Monday, July 16, 2012

Chief Sitting Bull

Chief Sitting Bull

This morning was beautiful: a delicious 70-degrees, and a light breeze to stir the Matinicus Rock sea buoy wind chime as we sat on the too-seldom used patio with our morning coffee. Anyhow, to continue the story, our second stop in Anadarko was to the statuary gardens of the National Hall of Fame for Famous American Indians. One of the most interesting aspects of our visit was the man at the visitor’s desk, with whom we sat and talked for a half hour. There were a couple busts inside, but most were in the park outdoors. You know some of their names, but maybe we can share a little more information on their lives. It would undoubtedly have been a much longer visit in the gardens were it not for the temperature topping 100-degrees.

Sitting Bull was born near present-day Bullhead, SD, in March, 1831. He was known as a religious man, unpretentious, charming, a good father and husband, and influential in settling quarrels among his people. He won distinction in battle, and wore two feathers in his hair, one always colored red in remembrance of his battle wounds. In 1868, he sent two tribal representatives to sign the Treaty of Laramie, which would destroy their way of life and put them on a reservation, but would hopefully preserve the peace by keeping white people off their lands. All he wanted was for the whites to leave him alone and not starve his people by destroying the buffalo. However, the treaty was broken as the whites and the military continued to kill herds of buffalo, settle on their land, and dig in search of gold. When the Lakota Sioux moved to the reservation, Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse decided to remain outside with some of their followers. Gen. George Custer and the 7th Cavalry were sent to bring them in and return their followers to the reservation. The result was Custer’s Last Stand near the Little Bighorn River, in Eastern Montana. Sitting Bull was the last of his people to later surrender and lay down his gun in 1881. He was sent to prison for two years. In the summer of 1885, Sitting Bull joined Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show and toured Canada. In 1888, the government wanted to send his people to smaller parcels of land and take their reservation lands for 50-cents an acre for white expansion. Sitting Bull held the tribe together until the government agreed to pay $1.25 an acre.

The spark that lead to Sitting Bull’s murder and the Massacre at Wounded Knee was the Ghost Dance. This was a religious ceremony that the Sioux were taught would bring prosperity, unity among their people, promote peace, remove the white man from their lands, and unite the living with the souls of the dead. The Sioux were hunters who had never farmed. When the government put them on the reservations, they were told they would have to stay there and learn to farm. In the meanwhile, the government would provide food to carry them through to their harvest. The intense heat, lack of rain, and the semi-arid lands that made up the reservations produced little. Just as Sitting Bull began to fear that his people would starve to death, the government cut their food allowances in half. Chiefs Sitting Bull and Kicking Bear turned to the Ghost Dance in the hope that it would produce a miracle. Some Bureau of Indian Affairs agents were spooked by the gathering of dancing Indians, and called for military intervention. Other BIA agents tried to explain that it was nothing more than a religious ceremony, but hysteria won out, and thousands of troops were sent. One said, (paraphrasing) if the Seventh Day Adventists donned robes in anticipation of the second coming, the Army would not be called out. Should not the Indians be accorded the same consideration? In December, 1890, the Army ordered Sitting Bull’s arrest for refusing to stop the Ghost Dance. Sitting Bull was taken from his cabin in the middle of the nigh on December 15th, and when he resisted, he was shot in the chest and head. The Massacre at Wounded Knee took place thirteen days later.

Native Americans are an inseparable part of life in Oklahoma, since the state was created out of Indian lands.  I think too that most of us who love paddling and being in the outdoors feel a kindred tie to the peoples for whom these things were a way of life.  So, I hope you will indulge me in sharing a bit about four more famous Native Americans.  Thanks, jim       

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