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


Annie Oakley (1860-1926)


  • Phoebe Ann Mosey went by several names: Annie Oakley, Little Miss Sure Shot, Watanya Cicilla, and Mrs. Frank Butler.
  • She was born in Ohio, 1860.
  • Her family were poor Quakers who owned a small log cabin in the wilds.
  • She was only five feet tall.
  • Her father died of pneumonia when she was nine years old so she took to trapping, hunting, and shooting to feed her widowed mother and six siblings.
  • She sold any surplus meat to local shopkeepers, and was so successful that in six years she had earned enough to pay off the mortgage on the family farm.
  • At the age of fifteen, Annie won a shooting match against a professional marksman – Frank Butler – who later became her husband.
  • In 1885, the Butlers joined Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, and Annie became an international star who played before royalty throughout Europe.
  • Aside from Buffalo Bill Cody himself, she was the highest paid performer.
  • During the tour, she became friends with Chief Sitting Bull.  He named her Little Sure Shot.
  • Annie Oakley’s sharp-shooting skills are legendary.  She could split a playing card at thirty paces – hit the ash off a lit cigarette – pop a dime tossed in the air – knock corks out of bottles – and shoot out a burning candle, among many other tricks.
  • In 1901, a train accident left her with a serious back injury.  But after she recovered, her skills were stronger than ever.
  • She taught thousands of females to shoot, claiming: “I would like to see every woman know how to handle guns as naturally as they know how to handle babies.”
  • Oakley was an avid supporter of women’s rights.  After her death it was discovered that her entire fortune had been given to family members and charity organizations.
  • She died in 1926.  Her husband of fifty years passed away three weeks later.  They are buried together in Ohio.


Buffalo Bill Center of the West, “Annie Oakley,” at  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Annie_Oakley

Wikipedia, “Annie Oakley,” at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Annie_Oakley

YouTube, “Annie Oakley Shooting Glass Balls, 1894”


Chief Sitting Bull (c.1831-1890)

Chief Sitting Bull

“The Great Spirit has given our enemies to us.  We are to destroy them.”


  • Sitting Bull was named Jumping Badger at birth, but was nicknamed Slow because of his thoughtful nature.
  • This warrior was a Hunkpapa Lakota holy man, famous for resisting the U.S. government and its Manifest Destiny expansion.
  • During the Red Cloud war of 1866-1868 he led numerous war parties against the military.  He also made guerrilla attacks on prospectors and settlers encroaching on sacred Sioux lands.
  • This chief did not agree with the Treaty of Fort Laramie and refused to sign.
  • His continued resistance throughout the Great Sioux War (1876) at one point halted construction on the Northern Pacific Railway.
  • In a sun dance ceremony before the Battle of the Little Bighorn, Sitting Bull predicted the defeat of the Seventh Cavalry.
  • His leadership inspired this major victory against George Armstrong Custer’s troops.
  • To avoid the inevitable backlash, Sitting Bull fled to Canada, where he claimed political asylum until 1881.
  • This chief became a household name after starring in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show.  Here, he befriended Annie Oakley and named her Little Sure Shot.
  • Fearing he would join the dangerous Ghost Dance Movement, Sitting Bull was assassinated by Indian Agency Police in a botched attempt to arrest him.
  • His death was one of the precipitating factors that led to the Wounded Knee Massacre in South Dakota, 1890.  It marked the end of the Great Sioux Nation.


History.com, “Ten Things You May Not Know About Sitting Bull” at http://www.history.com/news/10-things-you-may-not-know-about-sitting-bull

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

Wikipedia, “Sitting Bull” at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sitting_Bull


William “Buffalo Bill” Cody (1846-1917)

Buffalo Bill


  • William Cody – born in Iowa Territory, 1846 – was raised in Canada and Kansas Territory.
  • At the age of 14 he became a Pony Express Rider after his father died and the family fell on hard times.
  • From 17 – 19 years old he served as a Union soldier in the American Civil War.
  • At 20 he married Louisa Frederici, with whom he had 4 children.  Only 2 reached adulthood.
  • During the Plains War he returned to the army as Chief of Scouts for the 3rd U.S. Cavalry.  Although he fought in 16 battles and was awarded the Medal of Honor for gallantry, he spent a lot of time hunting bison to feed the army and workers on the Kansas Pacific Railroad.  Having killed 4,288 animals in 18 months he earned the nickname Buffalo Bill.
  • When he was 26, Cody led a famous hunting expedition with  Grand Duke Alexei Alexandrovich of Russia.
  • He called his rifle Lucretia Borgia, and his two favorite horses were Brigham and Buckskin Joe.
  • Buffalo Bill became a celebrity when Ned Buntline began publishing stories based on Cody’s adventures.
  • At the age of 27 he turned to acting and starred in The Scout of the Prairie, which later became The Scouts of the Plains when his friend Wild Bill Hickok joined the troupe.
  • 10 years later the showman developed a huge, outdoor, circus-like rodeo event called Buffalo Bill’s Wild West.


