Friday, August 30, 2019

Sitting Bull’s Railway Speech

As I've talked about in a couple of other posts, the U.S. government defeated the Sioux. As a result, it took control of the Black Hills really no different than the Sioux Indians did when they defeated the Cheyenne Indians for that same land. The Sioux claimed the Black Hills were sacred lands. They claimed they were their traditional homeland, yet their actual traditional homelands were far to the East.

While some believe the Sioux Indians were originally a woodland Indian tribe of the upper Mississippi River in Minnesota, Iowa, and Wisconsin, we know that before the mid-1600s, that the Sioux actually lived in the area around Lake Superior. They were hunter-gatherers. They fished using spears from canoes. They hunted deer, buffalo, and other game, including turkey, elk, and bear. They gathered wild rice, wild spinach, turnips, wild herbs, and whatever else they could find.

Continual warfare with other Indian tribes, especially the Ojibwa Indians and the Chippewa, and the French, eventually drove them south into Western Minnesota. While being forced out of their homeland, the tribe split into the Dakota, Nakota, and Lakota Sioux tribes.

The Dakota Sioux, also known as the Isanti/Santee, consisted of four bands called the Sisseton, Wahpekute, Mdeakantonwon, and the Wahpeton. The Nakota Sioux, also known as the Ihanktown, consisted of three bands called the Yankton, the Upper Yankton, and the Lower Yankton. The Lakota Sioux consisted of seven bands, including the Oglala, Hunkpapa, Sicangu, Miniconjous, Sihasapa, Oohenumpa, and Itazipacola.

During the Sioux Wars, it was the Lakota Sioux who fought the U.S. Army. Wars between the United States and the Sioux had been taking place since 1862. Coincidentally, that was the same year that the Homestead Act was passed in an attempt to get more American settlers to go West.

If the year 1862 sounds significant, it should because the Homestead Act was enacted in 1862 during the Civil War. So yes, while fighting the Confederacy, the federal government passed the Homestead Act. I believe it was to discourage some Southerners from taking up arms against the Union.

The reason that I believe that that was the case has to do with the provisions of the Homestead Act. It stated that any adult citizen, or intended U.S. citizen, who had not picked up arms against the Union, could claim 160 acres of surveyed government land. The catch was that you had to be a citizen of the United States, not the Confederate States, come up with a minimal filing fee, and stick it out for 5 years of continuous residence on that land.

After 5 years of continuous residence on the land, the original filer was entitled to the property, free and clear. The title could also be acquired after only a 6-month residency, and trivial improvements provided the claimant paid the government $1.25 per acre.

To make it more enticing to Union troops to take up homesteading and possibly persuade Confederate troops to give a second thought to their decision to take up arms against the Union, after the Civil War, Union troops were able to deduct the time they had served from the residency requirements.

So think about that, if a Union soldier spent 4 years fighting in the Union Army from 1961 to 1865, he could have his homestead free and clear after only one year instead of five. If you're wondering how many laid down their arms or how did the Homestead Act affect enlistment, no, I have no idea if this enticement was enough to get some to lay down arms and others to stay the whole duration in uniform for the Union.

It should be noted that the Homestead Act was part of the Republican Party platform of 1860. It should also be noted that skin color was not a factor in claiming a homestead. What I mean by that is that Black Union troops and freed slaves were eligible to homestead. And, of course, the same offer of Union troops being able to deduct the time they had served from the residency requirements also applied to Black Union troops. Of the more than 500 million acres dispersed by the federal government between 1862 and 1904, more than 80 million acres went to homesteaders.

In 1874, gold was discovered in the Black Hills. The U.S. Army sent troops to try to ease problems with miners and adventurers flooding into the Black Hills, but that was really futile as gold called more and more settlers to the area. Of course, this all only inflamed tensions with the Sioux Indians. It wasn't too long before the Great Sioux War of 1876 started. Also known as the Black Hills War, it would last until 1877. During its time, the Black Hills War saw a series of battles take place.

On June 25 and 26, 1876, the Battle of the Little Bighorn took place. That two-day battle resulted in the largest defeat of U.S. forces in American history, and to merely say that it was the most significant action of the Great Sioux War of 1876 would be an understatement.

Known as the Battle of the Greasy Grass to the Lakota Sioux, it took place along the Little Bighorn River in the Crow Indian Reservation in southeastern Montana Territory. It became known to Americans as "Custer's Last Stand."

The fight had been inspired by the visions of Sitting Bull. What took place was a battle of the combined forces of the Lakota Sioux, Northern Cheyenne, and Arapaho tribes, all versus the U.S. Army's 7th Cavalry Regiment. It was an overwhelming victory for the Lakota Sioux, Northern Cheyenne, and Arapaho.

The U.S. 7th Cavalry, Lieutenant Colonel George Armstrong Custer, who was formerly a brevetted Major General during the Civil War, and his total force of 700 soldiers suffered a loss of 268 dead and 55 wounded -- six of those wounded would die later from their wounds. Among those killed were four of Custer's Crow Indian scouts and two of his Arikara Indian scouts. A total of five of his twelve companies were completely annihilated. Custer himself, along with two of his brothers, and two other family members, were killed in that action.

