Sioux History

History of Sitting Bull and His Sioux Indians 

By: Major C. Newell, Indian Agent - 

Sitting Bull

The first time Sitting Bull came before the public as a chief was at the time Young Crazy Horse was killed at the Ogalalahlah Agency. Up to that time Crazy Horse had been chief of what was known as the Northern band of Sioux. This band came and camped near where Red Cloud and Spotted Tail were camped for the purpose of signing the treaty of eighteen hundred and sixty-eight, and abide by the provisions of that treaty. 

Is this Crazy Horse? Tintype on exhibit at the Custer Battlefield Museum that maintains it is the only authentic portrait of Crazy Horse. Historians continue to dispute the identification.

While Young Crazy Horse was counseling with his tribe getting them all to work in consort a half-breed Sioux who had long held a grudge against Young Crazy Horse, resolved to get the young chief in trouble if possible. He told the officer commanding the troops stationed there that Young Crazy Horse was getting ready to leave for the North instead of coming in to 'sign the treaty. Black Crow and White Thunder were sent out to ask Crazy Horse to come in, that the officer wished to talk with him. He jumped on a pony and rode in with them. When he arrived at headquarters he was immediately taken to the guard house. When he saw the treachery of our officers he resisted arrest without cause, and was run through with a bayonet in the hands of a soldier.

 Chief Sitting Bull

Sitting Bull being next in command took charge of the camp, and left, for the North. Several times he asked that his people might come in under the same terms Spotted Tail and Red Cloud came in on; but has been refused. By keeping that party out of the treaty, it has been a handle that friends of the regular army have used every winter to get an increase of the army to fifty thousand men.

Red Cloud, Ogalalla Sioux oil on canvas by Joseph Henry Sharp (1859-1953) -- Red Cloud (Lakota: Maȟpíya Lúta) (1822 – December 10, 1909) was a war leader and a chief of the Oglala Lakota from 1868 to 1909. One of the most capable Native American opponents to the United States Army, Chief Red Cloud led a successful campaign in 1866–1868 known as Red Cloud's War over control of the Powder River Country in northeastern Wyoming and southern Montana.
Sitting Bull is 55 years old, has three wives, and one son at Fehanville School. There is no truth in the story that he is half white or that he is educated. He is naturally a sharp, shrewd warrior; very proud and dignified. He is now quite anxious to have his people educated and learn the ways of the white man.

Standing Elk

Standing Elk is now 70 years of age, 6 feet and 1 inch high. When a young man, was very powerful, weighing about 220 pounds. He was chief over a large tribe of his nation. His shirt is decorated with the scalps of twelve Indians, mostly Pawnees, that fell under his tomahawk during the Sioux war, which lasted fourteen years. Standing Elk took a very active part with his people. Our Government employed from ten to fifty thousand soldiers out on the Plains trying to drive these people from their homes; finally in the year 1868, commissioners were sent out to make a treaty with the Sioux. Our Government  promised to feed and clothe them for forty years or until such time as they should become self-supporting. Standing Elk is trying to have his people learn the ways of the white people and in time become self-supporting.

Whirlwind Soldier

Whirlwind Soldier, the oldest son of the old chief, Spotted Tail, and chief over a large band of Sioux warriors, is about 45 years old, 5 feet 9 inches high, powerful and very quick. His war shirt is ornamented with many scalps, mostly Pawnees and Crows. Whirlwind Soldier was with his father during the fourteen years of war with our Government, was noted for his rapidity in riding into battled The warriors said he went like the whirlwind, therefore the name "Whirlwind Soldier." He is naturally of a very kind disposition, ready to help a friend or kill an enemy; he never forgets a kindness or an injury; not much given to farming, would prefer to be a hunter and warrior; has a son at Carlisle school being educated by the Government.

Gardner Photo of Sioux standing left to right: Quick Bear, Spotted Tail, White Eyes, Swift Bear, Whirlwind Soldier, and Long Mandan.


Roaster, the Medicine Man, is now about  65 years old, a large powerful man, weighing over 200 pounds,' standing about 5 feet 10 inches high. In his young days he was a great hunter and a prominent warrior. A large number of Indian scalps adorn his war shirt. He became a Medicine man some years ago. Since which time he has devoted himself to curing his people of their different kinds of sickness.

During my stay with the tribe I spent much time in making myself conversant with this method of curing disease. They have many ways unknown to white people. They actually cure many forms of disease entirely without medicine of any kind, by using the hands and hot water. To explain here would require much space. Any one, either lady or gentleman, desirous of learning the art—the writer will be glad to give instructions at any time, free of charge, as it is something that must be seen to be appreciated. Many ignorant people will set it aside as a humbug. The time will come when the world will understand and appreciate it.

