Sitting Bull Essay - Critical Essays

Walter Stanley Campbell


Vestal begins his book by relating the fact that Sitting Bull is the first biography of a Native American written with the same care for historical scholarship that is normally accorded to those of European ancestry. Sitting Bull, in particular, had been maligned by authors and journalists since the Battle of the Little Bighorn in 1876. The inaccuracies told about this chief included portrayals of him as a coward, a criminal, and an intractable savage. Vestal, having grown up around the Sioux, decided to produce an accurate biography using the best sources available and, thus, to set the record straight for this famous Native American.

Vestal displays genuine liking and respect for Sitting Bull in this work. When recounting the stories of the chief’s coups in his earlier years, the author presents details that reveal both Sitting Bull’s personal bravery and the Plains tribes’ extraordinary customs regarding warfare. These acts of valor form the main framework for the first part of the book and clearly explain the reason that Sitting Bull came to be regarded so highly by his tribe and to receive his position of leadership.

Vestal makes no secret of the fact that he finds the conduct of the whites toward the Sioux reprehensible. In his chronicles of the battles fought between the two groups, he often points out that the army fired the first shots. The soldiers, from generals to privates, are usually portrayed as inept, brutal, and ignorant, and they invariably come out second best in any fight with the Sioux. Indian agents and other civilian government officials are...

(The entire section is 656 words.)