The stunning defeat at the Battle of Little Big Horn had the American public screaming for vengeance as people were to annihilate the Sioux. While Sitting Bull's leadership inspired his people to a major victory that day, the federal government sent thousands of more soldiers to force the Sioux into ultimately surrendering. It's said Sitting Bull refused to surrender until 1881. By being the last to surrender, he certainly showed how much he wanted to keep up the fight.

On September 8th, 1883, Sioux leader Sitting Bull was an honored guest at a ceremony marking the completion of the Northern Pacific Railway. In attendance was former President Ulysses S. Grant, Secretary of State Henry Teller, the governors of every state that the railway connected, Northern Pacific Railroad president Henry Villard, other federal and state government officials, politicians, railroad barons, and workers, along with the U.S. Army. Besides the enlisted troops, a few high-ranking Army officers attended the event.

It should be noted that as a result of the Homestead Act, the discovery of gold, and the violation of treaties, by the mid-1870, there were about 5,000 American settlers living in the Black Hills. In 1880, that number was believed to be around 117,000 Americans living in that area. By the mid-1880s, the number of settlers had doubled to about 234,000. Knowing this, it's a safe bet to say that Sitting Bull was not happy with Americans or the federal government's policies when he arrived at the dedication ceremony.

Sioux leader Sitting Bull was not only in attendance but was there to say a few words to the audience. During that occasion, it's said that Sitting Bull seized the moment to give folks there an ear full of what he really thought of them.

When it was time for him to speak, the audience was surprised when the famous Indian warrior spoke in Lakota Sioux. Though fluent in English, he did not want to give his speech in English. Frankly, that was not very smart considering what took place.

Sitting Bull is reported to have looked directly at former President Ulysses S. Grant, Secretary of State Henry Teller, and the others there and said, "I hate all White people. You are thieves and liars. You have taken away our land and made us outcasts." And yes, he went on from there.

Supposedly, Sitting Bull went on to say why he hated White people but never mentioned how his people killed and slaughters other Indians tribes who felt the same way about him and his people. It was reported that he stopped talking now and then to smile at them before returning to his polite rant.

Of course, the audience applauded enthusiastically since they had no idea what he was saying. Remember, he chose to give his speech in Sioux and not in English. After their applause, believe it or not, Sitting Bull would bow back to them in return before going back to tell them how much he hated them. Yes, he would smile and bow, all while telling those in attendance that he hated White people.

The whole time that Sitting Bull was telling the audience how much he couldn't stand them, the Army officer who was his translator is said to have sat and remained silent. Some say that the Army officer kept his poker face intact the whole time that Sitting Bull spoke. Then, once Sitting Bull was done with what he had to say, the quick-thinking Army officer rose to his feet and said, "The Chief thanks everyone for being here, and that he looked forward to peace and prosperity with the White people."

At that moment, everyone rose, and Sitting Bull received a standing ovation.

Imagine that!

Since first posting this story, I have been inundated with emails telling me that "White people deserved his scorn. Native American tribes never did to other tribes what the Whites did to Indians."

OK, let's address that myth right here and now. First, in regards to my comment "Imagine that," it was not in reference to what Sitting Bull said but to what the Army officer interpreter came up with -- and the fact that the people applauded everything that Sitting Bull said without knowing what Sitting Bull really said.

As for Sitting Bull's moral outrage and his hating White peoples, and what Native American tribes did or did not do to other tribes compared to what the Whites did to Indians? While I don't blame him for hating the Whites since the Whites were a stronger military force and the Sioux were beaten, we should remember that the Sioux hated Whites in the exact same way as to how Pawnee Indians hated the Sioux.

For one thing, the Pawnee Indians were nearly wiped out by the Sioux at Massacre Canyon, which took place in Nebraska on August 5th, 1873. That massacre was one of the last of over a century of hostilities between the Pawnee and the Sioux, who had been fighting genocidal warfare from the early 1700s into the 1880s.

The Massacre Canyon massacre took place when a party of over 1,500 Sioux warriors attacked a small group of close to 200 Pawnees, mostly made up of women and children. The Pawnee were out on their annual end-of-summer buffalo hunt. The Sioux murdered at least 156 of the Pawnee that day. Almost all were women and children.

The Pawnee's hatred for the Sioux is justified since the Sioux mutilated all of the Pawnee women and children after they murdered them. But the Sioux didn't stop with murder and mutilation. The Sioux actually burned some of the women and children to death and tortured them while they were still alive.

So while it is nice and fine to say that Sitting Bull was justified in hating the Whites, we should really understand that his hate is more like hypocrisy since he certainly proved that no one, not Indian or White, has exclusivity to moral outrage for horrible deeds.

Tom Correa


  1. "Imagine that"! Can anyone blame him for such hate?

    1. No, but what he did to others is hateful as well.

  2. Yes, revisionist, Kumbayah history these days breeds hate for the America of today which is truly a gift and an anomaly in this world.

  3. Despite what some folks would like to believe, the indigenous population of the Americas were involved in both warfare and ritual killings on a grand scale long before any contact with Europeans. Anthropologists, archaeologists, historians, and ethnographers have all, produced volumes physical evidence and scholarly reports to document this. The Americas were a dangerous place millennia before Lief Erickson or Chris Columbus.

  4. People don't know the real history of Indians, they slaughtered each other, took captives and kept slaves too. They were not skipping through the fields strewing daisies and singing Kum Ba Yah. Always chuckle when I see whites playing poor Indians having to be in schools to take away their culture, when Indians did exactly that and worse to the people they took captive.


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