by Jackie Jura, 2023
(my commentary in blue)
(you can listen using text-to-speech on your device)




After leaving Gettysburg we continued on the interstate north toward Bismarck, North Dakota, but would be turning west first chance we got to get to the other side of the Missouri. I snapped some pics of the river on our left before crossing over at a town named Mobridge.

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It was thrilling as we approached the bridge over the historical Missouri river -- the longest river in the United States and the greatest tributary in the world and with as much water as the Mississippi flowing between its banks. The Missouri played a huge role in Custer's life -- as does its greatest tributary, the Yellowstone into which flows its greatest tributary, the Big Horn into which flows the Little Big Horn.


I couldn't believe my eyes when, upon crossing the bridge, the first thing we saw was a sign saying WELCOME TO THE STANDING ROCK SIOUX RESERVATION -- a huge component of Custeriana and about which I'd done lots of reading. Where we'd just come from -- the Black Hills -- used to be a part of the Great Sioux Reservation which, to this day, still includes Standing Rock although the Black Hills were removed (after Custer found gold there). In the unpreparadness for the trip it hadn't registered with me that we'd been, and would be, travelling through Indian reservations.

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The map above left shows the boundaries of the Great Sioux Reservation since its formation in 1868. The map on the right shows the Northern Plains reservations during Custer's time.

We came upon a sign directing us to an INDIAN MEMORIAL and a revealing map of the route we'd travelled today from Gettysburg.


The isolated road brought us to a towering obelisk dedicated to Sak-ak-a-we-ah with a plaque explaining her story:

SittingBullObelisk Sakakawea

"...Sakakawea won her place in history as the indomitable guide of Lewis and Clark on their trip to the Pacific in 1805. She was a member of the Shoshoni tribe dwelling near the Big Horn mountains in Montana. In one of the frequent tribal conflicts she was captured and taken to North Dakota as a war captive. Here she was purchased by a fur trader named Toussaint Charbonneau, who according to custom made her his wife. Lewis and Clark, in search of an interpreter for their trip west, tried to hire Charbonneau, but he would not go unless his wife was permitted to accompany him. The explorers reluctantly gave their permission. This was a fortunate decision for Lewis and Clark. By her courage, endurance and unerring instinct she guided the expedition over seemingly insuperable obstacles. The leaders frequently gave her credit for the success of the venture. After returning east, Charbonneau and Sakakawea settled down at Fort Manuel, about 30 miles north of here near Kenel, South Dakota. On December 20, 1812 it was recorded in the daily journal of events at the fort that Sakakawea died of a putrid fever. There is no further record of her but it is safe to assume that this remarkable woman's grave is somewhere near the site of old Fort Manuel. Sakakawea is beyond question the most illustrious feminine representative of the Indian race."


The write-up didn't mention that William Clark had honored Sak-ak-a-we-ah by naming Pompey's Pillar after her toddler son, Pomp, who was born on the trail and who Clark later adopted. I'd climbed Pompey's Pillar last week as described in JOURNEY TO CUSTER'S LITTLE BIG HORN

After leaving the Sak-ak-a-we-ah monument we drove to the huge statue we saw standing down by the river -- which turned out to be Sitting Bull.

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1831 - 1890
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"...Sitting Bull was born on the Grande River a few miles west of Mobridge. His tragic end came at the very place he was born. He was shot when being arrested because of his alleged involvement with the Ghost Dance Craze. Sitting Bull was originally buried at Fort Yates, ND. On April 8, 1953 surviving relatives with the aid of the Dakota Memorial Association moved his remains to the present location and dedicated the Memorial Burial Site April 11, 1953."

1876 - Victorious at the Battle of Little Big Horn
1877 - Sought asylum in Canada
1881 - Returned to the United States
1885 - Toured with Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show

I took a pic of Bob counting coup on Sitting Bull. Sitting Bull is given more credit than he deserves for the "victory" of the Indians over the USA army at the battle of Little Big Horn. Sitting Bull wasn't a warrior chief and hadn't been for years, if ever. He was an old medicine man who could self-torture himself into an out-of-body frenzy wherein he saw visions -- some of which came true and gave him credibility -- especially among impressionable young warriors. During the battle of the Little Big Horn Sitting Bull wasn't in the fight -- he was with the women and children hiding in the hills.

