Sitting Bull: War Chief of the Sioux Critical Essays

Richard O’Connor


(Critical Edition of Young Adult Fiction)

In O’Connor’s biography, Sitting Bull emerges as a figure of dignity, endurance, wisdom, and mysticism. Twice warned of danger by birds, he revered the “Bird People,” and he wrote poetry. He was canny in his assessment of whites’ motives, yet he maintained his own high standards of honor. The book is an objective account of the Native Americans’ dwindling freedom, their shrinking lands, and the efforts of Sitting Bull—the most powerful of all the chiefs—to preserve their nomadic life.

Sitting Bull’s culture loved fighting, as the “sheer joy of combat” was a way of life for Plains tribes. Therefore, Sitting Bull astonished his people by adopting, rather than killing, an Assiniboine boy whose family had been killed by Sioux warriors. Their culture also respected nature. When hunting buffalo, the Native Americans slaughtered only as many animals as they could use; they did not want to destroy the precious herds.

Although he described whites as “a force like the wind,” Sitting Bull scorned their fighting methods and their lack of visible mourning for casualties. He thought it was callous the way that soldiers often left their dead behind them. Bored and disgusted by whites’ maneuvers, he once strode to the middle of a battlefield and smoked his pipe, to the amazement of whites and Native Americans alike.

After the Battle of the Little Bighorn, Sitting Bull warned his warriors not to loot the knapsacks of the dead white troops, predicting that money, whiskey, and possessions would corrupt the Sioux, who were not by nature a materialistic people. He lived to see his prediction come true, as many Native Americans on reservations took up the least attractive aspects of white culture.


(The entire section is 714 words.)