Sitting Bull was born around 1834 in the region of the Grand River, present-day South Dakota, the son of a sub-chief. He soon established himself as a hunter and warrior of the Hunkpapa Teton band of the Sioux or Lakota (meaning "allies") tribe, at fourteen years of age accompanying his father on the warpath against the Crow. It was during this campaign that he was given his name Yatanka Yotanka, or "Sitting Bull," after scalping an enemy. After that he became a very influential member of his tribe as a shaman (medicine man), peacemaker and organiser.

Sitting Bull's Importance
Sitting Bull is remembered for his stand against the settlers. His vision of the Indians' battle with the settlers, which came between 17 March and 17 June 1876, is very well known. In his vision Bluecoat soldiers were entering his camp. The Great Spirit gave them to him, he said, because they "had no ears." By this, Sitting Bull meant that they refused to listen to reason and so war was coming to them. And come the war did. Sitting Bull united tribes in the Battle of the Little Bighorn, and organised the battle tactics. He did a good job with his preparations, as the warriors killed about 268 US soldiers, and only 24 Sioux warriors were killed.

Sitting Bull is also famous for his tour with Buffalo Bill Cody's Wild West show, an outdoor entertainment that used characters from novels and solidified the Indian myths. For four months Sitting Bull showed off as Custer's slayer. He never toured again, his agent James McLaughlin complaining to S.C. Armstrong on 9 November 1885 that, instead of making him more docile, the tours had made him "very pompous and insolent." Before this people had seen Sitting Bull as the most notorious chieftain of them all, described as "savage, unmerciful" in Henry W. Longfellow's "The Revenge of Rain-in-the-Face," published on 1 March 1887.

Achievements and the Effect on Indian-Settler Relations
Sitting Bull led attacks on white settlements in the Great Plains north-central region, both during and after the American Civil War (1861-65). Sitting Bull's fame grew when he led a raid against Fort Buford in 1866, where the Missouri and Yellowstone Rivers' met. In 1868, Sitting Bull was made war chief of the whole Hunkpapa Tribe, when Crazy Horse joined his camp temporarily. He remained on the warpath from 1869 to 1876. General P. H. Sheridan started a campaign against Sitting Bull because of the latter man's refusal to go on reservation.

Brulés tribes joined the Hunkpapa Sioux. Sitting Bull held a Sun Dance. This was a very painful ceremony that required great bravery. It was after this ritual that Sitting Bull received his vision. He began preparations for the defeat of the whites.

The first battle after the Sun Dance was the Battle of the Rosebud, on the 17 June. Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse led half their warriors into an attack against General Crook's Bluecoats. Although the Indians lost 36 warriors and the Bluecoats only 10, the greater number of Indians forced the whites to retreat. The Sioux and their allies then moved westwards, in preparation for the famous Battle of the Little Bighorn. Trickles of Indians who had escaped from reservations with stolen weapons and ammunition joined up with them.

Custer commanded a regiment of the Seventh United States Cavalry. It comprised thirty-one officers, five hundred and eighty-five men, as well as scouts from the Arikara (Sahnish) and Crow tribes. Altogether there was a force of about six hundred and fifty-five. On 25 June 1876, Custer approached the huge Indian camp and divided his troops. Major Reno led three companies to attack the southern end of the camp. Gall, war-chief to the Hunkpapa Sioux, led the charge upon Reno's men. Crazy Horse joined him and together they drove away the soldiers.

Sitting Bull also had the idea of ambushing Custer's men. As Custer's column advanced, the general watched the camp. He saw only women and children, and so moved in to attack the encampment. The Indians surprised Custer and forced him back to the high-ground. Gall and Black Moon chased them northwards and Crazy Horse attacked from the west. They soon surrounded Custer's troops, and in the space of an hour, all 225 men in his company lay dead.

By annihilating so many US troops, the Indians had set the entire nation against them. Sitting Bull led his people into Canada where the US cavalry was not allowed to follow. The United States offered Sitting Bull a full pardon, but Sitting Bull didn't return until 1881.

