The Lance and the Shield: The Life and Times of Sitting Bull.
Stanley Vestal's (Walter S. Campbell) biographies of Sitting Bull written in 1932 and 1957 seem to have been composed in the dimming light of the past because of the long intervening years. Robert Utley's book is most timely and, with the much wider distribution of today, should once again bring the attention of the public to the story of Sitting Bull. On the second page of his preface, the author makes the following statement regarding Stanley Vestal:
The Vestal genre is not unique. He was one of a trio of scholars who presented themselves as historians but viewed the Sioux through literary lenses. The other two were Mari Sandoz, biographer of Crazy Horse and John G. Neihardt of the classic Black Elk Speaks. Like Vestal, they achieved ultimate truth in works that are good literature and bad history.
Even though the author salutes everyone later and openly admits to using Vestal's research, the conclusion "bad history" does not help our historical tradition a great deal. The author made a statement some time ago that "all Indian informants are misleading, misinformed, undependable." Is this why he did not use one American Indian as an informant, not even Vine Deloria, a recognized Indian author who also comes from the Standing Rock Reservation? Utley seems to believe that only the U. S. Army reports and the government's statements are worthy of the attention of qualified historians. Are we to cancel or discard the value of our American oral history just because the past was not written down?
The three targeted historians, Vestal, Sandoz, and Neihardt, certainly were unique Americans who cared enough for historical truth about Indians to listen, befriend, and take seriously the Sioux veterans who, as survivors, lived through the monumental growing pains of the frontier. The old veterans interviewed by Vestal and Neihardt were contacted directly in the field. Sandoz dedicated her book about Crazy Horse to Eleanor Hinman who, as a friend of He Dog, the blood brother of Crazy Horse, started to record his story about the life of Crazy Horse. Hinman turned her complete research over to Sandoz in 1932 just before she introduced Sandoz to He Dog, who died a few months later at the age of one hundred years. These veterans, all of them present at the Little Big Horn in 1876, were the true warriors of the buffalo culture. These men lived honor; their lives were saturated with honor; they believed honor was the normal quality of man. Academic historians somehow refuse to accept this kind of behavior by anyone else but themselves. Evidently the Holocaust of World War II also did not happen. Were there any survivors able to tell the truth?
Maybe it is the time to rewrite the history books of Indian America and finally correct the propaganda versions Of vested interests, whether religious institutions or governmental political interests. The feeding frenzy of abstract contemporary historians on our national heroes and patriots should be given very serious attention if we care about historical truth. One should remember that, during the Great Depression years of the 1930s, many book publishers did not favor footnotes. Even indexes were often absent. Textbooks for institutions of higher learning contained footnotes as a necessary requirement. Vestal's New Sources Of Indian History, a totally separate book published in 1934, was Intended to be the reference book for the Sitting Bull biography.
With this book Robert Utley contributes greatly to the presentation of the Sitting Bull epic by locating pertinent information among Vestal's archives at the University of Oklahoma, the government archives, newspapers, etc. His diligence is to be lauded and is totally professional. Sitting Bull's life and times must never be neglected for, by not cherishing the qualities. Of this man in his fight for freedom and his patriotism to this land, our national dignity is chipped away bit by bit.
Why was the cover painting of Sitting Bull by Henry Raschen so readily accepted as an historical document when there is no official record of the painting being done from life? Raschen was of the league of prominent painters such as E. A. Burbank and E. S. Passon who tried to get on the bandwagon of popularity after Sitting Bull died. It is documented that Raschen painted Geronimo, leader of the Apaches, at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. There are a number of documented paintings by such painters as Gilbert Gaul, Henry Farny, and Rudolph Croneau that are valid as historical documents. Why were they ignored?
