A Review: Sitting Bull, Warrior & DefenderBeautiful Book About Great Leader
By Dakota Wind
Fort Yates, ND (TFS) – In 2015, SD Nelson published his Sitting Bull: Lakota Warrior and Defender of His People, a first-person historical narrative through the eyes of Sitting Bull. His people's struggle to survive manifest destiny in the late nineteenth century is told through historical photos and Great Plains pictography.
Nominally a children’s book, but much more, Nelson beautifully illustrates a carefully researched and composed historical narrative. Each page is a work of art rendered in the historic Plains Indian style on a ledger book background. Every piece of art is lovingly constructed with a contemporary feel without sacrificing style or story.
Nelson acknowledges the oral traditions for Sitting Bull’s childhood name, Jumping Badger, from the direct lineal descendant, the great-grandson of Sitting Bull, Mr. Ernie LaPointe.
Sitting Bull touches on the last greatest conflict in the American West, Little Bighorn. Nelson takes readers on the journey to Fort Walsh in Canada, where Sitting Bull and his people remained in exile for a few years until the overwhelming call to return home pulled the Lakota back to Missouri River country. Nelson thoughtfully reconstructs the “surrender” of Sitting Bull at Fort Buford, which was actually an exchange of one lifestyle, a hunter-gatherer one, for another, an agricultural one. Imprisonment at Fort Randall is mentioned too.
Sitting Bull’s time as part of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show is also touched upon, then Sitting Bull’s return to his first and last home on the Grand River, SD. Agent McLaughlin is rendered in a confrontation with Sitting Bull about the Ghost Dance, and Sitting Bull is simply but beautifully rendered as Ikčé (common) in wrapped braids and a robe.
Nelson brings Sitting Bull to a conclusion with the death of the great spiritual leader at the hands of his own people. Nelson illustrates Sitting Bull falling, but not quite on the ground. Two police officers are depicted firing at Sitting Bull in the side and head. The images are suggestive, not graphic in their depiction, truly rendered in the historic Plains Indian style of art.
Nelson’s book is a beautiful tribute to one of the great leaders of the Lakota people. His vibrant use of color enhances a traditional art. This isn’t a typical childhood read, and it shouldn’t be. This is based on a living, breathing first nation man and his struggle in the post-reservation era. If your bookcase has any work by Paul Goble, this one earns its place front and center on that shelf. Get it for yourself and your family if you love art and history.
S.D. Nelson is a member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. His traditional name is Maȟpíya Kiŋyáŋ (Flying Cloud) He is an award-winning author and illustrator of numerous children’s books. His books have received many accolades, including the American Indian Library Association’s Youth Literature Award, a place on the Texas Bluebonnet Award Master List, and the Western Writers of America Spur Award. Nelson lives in Flagstaff, AZ. Follow him online at sdnelson.net.
Nelson, S. D. Sitting Bull: Lakota Warrior and Defender of His People. First ed. New York, NY: Abrams Books For Young Readers, 2015. 64 pp. $19.95. Hardcover. Photos, illustrations, timeline, notes, bibliography, index.
North Dakota Content Standards
Grades 4 and 8
Resources: 4.1.4; 8.1.2
State Symbols: 4.2.1 (Western Meadowlark, Red Tomahawk)
Concepts of time: 4.2.2, 4.2.3, 4.2.4
People and events: 4.2.5
Physical geography: 4.5.3; 8.5.1
Human geography: 4.5.5, 4.5.6; 8.5.2, 8.5.3
Culture: 4.6.1, 4.6.2; 8.6.2
US History & Imperialism: 8.2.4, 8.2.9, 8.2.10, 8.2.11