When Sitting Bull and his tribe returned to the United States they settled at Standing Rock Indian reservation. However, Sitting Bull continued being hostile to the settlers. Because of Sitting Bull's influence, the Sioux Indians refused to sell their land to the Europeans in 1888. The situation worsened when the Indians began following the Native American messiah Wovoka, who introduced the Ghost Dance. This was a revivalistic religion that promised the defeat of the white man and the return of the old way of life. Sitting Bull approved of the Ghost Dance but didn't join in. Nevertheless, Sitting Bull was considered the leader of an expected rebellion, and so the authorities arrested him on 15 December 1890. His captors killed him the same day when his followers attempted to rescue him. This incident probably elevated Sitting Bull's status to that of a martyr to other Indians, who followed his example and continued being hostile to the settlers.
The Death of Sitting Bull and Public Sentiment Concerning Indians

It was believed that regardless of what Sitting Bull, himself, said, he would continue stirring up the Indians. Also, after years of thwarting and frustrating the army's attempts to dispose of the "Indian problem" (the complete loss at Little Big Horn, being a particularly blackened eye to the military) by whatever means seemed necessary/convenient in order to take their land for expansion, agriculture, and mining, it isn't hard to imagine a little bit of revenge tainted the "arrest."

It's doubtful that the arrest would have ended any other way than with his death. Using tribal police only seems a way to avoid direct responsibility by the army. General Leonard Colby of the Nebraska National Guard:

[There was an] understanding between the officers of the Indian and military departments that it would be impossible to bring Sitting Bull to Standing Rock alive, and even if successfully captured, it would be difficult to tell what to do with him. It is therefore believed that there was a tacit arrangement between the commanding officers and the Indian police, that the death of the famous old Medicine man was much preferred to his capture, and that the slightest attempt to rescue him should be the signal for his destruction.
What follows is a chilling editorial from the St. Louis Republic (St. Louis, Missouri), dated 17 December 1890. Out of context, the third line might seem pointed irony except that the editorial is serious.
The death of Sitting Bull removes one of the obstacles to civilization. He was a greasy savage, who rarely bathed and was liable at any time to become infected with vermin. During the whole of his life he entertained the remarkable delusion that he was a free-born American with some rights in the country of his ancestors. Under this delusion, when civilized immigrants pushed over the Black Hills country in search of gold he considered them trespassers on the lands of his people and tried to keep them out. He was engaged in this absurd and wicked attempt when General Custer surprised his camp in the interests of civilization. Unfortunately for civilization General Custer was mistaken in the number of the savages who had assembled to fight for the land, which they foolishly believed was their birthright, and " a massacre" ensued. That is, it was one of those rare occasions when savagery for the moment had the best of it in a pitched battle with civilization. It was, of course, only for the moment, and Sitting Bull and his followers, who might have been easily and legally hanged as murderers, were granted a temporary respite.

This graciousness of the Great Father they have constantly abused by obstructing civilization in every possible way, especially in the worst way possible by trying to keep their land in a state of barbarism, and by insisting on their own understanding of treaties, regardless of necessary changes in translation into a highly civilized language, and of necessary amendments made in Congress. They have gone on holding ghost dances, complaining about the rations issued to them under treaties, objecting to the way their money was handled by the government, and it is charged on excellent civilized authority, actually stealing from civilized people who have settled on their lands.

Under such circumstances there could have been only one ending for Sitting Bull, and now that it has come he has no complaint to make. There is every reason to believe, therefore, that it was perfectly satisfactory to him. He himself had recognized it as inevitable and had fully made up his mind to it, preferring it to death in what in his barbaric way he called the "stone houses of the Great Father," meaning thereby the penitentiaries in which the Great Father, with the aid of Hon. Powell Clayton, Hon. Poker J. McClure and others of his Sanhedrin, attempts on occasion to incarcerate those who disagree with him in such a way as to inconvenience him.

So when Sitting Bull was surprised and overpowered by the agents of the Great Father, he set his greasy, stolid face into the expression it always took when he was most overcome by the delusion that he was born a native American from native American ancestry. Disarmed and defenceless he sat in the saddle in which he had been put as a preliminary to taking him to prison, and without a change of countenance urged his handful of greasy followers to die free. This idiotic proceeding he kept up until he was shot out of the saddle.

So died Sitting Bull. So was removed one of the last obstacles in the path of progress. He will now make excellent manure for the crops, which will grow over him when his reservation is civilized.

The work of redeeming these excellent lands from barbarism has now reached a point where it can be at once carried to completion. The filth and vermin-infested Sioux and other savages who have pretended a desire to live even under starvation rations and broken treaties will be persuaded by Sitting Bull's example, and a little skillful management of the same kind which converted him from a brutal savage into a good Indian, to stand up where they can be shot out of the way of advancing progress.

