Little Bighorn

They’re Coming for You at Standing Rock

for Sam Lofland and Miranda Zent


American Bison in North Dakota, 29 December 2013. (Credit: HalfGig / Wikimedia Commons)

Standing Rock is the reservation where Sitting Bull was killed by Tribal Police. At Standing Rock in the Dakotas, after the visit by the holy prophet Kicking Bear, Ghost Dancers prayed and danced for the regeneration of the earth and the return of the buffalo during the Ghost Dance movement of the 1890s.

In the aftermath of the Fetterman Massacre in 1866 (the Sioux called it the Battle of the Hundred Slain), General William Tecumseh Sherman argued an Indian policy of “peace within the reservation and war without.” The simplest way of bringing Plains Indians to confinement, Sherman wrote to Philip Sheridan, was “to invite all the sportsmen of England and America … for a Great Buffalo Hunt and make a grand sweep of them all.” The buffalo herds vanished from the Northern Plains between 1876 and 1882.

When Sitting Bull returned from Canada and surrendered in 1881, he addressed US military officers: “I wish it to be remembered that I was the last of my tribe to surrender my rifle. This boy [Sitting Bull’s son] has given it to you, and he now wants to know how he is going to make a living.” [i] (more…)

Little Bighorn

"Custer's Last Stand," oil on canvas, 1899, by Edgar Samuel Paxson.

“Custer’s Last Stand,” oil on canvas, 1899, by Edgar Samuel Paxson.

The multiplicity of paintings about the Little Bighorn during the last two centuries is proof of the compelling workings of a myth. A partial list of painters who produced versions of Custer’s Fight would include John Mulvany (1881), John A. Elder (1884), Cassily Adams (1885), E.S. Paxson (1899), Otto Becker (1896), W.R. Leigh (1939) and J.K. Ralston (1959). Acclaimed Western painters Frederick Remington and Charles Russell also produced several works on the Custer theme. From the Native point of view, the Little Bighorn has elicited drawings by Amos Bad Heart Buffalo, Kills Two, No Two Horns, One Bull and Standing Bear (Lakota); White Bird, Lame Deer and Wooden Leg (Northern Cheyenne); and White Swan (Crow). (more…)

Prelude to Little Bighorn

Sitting Bull, ca. 1883, during transit from Fort Randall to Standing Rock Agency, taken in Pierre, S.D.  Photographer unknown.

Sitting Bull, ca. 1883, during transit from Fort Randall to Standing Rock Agency, taken in Pierre, S.D. Author unknown.

Take time this June 25—the day of the anniversary of the great battle—to memorialize Little Bighorn. The myth is remembered all throughout the Americas, even though the names of the combatants differ and the battle sites of the narrative vary: Custer and Sitting Bull in North America; Cortés and Montezuma in Mexico; Alvarado and Tecún Umán in Guatemala; Pizarro and Atahualpa in South America. The stories syncretize the fateful, violent encounter between Indian and European America. The confrontation still haunts our days, for we have not yet acknowledged that we are the bastard children of that conflict, and that our true American souls belong to one side as well as the other.