Sitting Bull and Buffalo Bill

Sitting Bull and Buffalo Bill's Wild West

The Hunkpapa medicine man, Sitting Bull, had been a leader of his people and involved in most of the major events of the Northern Plains from the 1850's onward. Although he studiously avoided any involvement with whites as long as they stayed out of his homeland, he did indulge in skirmishes with traditional enemies while providing for the welfare of his tribe. As white incursions into Dakota Territory continued though, Sitting Bull gradually became convinced that he must resist in order to preserve his traditional way of life - a stance he maintained to his dying day.

Following the resounding defeat of the 7th Calvary at the Greasy Grass, Sitting Bull fled to Canada where he received a less than warm welcome, and was eventually forced to lead the remnants of his starving band back across the border where he surrendered at Fort Buford in July of 1881. He was imprisoned for two more years at Fort Randall before being allowed to return to his home on the Grand River at Standing Rock Reservation.

And here is where Sitting Bullís life seemed to spiral off into the Land of Oz: after a lifetime of vigorously resisting white culture and domination, he accepted Buffalo Bill Codyís invitation to tour with his Wild West show in 1885! Displaying an uncommon savvy for a traditional Native American, he negotiated a very favorable contract including a salary of $50 per week plus expenses and complete control over all photographs of himself, a clause which produced a generous income for the former enemy of the whites.

He remained only one season however, returning to his beloved homeland to resume his leadership role in the resistance of further white domination. Sitting Bull was an astute individual and must have known the futility of his struggle. It would have been much easier to just stay with Colonel Cody, with whom he shared a surprisingly close bond, and just bask in the limelight for his remaining years.

What if he had?

A second ďwhat ifĒ presents itself in a little-publicized event which nearly occurred at the very end of Sitting Bullís life:

As the Ghost Dance hysteria swept over western Dakota in late1890 (the hysteria being mostly on the part of the fearful whites). Sitting Bullís influence on his followers was respected by General Miles who suggested that perhaps Buffalo Bill could defuse the escalating tension. The Colonel immediately took a leave of absence from his show and headed for Standing Rock Reservation with a wagonload of presents for his former star. Superintendent James McLaughlin, chafing at what he perceived to be an undermining of his authority, managed to intercede and Buffalo Bill was obliged to turn back without fulfilling his mission.  Just a few weeks later, Tribal Police (including relatives and friends of the great Chief) were ordered to arrest Sitting Bull.  He was murdered in the botched attempt, on December 15, 1890, along with several of those trying to protect him or arrest him.

What if Cody had reached Sitting Bullís cabin?