Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Bullhead And The Last Days Of Sitting Bull

Lt. Henry Bullhead, a Yanktonai Dakota. Photo by D.F. Barry. 
Who Really Killed Sitting Bull?
Lakota Leader Killed In Confrontation

Edited By Dakota Wind
FORT YATES, N.D. – Note: the following article appeared in the Sioux County Pioneer which had previously ran a story attributing the murder of Sitting Bull at the hands of Red Tomahawk. This article refutes and minimizes Red Tomahawk’s role in Sitting Bull’s camp.

Francis B. Bullhead, son of the famed Bullhead who led the policemen in the arrest and killing of Sitting Bull, has taken exceptions to an article appearing in the Pioneer some weeks ago giving Red Tomahawk credit for the killing of Sitting Bull and has requested us to publish the sworn statement of Wakhutemani (Shoots-Walking), one of the policemen who took part in the affair. His statement is verified by police men Cross Bear and Looking Elk, who were also present. The story of the killing of Sitting Bull follows which is very interesting reading:

“We had orders to meet at the home of Chief of Police Bullhead on the Grand River about three or four miles from the camp of Sitting Bull on the night of the fourteenth of December, 1890. We left Bullhead’s place on the morning of December 15th, mounted, and rode directly to the camp of Sitting Bull. When within one-half mile of his camp, we charged rapidly directly [sic] to his house.

In accordance with instructions we surrounding his house and Captain Bullhead, Sergeant Shavehead, Little Eagle, High Eagle, and Warrior Fear Him, entered the house. The remainder of the force were to stand outside but I was curious to know what was going on and went into the house with the officers. Sitting Bull was in bed with one of his wives and was pulled out of bed by High Eagle and Little Eagle. His rifle, which was lying by his bed was taken by Captain Bullhead and another rifle which was hanging on the wall was taken by Sergeant Shavehead. After Sitting Bull was dressed, I was ordered outside and the officers followed almost immediately with Sitting Bull. 

According to Mr. Ernie LaPointe, the direct lineal descendant, great-grandson of Sitting Bull, the police knocked on the door and asked Sitting Bull to come outdoors, then waited for him. When Sitting Bull walked to the door, Crow Foot rose with his rifle and said to his father, "I will stand with you." Sitting Bull turned to his family and sang: "I am a man and where ever I lie is my own." Just after Sitting Bull and Crow Foot stepped through the door was Sitting Bull shot and killed. Crow Foot joined his father seconds later. 

Sitting Bull had been brought out about forty yards from the house and was surrounded by a cordon of policemen with the officers in the middle of the enclosed space. There were thirty-four or thirty-five policemen.

By this time it had become somewhat light and we could begin to recognize each other at some distance in the early dawn. The hostiles were running from all directions toward us yelling to kill the policemen either by shooting them or clubbing them to death.

After Sitting Bull saw that his followers were surrounding the police he yelled in a loud voice in [the] Sioux language, “I will not go! Attack! Attack!” At this time, Catch The Bear, a hostile, broke through the cordon of police and weeping and lamenting demanded that the police turn Sitting Bull loose. Closely following Catch The Bear, three other hostiles broke through the cordon of police, wearing blankets with their rifles concealed under them. As they entered the ring they threw their blankets away and made for the group of officers surrounding Sitting Bull. 

Sitting Bull, photo by D.F. Barry.

Little Eagle was standing at the right of Sitting Bull and High Eagle was at Sitting Bull’s left. These two men had been chosen to handle the person of Sitting Bull as they were powerful men physically. They had hold of him and prevented him from getting away. Captain Bullhead stood immediately in front of Sitting Bull facing him and Sergeant Shavehead stood immediately behind Bullhead.

As the hostiles threw away their blankets Catch The Bear reached the group of officers first and fired point blank at Captain Bullhead, the bullet striking the officer at about waist line and passing through his body.

At the same instant Strikes The Kettle shot Sergeant Shavehead. When Captain Bullhead was shot he immediately raised his rifle and shot Sitting Bull. The bullet struck Sitting Bull just above the sternum and passed upward and back through his body, breaking the spinal column where his neck and body join. Where the bullet left the body it tore a hole about two inches in diameter. Sitting Bull dropped dead. Neither Bullhead nor Shavehead fell when shot but Sitting Bull collapsed at once.