I read this in the book written by the government agent at the Standing Rock reservation during Sitting Bull's seven years living there. James McLaughlin was a Canadian who'd emigrated to the States where in 1871 he got work as a blacksmith on northern Indian reservations, married a woman with Sioux blood and after years of advancement in Indian administration was appointed top government agent at Standing Rock in 1881. He finished his career, after retiring as agent, as an Inspector of Indian reservations all across the country. He believed in Indian assimilation and individual ownership of land and in Indians earning their living through work -- not handouts or annuities. McLaughlin also, after years of research and interviewing Indians and whites in the battle, came to the irrefutable conclusion that if Custer's orders had been followed -- and Reno and Benteen had gone to his aid -- the Indians would have lost the Battle of Little Big Horn. This is my premise exactly. See CUSTER ALT-HISTORY BIG HORN VICTORY

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My Friend the Indian, by James McLaughlin, published 1910

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The Battle of the Little Big Horn
How Custer and his Command rode to their Death at the Hands of the Indian Allies

"...From what leading Indians in the engagement have told me of the fight, I am of the opinion that if Custer's obvious plan of battle had been carried out -- if Reno had struck the upper end of the Sioux Camp when Custer struck the village at its lower end -- the event might have been changed; and while the Custer force may not have been strong enough to defeat the Indians, there would at least have been no such disaster as that which overtook the leader of the cavalry and the men with him. I do not know that Major Reno, under his orders, could have done other than he did in making the attack as soon as he was within striking distance, but believe that, if he had gone to the support of Custer when the latter sent orders to Benteen to 'come at once' -- orders that might as well apply to Reno as Benteen -- it would have been impossible for the Indians to overwhelm the entire regiment as they did the five troops comprising Custer's immediate command... The matter admits of no dispute.

"...The big figures in the fight, from the military point of view, were General George A Custer, Lieutenant Colonel commanding the Seventh Cavalry, and Chief Gall of the Hunkpapa Sioux. There were others to dispute the supremacy of Gall, as Crow King, also a Hunkpapa, and Crazy Horse, who though an Oglala, had long affiliated with the Cheyennes. Sitting Bull was a factor only in that his immediate followers, who subsisted by the chase, were camped in an ideal game country, which brought a large body of the Sioux together for the summer hunt, and their assemblage was effected in such manner that the military power of the United States had not the remotest idea of their great strength.

"...I knew Custer personally, but not well. Gall I knew intimately in all the circumstances of life -- as well as one man can know another of alien race. General Custer was not the dashing, devil-may-care, hard-riding and fast-fighting mounted soldier that the romances have made him out. He [Custer] was a careful, painstaking man and officer, devoted to his profession of arms and properly appreciating the tools he had to work with. The dash that was supposed to be his principal characteristic was merely a part of the plan of a man who knows the essentials to success. He was not careless of consequences in any of the matters of life. He was a reserved and somewhat reticent man. He held the admiration of his officers and soldiers, not because he was their idol, one whom they might follow unthinkingly, but because they knew him to be a thorough soldier....


"...If Reno had known it, his sudden attack had struck something very like terror to the people in the village, particularly the upper end of the camp; and by the same token, his first shots, ineffective as they were, riddled the tepee poles of one of the lodges of the great man of the camp and eliminated him as a factor in the day's proceedings. For a long time after the fight it was supposed that Sitting Bull had had some part in directing it or giving the fighting men the moral support of his presence. As a matter of fact Sitting Bull headed a stampede, which might have become very general if Reno had followed up his advantage. Sitting Bull had 2 tepees, containing his family and effects, in the Hunkpapa camp. All the previous evening he had been making medicine and had succeeded in convincing the war-chiefs and warriors that they were due to win a great fight, and he was in great feather the previous night....

"...I have contended always that Sitting Bull was a physical coward. I know it from personal knowledge, also from various incidents related of him, and from the attitude of contempt held toward him by the war-chiefs. But his medicine was great.... There were very few, if any, men in that portion of the camp with him when Reno's bullets rattle through the tepee poles. The surprise created a panic in the heart, never very valorous, of Sitting Bull. He explained afterwards that his capture would mean the loss of his medicine to the Sioux, and he did not want to take any chances when the soldiers rushed into the camp, as he expected they would when the firing began. His ponies were close at hand, and the medicine man got his women and children together and made straight for the hills to the southwest. In the hurry of the flitting one of his twin boys was lost, but that did not halt the doughty medicine-maker. He heard behind him the practically continuous gunfire, and kept on going. He marched for 8 or 10 miles without stopping, and was still going when couriers overtook him and announced the annihilation of the Custer command. It was late in the afternoon before he returned to the village, and he then arrogantly claimed all the honor for the victory gained, accounting for his absence from the field during the engagement with the troops by announcing that he had been in the hills overlooking the battle-field, engaged in propitiating the evil spirits and invoking the gods of war; and, as I was told by Gall and other prominent chiefs of the Sioux, a majority of these over-credulous people actually believed him, and those lacking sufficient faith to accept his staetments absolutely, had no desire to investigate or licence to question his assertions..."

