February 18, 2016

2304 UNITED STATES - Sitting Bull

2304 Sitting Bull wearing a Strong Heart Society
headdress made of eagle tail feathers with
a pair of attached horns in the front.

Sitting Bull (Lakota: Tatanka Iyotake) was a Hunkpapa Lakota holy man who led his people during years of resistance to United States government policies, actually a struggle for survival on the North American Great Plains. He is remembered for his lifelong distrust of white men and his stubborn determination to resist their domination, but also as a loving father, a gifted singer, a man always affable and friendly toward others, whose deep religious faith gave him prophetic insight.

Sitting Bull was born c. 1831 near Grand River, Dakota Territory (now in South Dakota). He joined his first war party at age 14 and soon gained a reputation for fearlessness in battle. He became a leader of the powerful Strong Heart warrior society and, later, was a participant in the Silent Eaters, a select group concerned with tribal welfare. As a tribal leader Sitting Bull helped extend the Sioux hunting grounds westward into what had been the territory of the Shoshone, Crow, Assiniboin, and other tribes.

His first skirmish with white soldiers occurred in June 1863 during the U.S. Army’s retaliation against the Santee Sioux after the Minnesota Massacre, in which the Teton Sioux (Lakota) had no part. For the next five years he was in frequent hostile contact with the army, which was invading the Sioux hunting grounds. In 1866 he became principal chief of the northern hunting Sioux, with Crazy Horse, leader of the Oglala Sioux, as his vice-chief.

Respected for his courage and wisdom, Sitting Bull was made principal chief of the entire Sioux nation about 1867. In 1868 the Sioux accepted peace, but when gold was discovered in the Black Hills in the mid-1870s, a rush of white prospectors invaded lands guaranteed to the Indians by the treaty. Late in 1875 those Sioux who had been resisting the whites’ incursions were ordered to return to their reservations by January 31, 1876, or be considered hostile to the United States.

Even had Sitting Bull been willing to comply, he could not possibly have moved his village 390km in the bitter cold by the specified time. In March General George Crook took the field against the hostiles, and Sitting Bull responded by summoning the Sioux, Cheyenne, and certain Arapaho to his camp in Montana Territory. There on June 17 Crook’s troops were forced to retreat in the Battle of the Rosebud. The Indian chiefs then moved their encampment into the valley of the Little Bighorn River.

At this point Sitting Bull performed the Sun Dance, and when he emerged from a trance induced by self-torture, he reported that he had seen soldiers falling into his camp like grasshoppers from the sky. His prophecy was fulfilled on June 25, when the 7th Cavalry under Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer, a force of 700 men, suffered a severe defeat from a combined forces of the Lakota, Northern Cheyenne, and Arapaho tribes, five of the twelve companies being annihilated.

Strong public reaction among whites to the Battle of the Little Bighorn resulted in stepped-up military action. The Sioux emerged the victors in their battles with U.S. troops, but though they might win battle after battle, they could never win the war. Hunger led more and more Sioux to surrender, and in May 1877 Sitting Bull led his remaining followers across the border into Canada. After four years, during which his following dwindled steadily, famine forced Sitting Bull to surrender.

After 1883 he lived at the Standing Rock Agency, where he vainly opposed the sale of tribal lands. In 1885, partly to get rid of him, the Indian agent allowed him to join Buffalo Bill's Wild West show, in which he gained international fame. The year 1889 saw the spread of the Ghost Dance religious movement, which prophesied the advent of an Indian messiah who would sweep away the whites and restore the Indians’ former traditions.

The Ghost Dance movement augmented the unrest already stirred among the Sioux by hunger and disease. As a precaution, Indian police and soldiers were sent to arrest the chief. Seized on Grand River, December 15, 1890, Sitting Bull was killed while his warriors were trying to rescue him. He was buried at Fort Yates, but his remains were moved in 1953 to Mobridge, South Dakota, where a granite shaft marks his resting place.

About the stamps
The first stamp is part of a series issued to mark the Batman’s 75th anniversary as the protector of Gotham City, about which I wrote here. The second, dedicated to Johnny Cash (1932-2003), is part of the series Music Icons, about which I wrote here.

References
Sitting Bull - Encyclopaedia Britannica
Sitting Bull - Wikipedia
Sitting Bull - New Perspectives on The West
Sitting Bull, The True Story, by Christiane Whiteswan Sterne

Sender: Dustin / dcommons (postcrossing) US-3846696
Sent from Bismarck (North Dakota / United States), on 10.02.2016
Photo: David F. Barry / Bismarck (Dakota Territory) / 1888 

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