I actually saw these things. The battle then became general and most of the police fell back towards Sitting Bull’s barn. Two of us remained where the officers had fallen. I was not hit, but a bullet went through my hat and was fired at such close range that my neck was burnt by the powder. During the fight it was impossible to observe what was going on but I know the man remaining with me, Broken Arm or Armstrong, was killed. Three other police remained beside the house, Bad Horse, Looking Elk, and Cross Bear. None of them were wounded.

Three of the four hostiles who started the fight were killed. They were Catch The Bear, Spotted Horn, and Black Bird. Strike The Kettle was wounded but he got away and lived for many years after the fight.

While the battle was still in progress the military detachment from Fort Yates arrived at the top of the hill and apparently began firing at us. They also discharged a cannon at us twice, the shells falling within a hundred yards of us and exploding. We sent a policeman with a white flag toward the military and formed in line and marched in twos to let the military know who we were. They then changed their range and fired their cannon in the direction in which the hostiles were retiring. The cannon scattered the hostiles in every direction and the battle was over. 

LaPointe's narrative says that during the military cannon fire, Sitting Bull's oldest daughter, Many Horses, his wives, Seen By Her Nation and Four Robes, their five children and perhaps 200 more fled south across the Grand River, but were intercepted by the military and then brought to Fort Yates. 

We then found that Bullhead and Shavehead were still alive. As the police came back to the point where the fight started and saw their officers lying mortally wounded and their comrades dead, many of them shot into the body of Sitting Bull. His body was badly mutilated. Swift Cloud, a half-brother of Little Eagle, was not a policeman but as he came to the battle ground and saw his brother lying dead, he seized a club and beat the head of Sitting Bull into a shapeless mass. Holy Medicine, who was not a policeman but was a brother of Broken Arm, also came to the battle ground and seeing his brother dead, seized a club and beat the remains of Sitting Bull. 

Crow Foot, by D.F. Barry.

Crow Foot was the son of Sitting Bull. He was a young man of seventeen or eighteen at the time and when his father was taken from the house followed at three different times in an effort to get him back to the house. The first two times he was sent back to the house but the third time the battle began.

After the battle we carried the dead and wounded into Sitting Bull’s house. When we made the third trip for the body of Little Eagle we heard two shots, following a commotion in the house and a voice pleading for mercy. As we came near the house a body was hurled through the door. It was Crow Foot. He had hidden under a pile of bedding in the corner of the hut and when found by the officers had been sent by Lone Man and One Feather. 

Mr. LaPointe begs to argue this discrepancy. "It seeks to humiliate the memory of his son," says LaPointe. Crow Foot died outside the cabin. Crow Foot's younger half-brother, William, was about twelve years old. William was the crying child present. 

The hostiles killed in the fight were Catch The Bear, Spotted Horn, Black Bird, Jumping Bull, his son Brave Thunder, and Crow Foot, the son of Sitting Bull. They were buried by Riggs, a Congregational minister.

There is no question as to who killed Sitting Bull. I saw the captain of police kill him, saw him fall and saw the terrible wound made by the heavy police rifle afterward. It literally tore the upper part of his chest to pieces.

After cooking our breakfast with the military our dead were loaded into a wagon and the wounded into a military ambulance and we started for Fort Yates. The wounded reached the agency that night but we camped on Oak Creek near where the town of McLaughlin now stands. The next morning the military proceeded to Fort Yates and we received orders to return to the Grand River and order the hostiles to report to the agency. This we did with those who still remained in that vicinity but most of them had stampeded to Pine Ridge.

Many years have gone by since that fateful morning but the events as I have related them are burned indelibly upon my mind. The ride in the early morning hours, the frenzy and the screams of the ghost dancers as they rallied to their leader, the wily medicine man who made every excuse to delay his departure, his change of front when he thought his followers could save him, the bravery of the officers who knew they faced certain death, the death of Crow Foot and the tardy arrival of the military make a picture on my mind that will never be effaced.”

Suggested reading:

Sitting Bull: His Life And Legacy, by Ernie LaPointe, Great-Grandson of Sitting Bull. 


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. The number of Hunkpapa who fled south after Sitting Bull was killed is much larger than generally acknowledged. Some 250 were interned at Fort Bennett and Fort Sully for five months before being returned to Standing Rock. This does not include the Hunkpapa who returned to Standing Rock on their own within days of the killing of Sitting Bull; or the Hunkpapa (38) who joined Big Foot and ended up at Wounded Knee; or the Hunkpapa who were on there own (73) and surrendered to scout Standing Soldier, who took them to Pine Ridge.