~ end quoting My Friend the Indian by McLaughlin ~

Another book circulating in my head describing Sitting Bull's true role at the Battle of Little Big Horn was a biography of Buffalo Bill Cody, who, readers may recall, we'd bumped into at the re-enactment a few days ago. See CUSTER ALT-HISTORY BIG HORN VICTORY

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Buffalo Bill Cody: The Man Behind the Legend, by Robert Carter, published 2000

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"...Opinions varied on whether Sitting Bull enjoyed his one season with the show. Apparently the chief relished the limelight and seemed unhappy when he was not the center of attention. With a natural flair for self-promotion, he did well selling photographs of himself -- as well as autographs, once he had learned to trace his name crudely. He also picked up the trick of selling more than one of such personal possessions as his tobacco pouch... The 1885 Wild West tour ended in St Louis on October 11... Cody sent Sitting Bull home as agreed, giving him as a farewell present a gray trick horse to which he had become attached and a white sombrero, size eight... The only negative note in the relationship of Cody and Sitting Bull was sounded in the book THE LIFE OF SITTING BULL AND THE INDIAN WAR in which Cody was quoted as follows:

"I do not know for certain whether I met Sitting Bull or not during the campaign of '76. He was not at that time a chief of any note; in fact, he was not much of a chief but more of a medicine man. It was General Sheridan who really made him a 'big Indian'. They had to have some name for that war, and I was on the mission at Red Cloud Agency when they were talking about what name to give it. They spoke of Chief Gall, Crazy Horse, and others, all bigger men thatn Sitting Bull, but finally decided to call it Sitting Bull's war, and that made him seem to be a great man, and his name became known all over the country. The first time I ever saw him to know him was when he joined my show at Buffalo, coming with 8 or 9 of his chosen people from Grand River. He appeared there before 10,000 people, and was hissed, so it was some time before I could talk to the crowd and secure their patience. The same thing occurred at almost every place. He never did more than appear on horseback at any performance, and always refused to talk English, even if he could... He was an inveterate beggar. He sold autographs at a dollar apiece and during the 4 months he was with the show picked up a good deal of money...

"...Cody is correct in saying that Sitting Bull was not as important a figure in Custer's defeat as many Americans thought he actually was, for he did not lead the combined Indian forces into the fateful battle; that mantle rested on Crazy Horse. Sitting Bull was, however, a revered elder whose vision of soldiers falling from the sky inspired Crazy Horse and his warriors to attack Custer's forces...."

~ end quoting Buffalo Bill Cody by Carter ~

As explained by Buffalo Bill above, Sitting Bull was hated by the white people of America for killing Custer and in the Wild West shows they hissed at him. The only reason Buffalo Bill had Sitting Bull in the show was because by that time he'd been made into a "big Indian" by the government giving him an inflated role at the battle of Little Big Horn. In reality Sitting Bull was only a hero to very few Indians; and to bleeding-heart Indian lackey's in the east who fell for the "noble Indian" line wherein Indians were innocent victims "fighting to preserve their traditional way of life from encroaching westward expansion of their hunting grounds", as the brochure at the top of the page describes. I described this extensively in CUSTER MASSACRE AT GATES OF HELL.

Below is an excerpt from a book I've previously cited describing the hate people felt toward Sitting Bull -- including Custer's wife who blamed the government for her husband's death because they'd supplied the Indians with the weapons.

As this self-portrait entitiled In His Mind's Eye indicates
Elizabeth Custer saw herself primarily as her husband's wife


"...In death, as in life, Custer generated controversy and few remembered him dispassionately... Election year politics and social and sectional tensions added to the growing controversy. Democrats...saw a chance to belittle the Republican administration by blaming the tragedy on its Indian policy. "Who Slew Custer?" asked the New York Herald, as editor James Gordon Bennett, Jr [who in 1871 sent reporter Stanley to Africa to find Livingstone] began using the fallen hero for political and ideological purposes. 'The celebrated peace policy of General Grant, which feeds, clothes and takes care of their noncombatant force, while the men are killing our troops -- that is what killed Custer', was his paper's answer. Closely allied was the 'nest of thieves', the Indian Bureau, with its thieving agents and favorites as Indian traders, and its mock humanity and pretense of piety -- that is what killed Custer.

"...Bennett also wanted his compatriots to draw other lessons from Custer's last stand. Starting with the July 9, 1876 issue, the Herald had juxtaposed against the heroic figure of George Armstrong Custer, the "savage" Sitting Bull, the figure who, Bennett believed, had brought Custer down. The savage had won, the Herald maintained, only because treacherous or misguided whites had assisted him. Earlier, French-Canadian Jesuits had supposedly trained Sitting Bull in the strategy of Napoleon. Later, "outlaws" and Indian Bureau philanthropists had given him material assistance. More important, these figures were metaphors for certain elements in American society.... Custer's death showed the futility of placating "savages". The imposition of order and discipline, rather than the effecting of reform or social change, provided the real answers to problems, just as the solution to the recalcitrant Indians lay in meting out punishment, not kindess and annuities.

"...Westerners also expressed their outrage. In Montana Territory, newspaper editors begged Congress to disavow the peace policy and strengthen frontier defense. In all sections of the country, however, newspapers often portrayed the hostiles as better armed than white soldiers.... The Grant administration had formed its policy to suit rings, who benefited "through traffic with the Indians, which has extended even to supplying them with arms of the most approved style.... Indians had received better guns than soldiers: "It is more profitable to sell the good guns to the Indians and give the inferior ones to the army". Such statements reinforced Libbie's preconceptions. She saw the Indian policy that armed aborigines as a major factor in her husband's death..."

