Sitting Bull Analysis
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 no better. White captive Frank Grouard, shown mercy by Sitting Bull, later betrayed the chief. Even the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, who treated Sitting Bull and his people well when they first crossed into Canada, eventually tired of his presence and helped to force him back to the United States, where he had to surrender. Finally, the Indian agent James McLaughlin and several corrupted or disaffected Sioux bring about Sitting Bull’s death near the Standing Rock agency in 1890.
Although Sitting Bull focuses on one individual, his story cannot be told without relating much about others in his tribe. Two of the Sioux who receive much attention are the chief’s nephews, Big-in-the-Center and Lone Bull. These young warriors eventually became chiefs, and they shared many hardships and adventures with their famous uncle. Gall, another chief from Sitting Bull’s own tribe, came into prominence especially during the campaign of 1876. Some accomplishments mistakenly credited to Gall by earlier writers were actually...
(The entire section is 656 words.)