Wednesday, September 28, 2016

North West Mounted Police Major James Walsh and Sitting Bull, Lakota Sioux

The famous meeting between Sitting Bull, Col. James Farquharson Macleod of the North West Mounted Police (NWMP), NWMP Major James M. Walsh, and U.S. General Alfred H. Terry took place on October 17, 1877 at Fort Walsh, Saskatchewan. The meeting was brokered by Major Walsh, commander of the NWMP in the Cypress Hills region. During the months that Sitting Bull had been in Canada (he crossed the border with the first of the Sioux refugees in November, 1876), he and Major Walsh had developed a great deal of respect for one another. In Major Walsh, Sitting Bull saw an honest, trustworthy representative of Canadian law. In turn, Major Walsh respected Sitting Bull's determination and considered him a friend. Sitting Bull had absolutely no respect for the American General Terry, and General Terry had no use for a "redskin."

At the Oct 17 meeting, General Terry delivered a message from the President of the United States. The American President, he said, desired a lasting peace and was willing to grant a full pardon to the Sioux if they gave up their guns and horses and moved to the reserve set aside for them. 

Sitting Bull replied: 


For 64 years, you have kept and treated my people bad; what have we done that caused us to depart from our country? We could go nowhere, so we have taken refuge here.  We did not give you our country; you took it from us; see how I live with these people; look at these eyes and ears; you think me a fool; but you are a greater fool than I am; this is a Medicine House; you come to tell us stories, and we do not want to hear them; I will not say any more. I shake hands with these people; that part of the country we came from belonged to us, now we live here.


Major Walsh treated Sitting Bull with complete respect, and he promised the Sioux protection in Canada from the American bluecoats, as long as they obeyed the laws of Canada and did not make raids into the US.  Those were terms that Sitting Bull agreed to and honoured.

However, two years later in 1879, disaster struck the Sioux – the buffalo did not appear. Without food from the Canadian government, Sitting Bull's people began to starve, and slowly drift back across the American border, accepting U.S. law and life on U.S. reserves. In June of the following year, Sitting Bull suggested to Major Walsh that he might consider returning to the United States.  Walsh turned to a friend for help, General Hammond of the U.S. Army.  Together, they obtained guarantees of safety for Sitting Bull and the remaining Sioux on their trip to Fort Buford in the United States.

On July 19, 1881, Sitting Bull surrendered at Fort Buford, handing his rifle to his son, saying that he must now learn how to live with the whites, and urged his son to remember that his father was the last Sioux to give up his gun. Shortly after, he and his followers, now only numbering approximately 187, boarded steamships to go to Standing Rock Reservation [straddles the border of the Dakotas]. 


But Sitting Bull did not fade into history so easily. An Indian in Nevada had a vision of a Messiah coming to the aid of the Indian. On a hunting expedition, Sitting Bull himself had a vision of this Messiah, clad in white buffalo garments. Returning to the reserve, Sitting Bull's story of his own vision gave the Sioux new hope, and the Indian Agent new fears about an imminent uprising. It was decided to arrest Sitting Bull. However, as police tried to arrest Sitting Bull on December 15, 1890, his son, Crowfoot, went for help. A group of Sioux gathered to prevent the police from leaving. Shooting began, and although Sitting Bull was shot, he managed to grab a rifle and crawl to a sheltered spot. When infantry arrived on the scene, he was overwhelmed and killed in the firefight.  


Sitting Bull died fighting for his people. I certainly don't pity him for that.

Watch the short Heritage Minute video:  https://www.historicacanada.ca/content/heritage-minutes/sitting-bull (or on YouTube)


Sitting Bull was 59 when he was killed.  He looked like this: