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While preparing for this week’s show on Tatanka Iyotake, Sitting Bull, we hoped to find audio recordings of this legendary Lakota leader talking or singing. We reached out to historian Bill Yenne and Alexandra Shadid, an archivist at the University of Oklahoma’s Western History Collections, which houses the papers of Walter Stanley Campbell — better known by his pen name, Stanley Vestal, one of the earliest biographers of Sitting Bull whose source material is the foundation for much of the current research being published on Sitting Bull.

Sitting Bull's SignatureSitting Bull’s signature from a pictograph he drew in 1882. (Image courtesy of the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History)

Both scholars informed us that they weren’t aware of any audio recordings in Sitting Bull’s own voice, but Ms. Shadid did offer up the transcripts of Vestal’s interviews and songs by Sitting Bull. She also referred us to a recording housed at the Minnesota Historical Society, just a five-minute walk from our offices in downtown Saint Paul. Here, on Christmas day 1946, Mary P. Hunt tells the story of living in Fort Yates on the Standing Rock Reservation (in what was the Dakota Territory) and her encounter with Sitting Bull, who was, in her words, being held prisoner with members of other tribes. She recounts how she sat with him for a couple of days teaching him how to sign his name in English script, which he then sold in exchange for a 50-cent piece.

I’m not entirely sure of the veracity of Ms. Hunt’s story; Bill Yenne writes about Sitting Bull’s time at Fort Randall as such:

“Sitting Bull submitted quietly, albeit not happily, to his life at the post. He certainly knew that things could have been worse. The Fort Randall complex — more a campus than a stockade — was his forced residence, but ironically it gave him his first ever-known, fixed address. Because of this, Sitting Bull suddenly started receiving fan mail. Bags of it began arriving from all over the world. Having learned to write his name in wasichu script, he relished signing autographs for people who wrote to him, or who made their way up the Missouri to visit him.”

Nevertheless, delightful anecdotes like Ms. Hunt’s are some of the gems that we’ve stumbled upon time and again while doing this work. Unfortunately, most people will never get to hear all this wonderful archival material that is part of the oral lore of a legendary figure, which only adds to the complexity of verifying what’s fact and fiction, and somewhere in between. I’m glad we could give her story a stage.

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9 Comments

Reading the words of Tatanka Iyotake's songs is both inspiring and heartbreaking. His "love of country" and the anxiety of its loss transcends time. The fact that these expressions are in song gives the words more power, beauty and resonance. The genocide of these native peoples will forever be a black mark on the soul of this nation.

A Little known relative of Sitting Bull - the one who appointed Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse, Chief Gall, Chief Red Cloud and other "famous Indians" to their "positions" - Chief John Grass, was the Grand Treaty Chief, and he knew well, as did Sitting Bull and the others, the "ways" of the white man.

It is true that the huge and heartbreaking responsibility of negotiating and treaty making did not rest with Sitting Bull nor with Crazy Horse (thus they were not signers nor negotiators of any of the treaties). However, that highly unenviable job rested squarely on the shoulders of the dynasty of traditional and spiritual chiefs who fervently prayed and took into consideration seven generations ahead in any and all decisions and negotiations they had to make with the arrogant leaders of the imposing crowds of settlers disrespectfully and greedily swarming the sacred lands that had been so meticulously kept pristine for many generations previous to the invasion.

Thus to protect his family and nation, and preserve the work he and his fellow treaty chiefs had prayerfully done on behalf of their sovereign nation, Chief John Grass instructed his family and nation to keep his roll in all the affairs of this sovereign nation (now known as the L.D.N. – Lakota-Dakota-Nakota Nation) secret until the "time is right".

Now, working with Chief John Grass's seventh generation descendants, as a labor of love and volunteerism, with no outside funding resources at present, I am hoping to finally help him publish long held manuscripts about his great grandfather, Chief John Grass’ life and story. This story of the chief strategist of the Battle of the Little Bighorn will finally and accurately relate his first hand agonizing thought process involved in negotiating and signing the many treaties still in place with the U.S. Military Government by International Law. These manuscripts along with Chief Richard Grass’s ongoing work will hopefully now find responsive hearts while opening eyes of understanding about this rich culture, language and beautifully spiritual way of life almost lost within a dominating culture. These manuscripts offer a wealth of “new” information not understood nor reported by “white” historians, and would make an excellent full feature movie to fill in "the rest of the story". Here is an excerpt from the manuscripts...

