Buffalo Bill Cody: The Man behind the Legend

By Robert A. Carter | Go to book overview

14
“Purely and Distinctively
American”

When Sitting Bull joined the Wild West in 1885, he was fifty-four years old. Born in 1831 on the Grand River in present-day South Dakota, at a place the Lakota called Many Caches, for the number of food storage pits they had dug there, he was the son of a Hunkpapa Sioux named Returns-Again. The year of his birth, Andrew Jackson was serving his first term as president—though his election would certainly not have con/ cerned the Hunkpapa. The Hunkpapa—the name means “Those Who Camp by the Entrance”—roamed the territory of what is now North Dakota and eastern Wyoming and Montana, nomads and warriors, living off the land, unreconciled to white rule or life on the reservation as blan/ ket Indians.

“Of all the Indians I encountered in my years on the Plains, ” wrote Buffalo Bill in his Life Story, “the most resourceful and intelligent, as well as the most dangerous, were the Sioux. They had the courage of daredev/ ils combined with real strategy. They mastered the white man's tactics as soon as they had an opportunity to observe them. Incidentally they sup/ plied all thinking and observing white commanders with a great deal that was worth learning in the art of warfare. The Sioux fought to win, and in a desperate encounter were absolutely reckless of life. But they also fought wisely, and up to the minute of closing in they conserved their own lives with a vast amount of cleverness.…

“They were a strong race of men, the braves tall, with finely shaped heads and handsome features. They had poise and dignity and a great deal of pride, and they seldom forgot either a friend or an enemy.

“The greatest of all the Sioux in my time, or any time for that matter, was that wonderful old fighting man, Sitting Bull.…”

-279-

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