Buffalo Bill Cody: The Man behind the Legend

By Robert A. Carter | Go to book overview

16
The Last of the Indian Wars

Though the Indian campaigns of 1872 to 1877 were sometimes called Sitting Bull's War, Sitting Bull was not necessarily the most militant of the Sioux leaders, or the most intractable. His followers considered him a beloved elder statesman, a tribal Benjamin Franklin whose advice was sought after and trusted, an orator, a philosopher, a propagandist, a healer of the sick, a psychiatrist, and a political leader. The Sioux also believed that he had mystical powers, which made him a spiritual leader as well. Historian Stephen Ambrose said of him: “Sitting Bull was an extraordinary man for any race at any time, and such a man is of necessity complex.”

“Sitting Bull had great power over the Sioux, said Lewis Dewitt, a white scout. “He was a good medicine man. He made good medicine.… He told the Sioux many times he was not made to be a reservation Indian. The Great Spirit made him a free Indian to go where he wanted to go, to hunt buffalo and to be a big leader in his tribe.”

After surrendering to General Miles in the summer of 1881, Sitting Bull and his 158 ragged followers had had no choice but to give up their nomadic, hunter-warrior existence and adapt as best they could to reser/ vation life at Standing Rock. Unfortunately, if the Sioux thought by ac/ cepting a sedentary existence they would put an end to white pressure for lands assigned to them by treaty, they were horribly, tragically wrong.

By 1881 almost all the Indian peoples within the United States had been forced to sign treaties that confined them to reservations and made them dependents of the federal government. That year Helen Hunt Jack/ son, a New England–born writer, wrote A Century of Dishonor, detailing the many broken promises that the government had made to Indian tribes. She also described the corrupt practices by which white settlers, with government connivance, were continuing to encroach on the re/ maining tribal lands and to violate the Indians' rights. Jackson thought of the plight of the Indians much as the abolitionists had felt about slavery.

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