After the victory of the Battle of Little Bighorn, the Sioux Indians fought in a series of battles, led by Crazy Horse, where, ultimately, the tables were turned. The Indians lost until finally they decided to surrender. The Great Sioux War officially ended, but of course nothing was truly settled, and many more skirmishes happened over the following years. There was so much wariness and offences on both sides that it took a very long time for healing of trust to even be a remote possibility, and as the years passed, horrible events occurred to compound every misgiving. Too much was left unresolved. In 1889, what was left of the Sioux’s land was divided up by the government into six different reservations. The next year, a movement passed through the Lakota tribes which sparked hope within the Sioux’ hearts and fear and suspicion within the U.S. government’s.
Kicking Bear, who was first cousins with Crazy Horse, and Short Bull, had learned what they called the Ghost Dance from a medicine man. This was a religious dance, and it was foretold that the spring, the quintessential time of renewal and the earth’s budding strength, would be an important time for the Lakota (of the Sioux nation). The Ghost Dance symbolized that with the overture of spring, the white man would be buried beneath the newness of the soil and those who took part in the Ghost Dance would be suspended in the air, above them. The government considered the religious movement a threat and acted, sending militia to the reservations. Arrests were made. When the military with the assistance of the reservation police attempted to arrest Sitting Bull, who was the holy man who had had the vision of the U.S.’s defeat before the Battle of Little Bighorn (also called Custer’s Last Stand), he was killed. His followers fired upon the men who came to arrest Sitting Bull and the police fired back. He was arrested because the government feared that he would join the Ghost Dance movement, not so much that he already had. He had retreated with his followers years before, after the end of the Great Sioux War, to what is now Saskatchewan, and had returned to the U.S. later and surrendered to the U.S. government. He had many supporters and a great deal of influence in the Sioux nation, but does that mean he was a threat? Was the Ghost Dance itself truly a threat? I think that when a government acts out of fear, the outcome can only be very messy; everything escalates, and that is never a good thing.
I am not of the mind that partaking in the Ghost Dance movement gives justification to kill, at all—but that is exactly what happened. Two weeks after Sitting Bull was killed, the Wounded Knee Massacre occurred. More on that next time.