  • As the show expanded it featured many famous Wild West figures including Annie Oakley, Calamity Jane, and Chief Sitting Bull.
  • Cody performed in England by royal command of Queen Victoria and he also met Pope Leo XII.
  • When he was 55 years old his Wild West show was involved in a serious train accident that injured Annie Oakley and led to the deaths of 110 horses.  This disruption in touring signaled the demise of his performing career.  But by this time Cody was an international superstar.
  • Buffalo Bill then turned to other business ventures.  He founded the town of Cody (Wyoming), which was incorporated in 1901.
  • He owned several hotels and a large property on the Shoshone River called the TE Ranch.
  • In 1879, Cody published his autobiography called The Life and Adventures of Buffalo Bill.  By then he had become a supporter of regulated hunting seasons, the rights of women, and Native American civil liberties.  He died in 1917.
  • At the turn of the 20th Century “Cody was the most recognizable celebrity on earth” (Larry McMurty and R.L. Wilson).


Cody, William F. The Life and Adventures of Buffalo Bill at http://www.pbs.org/weta/thewest/resources/archives/seven/w67bbauto/w67bb0.htm

Wikipedia, “Buffalo Bill” at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buffalo_Bill


Indian Wars: Wounded Knee Massacre (1890)

Wounded Knee Massacre


Date:             December 29,1890.

Opponents:  Colonel James W. Forsyth, Major Samuel M. Whitside, and the 7th U.S. Cavalry


                        Chief Sitting Bull and the Lakota Sioux.

Place:             Wounded Knee Creek, Pine Ridge Lakota Indian Reservation, South Dakota.

Factors:       * The Sioux were inspired by a prophet called Wokova.  His Ghost Dance Religion promised a return to the old days, and claimed that special, painted shirts could repel bullets.

                       * Spread of this new “Messiah Craze” alarmed the white leaders, who feared a massive uprising and break-out from the reservation.

                       * The 7th Cavalry was sent in to disarm the warriors and prevent a potential rebellion.

                       * There are differing accounts of what happened next, but many claim that a deaf tribesman – Black Coyote – refused to surrender his rifle and a scuffle broke out.

                      * The army surrounded the village and opened fire, indiscriminately shooting men, women, elders, and children.

                       * Chief Sitting Bull was one of the first fatalities.

Results:       * This was a massacre of such epic proportions that it decimated the Sioux, and effectively ended the Indian Wars.

                      * 39 army soldiers were injured and 25 died, some from “friendly fire.”

                      * 150 Lakota Sioux perished.  51 were wounded.

                      * The Holy Man – Black Elk – who survived the attack claimed, “A people’s dream died there.  It was a beautiful dream.”


Brown, Dee. Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee. New York: Henry Holt, 1970.

McGregor, James H. The Wounded Knee Massacre: From the Viewpoint of the Sioux.  South Dakota: Fenske Media, 1940.

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, 1993.

Wikipedia, “Wounded Knee Massacre,” at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wounded_Knee_Massacre

Indian Wars: Little Bighorn (1876)

The Battle of the Little Bighorn.

little-bighorn (Painting by Charles Marion Russell)

Date:             June 25 and 26, 1876.

Opponents:  Lieutenant Colonel George Armstrong Custer and the 7th U.S. Cavalry


                        Crazy Horse and Chief Gall, leading a combined force of Northern Cheyenne, Lakota Sioux, and Arapaho.

Place:             Little Bighorn River, Montana.

Factors:       * Custer found gold in the Black Hills, on Indian land that was sacred to the Sioux, which soon triggered an influx of unwanted white prospectors.

                       * Chief Sitting Bull had a vision during the Sun Dance Ceremony.  He was “soldiers falling into his camp like grasshoppers from the sky” – which inspired an armed resistance to the U.S. army, pioneers, and miners swarming into the Dakotas.

                       * Custer came upon a massive combined village camped alongside the river.  He did not appreciate how large it actually was and decided to launch an immediate daylight attack because he knew that his men had been spotted by native scouts.

                       * The 7th Cavalry was split in three, the other two battalions being led by officers Reno and Benteen. Custer expected these two divisions to arrive any moment as backup.  They came under attack at the other ends of the village and failed to arrive in support of their leader.

                      * Custer made a brave Last Stand behind a wall of dead horses, but he and his men were routed and annihilated within an hour.  The soldiers were mutilated and scalped, then left to rot until the army arrived to bury them.  Custer’s body remained untouched, except some reports say his ear-drums were pierced so that he would learn to listen better in the next life.

                      * The Native Americans then went after Reno and Benteen but were repulsed long enough for General Terry to arrive with reinforcements.  The braves scattered in different directions so they would be difficult to track and hunt down.

Results:       * The U.S. cavalry lost 268 men (with 48 wounded), including Custer and his two brothers.

                      * First Nation casualties numbered 136 warriors and 10 non-combatants (with 160 wounded).

                      * The Battle of the Little Bighorn was a major victory for the Native Americans in the Great Sioux Wars of 1854-1890.

                      * But Custer’s Last Stand became a pivotal rallying point that eventually led to the end of native resistance at Wounded Knee.

                     * Chief Sitting Bull escaped to Canada the following year.

                     * Crazy Horse  was later captured and assassinated at Fort Robinson (Nevada) a few months later.


Eyewitness to History, “Battle of the Little Bighorn, 1876” at http://www.eyewitnesstohistory.com/custer.htm.

National Park Service, “Battle of the Little Bighorn,” at https://www.nps.gov/libi/learn/historyculture/battle-of-the-little-bighorn.htm.

Sanja, Mike. Crazy Horse: The Life Behind the Legend. New Jersey: Castle Books, 2000.

Wikipedia, “Battle of the Little Bighorn” at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_the_Little_Bighorn.