~ end quoting from Making of a Myth by Leckie ~

After driving away from the Indian Memorials we pulled into a gas station-convenience store with cabins for rent by the lake created by damming the Missouri. Upon mentioning to the friendly clerk that we were on our way to visit Custer's Last Home at Fort Abraham Lincoln he told us to make sure to take the scenic route. I recently came upon an excellent map showing what he was talking about -- it's the National Native American Byway extending 86 miles through the Standing Rock Reservation:


The write-up accompanying the map reads: "This is the home of great tribal leaders including Sitting Bull, Gall, Two Bears and many others. The Lewis and Clark Corps of Discovery made numerous stops here during their expedition and it is the final resting place of their guide Sakakawea.... The Standing Rock Indian Reservation is home to the Lakota and Dakota people and is located 50 miles south of Bismarck, ND or 115 miles north of Pierre, SD. It consists of 2.3 million acres and is roughly the size of the State of Connecticut, straddling two states with one-third in Sioux County, ND and two-thirds in Corson County. The reservation was established under the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868 and operates under a constitution approved on April 24, 1959. It is governed by the Tribal Council of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, which consists of a Chairman, Vice-Chairman, a Secretary, and 14 council members who are elected by the tribal members. The Tribal Administration Building is located in Fort Yates, North Dakota."

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As we moved north along the west side of the river I time-travelled back to 143 years ago -- 3 years before the Battle of Little Big Horn -- when Custer and 900 men and horses of his 7th Cavalry marched 500 miles north from Yankton along the east side of the Missouri river on the way to their new base, yet unbuilt, at Fort Abraham Lincoln. I was visualizing the miles-long column as I gazed across the river at the landscape which probably looks the same -- beautiful treeless prairie and plateau. I'd read about this march in the book Custer's wife Libbie wrote nine years after his death.

The following article explains Custer's military career to the point where the 7th Cavalry arrived in Yankton, Dakota Territory where they camped for a few weeks to prepare for the march to Bismarck. During their stay Custer almost died from pneumonia during a freak snow blizzard that was so bad he ordered all the soldiers to abandon their tents and move into town to board in hotels and with the local people. To this day, the city of Yankton takes great pride in its pioneers having hosted Custer and the 7th Cavalry who had honored them with a March in Review before leaving on the march to Bismark.

watch Garry Owen: 7th Cavalry's Marching Song listen
(cleared the plains for a ruthlessly advancing civilization that spelled doom to the red race)

"...The famed 7th U.S. Cavalry was formed in 1866, and its first lieutenant-colonel was the picturesque cavalryman, George A Custer, who had been one of General Philip B Sheridan's most trusted division commanders during the Civil War. In the late 1860s, the regiment demonstrated its spirit on over 40 occasions in contests with the Sioux, Cheyennes, Kiowas, Comanches, Apaches, and Arapahoes. These began with a skirmish near Fort Lyon, Colorado, on April 13, 1867, and ended with the battle on the Washita in the Indian Territory on November 27, 1868, where Custer, under the cover of night, succeeded in surrounding the native village. By early 1869 the Indians had been subdued, and the regiment was transferred. For the next 2 years it was scattered through seven states, acting as armed guard for United States Marshals. This constabulary duty continued for 2 years, when orders were issued that initially transferred the regiment to Texas. But the restless and threatening attitude of the Sioux in the Department of Dakota made it necessary to send the unit there. So upon the application of General Sheridan the 7th's destination was changed to the Northern Department, which consisted of North and South Dakota, Montana, and parts of Idaho and Wyoming. Here the 7th Cavalry would make history, and go down into legend. Ten companies of the 7th Cavalry, under the command of Custer, headed by steamboat up to Cairo, Illinois, and then took the trains to their first stop in their new Department, Yankton, Dakota Territory. They arrived April 9, 1873...." [American History Autographs Collection: Custer-Orders]

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Boots and Saddles, by Elizabeth Custer, published 1885

