartridges.

 

The battle had ended, and neither Tatanka Iyotanka nor his people would ever witness another day like it.  It was a triumph, but it was also the beginning of the preordained end.  His followers believed that his magical powers had brought the victory!  Following the success of the Battle at Big Horn, Sioux tribes scattered.

 

In the aftermath of the defeat, strong public among whites at the military catastrophe resulted in stepped-up military action bringing thousands more cavalrymen into the area, and over the next year they relentlessly pursued the Lakota, forcing Native American chief after chief to give up and surrender;  but Tatanka Iyotanka did not and could not; surrender was not his way.  

 

About a month later, Lietenant Colonel E.S. Otis, who was escorting supply wagons along the Yellowstone a written communication that was evidently sent by the Hunkpapa chief.  “I want to know what you are doing on this road,” it said.  “You scare the buffalo away.  I want to hunt in this place. I want you to turn back from here. If you don’t, I will fight you again.”

 

Otis’ superior officer, the veteran Indian-fighter Colonel Nelson Miles, decided to meet with the chief for a talk, hoping that he could persuade Tatanka Iyotanka to go peaceably to the reservation agency.  The parley, arranged through an intermediary, began in a civil enough manner but soon degenerated into mutual angry suspicion.  “No Indian that ever lived loved the white man,” Tatanka Iyotanka declared, “and no white man that ever lived loved the Indian.”

 

The meeting broke up and there was an exchange of shots.  The soldiers, who had been the first to fire, drove the Sioux from the parley site and engaged them in a running battle that lasted for two days.  The Native Americans counterattacked vigorously, setting fire to the grass and on one occasion forcing their pursuers into a trap-like hollow.  But Colonel Miles had artillery, which he employed with skill to keep Tatanka Iyotanka’s forces from pressing too closely, and the 42-mile chase ended in a Sioux route.  In their flight, the Native Americans abandoned camp equipment, tons of meat and broken-down ponies.

In September Tatanka Iyotanka witnessed proof the looting of Custer's men would bring grief to the Sioux.  The great assembly had split up in order to hunt buffalo more efficiently.  General Crook's men attacked 37 lodges of Oglala, Brule and Miniconjou Sioux at Slim Buttes, only 30 miles from the Hunkpapa encampment on Grand River, northeast of the Black Hills. By the time Tatanka Iyotanka arrived at the campsite with a relief force, it was to late! The village had been destroyed! There were many corpses—young men, old men, and women, children, babies—and the soldiers had also scalped some of the Native American dead.  At Slim Buttes, the army recovered much of Custer property, including the 7th Cavalry’s once-proud Guideon.

   

On October 27, a discouraged group of Miniconjou and Sans Arc chiefs approached Miles and attempted to surrender with 2,000 of their people. Miles, however, was not able to feed so large a number.  Instead, he accepted five chiefs as hostages against the guarantee that the Sioux bands would turn themselves in at the Cheyenne River Agency.  On November 30, about 40 lodges of Native Americans—the immediate following of the five chiefs—gave themselves up. The rest of them joined Crazy Horse.

 

The Sioux at the agency signed documents relinquishing all claims to the Black Hills and the Powder River country—about a third of the lands that had been guaranteed to them. They had little choice: Congress had ordered the suspension of rations and other subsistence until the Native American bowed to the white demands.

 

Even Crazy Horse, the brilliant Oglala leader, decided that the war was hopeless.  He surrendered, although he did so with characteristic panache.  He and perhaps 1,500 followers rode into the reservation the following spring decked out in war paint and feathers, carrying their shields and weapons in plain view and singing their war songs.  It was a hollow gesture.  Later that year, the authorities, hearing rumors that Crazy Horse was planning to make trouble again, ordered him to be locked up in the Fort Robinson guardhouse.  When soldiers tried to seize him, the war chief resisted.  He was stabbed in the abdomen with a bayonet and died a few hours later.

 

The Sioux emerged the victors in their battles with U. S. troops, but though they might win battle after battle, they could never win the war.  They depended on the buffalo for their livelihood, and the buffalo, under the steady encroachment of whites, were rapidly becoming extinct.  The Lakota were finally forced by hunger and firearms  to go to white man’s reservations and given a deadline of January 31, 1877 to surrender. Anyone who did not comply was considered hostile.  

 

 

 

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