Manataka American Indian Council






By Christiane Whiteswan Sterne


(Continued from Previous Page)


In 1877, the U. S. Army continually harassed the plains nations.  Although Tatanka Iyotanka survived and remained defiant, an aroused and vengeful army was forcing his to flee.  In May 1877 he turned northward toward his last refuge and led his remaining band of followers across the border and into Canada, the land ruled by the “Great Mother”—Queen Victoria and beyond the reach of the U. S. Army; but the Canadian government refused to acknowledge responsibility for feeding a people whose reservation was south of the border.  General Terry traveled north to offer him a pardon in exchange for settling on a reservation.  Grandfather Tatanka Iyotanka refused his offer and sent him away.


After 4 years later; finding it impossible to feed his people in a world where,  buffalo being almost extinct; plus a particularly the harsh winter of 1881; famine and destitution of his people; his following dwindled steadily, forcing Tatanka Iyotanka and those still with him returned  south to surrender to the United States army.  On July 19, 1881, Tatanka Iyotanka ordered his young son to hand over his rifle to the commanding officer of Fort Buford, Dakota Territory, explaining that in this way he hoped to teach the boy “that he has become a friend of the Americans.”  Yet, at the same time, Tatanka Iyotanka also saying, “I wish to be remembered that I was the last man of my tribe to surrender my rifle.”  He requested the right to cross back and forth to Canada whenever he wished as well as a reservation of his own on the Little Missouri River near the Black Hills.  These requests were not honored—he was instead sent to Standing Rock Reservation.  His reception there raised fears of yet another uprising and subsequently was sent further down the Missouri River to Fort Randall .  He was considered the last Sioux to surrender to the U. S. Government, and was held at Fort Randal, South Dakota Territory (in violation of his surrender agreement) where he and his followers were held prisoner of war for nearly two years.


Finally, on May 10, 1883, after two years, he was allowed to rejoin his tribe at Standing Rock Agency Reservation where he continued to use his influence to keep Sioux lands from being taken by the government in North Dakota.  The Indian agent in charge of the reservation, James McLaughlin, denied the great chief special privileges; forcing him to work the fields-- hoe in hand.  Tatanka Iyotanka, knowing his own authority, vainly opposed the sale of tribal lands and spoke forcefully though futilely against a delegation of U. S. Senators who came to discuss their plans to open part of the reservation to white settlers.



In 1885, partly to get rid of him, the Indian agents released Grandfather Tatanka Iyotanka.  He was allowed to leave the reservation to join Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show, traveling for a season, touring throughout the United States, Canada and Europe including England; thus gaining international fame.  Doubtless earning $50 a week to ride once around the arena, in addition to whatever he could charge for his autograph and picture was incentive.  The great man also probably jumped at the chance to escape reservation life for awhile.  Staying with the show only four months was all that he could stand!  Unable to tolerate white society any longer; being hissed at by the audience as a villain; though in that time he did manage to shake hands with President Grover Cleveland, which he took as evidence that he was still regarded as a great chief.


Returning to Standing Rock Reservation, Tatanka Iyotanka lived in a cabin on the Grand River, near where he had been born.  He refused to give up his old ways as the reservation’s rules required, still living with two wives and rejecting Christianity, though he sent his children to a nearby Christian school in the belief that the next generation of Lakota would need to be able to read and write.  Soon after his return, Tatanka Iyotanka had another mystical vision, like the one that had foretold Custer’s defeat.  This time he saw a meadowlark alight on a hillock beside him, and heard it say, “Your own people, Lakotas, will kill you.” Nearly five years later, this vision also proved true.  Tatanka Iyotanka remained a powerful force among his people, and upon his return to the U. S. would counsel the tribal chiefs who greatly valued his wisdom.  He kept records of his people in a roll-book, which had once belonged to a regiment artillery.  The federal government again wanted to break up the tribal lands.  They persuaded several "government appointed chiefs" to sign an agreement, whereby the reservation was to be divided up and subsequently distributed among the tribal members. Missing from the list of recipients was Tatanka Iyotanka's name.




In the fall of 1889, a Miniconjou Lakota named Kicking Bear, appeared at the Standing Rock Reservation. He came to Tatanka Iyotanka with news of the rise of a new spiritual movement that had begun among the desert peoples of the Southwest--the “Ghost Dance”, introduced by Wovoka (a tribal religion and ceremony that promised to rid the land of white people and restore the Native American way of life). “If all red men followed this path,” Kicking Bird said, “the whites would be covered up and the world would be as it used to be”. Proclaiming that all whites would disappear and deceased Native Americans and buffalo would return. 


