Chief Sitting Bull and General Armstrong Custer
Today, I wish to share a bit of Native American history with you, as I believe it is important to know where we are from to know where we are going. Lots of great chiefs fought to keep their land, so that the land of their people would remain theirs. They fought as best as they could for the right to live, to practice their traditions and to fish and hunt on their land. One major opponent to the Native Americans was General Custer.
General Custer (1839-1876)
One name that is somewhat well-known in Native history is General Custer, a military commander who led the Battle of Little BigHorn, which is known as Custer’s Last Stand. Custer was born in Monroe, Michigan in 1839. Even if he struggled throughout his schooling (he finished last in his class at West Point Academy) and presented with a rebellious streak, Custer excelled during the Civil War in 1861. He presented with good luck throughout the war, avoiding injury, in a gift he came to call “Custer’s luck”.
His excellence at directing cavalry and troops during his first battle, Battle of Bull Run, earned him recognition. He was known as the young general who wore red neckties on the battlefield and he seemed destined for a great destiny. The “Boy General” is said to have played a part in the end of the Civil War in 1865. General Custer and his wife Libbie, seemed destined for a successful life.
Years following the Civil War and Battle of Little Bighorn
Following the Civil War, General Custer became known for his battles against the Native Americans. One of the objectives then became to defeat the Cheyenne and Lakota Indians to possess more land. In 1876, the US government ordered an attack on the Lakota, an attack involving three separate forces, one of them led by General Custer. Unfortunately, the force led by Custer arrived early. However, in a brazen move, General Custer ordered his men to go ahead and invade a large Indian village on June 25. General Custer further ordered his troop of men to divide in three units. Against the rush of Lakota, Arapaho and Cheyenne warriors, they did not stand a chance. Custer and his men were killed, the battle being thus known as Custer’s Last Stand.
Although it was never fully proven, the legend has it that General Custer had a sexual relationship with a young Cheyenne woman named Monahseetah in 1868. At the age of 17, she was taken captive by Custer’s men in a battle known as the Battle of Washita River. Her father, Chief Little Rock, was killed in that same battle. Further, according to the Cheyenne oral history, Monahseetah had a son in January of 1869 and gave birth to a second son fathered by Custer later in the same year. Pictures of Monahseetah are hard to find, but you can see her on the right.
Custer’s opponent: Chief Sitting Bull (1831-1890)
Chief Sitting Bull was sitting on the other side of the attack during the Battle of Little Bighorn. Indeed, Sitting Bull, a Teton Dakota Indian chief, was Custer’s opponent. Ironically, he was hoping for peace to come out of the battle.
Sitting Bull, born in 1831 in what is now known as South Dakota, is one of the most well known Indian chiefs in history. However, early on, he did not show his father’s (Returns-Again) skills for warfare. He was then called “slow” as a result. Nonetheless, at age 10, he killed his first buffalo, and then four years later demonstrated some skills while fighting a rival clan. Over time, he became known as a defender of his people, fighting against the United Stated for the first time in 1863. His skills as a warrior and the respect he had earned, led him to become chief of the Lakota nation in 1868.
In the mid 1870’s, confrontation was inevitable when Sitting Bull refused to hand over his land to the American government. He defended his land to preserve his culture and also out of fate he believed awaited his people. Known as a Sundancer, Sitting Bull related a vision he had had when dancing. A vision in which the Natives defeated the American army. In 1876, he famously led thousand of Sioux and Cheyenne warriors to defeat General Custer and his men.
Sitting Bull after the Battle of Little Bighorn
The defeat in the Battle of Little Bighorn was an embarrassment for the American government. To escape the wrath of the government, Sitting Bull and his people, escaped to Canada, where they stayed for 4 years. At his return to the Dakota territory, Sitting Bull was held prisoner until 1883. Once free again, he lived his life in the traditional way, honoring his people’s way of life. He famously said: “I would rather die an Indian than live a white man”. He died in 1890 when authorities came to arrest him (the government fearing his influence). Gunshots were fired and Sitting Bull was shot in the head and killed. His remains were laid to rest in Fort Yates, North Dakota and were moved in 1953 to Mobridge, South Dakota.
Chief Sitting Bull got his wish and died as an Indian, defending his people’s way of life until the end. A’Ho