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Change of Station

"...After the close of the war we went to Texas for a year, my husband still acting as major general in command of Volunteers. In 1866 we returned to Michigan, and the autumn of the same year found us in Kansas, where the general assumed charge of the 7th (Regular) Cavalry, to which he had been assigned, with the rank of lieutenant colonel in the Regular Army. We remained in Kansas 5 years, during which time I was the only officer's wife who always followed the regiment. We were then ordered, with the regiment, to Kentucky. After being stationed in Elizabethtown for 2 years, we went to Dakota in the spring of 1873. When orders came for the 7th Cavalry to go into the field again, General Custer was delighted. The regiment was stationed in various parts of the South, on the very disagreeable duty of breaking up illicit distilleries and suppressing the Ku-Klux. Fortunately for us, being in Kentucky, we knew very little of this service. It seemed an unsoldierly life, and it was certainly uncongenial, for a true cavalryman feels that a life in the saddle on the free open plain is his legitimate existence. Not an hour elapsed after the arrival of the official document announding our change of station before our house was torn up. In the confusion I managed to retire to a corner with an atlas, and surreptitiously look up the territory to which we were going. I hardly liked to own that I had forgotten its location. When my finger traced our route from Kentucky almost up to the border of the British Possessions, it seemed as if we were going to Lapland.... We rushed and gasped through the one day given us for preparation, and I had only time to be glad with my husband that he was going back to the life of activity that he so loved. His enforced idleness made it seem to him that he was cumbering the earth, and he rejoiced to feel that he was again to have the chance to live up to his idea of a soldier. Had I dared to stop in that hurried day and think of myself, all the courage would have gone out of me. This removal to Dakota meant to my husband a reunion with his regiment and summer campaigns against Indians; to me it meant months of loneliness, anxiety, and terror. Fortunately there was too much to do to leave leisure for thought.'

"...Steamers were ready for us at Memphis [Tennessee], and we went thither [from Elizabethtown, Kentucky] by rail to embark. When the regiment was gathered together, after a separation of 2 years, there were hearty greetings and exchanges of troublous or droll experiences... We went into camp for a few days on the outskirts of Memphis and exchanged hospitalities with the citizens.... Three steamers were at last loaded and we went on to Cairo [Illinois], where we found the trains prepared to take us into Dakota. The regiment was never up to its maximum of 1,200 hundred men, but there may have been 800 or 900 soldiers and as many horses. The property of the companies -- saddles, equipments, arms, ammunition, and forage -- together with the personal luggage of the officers, made the trains very heavy, and we traveled slowly. We were a week or more on the route.

"...The citizens of Yankton, endeavoring to make up for the inhospitable reception the weather had given us, vied with one another in trying to make the regiment welcome... The citizens felt the sensation of possession when they knew that these troops had come to open the country and protect those more adventurous spirits who were already finding that a place into which the railroad ran was too far east for them... The railroad had been completed but a short time... The officers were already getting the command into condition to begin the long march of 500 miles that lay before us... All were well mounted; the 2 years station in the South had given them rare opportunities to purchase horses. The general, being considered an excellent judge, had, at the request of the officers, bought several from the stables of his Kentucky friends... So it came about that even the lieutenants, with their meager pay, owned horses whose pedigree was unending...."

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Cavalry on the March

"...When the day came for us to begin our march the sun shone, and the townspeople [of Yankton] wished us luck with their good-by. The length of the day's march varied according to the streams on which we relied for water, or on the arrival of the boat. The steamer that carried the forage for the horses and the supplies for the command was tied up to the riverbank every night, as near to us as was possible. The laundresses and ladies of the regiment were on board, except the general's sister Margaret, who made her first march with her husband [Lieutenant James Calhoun] riding all the way on horseback. As usual, I rode beside the general.

"...At the bugle call, "boots and saddles", each soldier mounted and took his place in line, all riding 2 abreast. First came the general and his staff, with whom sister Margaret and I were permitted to ride; the private orderlies and headquarters detail rode in our rear; and then came the companies, according to the places assigned them for the day; finally the wagon train, with the rear guard. We made a long-drawn-out cavalcade that stretched over a great distance. When we reached some high bluff, we never tired of watching the command advancing, with the long line of supply wagons, under their white covers, winding around bends in the road and climbing over the hills.... Every day the breaking of camp went more smoothly and quickly, until, as the days advanced, the general used to call me to his side to notice by his watch how few moments it took after the tents were ordered down to set the whole machinery for the march in motion... The column was always halted once during the day's march to water the horses; then the luncheons were brought forth.

"...We had a citizen-guide with us, who, having been long in the country, knew the streams; and the general and I, following his instructions, often rode in advance as we neared the night's camp. It was always a mild excitement and new pleasure to select camp. The men who carried the guidons for each company were sent for, and places assigned them.


"...The general delighted to unsaddle his favorite horse, Dandy, and turn him loose, for his attachment was so strong he never grazed far from us. He was not even tethered, and after giving himself the luxury of a roll in the grass, he ate his dinner of oats and browsed about the tent, as tame as a kitten. He whinnied when my husband patted his sleek neck, and looked jealously at the dogs when they all followed us into the tent afterwards.

"...When the command arrived, the guidons pointed out the location for each company; the horses were unsaddled and picketed out; the wagons unloaded and the tents pitched. The hewiing of wood and the hauling of water came next, and after the cook-fires were lighted, the air was full of savory odors of the soldiers' dinner... The twilight almost always found many of us gathered together -- some idling on the grass in front of the campfire or lounging on the buffalo robes. The one with the best voice sang, while all joined in the chorus...."