This understandably created great excitement among the Native Nations and brought him into disfavor with government officials. Lakota had already adopted the ceremony which was already being practiced at the Pine Ridge and Rosebud Reservations, and Indian agents there had already called for troops to bring the growing movement under control. 


Grandfather Tatanka Iyotanka embraced the Ghost Dance ritual. There was nothing left to lose but life. And what was life without freedom to one who had known the freedom of the open plains? The year 1890 saw the spread of the Ghost Dance religious movement, which prophesied the advent of an Indian messiah who would sweep away the whites and restore the Indians’ former traditions. 


The Ghost Dance movement augmented the unrest already stirred among the Sioux by jealousy, hunger and disease. The white authorities became suspicious of Ghost Dancers. Because Tatanka Iyotanka made no effort to stop the dancing, an agent at Standing Rock, a rogue named Major James McLaughlin, feared that because of his defiant spirit, Tatanka Iyotanka (still revered as a great spiritual leader) would join Ghost Dancers. As a precaution, he sent 43 Lakota  tribal policemen and soldiers to arrest the chief and bring him in. 


Before dawn on December 15, 1890, seized on the Grand River, the policemen burst unto Tatanka Iyotanka’s cabin and dragged him outside. As he was being led away, his followers gathered to protect him. In the melee over the objections of his supporters, a gunfight erupted, during which Tatanka Iyotanka and twelve others were killed. 


One of the Lakota policemen shot a bullet through Tatanka Iyotanka’s head. His son, Crowfoot and his Assiniboine adopted brother Jumping Bull, were reported to have been murdered by tribal police as well, while the  attempting to rescue him. Six Indian police were also reported to have died. Tatanka Iyotanka was buried at Ft. Yates, ND.


As a sort of bizarre footnote to Grandfather Tatanka Iyotanka’s momentous life, today the states of South Dakota and North Dakota each claim to have possession of his body! North Dakota claims that Grandfather Tatanka Iyotanka’s remains lie at Fort Yates, where he was shot down and killed!  But South Dakota admits that in 1953, they stole Grandfather’s body, hauled it to South Dakota, to an isolated grave west of Mobridge, South Dakota;  reburied his remains, where a granite shaft marks his grave. This gravesite is controversial since he was originally buried in Fort Yates, ND, exhumed and buried in massive amounts of concrete. Some believe that the body exhumed was not that of Tatanka Iyotanka.



Twin Children: The-One-That-Was-Left, The-One-That-Was-Taken

Nephew:  Clarence Grey Eagle  

6th Generation: Joseph Alfred McNeil Jr., Ina Mae Brown (Mother)  

Daughter of Chief One Bull: Margaret Tremmel of Rapid City, SD

Tatanka Iyotanka’s Sister: Lady Pretty Feather

Nephew: One Bull, Lady Pretty Feather’s Son

Direct Descendant: Casey Kicking Bear of Fort Meade

Granddaughters: Sarah Spotted Horse, Angeline La Point, Nancy Kicking Bear, James White Bull

Possible Descendant: Barry Patterson, Wagner, SD


Tatanka Iyotanka was an extraordinary man. In his epic battle for the rights of his people had served them for 59 years. He was, without a doubt, one of the greatest Lakota leaders ever. The Lakota mourned him as well he deserved. He is remembered as an inspirational leader, fearless warrior, loving father, gifted singer; a man always affable and friendly toward others, whose deep religious faith gave him prophetic insight and lent special power to his prayers.


Many whites heaped scorn upon his memory because he had stood in their way for so many years. But Grandfather Tatanka Iyotanka had not lived his life to please “wasichu”. Rather he had lived to serve his people, the Lakota Nation, in whose bosom his memory is sacred. His death is a grim story of false arrest, when there was no one to defend the Native American; his name should never be forgotten. Upon the death of their leaders, the Sioux tribes ceased their struggle against the white man.





December 15, 1890.


The text below is excerpted from “Looking Back at Wounded Knee 1890” by Prof. Robert Venables, Cornell University. Published in “Northeast Indian Quarterly” Spring 1990. 


The following quotes were printed in “The Aberdeen Saturday Pioneer,” a weekly newspaper published in Aberdeen, South Dakota. The first was published immediately after Sitting Bull’s assassination by Indian Police Dec. 15, 1890. 


