Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Book Reports, Cont.

Inadvertently left out of the last post below...

Sitting Bull, by Bill Yenne. The only biography of the great Hunkpapa (Lakota) Sioux medicine man I've ever read and not a book to make your heart swell with pride about the conquest of the Plains by European re-settlers. Sitting Bull got tagged by the white press at the time as the chief who defeated Custer at Little Big Horn. Sitting Bull was certainly there, but he was not one of the leading Sioux warriors. He was busy, rather, trying to get the women and children of his particular band to safe ground. He never wanted to "westernize" after the final defeat of the Sioux, which pretty much sealed his death sentence. He took his band into Canada to escape American domination, but the Canadians didn't want him. He was a tough negotiator for Indian rights, even going to Washington, D.C., to meet with the president. But once gold was discovered in the Black Hills, all treaties were moot, and he watched his people squeezed onto smaller and smaller reservations and reduced to agricultural subsistence. The almost complete extermination of the great buffalo herds certainly accelerated the disappearance of an entire native nomadic culture.

Sitting Bull was essentially assassinated by westernized Sioux who had signed on with the Americans as reservation police. The white American head of the Standing Rock Reservation harbored ill will for Sitting Bull and blamed him for the Ghost Dance movement, which was threatening to revive Sioux resistance to white domination. It seems quite clear that Sitting Bull was not promoting the Ghost Dance. But it's also clear that he resisted his arrest by Bull Head, Red Tomahawk, and the other Sioux sell-outs, giving them the excuse they were looking for to shoot him in the head.

The animus of the Americans toward Indian culture is highlighted by the way Sitting Bull's body was treated after his murder: he was quickly buried in an unmarked spot with no ceremony, no Indian witnesses, and his body covered with quicklime. The Americans wanted not a trace of him left.

NOTE: My favorite reading is history and biography, so you should see the stack of fat books that are still ahead of me for the summer. Among them: Doris Kearns Goodwin's Team of Rivals, which everyone else has already read, and the new biography of Andrew Jackson by Jon Meacham, American Lion.

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