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Camping Among the Sioux

"...Our march took us through the grounds set apart by the government for the use of the Sioux Indians at peace with our country.... As we went further north the twilights became longer, and I was greatly deceived by having so much daylight... The general, who was always looking at the curious effects in the heavens, delighted in the clearness of the atmosphere and the myriads of stars... The storms came down in great belts of rain sometimes, and if the country were level enough we could look ahead on the plain and see where the storm was crossing. This enabled us to halt in time to escape a perfect sheet of pouring rain which fell like a wall of water directly before us... The history of one day's march was that of many; they were varied by small misfortunes over which we amused ourselves.

"...One day we caught sight of our American flag on the other side of the river, floating over a little group of buildings inside a stockade. When they told me it was a military post, I could hardly believe it possible, it seemed that no spot could be more utterly desolate... It was an infantry station, and the soldiers' barracks, officers' quarters, and storehouses were huddled together inside a wall made of logs placed perpendicularly and about 15 feet high. The sand was so deep about this spot that nothing could be made to grow. Constant gusts of wind over the unprotected plain kept little clouds of fine alkaline dust whirling in the air and filling the eyes and mouth; not a tree was near, as the Missouri -- that most uncertain of rivers -- kept constantly changing its channel, and the advancing water washed away great hollows in the banks. The post would then have to be moved farther back for safety. The soldiers would be obliged to take up the stockade and bury the logs as deep as they could to keep them from blowing over. The frail buidlings, 'built upon sand', rocked and swayed in the wind. Besides the forlorn situation of this garrison, no one could go outside to ride or hunt without peril. The warlike Indians considered that side of the river theirs and roamed up and down it at free will. They came incessently to the small sliding panel in the gates of the stockade and made demands, which, if not consented to, were followed by howls of rage and threatening gestures. All that the handful of men could do was to conciliate them as best they could. The company was not full, and possibly, all told, there were but 50 white men against hundreds of Indians.

"...The rattlesnakes were so numerous on this march that all Texas and Kansas experience seemed to dwarf in contrast... The guide rode often at the head of the column, and we found him full of information about the country... The bends in the Missouri River are sometimes so long that the steamer with supplies would have to make a journey of 60 miles while we had perhaps only 5 to march across the peninsula. All the soldiers, officers' servants, teamsters, and other citizen employees took that time to wash their clothes, for we were 2 days in camp... When we camped near a village, the Indians soon appeared. Groups of half a doze on ponies, with children running after, would come... These visitors grew to be great trials, for they were inveterate beggars... During the last days of our marach we came upon another premonitory warning from the Indians. A pole was found stuck in the trail before us, with a red flag, to which were fastened locks of hair. It was a challenge, and when interpreted meant that if we persisted in advancing, the hostiles were ready to meet the soldiers and fight them. The officers paid little attention to this, but my heart was like lead for days afterward. We encamped that night near what the Indians call 'Medicine Rock', my husband and I walked out to see it.... Everything pertaining to the Indians was new and interesting to me. While we were in Kansas the tribes were at war, and we had not the opportunity to see their daily life as we did while passing through the Sioux reservations on the march. I regretted each day that brought us nearer to the conclusion of our journey, for though I had been frightened by Indians, and though we had encountered cold, storms, and rough life, the pleasures of the trip overbalanced the discomforts.

"...The day at last came for our march of 500 miles to terminate. A rickety old ferryboat that took us over the river made a halt near Fort Rice, and there we established ourselves. Strange to say, the river was no narrower there than it was so many hundred miles below, where we started. Muddy and full of sandbars as it was, we began bravely to drink the water, when the glass had been filled long enough for the sediment partially to settle, and to take our baths in what at first seemed liquid mud. We learned after a time to settle the water with alum, and we finally became accustomed to the taste... A steamer that arrived a day or 2 after we had reached Fort Rice brought the regimental property, consisting of everything that was not on the march. Our hosehold effects and trunks were delivered to us in a very sorry condition. They had been carelessly stored on the wharf at Yankton, near the government warehouse, without any covering, during all the storms that drenched us coming up the river. Almost everyting was mildewed and ruined.

"...All thought began now to center on the coming events of the summer. It was decided that the regiment was to go out to guard the engineers of the Northern Pacific Railroad while they surveyed the route from Bismark to the Yellowstone River. The ladies necessarily were to be left behind... I longed to remain in Dakota, for I knew it would take much longer for our letters to reach us if we went East... There was nothing left for us, then, but to go home. It was a sore disappointment. We were put on the steamer that was to take us to the little town of Bismark to take the cars.... Soon we found ourselves welcomed by dear father and mother Custer at Monroe. Their hearts were ever with the absent ones...."

~ end quoting Boots & Saddles by Libbie Custer ~

This background into how it came to be that Custer and the 7th Cavalry were now stationed on the Missouri, in Dakota, sets the scene for Custer's first encounter with Sitting Bull. Almost immediately upon their arrival at Fort Rice, below Bismarck, the 7th Cavalry prepared for their first campaign against hostile Indians since leaving the Plains in 1869. They left for the Yellowstone on June 20, 1873. Godcidently, as so often happens in Custer's life, he envisioned a scenario that exactly foretold his destiny -- like when he came upon the "mangled remains" of a brother regiment in July 1867.