“7. Mato Watapke, Charging Bear, the first son of Used As Their Shield, is better known to white history as ‘John Grass’ – John Grass of Sioux wars and treaty fame. To the Sioux he was known as the Sovereign who “with the Pipe held before him”, led his people along the compulsory new road white men had made with their sharp guns and cannon.
As a youth and young warrior he knew the wonder of this shining land even as he realized the blight that threatened it. At the age of fourteen he had been taken by his father and grandfather to the Laramie Treaty of 1851 and there witnessed at first hand “the pattern of the white brother’s behavior”. In 1864 he watched his people struck by General Sully as they peacefully hunted buffalo and he vowed he would find a way to “the stand between them and white soldiers”. This book is an effort to show his struggle. He was a sovereign from 1873 until his death in 1918 at the age of eighty-one."

On behalf of Chief John Grass' descendent, Traditional, Spiritual and Dynastic Treaty Chief Richard Grass I have posted his official web site that gives further excerpt of the John Grass manuscripts and Chief Richard Grass’ current work as dynastic Grand and Treaty Chief on behalf of his people and a still sovereign nation to "stand between them and the white soldiers" and to let the truth be known.

...interesting picture that SB made, but I am not quite sure what he was drawing. Are the blue slashes the "tracer" of a bullet going through the native's head with the red on his face blood? Who, when and what is it a memory of SB?
What tribe is Mato Watapke from? Is the book about him published yet?

There is a spiritual continuity from Tatanka Iyotake,Sitting Bull, to Krista Tippett that is heard in her voice.

wonderful program

Sometime in the early eighties,living in Las Angeles, and having a professional background in television and theatre, I got the idea of creating a theatrical event celebrating the 5 American Indian nations. In the process of developing the idea I began spending time in the library resourcing information. Sitting Bull became an important focus of my effort. One afterenoon I found a number of books dedicated to Sitting Bull. After checking them out and while walking to my car, I began to sense a form of "energy" tingling over my shoulders and head. The best discription of the sensation: Fourth of July "sparklers" without heat or light. The sensation stayed with me as I drove home and continued to stay with me which, although not being frightening, did perplex me. To get some understanding of the experience I called a physic contact. His analysis; that it indeed was Sitting Bull letting me know he was greatly interested in my project and approved of my effort. I aked my psychic friend what I should do about the "tingling". He said thank Sittig Bull for expressing his interest. Which I did and the tingling stopped. Unfortunately, the project never happened.

It is too soon to say the project never happened - you are still living and still capable of dreaming. Perhaps if it were to be your dream again, you would receive more guidance than a tingling this time, for perhaps with greater maturity comes a better ability to listen with your heart. In documenting a people who can build a vision of renewal over generations, perhaps the project taking a lifetime of preparation can be understood. You may now have what you need to succeed that you didn't have before, or the world may have changed enough that it is ready to hear what you have prepared to be the channel for, or more likely, both.

I have thought often about what America would be like had we had the wisdom and compassion of the tribes that met the Pilgrims and helped them through the first winters with maze and other food then taught us how to feed ourselves; sharing their land, knowledge and culture..have we doomed future generations with the culture of greed and waste we have insisted on ie; polluting the earth etc. Sitting Bull can still teach us compassion, respect, and humility. Here we have perhaps the greatest american.

EarthSpeak

A young born from the Elder's pureness is what you are!
I am grateful that there are still some of you here.

It is the Elders pureness that runs within your veins.

I am grateful because it is from their words and way's that I have
learned how to truly respect all living things.

I plea to the Elder's kin both young and old,
that you do not loose this pure-ness that was passed to you.

I ask the Elder's kin that someday when you are an Elder that you would teach my Grandsons this pureness.

Very soon, a Leader will appear that will come to see that this world must follow this pureness.

This new leader will see that capitalists cannot have it all.

This new leader will see that they must use the pureness of your Elder's ways to survive on this Earth.

This new leader will see that they will have to reach the Redman on the path of life.

This new leader may be among us today, and he/she may be you!

This new leader will tell us all that:
It is not Thanksgiving Day-It is not Un-Thanksgiving Day-
It is Thanksgiving to Earth everyday.
This new leader will EarthSpeak!

Stephen Craig Hansberger

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