“Sitting Bull, most renowned Sioux of modern history, is dead. He was an Indian with a white man’s spirit of hatred and revenge for those who had wronged him and his. In his day he saw his son and his tribe gradually driven from their possessions: forced to give up their old hunting grounds and espouse the hard working and uncongenial avocations of the whites. 


And these, his conquerors, were marked in their dealing with his people by selfishness, falsehood and treachery. What wonder that his wild nature, untamed by years of subjection, should still revolt? What wonder that a fiery rage still burned within his breast and that he should seek every opportunity of obtaining vengeance upon his natural enemies. “The proud spirit of the original owners of these vast prairies inherited through centuries of fierce and bloody wars for their possession, lingered last in the bosom of Sitting Bull. 


With his fall the nobility of the Redskin is extinguished, and what few are left are a pack of whining curs who lick the hand that smites them. The Whites, by law of conquest, by justice of civilization, are masters of the American continent, and the best safety of the frontier settlements will be secured by the total annihilation of the few remaining Indians. Why not annihilation? Their glory has fled, their spirit broken, their manhood effaced; better that they die than live the miserable wretches that they are. 


History would forget these latter despicable beings, and speak, in later ages of the glory of these grand Kings of forest and plain that Cooper loved to heroism. “We cannot honestly regret their extermination, but we at least do justice to the manly characteristics possessed, according to their lights and education, by the early Redskins of America.” 


The editorial is ambivalent at first, but concludes by calling for the extermination of American Indians. The editor and published of “The Aberdeen Pioneer” who advocated genocide is well known: L. Frank Baum. Only a decade after the massacre at Wounded Knee, Baum’s book “The Wizard of Oz” (1900) would become an American classic.




"A child is the greatest gift from Wakan Tanka (Great Mystery), in response to many devout prayers, sacrifices and promises". "Let us put our minds together and see what kind of life we can make for our children".


"I want to tell you that if the Great Spirit has chosen anyone to be chief of this country, it is myself."


"I am here by the will of the Great Spirit, and by his will I am chief.

I know the Great Spirit is looking down upon me from above, and will hear what I say…He put in your heart certain wishes and plans; in my heart, he put other different desires."


"When I was a boy the Sioux owned the world.  The sun rose and set on their land; they sent ten thousand men to battle.  Where are the warriors today?  Who slew them?  Where are out lands?   Who owns them?  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?"


"Now that we are poor, we are free. No white man controls our footsteps. If we must die, we die defending our rights".

"In my early days, I was eager to learn and to do things, and therefore I learned quickly.


"You think I am a fool, but you are a greater fool than I am."


"What white man can say I stole his land or a penny of his money?  Yet they say that I am a thief. What white woman, however lonely, was ever captive or insulted by me?  Yet they say I am a bad Indian. What white man has ever seen me drunk?  Who has ever come to me hungry and left me unfed?"


"Who has seen me beat my wives or abuse my children?  What law have I broken?"


“God made me an Indian. If the Great Spirit had desired me to be a white man, he would have made me so in the first place. It is not necessary for eagles to be crows".


"If a man loses anything and goes back and looks carefully for it, he will find it, and that is what the Indians are doing now when they ask you to give them the things that were promised them in the past. And I do not consider that they should be treated like beasts, and that is the reason I have grown up with the feelings I have. I feel that my country has gotten a bad name, and I want it to have a good name. It used to have a good name, and I sit sometimes and wonder who it is that has given it a bad name".


“What treaty that the white man ever made with us have they kept?  Not One.”




by Dr. Sally Roesch Wagner

Mrs. Fanny Kelly was taken captive in July, 1864 by a war party of Hunkpapa Sioux in Wyoming. During most of the five months she was held prisoner, Mrs. Kelly stayed in the lodgings of Sitting Bull, the famous leader “as a guest, of his family, “and I was treated as a guest,” she wrote. “He was uniformly gentle, and kind to his wife and children and courteous and considerate in his (interactions) with others. During my stay with them food was scarce more than once, and both Sitting Bull and his wife often suffered with hunger to supply me with food. They both have a very warm place in my heart.” This surprising warm friendship with a woman who had every reason to hate and fear him, characterized Sitting Bull’s interactions with whites. A teacher and missionary among Sitting Bull’s people, Catherine Weldon, once described him. “As a friend…sincere and true; as a patriot, devoted and incorruptible; as ahusband and father, affectionate and considerate. As a host, courteous and hospitable to the last degree."  The Ashcroft family, white settlers who lived nearby, valued Sitting Bull as "one of their oldest friends." They often told the story of how, on one of his frequent trips to buy produce and chickens from Grandmother, he stopped for potatoes and dragged them up to the house for Sitting Bull. He was so pleased that he promised her a pony, and soon a little bay horse was delivered to her. He was named ‘Two-John’ and she had him until she was married to Jack Jacobs in 1896.”

