Sitting Bull Is Dead
Victim of Ghost Dance Fear
Standing Rock Reservation, North Dakota
December 15, 1890
Sitting Bull is dead. The Lakota leader was killed in a skirmish between his followers and the Indian police who had been sent to arrest him. The attempted arrest came as a part of actions by the Indian Bureau and the U.S. Army to stop the Ghost Dance. James McLaughlin, Standing Rock Reservation Agent, investigated the ghost dancing shortly after its introduction to the reservation.
McLaughlin lectured Sitting Bull about these improper activities. Tension had existed between the agent and the Hunkpapa leader for some time. When the dancing continued, he sent Indian policemen to arrest and remove Kicking Bear, the teacher of the ghost dance. The policemen feared Kicking Bear’s powerful medicine and returned without him.
The agent concluded that Sitting Bull was the real force behind the Ghost Dancing and recommended to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs that Sitting Bull be arrested and placed in a military prison away from Standing Rock. The commissioner consulted with the Secretary of War and decided that the action would create more problems than it would solve.
The Indian Bureau became alarmed. On November 20 all agents were required to report the leaders of the dances on their respective reservations; McLaughlin identified Sitting Bull. General Nelson Miles, the Indian fighter of long-standing, believed that Sitting Bull must be removed quietly from Standing Rock. He hoped that Buffalo Bill Cody could convince him to surrender. McLaughlin resented Cody’s presence and prevented him from acting.
McLaughlin and General Miles agreed to cooperate in the arrest of Sitting Bull. The Indian policemen, under the command of Lieutenant Bull Head, arrived outside Sitting Bull’s log cabin before sunrise on December 15. They were backed up by some cavalry three miles away.
When informed of his arrest, Sitting Bull agreed to go quietly. However, a number of Ghost Dancers gathered outside the cabin and, outnumbering the policemen, tried to prevent the arrest. The scene turned into confusion and reports vary. It appears that a dancer pulled out a rifle and shot at Bull Head. A shot from Bull Head’s gun hit Sitting Bull in the back at close range. More shooting followed and eight of the dancers were killed, including a son of Sitting Bull. Six Indian policemen were killed and they were saved from further injury by the arrival of the cavalry.
Sitting Bull will be buried in the military cemetery at Fort Yates.
By Dr. D. Jerome Tweton
Originally published as The North Star Dakotan student newspaper, written by Dr. D. Jerome Tweton and supported by the North Dakota Humanities Council