From this point of view,
we shall consider Sitting Bull's career. We say he is an untutored man: that is true so
far as learning of a literary type is concerned; but he was not an
untutored man when you view him from the standpoint of his nation. To be
sure, he did not learn his lessons from books. This is second-hand
information at best. All that he learned he verified for himself and
put into daily practice. In personal appearance he was rather
commonplace and made no immediate impression, but as he talked he seemed
to take hold of his hearers more and more. He was bull-headed; quick
to grasp a situation, and not readily induced to change his mind. He
was not suspicious until he was forced to be so. All his meaner
traits were inevitably developed by the events of his later career.
history has been written many times by newspaper men and army officers,
but I find no account of him which is entirely correct. I met him
personally in 1884, and since his death, I have gone thoroughly into the
details of his life with his relatives and contemporaries. It has often
been said that he was a physical coward and not a warrior. Judge of this
for yourselves from the deed which first gave him fame in his own tribe,
when he was about twenty-eight years old.
In an attack upon a band of
one of the enemy took his stand, after the rest had fled, in a deep ditch
from which it seemed impossible to dislodge him. The situation had
already cost the lives of several warriors, but they could not let him go
to repeat such a boast over the
"Follow me!" said
and charged. He raced his horse to the brim of the ditch and struck
at the enemy with his coup-staff, thus compelling him to expose himself to
the fire of the others while shooting his assailant. But the
merely poked his empty gun into his face and dodged back under cover. Then
Sitting Bull stopped; he saw that no one had followed him, and he also
perceived that the enemy had no more ammunition left. He rode
deliberately up to the barrier and threw his loaded gun over it; then he
went back to his party and told them what he thought of them.
"Now," said he, "I
have armed him, for I will not see a brave man killed unarmed. I
will strike him again with my coup-staff to count the first feather;
who will count the second?"
Again he led the charge, and this time they all followed him.
Sitting Bull was severely wounded by his own gun in the hands of the
enemy, who was killed by those that came after him. This is a
record that so far as I know was never made by any other warrior.
The second incident
that made him well known was his taking of a boy captive in battle
Assiniboine. He saved this boy's life and adopted him as his
brother. Hohay, as he was called, was devoted to Sitting Bull and helped much in later years to spread his fame.
Sitting Bull was a born diplomat, a ready speaker, and in middle life he
ceased to go upon the warpath, to become the councilor of his people. From this time on, this man represented him in all important battles,
and upon every brave deed done was wont to exclaim aloud: "I,
Sitting Bull's boy, do this in his name!"
He had a nephew, now
living, who resembles him strongly, and who also represented him
personally upon the field; and so far as there is any remnant left of
his immediate band, they look upon this man One Bull as their chief.
Bull was a boy, there was no thought of trouble with the whites. He was acquainted with many of the early traders, Picotte, Choteau,
Primeau, Larpenteur, and others, and liked them, as did most of his
people in those days. All the early records show this friendly
attitude of the
the great fur companies for a century and a half depended upon them
for the bulk of their trade. It was not until the middle of the
last century that they woke up all of a sudden to the danger
threatening their very existence. Yet at that time many of the
old chiefs had been already depraved by the whisky and other vices of
the whites, and in the vicinity of the forts and trading posts at
City, Saint Paul, and Cheyenne, there was general demoralization.
The drunkards and hangers-on were ready to sell almost anything they
had for the favor of the trader. The better and stronger element
held aloof. They would not have anything of the white man except
his hatchet, gun, and knife. They utterly refused to cede their
lands; and as for the rest, they were willing to let him alone as long
as he did not interfere with their life and customs, which was not
It was not, however, the
Unkpapa band of
Sioux, Sitting Bull's band, which first took up arms against the whites; and
this was not because they had come less in contact with them, for they
dwelt on the Missouri River, the natural highway of trade. As early
as 1854, the Ogallala and
Brule had trouble with the soldiers near