Mr. Harrison should continue to act with the same promptness and firmness he has shown in Sitting Bull's case. While one of these barbarians lives to claim an acre of unentered land in the United States he will remain as an obstacle to progress. A firm persistence by the President in the admirably progressive policy he has illustrated in Sitting Bulls case will make good Indians of all the rest of them, bucks, squaws and pappooses. And the future historian will say of them, no doubt, that they died justly, because they owned lands and would not use fine-toothed combs.

While it might be easy to dismiss this as atypical or extremist, one might also consider Hannah Arendt's concept of the banality of evil. It's easy to look back today and reflect on the sins of the past and think of them as aberrant and disconnected from everything else, but it was not atypical, nor was it considered extremist by many. It was "inevitable," "progress," "destiny," "necessary." There are frightening parallels with the soldiers "just following orders" at Sand Creek or Wounded Knee (for which twenty Medals of Honor were handed out) and others claiming that same reason for their genocidal actions of World War Two.

To show how this mode of thinking was not uncommon, consider the editorials of Wizard of Oz creator L. Frank Baum in the Aberdeen Saturday Pioneer (Aberdeen, South Dakota). This following the death of Sitting Bull:

The proud spirit of the original owners of these vast prairies inherited through centuries of fierce and bloody wars for their possession, lingered last in the bosom of Sitting Bull. With his fall the nobility of the Redskin is extinguished, and what few are left are a pack of whining curs who lick the hand that smites them. The Whites, by law of conquest, by justice of civilization, are masters of the American continent, and the best safety of the frontier settlements will be secured by the total annihilation of the few remaining Indians. Why not annihilation? Their glory has fled, their spirit broken, their manhood effaced; better that they die than live the miserable wretches that they are. History would forget these latter despicable beings, and speak, in later ages of the glory of these grand Kings of forest and plain that Cooper loved to heroism.

We cannot honestly regret their extermination, but we at least do justice to the manly characteristics possessed, according to their lights and education, by the early Redskins of America.

Following Wounded Knee (3 January 1891):
The peculiar policy of the government in employing so weak and vacillating a person as General Miles to look after the uneasy Indians, has resulted in a terrible loss of blood to our soldiers, and a battle which, at best, is a disgrace to the war department. There has been plenty of time for prompt and decisive measures, the employment of which would have prevented this disaster.

The PIONEER has before declared that our only safety depends upon the total extirmination [sic] of the Indians. Having wronged them for centuries we had better, in order to protect our civilization, follow it up by one more wrong and wipe these untamed and untamable creatures from the face of the earth. In this lies safety for our settlers and the soldiers who are under incompetent commands. Otherwise, we may expect future years to be as full of trouble with the redskins as those have been in the past.

An eastern contemporary, with a grain of wisdom in its wit, says that `when the whites win a fight, it is a victory, and when the Indians win it, it is a massacre.

A note on General Miles. He tried three times to have the officer in charge during the massacre court-martialed. He was unsuccessful. In his words, he described it as "the cruel and unjustifiable massacre of Indian men and innocent women and children at Wounded Knee on the Red Cloud Reservation, South Dakota." Unfortunately, it was his point of view that was atypical.

(quotations come from

Sitting Bull is also a brand of caffeinated soft drink available in Lidl (cheap European supermarket). It tastes a lot like Red Bull, but with Sitting Bull you can enjoy a whopping 545 kilo-joules of energy and 33% of your RDA of five vitamins and minerals, not to mention some serious caffeiney goodness for just 29p! Other ingredients include a dollop of taurine, 2 e-numbers and, bizarrely, folic acid.

The cans are decorated with a wonderfully simplistic image of a primary blue faced Indian with matching feather head-dress and fire engine red hair. At first glance the idea of “Sitting Bull” as a moniker for an energy drink seems ridiculous, however, a little research (thank you e2) reveals that perhaps the cheap supermarket people are cleverer than we give them credit for. The idea of Sitting Bull as an inspirational leader of his people, galvanising them into action against the settlers? On the one hand it’s a shame that he is remembered and used to sell a soft drink, on the other it’s a mark of respect few people will recognise. If it was intentional, and it is by no means certain, then well done to the Lidl worker who made it up.

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