25 Facts: The Sioux

Sioux Maiden

The Sioux

  1. The word Sioux is thought to be an abbreviation of the (possibly French) word Nadouessioux, meaning Little Snakes or Enemies.
  2. They historically call themselves The Seven Council Fires or The Seven Nations.
  3. The Dakota, Lakota, and Nakota Tribes are separated by three main languages.
  4. The Sioux originated from the source of the Mississippi River and then later migrated to the Dakotas, Minnesota, Iowa, Montana, and Western Canada.  Now they are also based in Nebraska.
  5. Dakota Sioux were traditionally woodland people who thrived on fishing, farming, and hunting.
  6. Lakota Sioux were introduced to horses by the Cheyenne and lived a nomadic life on the prairies, surviving on bison and corn.
  7. Nakota Sioux also lived as Plains Indians.
  8. In the late Seventeenth Century the Dakota Sioux entered into an alliance with French fur-traders, competing against the English Hudson Bay Company.
  9. The Treaty of Fort Laramie established the Great Sioux Reservation in 1888.
  10. Sioux warriors often allied with the Cheyenne to fight their traditional enemies – the Pawnee.  Later they also banded together against the United States military.
  11. Leaders are chosen based on their noble birth.  They have to demonstrate bravery, fortitude, generosity, and wisdom.
  12. Warriors have two fraternal society structures – one for young men (like the Kit-Fox, Elk, and Dog Soldiers), and one for the elders.
  13. Family is the center of Sioux life and children are held sacred.
  14. The Sioux are a very spiritual people who worship Wakan Tanka (The Great Mystery).
  15. Mystical visions are accessed through ritual, prayer, music, dance, and self-sacrifice.
  16. Medicine Men are their holy leaders.  The most important religious ceremony is the annual Sun Dance, held at the time of the Summer Solstice when the moon is full.
  17. Symbolism is also important in Sioux culture.  For example, the Medicine Wheel represents the Circle of Life, and unity with the Great Spirit.
  18. The Sioux once practiced The Ghost Dance, based on the promise of a return to the old ways by the Indian prophet Wovoka.
  19. One of their most famous leaders was Chief Red Cloud who fought the US government for control of the Powder River County in Wyoming.
  20. Chief Sitting Bull was another great warrior.  He led the charge at the Battle of the Little Bighorn that helped defeat George Armstrong Custer.
  21. Crazy Horse was one of the most feared Sioux war leaders.
  22. The large number of First Nation people were massacred at Wounded Knee Creek in 1890. This signaled a formal end to the Great Sioux Nation.
  23. Today, the largest Sioux presence lives on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota.
  24. Although there is widespread unemployment on the reservation, the Sioux are engaged in farming and ranching, including the raising of bison.  The area held by the Oglala Lakota is said to be the poorest place in the country.
  25. Black Elk recorded the Sioux’s passing in his famous book Black Elk Speaks.

Want to know more?  Watch this wonderful documentary about how the Battle of the Little Bighorn led to The Last of the Sioux:




Curtis, Edwards S. The North American Indian: The Complete Portfolios.  Koln: Taschen, 1997.

Debo, Angie. A History of the Indians of the United States.  London: Folio Society, 2003.

Mooney, James. The Ghost-Dance Religion and the Sioux Outbreak of 1890. Lincoln and London: University of Nebraska Press, 1991.

Neihardt, John G. Black Elk Speaks. Lincoln and London: University of Nebraska Press, 1988.

Wikipedia, “Sioux” at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sioux


Chief Red Cloud (1822-1909)

Chief Red Cloud

“They made us many promises, more than I can remember.  But they kept one – They promised to take our land . . . and they took it.”


  • Chief Red Cloud was the famous warrior leader of the Oglala Lakota Sioux tribe.
  • He was born on the Platte River (Nebraska) to Walks As She Thinks and Lone Man, but after his parents died he was brought up by his uncle, Old Chief Smoke.
  • Growing up, he gained a lot of military experience against rival bands of Pawnee and Crow, which helped him earn his war-bonnet at the Fetterman Massacre with Crazy Horse.
  • Between 1866-1868 the  fought in Powder River Country (Wyoming / Montana) in a series of battles against the U.S. Army that came to be known as the Red Cloud Wars.
  • Then taking the path of diplomacy, he signed the Treaty of Fort Laramie (1868) and moved his people to the Great Sioux Reservation.
  • However, when George Armstrong Custer discovered gold in the Black Hills a stream of hungry prospectors ignored the existing treaty and invaded their sacred lands.  This triggered the Great Sioux War of 1876-1877, but Red Cloud did not fight alongside Chief Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse.  Instead, he tried to reason with the government in Washington D.C.
  • When his political negotiations failed, his people were forced to move to a new reservation at Pine Ridge in South Dakota.
  • He died on the reservation in 1909, at the age of 88, having seen the last of his warriors massacred at Wounded Knee.


Biography.com, “Red Cloud: Activist, Folk Hero” at http://www.biography.com/people/red-cloud-9453402

United States History, “Red Cloud” at http://www.u-s-history.com/pages/h3756.html

Wikipedia, “Red Cloud” at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Red_Cloud