SIOUX INDIANS Standing Elk, Roaster, & Whirlwind Soldier - Circa 1880s  

Walk About and Talk, the wife of Standing Elk, is 35 years of age, weighs 260 pounds, and is very stout and healthy. The Sioux women do not allow- the men or boys to do any kind of work, except hunting. Should the men attempt to work, the women laugh and call them squaws. Use the Shield, the wife of Whirlwind Soldier, is 40 years of age, weighs 160 pounds, and is a true type of an Indian woman.

Jumper, grandson of Standing Elk, is 5 years old. A smart active boy and a fair specimen of the Indian boys of the tribe. His father, Standing Elk's son, died two years ago. His mother is with her tribe out on the Plains.

Little Black Eyes, daughter of Whirlwind Soldier, is 5 years of age. A very smart, active little girl. Both children will be placed in school and educated as soon as old enough.

A painted in black, white, red, deep orange, pale peach, and pale yellow, Sioux Muslin with eleven scenes of Lakota Sioux and/or Cheyenne warriors engaged in combat with Crow and Pawnee enemies. Scenes have a with a variety of armaments, including bows and arrows, hand guns, rifles, sacred lances, coup sticks, and quirts.

How the Sioux Dress and Paint When They Go to War.

The only clothing worn by a Sioux warrior is the war bonnet, made of eagles'- feathers, a cloth worn around the hips, the moccasins and sometimes leggins. They usually paint their bodies black with yellow stripes, unbraid their hair, tie up their horses' tails, and likewise paint their horses. Then with a gun or bows and arrows they- are ready to go and fight their enemies. The supplies and extra baggage are usually packed on extra ponies and cared for by the wives of the men.

Chief Blue Horse,"Sunka Wakan To, by E.A. Burbank, 1898

Scalping the Dead.

The Sioux always braid upon their own heads a small lock of hair about two inches across on the scalp, separate from the rest of their hair. That they call the scalp-lock. They expect that will be cut off by whoever kills them in battle. They keep it braided at all times and ready to be taken off at a moment's notice. They expect their enemies will keep a scalp-lock braided on their heads ready for them to take off whenever they shall kill them. If the enemy do not have the scalp-lock braided for them, they are not brave soldiers and are afraid to die.'

How They Catch Antelope

When two or three Indians are out on a hunt, and see a herd of antelope, they ride as close as they can unobserved, dismount and hobble the ponies. Then creep up through the grass toward the herd as close as they can. Then tie a red cloth on the end of a stick, wave that and attract the attention of the antelope. Soon they will start off going in a circular course around the flag, gradually coming closer until they get up very close, when the hunters let fly their arrows, bringing some of them down.

How they Catch Eagles

Eagles are very hard to shoot as they always fly very high. The Indians go to the top of some very high hill, near where they think there are eagle's nests. There they dig a hole in the ground large enough for a man to get into. They cover it all over with pine boughs and brush so the eagle cannot see that there is anything there out a pile of brush. The Indian then ties a live rabbit to the brush pile aver the hole. Soon some eagle flying over spies the rabbit. He will circle around two or three times and dive down and seize the rabbit with his talons. Then the Indian reaches up through the brush and grabs the eagle by the legs and pulls him down into the hole. They often catch several eagles in one day. Two large eagles are worth a horse with them. The tail feathers are worth one dollar each.

Kills on Horseback, Ogallala Sioux, hand-colored platinum print, by Herman Heyn, Circa 1899. Kills on Horseback was brother-in-law to the great Sioux chief Spotted Tail, and was a witness to Spotted Tail's murder by a fellow Sioux in 1881.

How They Cure Meat in Summer.

The altitude where these people live is about from 3 to 4 thousand feet above the sea. The air is so pure that meat hung out in the hot sun will cure without spoiling. They seldom ever use any salt on their meat.

Courting and Marriage

When a young man sees a girl he wants to marry, he will manage to meet her out on the prairie, then throw his blanket over her head and talk to her. They will keep this up until the matter is settled. Then the young man will make some presents to the girl's mother — usually from two to ten horses, with some money or blankets — whatever he has. Then the relatives of the young couple will get together and have a feast and dance, at which time the young man will make a speech and tell the people there assembled that he takes this young woman as his wife for all time. Then he strikes the drum with a stick, which is the same as signing a contract. The young woman goes through the same performance, which concludes the marriage ceremony, after which they feast and dance until morning.

Sioux Chief Broken Arm, Ogallala Sioux, hand-colored platinum print, by Herman Heyn, Circa 1899.

Should the married couple become separated for some cause and cannot live together pleasantly; the man or woman has a right to give the other a divorce. Should a woman go off and leave her husband, the next time there is a dance in the village, or a large gathering of the people, the young man will make a speech and tell the people that his wife has gone off and left him, that he throws her away, and anyone can have her. Should the man go off, the wife does the same thing, likewise striking the drum, which cancels the contract.

Burying the Dead.