Yet when Sitting Bull was killed on December 15, 1890, newspapers throughout the nation echoed the Minneapolis Tribune whose one regret was that he “should have been hung higher than Hamar [Hamar should read Haman. Haman was the villain of the biblical story of Esther who was hung on a specially prepared gallows 50 cubits (a measure of length approximately equal to the length of a forearm) high.] and with less ceremony that is observed by a Texas lynching party towards a horse thief.” 2 As the press whipped-up hatred of the Indians, the fact was lost that Sitting Bull had been residing in friendship and peace with his white neighbors, with his only “crime” taking part in a religious worship, the Ghost Dance, labeled the “Messiah craze” by the press.


His greater “crime,” of course, was that he was “an obstructionist, a foe to progress.” “Progress” was defined as white settlement on Indian land, and the previous year the Dakota (Sioux) Indians had received enormous pressure to approve the sale of one-half of their remaining land. Not all accepted.


According to United States law (as expressed in the Treaty of 1868) the signatures of ¾ of the adult males of the Sioux nation were required before land could be sold. Sitting Bull resisted, He “never signed a treaty to sell any portion of his people’s inheritance, and he refused to acknowledge the right of other Indians to sell his undivided share of the tribal lands,” according to his friend, Catherine Weldon, who contended that Sitting Bull was killed in order “to silence exposures which he could have made.” 


There was enormous double-dealing to expose, including the doctoring of census records to reduce the number of Indians required to sign, and the gathering of signatures illegally to reach the necessary number.


Mrs. Weldon was not alone in her belief that Sitting Bull had been silenced. In the New York World on December 21, 1890, Rev. W.H.H. Murray charged, “The land grabbers wanted the Indian lands. The lying, thieving Indian agents wanted silence touching past thefts and immunity to continue their thieving.”


The World’s editor interjected, “Mr. Murray’s characterization of the killing is sustained by the report sent yesterday by Corporal Gunn of the Eighth cavalry. The affair is one which should receive a searching inquiry, as it stands now it was organized butchery, and one of the most shameful incidents in our ‘century of dishonor’ towards the Indians.”3


Sitting Bull’s death was a political assassination by the United States government, insisted the head of the Nebraska National Guard, General Leonard Colby, who wrote that there was an “understanding between the officers of the Indian and military departments that it would be impossible to bring Sitting Bull to Standing Rock alive, and even if successfully captured, it would be difficult to tell what to do with him. It is therefore believed that there was a tacit arrangement between the commanding officers and the Indian police, that the death of the famous old Medicine man was much preferred to his capture, and that the slightest attempt to rescue him should be the signal for his destruction.”


To have him killed by Indian police allowed the government to avoid responsibility in the matter.


Sitting Bull, like Martin Luther King, was a man of vision. “The great hope and purpose of his life was to unify the tribes, and bands of the Dakotas, (Sioux) and hold the remaining lands of his people as a sacred inheritance for their children,” wrote his friend Catherine Weldon. “This fact,” she maintained, “made him unpopular with all who saw in his policy and influence obstruction to their selfish schemes, hence they demanded his removal.”


There was never an official investigation into Sitting Bull’s murder, nor have the assassination charges been disproved. Reverend Murray believed that a day would come when Sitting Bull would be revered for the visionary man of peace that he was:


“I read that they have buried his body like a dog’s,” Rev. Murray wrote, “without funeral rites, without tribal wail, with no solemn song or act. This is the deed of to-day. That is the best that this generation has to give to this noble historic character… Very well. So let it stand for the present. But there is a generation coming that shall reverse this judgment of ours. Our children shall build monuments to those whom we stoned and the great aboriginals whom we killed will be counted by the future American as among the historic characters of the Continent.”5  


Who knows? Perhaps Reverend Murray was right, and as the world grows more enlightened, we may one day celebrate Sitting Bull Day as we now do Martin Luther King Day.


Dr. Sally Roesch Wagner, a Research Affiliate at the University of California, Davis, and Aberdeen native, has just completed the third volume of her Daughters of Dakota series: “Stories of Friendship between Settlers and the Dakota Indians” with guest editor, Vic Runnels. The Ashcroft story is from that book.



