An interview with Sitting Bull from an 1881 newspaper.


This christmas (1999) I happened to be in Selkirk in the house of some friends, Gordon and Lynn Hooker, who showed me some artifacts, including the newspaper article below, which they had found within the walls of their home while renovating. The actual discovery was made by their sons, Jason & Kristian.

History is written by the victors. We rarely get to hear the story from the vanquished. In this case, the winner of a battle escaped a losing war for a brief spell. Sitting Bull's version of Little Big Horn is transcribed below in an interview from an 1881 newspaper.


North-West Correspondence


Sitting Bull's Story of the Custer Fight - His Reluctance to Begin Hostilities - Custer Orders Him to an Agency - The Battle Fought during a Terrific Thunderstorm
(From our Special Correpsondent)
Wood Mountain, N.W.T. April 3, 1881

In a recent interview with Major Crozier Sitting Bull said :-- During the summer previous to the one in which he attacked us, General Custer sent a letter to me telling me that if I did not go to an agency, he would fight me and I sent word back to him by his messenger that I did not want to fight him, but only to be left alone. I told him at the same time that if he wanted to fight he should go and fight those Indians who wanted to fight him. Custer then sent me word again (this was in the winter) "* * You would not take my former offer, now I am going to fight you this winter." I sent word back and said just what I had said before, that I did not want to fight, and wanted only to be left alone and that my camp was the only one which had not fought against him.

Custer again sent a message. "I am fitting up my wagons and soldiers, and am determined to fight against you in the spring." I thought that I would try him again and sent him a message saying;
I Did Not Want to Fight.
that I wanted first of all to go to British Territory, and after I had been there and come back, if he still wanted to fight me that I would fight then. Custer sent back word and said:-- "I will fight you in eight days."

I then saw that it was no use, that I would have to fight, so I sent him word back "All right; get all your men mounted; I will get all my men mounted; we will have a fight; the Great Spirit will look on, and the side which is in the wrong will be defeated."

I began to get ready and sent twenty young men to watch for the soldiers. Five soon came back with word that Custer was coming. The other fifteen stopped to watch his movements. When Custer was quite close ten young men came in. When he advanced still closer, two more came in leaving three to still watch the troops. We had got up a medicine dance for war in the camp and just as it was coming to an end, two of the young men who had stopped out came in with word that Custer and the troops were very close and would be upon the camp in the morning. That night we all
GOT READY FOR THE BATTLE.
My young men all buckled on their ammunition belts, and we were busy putting strong sticks in our "coup sticks". Early at sunrise two young men who had been out a short way on the prairie came to me and told me that from the top of a high butte they had seen the troops advancing in two divisions. I then had all the horses driven into the camp and corralled between the lodges. About noon the troops came up, and at once rushed upon the camp. They charged in two seperate divisions; one at the upper end whilst the other division charged about in the middle of the camp. The latter division struck the camp in the middle of the 250 lodges of the Uncapapa Sioux and close to the door of my own lodge. At the time the troops charged I was making medicine for the Great Spirit to help us and fight upon our side, and as I heard the noise and knew what it was, I came out. When I had got to the outside of my lodge, I noticed that this division had stopped suddenly close to the outer side of the Uncapapa camp, and then they sounded a bugle and the troops fired into the camp. (Here Sitting Bull made a peculiar noise with his mouth and clapped his hands together to imitate the firing of the troops.)

I at once set my wife upon my best horse, put my war bonnet on her head and told her to run away with the rest of the women. She did so, but in her hurry forgot to take the baby (a girl); after she had gone a little way, she thought of the child and came back for it. I gave the child to her and she went off again.