Major McLaughlin, who became the absolute ruler of the Standing Rock Reservation, was personally selected by General Sherman to whip the rebellious Hunkpapa Sioux into line. He had many advantages over the other candidates for the superintendent's job, his greatest being his half-Indian wife, Marie, a Yanktonai Sioux (Medawakanton). By learning the Sioux language quickly Major McLaughlin was able to recruit most of his wife's relatives for his newly organized Indian Police, thus enabling him to have men he could trust. The Yanktonai were hated passionately by the Hunkpapa who considered them as interlopers on their Reservation. The Yanktonai, a combination of a number of Eastern Sioux tribes, were exiled from Minnesota after the Sioux Uprising of 1863. Robert Utley's chivalrous attitude and respect for Major McLaughlin is self-evident. McLaughlin was determined that the March to the Manifest would not be interrupted by anyone, especially not by the likes of Sitting Bull. His official reports were designed to destroy Sitting Bull's reputation and to Influence the minds of governmental officials and his immediate superiors. He alone reached the decision that he had to get rid of the Sitting Bull, like Saint Patrick and the snakes, and naturally with the blessings of the U. S. Army and the Government. The grateful government rewarded the Major in 1895 with appointment to the post of Indian Inspector. He died in the service at the age of eight-one in 1923.
Robert Utley's opinions regarding the death of Sitting Bull are based exactly on the government's and specifically the U. S. Army's prescribed behavior. Many other official individuals were Involved in this morbid affair in our nation's history. A crime was committed and, right or wrong, no amount of political whitewash will ever erase the deed. Sitting Bull himself had a premonition of death. A meadowlark by the roadside told him that the Sioux would kill him but the bird did not tell him what kind of Sioux. The last night in his log house was spent with his close friends, most of them head men of the tribe, and his family, smoking and retelling the stories of the many good times. It was the farewell to his people who had fought by his side for their way of life. He knew that there was no future. He could not survive the reservation prison system, nor the Dry Tortugas, much less the loss of freedom the people would be facing.
Never in the history of the Hunkpapa People was one of their leaders carried away from the center of their camp; it would have been sheer insanity for anyone to attempt it. Robert Utley also believes that assassinations were an historical reality in the politics of the Sioux Nation. Other branches of the Teton Sioux had such incidents but never the Hunkpapa. Since some very inconsequential photographs were used in this book, why wasn't McLaughlin's order for the arrest reproduced? The famous "P. S.", "You must not let him escape under any circumstances!" was an execution order issued by Major McLaughlin to the Indian policemen led by Sgt. Bullhead and Sgt. Red Tomahawk, the actual killers of Sitting Bull. Of the forty-four Indian Police force and their helpers only sixteen were Hunkpapa turncoats and all converted Christians. The others were Yanktonai relatives of Marie McLaughlin. To these men the execution order was plain and, being loyal soldiers, they carried it out.
Such was the case of the badly wounded Sgt. Bullhead laying on the floor of Sitting Bull's cabin. His men had found the unarmed seventeen year-old Crowfoot, son of Sitting Bull, who was desperately pleading for his life, "Uncles, please don't kill me," Bullhead's answer was "Kill him!" Lone Man and two others pumped three bullets into the boy's body after knocking him out with a rifle butt. Execution, what else? Two troops of the 8th Cavalry, a total of 109 men and officers with one Gatlin gun and one breach-loading Hotchkiss gun (cannon), were waiting for daylight on the crest of a hill overlooking Sitting Bull's camp some 1500 yards away. This command was the insurance that Major McLaughlin's government-sanctioned order would be successfully obeyed and that Sitting Bull would be eliminated.
Robert Utley believes in the validity of the many official reports by Major McLaughlin that stated the removal of Sitting Bull from the scene was imperative. He had to be removed before he could speak with the two Ghost Dance Prophets, Kicking Bear and Short Bull, in Pine Ridge. Indeed, if Sitting Bull really believed in the second coming of Christ, then Sitting Bull did die for Christ just as Vestal stated in 1932, "These good Christians said he was crazy and killed him because he dared to hope for the Second Coming of Christ". This reviewer misses in Robert Utley's fine book the compassion, even some of the heart of the Vestal portrait that is much closer to Hunkpapa Sioux reality. With Sitting Bull's passing, this nation of the free has lost one of the great makers of America. There is a need to retain the inspirational heroes of our country if we care to keep our freedom for future generations.
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|Publication:||The American Indian Quarterly|
|Article Type:||Book Review|
|Date:||Sep 22, 1995|
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