This time, Custer's vision was to do with Sitting Bull who, during the battle on the Yellowstone, near Pompey's Pillar, in that 1873 campaign, was seen among the women and children watching the fight from the bluffs across the river -- exactly like at Little Big Horn three years later in 1876. Custer described Sitting Bull -- and his disdain for the government weaponizing the Indians -- in his official report which Libbie included in the appendix of her book. I described the Yellowstone Battles in detail during my visit to Pompey's Pillar. See JOURNEY TO CUSTER'S LITTLE BIG HORN

Custer's Official Report of Engagements with Indians
on the Yellowstone River on August 4 & 11, 1873
SittingBullBattlePg254 SittingBullBattlePg256
From: Headquarters Battalion 7th Cavalry
Yellowstone River, Montana, August 15, 1873

To: Acting Assistant Adjutant-General, Yellowstone Expedition:

"... Everything being in readiness for a general advance, the charge was ordered, and the squadrons took the gallop to the tune of "Garryowen", the band being posted immediately in rear of the skirmish line. The Indians had evidently come out prepared to do their best, and with no misgivings as to their success, as the mounds and high bluffs beyond the river were covered with groups of old men, squaws, and children, who had collected there to witness our destruction.

"...The number of Indians opposed to us has been estimated by the various officers engaged as from 800 to a thousand. My command numbered 450, including officers and men. The Indians were made up of different bands of Sioux, principally Uncpapas, the whole under command of "Sitting Bull", who participated in the second day's fight, and who for once has been taught a lesson he will not soon forget. A large number of Indians who fought us were fresh from their reservations on the Missouri River. Many of the warriors engaged in the fight on both days were dressed in complete suits of the clothes issued at the agencies to Indians. The arms with which they fought us (several of which were captured in the fight) were of the latest improved patterns of breech-loading repeating rifles, and their supply of metallic rifle-cartridges seemed unlimited, as they were anything but sparing in their use. So amply have they been supplied with breech-loading rifles and ammunition that neither bows nor arrows were employed against us. As an evidence that these Indians, at least many of them, were recently from the Missouri agencies, we found provisions, such as coffee, in their abandoned camps, and cooking and other domestic utensils, such as only reservations Indians are supplied with. Besides, our scouts conversed with them across the river for nearly an hour before the fight became general, and satisfied themselves as to the identity of their foes..."

Respectively submitted,
G. A Custer, Lieutenant-colonel 7th Cavalry
Brevet-major-general, USA, commanding

~ end quoting Pompey Pillar report by Custer ~

These remembrances of what I'd read in Custeriana were what I was thinking about, and commenting to Bob about, as we galloped down the by-way through the Standing Rock reservation. Libbie had mentioned that their average speed during the march was 4-miles-per hour -- and we were doing 60-miles-per hour. But, of course, she had only one horse-power under her saddle and we had the power of 160 horses under ours. Before too long we were at Fort Yates and the turn-off sign said SITTING BULL BURIAL SITE.

SignSitBull PlaqueSitBullBurial SittingBullCemetery

"...A Revered Leader, Chief, Husband, and Father, Loyal to his People. Tatanka Iyotake, a Hunkpapa Lakota was born near Many Caches on the Grand River in South Dakota. At the age of 14 he counted his first "coup" and was given the name Tatanka Iyotake "Sitting Bull". He grew up to be a prominent warrior and leader of the Teton Lakota. In the summer of 1876 he had a vision of a great victory over white soldiers. That vision was fulfilled when Tatanka Iyotake, along with Crazy Horse, Gall and hundreds of Lakota and Cheyenne warriors defeated General George Armstrong Custer's 7th Calvary at the Battle of Greasy Grass (Battle of Little Big Horn). Tatanka Iyotake was killed by Tribal police at his home near Grand River on December 15, 1890. Tribal police were acting on orders to bring him into the agency in order to quell the Ghost Dance (a ceremonial dance they believed would bring back the old ways of life). He was laid to rest here and may have been disinterred in 1953 at the request of four of his grandchildren."

What treaty have the Lakota made with the white man that we have broken? Not one.
What treaty have the white man ever made with us that they ever kept? Not one.
When I was a boy the Lakota owned the world; the sun rose and set on their land;
they sent ten thousand men to battle. Where are the warriors today?
Who slew them? Where are our lands? Who owns them? What law have I broken?
Is it wrong for me to love my own? Is it wicked for me because my skin is red?
Because I am a Lakota; because I was born where my father lived;
because I would die for my people and my country?

Discerning readers will notice, upon reading the storyboard at Sitting Bull's grave, that it perpetuates the false legend of him being a heroic leader of the law-abiding "red man" defending their land against the treaty-breaking "white man" and actively involved in defeating Custer at the Battle of Little Big Horn.