The dead are usually wrapped up in buffalo skins, or blankets, and placed upon scaffolds made by driving four stakes into the ground, and laying poles across the top of them about 7 feet from the ground. The air is so pure that no smell comes from the corpse. They gradually dry up so that nothing but bones remain. Children are often tied up in the branches of small trees, away from wild animals.

How They Signal in Time of War.

Waving a blanket is the most common way. Certain motions of a blanket signify certain movements - almost the same as used by our signal service. In the night they use a fire brand to convey their signals. Now that they can buy looking glasses, they use them in the day-time when the sun shines. By flashing them in the sun they can be seen for miles.

How They Get Names.

A Sioux Indian will not tell you his name; he will travel half a day to find someone to tell you. Should he speak his own name it would be a sure sign of bad luck. The names given to children they generally carry until they are young men; then by some act or deed the name is usually changed. They often name after some kind of bear or eagle. The following are common names: War Eagle, Black Eagle, Thunder Hawk, White Thunder, Red Shirt, Crow Dog, Red Dog, White Bear, Swift Bear, Turning Bear, Goose Arrow Sack, Yellow Breast, Mulehead, Skunk, Black Bull. The following names for women are quite common; they do not change their names when they marry: White Cow, Yellow Hair, Running Antelope, Spotted Elk, No Hair, Big Feet, Carry the Shield, Laughing Water, and many other of like nature.

How They Tan Skins

They usually use ashes and the brains of the animals killed, together with very much work with their hands, rubbing the leather until it is very soft.

Denver Library Photo of Whirlwind Soldier, Roaster and Standing Elk

How They Live in Winter

They usually put their tepee up in some ravine where there is plenty of timber and water. They dig a hole in the ground in the center of the tepee about one foot deep and a foot wide, which they usually keep filled with fire. This warms the tent and furnishes the fire for cooking over. Their beds are made of buffalo robes, blankets, and pine boughs or leaves, gathered when dry. Their clothing was formerly made of buffalo skins in winter.

The Way They Calculate Their Ages

When you ask an Indian how old he is, he will count up on his fingers: So many winters have passed since he was at a certain camp; so many more to some other camp, and at a certain camp his mother said he was 16 years old, the time he became a young man. They keep time by so many winters, or from the winter that they fought the Pawnees or the Crows, or some particular event.

Their Form of Worship

The Sioux pray and sing to the Great Spirit, or God as we call the great controlling power of this universe, with the same words in their prayers and songs as we have. The Medicine Men or holy men devote their time to healing the sick, and praying and singing with those in sickness and trouble. The Medicine Man is fed and clothed by his tribe. They are not expected to go to war or hunt. The cures performed by these men with their curious ways are very strange to white people who are ignorant of many of the laws of nature. Those wild, uncivilized people can teach us many things in regard to nature's laws. In our ignorance we ate liable to condemn them. They says, "we can cure our people, and the white man can cure his."

The Custer Massacre

To give a full account of the massacre would require many pages. As our little book is limited, we will make it brief.

"The Custer Fight" by Charles Marion Russell. Lithograph. Shows the Battle of Little Bighorn, from the Sioux side

When Gen. Custer learned that the Sioux were camped on the Little Big Horn River, he made a forced march of 84 miles, day and night, to attack their camp and kill them before any of the others of Gen. Terry's command could come up. He made the attack in person with 200 men, leaving 400 in reserve under Major Reno. The Indians met him and killed his entire party. The Indians lost about 46 killed and about 160 wounded.

Original Sitting Bull 4 1/4"  x 6 1/2" cabinet bust portrait, imprinted “Geo. W. Scott, Fort Yates, Dakota,”  on the bottom border and signed by Sitting Bull on the verso.
Had Custer obeyed orders and waited until the command all came up, they could have forced the Indians to come in as prisoners, and thereby ended the Sioux war. But his haste to get all the glory of killing these people, led him to make the attack against the orders of his superior officers. These people do not like to speak of it in public as they know many white people do not know the truth of the affair, and they are blamed as murderers; when the truth is, they only defended their women and children against the attack of the enemy.

Custer found a camp of women and children on the Wichitaw Creek some time before, where he murdered over 300 women and children, who had no one to defend them. For further reference, I refer you to the official accounts, published by the War Department.

Late United States Indian Agent.

Treaty signing by William T. Sherman and the Sioux at Fort Laramie, Wyoming Photographed by Alexander Gardner, 1868

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  1. That is not a photo of Crazy Horse.. sorry.. wrong tag on that one

  2. yea you need to take that off

  3. The tag states it is a disputable image. I added on the tag, "Is this Crazy Horse? and provided a link to historian dispute at the Custer National Battlefield. Thank you - Stan


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  5. Who do I contact about the Medicine man healing ways?

  6. Who do I contact about the Medicine man healing ways?

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