Sitting Bull (1831 to1890) was a Sioux chief who united the Sioux tribes to resist the westward push of the United States government. Prior to 1874, conflicts with the Sioux were relatively uncommon; the United States had little interest in the Dakotas; however, that changed with the discovery of gold in 1874, leading to the Great Sioux Wars.
Sitting Bull was recognized as a warrior while still a young man, in conflicts with the Crow and other tribes, but he did not encounter whites before 1862. The white population in modern-day South Dakota was quite small, and Sitting Bull was not near a transit route used by those moving west. When the Santee Sioux left their reservation in Minnesota and moved into the Dakotas, Sitting Bull learned of life on the reservation and the goals of the United States.
By 1864, Sitting Bull had developed a clear position of resistance to U.S. efforts to move the Sioux to reservations, and had engaged U.S. forces. Sitting Bull’s resistance to the U.S. and reservations gained him allies among other tribes, including the Arapahoe and Cheyenne. During the years that followed, he engaged in skirmishes with General Armstrong Custer.
Sitting Bull was not a war chief at Little Bighorn, but had predicted conditions of the battle. Following Little Bighorn, Sitting Bull fled to Canada. He returned and surrendered in 1881, spending several years on a Sioux reservation and travelling with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. Sitting Bull died in an arrest attempt in 1890, after he refused to stop the Ghost Dance, a religious movement that believed whites would die and Native Americans, including the dead, rise, on the Standing Rock reservation.