In his book MY FRIEND THE INDIAN, published in 1910, McLaughlin described going back to Standing Rock reservation twenty years after the death of Sitting Bull and visiting his gravesite. His extremely negative opinion of Sitting Bull hadn't mellowed over the years, as excerpted below.

CvrMyFriendIndian  Pg179  Pg180

"...I stood by the grave of Sitting Bull one Sunday evening a few months ago. The mound under which is buried the body of the medicine man is in the extreme northwest corner of the Fort Yates military cemetery, adjoining the Standing Rock Agency, North Dakota. It is marked with the stenciled inscription, in black on a white board:

December 15, 1890

"...There was no other grave within thirty yards. A profound peace lay upon the place... Two hundred yards east of the grave of Sitting Bull the deserted barracks of Fort Yates afforded a dismal playground for the children of the agency employees... There at my feet lay, stilled forever, the form which had been the tenement of the turbulant spirit of Sitting Bull, who had striven all his life to bar the progress of the white man, who made the setting for this all-pervading peace, while a few miles away, stood the dismantled fort built to hold that spirit in check. The deserted fort and the dead hostile spoke to me of the passing of the day of the Indian... and I was minded to tell the story of the death of Sitting Bull.

"...Crafty, avaricious, mendacious, and ambitious, Sitting Bull possessed all of the faults of an Indian and none of the nobler attributes which have gone far to redeem some of his people from their deeds of guilt. He had no single quality that would serve to draw his people to him, yet he was by far the most influential man of his nation for many years -- neither Gall, Spotted Tail, nor Red Cloud, all greater men in every sense, exerting the power he did. I never knew him to display a single trait that might command admiration or respect, and I knew him well in the later years of his life. He maintained his prestige by the acuteness of his mind and his knowledge of human nature.

"...Even his people knew him as a physical coward, but the fact did not handicap the man in dealing with his following. He had many defenders at all times, and his medicine was good down to the end. He was not a hereditary chief, nor even a chief by election or choice. He was born in 1834 on the Grand River, South Dakota, within 20 miles of the scene of his death. His father's name was Sitting Bull, and the son was callled, as a boy, Jumping Badger. I had his history from his own lips when he returned, in May 1883, from his imprisonment at Fort Randall, where he was held after his surrender in 1881. He got his name and made his first entrance into the public life of his band -- the Hunkpapa -- by the use of that intelligence which he displayed thorough life.... His accuracy of judgement, knowledge of men, a student-like disposition to observe natural phenomena, and a deep insight into affairs among Indians and such white people as he came into contact with, made his stock in trade, and he made "good medicine". He made a pretence at mysticism that was easily sustained among his people, and long before the Custer affair he had a high standing among the common people and was too high to be injured by the contempt of the war-chiefs.


"... There was no doubt that his medicine was good in the Custer affair. He foretold with great accuracy the battle and the event, and the mere fact that he took to the hills, there to make medicine, while the fight was in progress, did not affect his standing adversely. He came out of the affair with higher honor than he possessed when he went into it. The disastrous retreat to Canada, and the sufferings his people underwent while he was leading them, caused him a considerable loss in prestsige. Gall and Crow King, his chief lieutenants, found him to be a fraud and a coward, and deserted him. Hump of the Minniconjou left him and surrendered. Rain-in-the-Face and other hereditary chiefs of his people despised him as an incompetent leader and coward, and brought their people in. Sitting Bull surrendered at Fort Buford in July 1881, and when I first came in contact with him personally he was a prisoner. Officially I had been watching him for years.

"...It was on the day I arrived to take charge of the agency at Standing Rock, September 8, 1881, that I saw him first. He was a prisoner on board the steamer General Sherman.... He had sent for me to tell me of his grievances. He was a stocky man, with an evil face and shifty eyes, and he still showed the effect of his desperate experience of 5 years in the Canadian Northwest, chiefly in the Province of Alberta. He knew of me, and what little he said was without his usual arrogance, for he was then desirous of making friends. I saw no more of him until he was released as a prisoner of war and went from Fort Randall, Dakota Territory, and came under my jurisdiction at Standing Rock on May 10, 1883 where he lived up to the time of his death, and where I succeeded in keeping him out of mischief generally until 1890..."

~ end quoting My Friend Indian by McLaughlin ~

After leaving Sitting Bull's gravesite we drove through the completely deserted streets of Fort Yates hoping to ask someone for directions to the infamous "standing rock" after which the reservation was named. For a fleeting moment I'd wondered if the rock Sitting Bull's plaque was standing against was the "standing rock" but I knew this couldn't be the case because the real one was of a mother and child. I was also wondering if the fort had been named after Captain George Yates who was one of Custer's closest friends and who died alongside him at Last Stand Hill. I found out later that yes, the fort was named after George Yates.


The day was getting on so with one last glance at Sitting Bull we hit the road to our ultimate destination along the Missouri.



Jackie Jura
~ an independent researcher monitoring local, national and international events ~

email: orwelltoday@gmail.com
website: www.orwelltoday.com