     1.   Sally Roesch Wagner, Daughters of Dakota 11: Stories from the  Attic.  

           Carmichael, CA: Sky Carrier Press, 1990,p.166.

     2.   Minneapolis Tribune, cited in Robert C. Hollow, “The Sioux Ghost  Dance of 

           1890.” The Last Years of Sitting Bull. Bismark: State Historical Society of 

           North Dakota, 1985, p. 43.

     3.   Bland, p. 27.

     4.   Colby, “Sioux,” p. 151.

     5.   Bland, p. 27.  




In June, 2002 at Lead, South Dakota, a demolition crew closed a gold mine that extended well over eight miles into the earth. The following poem is dedicated to this most auspicious occasion:



Lead you are dead!

Town built on deceit and bloodshed,

Be buried forever!

Our mother eight miles down—

Her heart throbs for her sons.

They fought; they died;

They surrendered themselves,

To protect life.

Tatanka Iyotanka, Red Cloud, Crazy Horse

Stand atop these Black Hills;

Ghost Dance and make closure to her rape!  

~ Whiteswan ~


 “As the world grows more enlightened we will one day celebrate December 15, as GRANDFATHER TATANKA  IYOTANKA DAY, as we do MARTIN LUTHER KING DAY.”  Aho, Mitakuye Oyasin, Whiteswan



American Indian Art; Feder, Norman

A Boy Called Slow: True Story of Sitting Bull; Bruchac, Joe

Custers Fall; Miller, David Humphrey;

From the Little Bighorn to Wounded Knee

I Am Looking To The North For My Life;

Lakota - Wise Words - Chief Sitting Bull; Western History/Genealogy Department, Denver Public Library

Return of the Bird Tribes; Carey, Ken

Sitting Bull - Champion of His People; Garst, Shannon

Sitting Bull - Courageous Sioux Chief; Shaughnessy, Diane

Sitting Bull - The Story of An American Indian; Knoop, Faith Yingling

The Genius of Sitting Bull; Murphy, Emmett C.

The Lance and the Shield; Utley, Robert M.

The Old West, The Great Chiefs; Time-Life Books

The Saga of Sitting Bull's Bones; Dewall, Robb

Wind on the Buffalo Grass; Tillett, Leslie


A BOY CALLED SLOW: The True Story of Sitting Bull

By Joseph Bruchac, Scott Foresman, Rocco Baviera (Illustrator

Anxious to be given a name as strong and brave as that of his father, a proud Lakota Sioux grows into manhood, acting with careful deliberation, determination, and bravery, which eventually earned him his proud new name: Sitting Bull. Being named Slow and growing up in the shadow of a great warrior hardly dwarfed the prospects of this protagonistàBruchacÆs sensitively told history of Sitting BullÆs coming-of-age reassures young boys that success comes through effort, not birth. --Booklist Satisfying for its attention to historical and multicultural issues; stirring in its consummate storytelling. --Publishers Weekly The pictures evoke a sense of timelessness and distance, possessing an almost mythic quality that befits this glimpse into history. --Horn Book.  Putnam Juvenile, Feburary 1998, Soft Cover, 32pp. $ 9.99

Proceeds from book purchases go to support the nonprofit, cultural, educational and religious purposes of the Manataka American Indian Council.  Thank you for your support.  

Notice: Occasionally books may be discontinued or out of stock without prior notice. With written permission, your order may be filled from the 'shelf'.  Shelf books are new, but some may be slightly discolored or sale tags may be still attached. Fulfillment rate: 98.6%.



By Peter and Connie Roop

A warrior I have been. Now it is all over. A hard time I have. With these words, Sitting Bull surrendered to the US government on July 20, 1881, after spending most of his life trying to protect his people. A proud father and brave warrior, Sitting Bull wanted the Lakota Sioux to continue hunting buffalo and roaming the Plains. Although he lost this battle, Sitting Bull is remembered for his brave actions and notable accomplishments. In this new biography of Sitting Bull, kids will marvel at this man who lived a life full of adventure and who was noted for his courage. Scholastic, September 2002, Soft Cover, 112pp. $12.95

Proceeds from book purchases go to support the nonprofit, cultural, educational and religious purposes of the Manataka American Indian Council.  Thank you for your support.

Notice: Occasionally books may be discontinued or out of stock without prior notice. With written permission, your order may be filled from the 'shelf'.  Shelf books are new, but some may be slightly discolored or sale tags may be still attached. Fulfillment rate: 98.6%.



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