I Am Looking to the North for My Life--Sitting Bull, 1876-1881

I Am Looking to the North for My Life--Sitting Bull, 1876-1881

I Am Looking to the North for My Life--Sitting Bull, 1876-1881

I Am Looking to the North for My Life--Sitting Bull, 1876-1881

Excerpt

Someone reading from among the many published accounts of the battle at the Little Bighorn may wonder what happened to the Sioux warriors who fought and then disappeared as soon as the dust had settled from the clear Montana air. The origins of the war for the Northern Plains in 1876 have already been described in detail; the steady encroachment of white civilization on the Black Hills is a good example of just what was wrong with United States -- Native American affairs in the nineteenth century, and it has been cited often enough. The military operations in the Yellowstone River valley that summer have been subjected to successive waves of mythologizing and demythologizing for over a hundred years.

What did happen to the Sioux after the Little Bighorn? Cognizant of the climactic literary character of "Custer's Last Stand," many writers and historians have added, almost as a puzzled afterthought, that resistance seemed to melt away. More soldiers came, and the Indians gave up and trickled back onto the reservations in Dakota Territory. Some followed Sitting Bull into exile in Canada.

"Some followed Sitting Bull into exile in Canada" was a phrase that sparked my interest several years ago when I began this study. At the time it seemed to me that if the man many white Americans of the late nineteenth century regarded as the "perpetrator of the Custer massacre" had actually led some of his people into exile in a foreign country, the act would not be a postscript to a military campaign, but the beginning of a diplomatic event.

In that case, the options open to the American government were decidedly different from those accorded to U.S. military commanders chasing Kickapoo Indians across the Mexican border in 1873 or Apaches in the 1880s. It was one thing to send troops into the desolate regions beyond the Rio Grande, violating the sovereignty of a small, poor nation. It was quite another to go after a group of Indians given sanctuary by local authorities in the name of the government of Her Majesty, the Queen of England. The realities of the international situation and the delicacy of relations between the United States and Great Britain during this period would dictate negotiation, not armed invasion, along the northern border with Canada.

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