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

Indian Wars: Battle on the Red Fork (1876)

Battle on the Red Fork


Date:             November 25, 1876.

Opponents:  Colonel Ranald S. Mackenzie, leading troops from Fort Robinson and a collection of Native American mercenary scouts


                        Chief Dull Knife and the Northern Cheyenne, led by Chief Little Wolf.

Place:             The Red Fork on the Powder River, Wyoming Territory.

Factors:       * This battle is also known as the Dull Knife Fight.

                       * Colonel Mackenzie was informed of an extremely large village camped on the Powder River.  He set off with 1,000 men to investigate, hoping to find Crazy Horse and punish him for his role at the Little Bighorn.  One third of his army comprised of Native American scouts, working for the promise of any horses they could steal from their traditional Cheyenne enemies.

                       * The army attacked at dawn.  They drove the sleepy, half-naked warriors from their tipis into the frozen countryside.

                       * Chief Dull Knife’s braves offered a fierce resistance but finally had to retreat from their village.  It was plundered and destroyed.

                      * 3 of Chief Dull Knife’s sons were killed.  It was so cold that 11 babies froze in their mother’s arms, and several of the refugee tribe suffered from frostbite.

Results:       * This defeat ended the Northern Cheyenne’s ability to wage war on the Great Plains.

                      * Chief Dull Knife led the wounded, old, and non-combatants to surrender at Fort Robinson.

                      * Many of the warriors fled to join forces with Crazy Horse and the Oglala Sioux.

                      * The soldiers reported 7 killed and 22 wounded.

                     * The Cheyenne took 80 casualties.  They not only mourned the death of 40 of their people, but also an end to their old way of life.


Wikipedia, “Dull Knife Fight,” at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dull_Knife_Fight

WyoHistory.org, “Dull Knife Fight,” at http://www.wyohistory.org/essays/dull-knife-fight-1876-troops-attack-cheyenne-village-red-fork-powder-river

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.