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

Subject Matter

Social Studies

North Star Dakotan:

Journals and Art Work: The Indian People, The Trade, and The Land

The Indian People

The Purchase and Exploration of Louisiana

The Fur Trade

Dakota Territory

The Military Frontier

The Reservation System

George Armstrong Custer and the Battle of the Little Bighorn

The Great Dakota Boom, 1878-1890

Reservation Troubles, 1886-1890

The Making of a State and a Constitution

The North Dakota Economy, 1890-1915

Life on the Indian Reservations

The North Dakota National Guard and the Philippines

North Dakota, The Great War and After

The Nonpartisan League's Rise to Power

The Nonpartisan League in Power

The Nonpartisan League's Decline

The 1920s

1930s: North Dakota's Economic and Political Climate

The New Deal in North Dakota

The Road to World War II

North Dakota and American Society

North Dakota Optimism and Economic Developments

North Dakota and Political Change

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