In early May 1877, the Lakota Sioux medicine man and war chief Sitting Bull led his following of 135 lodges across the "medicine line" which was the name used for the border between the United States and Canada. Sitting Bull's decision to move his people north into the Province of Saskatchewan was the outcome of the gradual erosion of the Sioux way of life in the American plains because of the decimation of the buffalo herds. In addition, he was unable to protect his people against the U.S. military in the Great Sioux War of 1876-1877. He hoped that in Canada he would enjoy the protection of the Great Mother, Queen Victoria, and that the buffalo herds would return to allow Sioux to rebuild their way of life. Their stay in Canada, however, only temporarily allowed the Lakota Sioux to maintain their way of life. The Sioux were unable to obtain sufficient food from hunting and were harassed by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP). In 1881, Sitting Bull made the decision to return to the United States with his followers, surrendering to the United States at Fort Buford in North Dakota. Sitting Bull and his followers were eventually placed at the Standing Rock Reservation and many died at the hands of the U.S. Cavalry at the Wounded Knee Massacre in 1890. In the same year, Sitting Bull was shot when Reservation police attempted to arrest him. The Decision to Cross the Medicine Line
The Sioux had left Michigan for the Great Plains from Michigan in the late eighteenth century to escape from the westward movement of European settlers. After 1850, however, the westward migration of European settlers created a significant threat to
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the Sioux way of life. The buffalo herds were gradually disappearing and farmers were beginning to cultivate grazing lands, which reduced the ability of the Sioux to hunt. In addition, the Sioux had difficulty migrating to find game because of treaties that limited them to reservation lands (Ostler, 2004, p. 43).
The Sioux signed a treaty with the United States in 1868 that created the Great Sioux Reservation in South Dakota and gave them additional hunting rights in Montana and Wyoming. The Sioux assumed that the treaty would allow them autonomy in the reservation land and the right to exclude the European settlers. The Grant administration, however; considered the treaty as an opportunity to Christianize the Sioux and to transform them from migratory hunters into sedentary farmers (La Dow, 2001, p. 44). Rather than submit to the reservation system, many Sioux made the choice to fight against the United States and risk starvation because of the need to continually move encampments. These bands of Sioux conducted raids against European settlers passing through the region and carried on a war against the Crow to the west to gain access to additional hunting grounds.
In 1875, gold was discovered in the Black Hills, which was in the territory of the Sioux reservation. As a result, miners flooded into the region. The Grant administration issued an ultimatum against the Sioux bands outside the reservation to either report to the reservation by January 31, 1876 or face war. Sitting Bull, the war chief of the Hunkpapa Lakota Sioux and defied the order and went to war against the United States. Other Sioux bands including the Oglala Sioux led by Crazy Horse as well as the Cheyenne were allied
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with Hunkpapa Lakota in the war. Sitting Bull was effective and convincing in creating this alliance, with the members bound together by the Sun Dance, which represented a spiritual rebirth.
Sitting Bull as well as the other Sioux war chiefs did not have the resources to fight a prolonged war against the United States. General Crook, who was in operational command of the forces sent to force the Sioux onto the Reservation, had approximately 13,000 infantry and cavalry at his disposal (Robinson, 2001, p. 49). Sitting Bull's...
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