I now put a flag upon a lodge pole and lifting it as high as I could I shouted out as loud as I was able to my own men.
I AM SITTING BULL; FOLLOW ME.
I then rushed at the head of them up to the place where I thought Custer was, and just as we got close up to the troops, they fired again. (Here Bull again imitiated for some length of time the firing of the troops.) When I saw that the soldiers fired from their saddles and did but little damage to us, I ordered my men to rush through their ranks and break them, which they did but failed to break the ranks although we suffered as little damage as before. I then shouted to them to try again and putting myself at the head of my men we went at them again. This time, although the soldiers were keeping up a rapid firing (from their horses), we knocked away a whole corner and killed a great many although I had only one man killed. After this we charged the same way several times and kept driving them back for about half a mile, killing them very fast. After forcing them back there only remained five soldiers of this division and the interpreter alive, and I told my men to let them live.

Then the interpreter, the man that the Indians called "The White" shouted out in Sioux and said "Custer is not in this division. He is in the other." I then ordered all my men to come and attack the other division. They did no and followed me. The soldiers of this division fired upon us as soon as we got within range, but did us little harm. When we had got quite close and we were just going to charge them,
" A GREAT STORM BROKE "
right over us, the lightning was fearful and struck a lot of the soldiers and horse killing them instantly. I then called out to my men to charge the troops and shouted out "The Great Spirit is on our side, look how he is striking the soldiers down." My men saw this and they all rushed upon the troops who were mixed up a good deal. About forty had been dismounted by the lightning killing and frightening their horses, and these men were soon trampled to death. It was just at this time that we charged them and we easily knocked them off their horses and then killed them with our "coup sticks".

In this way we killed all this division with the exception of a few who tried to get away, but were killed by the Sioux before they could get very far. All through the battle the soldiers fired very wild and only killed 25 Sioux. I did not recognize General Custer in the fight, but only thought I did, but I would not be certain about it. I believe
CUSTER WAS KILLED
in the first attack, as we found his body, or what all the Indians thought was Custer's body, about the place where it was made. I do not think there is any truth in the report that he shot himself. I saw two soldiers shoot themselves. The Sioux were following them and in a few moments would have caught them, but they shot themselves with their pistols in the head. The body which all the Indians said was Custer's had its hair cut short. There were seven hundred and nine Americans killed. We counted them by putting a stick upon each body and then taking the sticks up again and counting them. We counted seven hundred and seven carbines. Two might have fallen into the creek.

Here Sitting Bull was asked by Major Crozier if he knew where Reno was. In answer to this question Bull said he had no idea; that he had never seen anything of Reno at all. When Bull had concluded the foregoing account of the battle, he turned to Major Crozier and said :--
"There. I have fought the battle all over to you and this I have never done since the time I fought it out in earnest with Gen. Custer."


NEWS ITEMS

< 2 words illegible > days of the sojourn of the Sioux on Canadian soil seem numbered. Since the return of Sitting Bull's camp from the American side in January, they have suffered a good deal from hunger; and although no doubt many of them were loth to go across and surrender, Major Crozier got twenty lodges under Low Dog to start last week. This, of course, considerably reduces the camp; and as every lodge which leaves Sitting Bull weakens his power, I believe before a month has elapsed this doughty chieftain will have bid adieu to the White Mother's dominions. It must not be supposed that though he will go, that he goes with a good grace; on the contrary, could he keep his camp together he would still be glad to stay here. As long as this Indian's influence was paramount in the camp, it was useless to try and get any of the Uncapapas to go across. This, the officer in command of the Mounted Police soon found out and he set to work, I believe, to break Sitting Bull's influence with them, this he succeeded in doing by getting the twenty lodges under Low Dog to seperate themselves from the main camp, and afterwards to start on the road to surrender to the United States authorities at Poplar River.

It was hard work to get these Indians to seperate from Sitting Bull's camp, so afraid were they of this man, but Major Crozier told them that in case Sitting Bull attempted to molest them that he would fire upon him; then they mustered up courage to take the final step.

Since the exodus of these twenty lodges, Sitting Bull has begun to see that he is leading a'falling cause, and yesterday he told the officer of the Mounted Police that he would go in and surrender, first asking that a Mounted Policeman and two of his young men should go in first and make sure that the Americans would not do any harm to him after the surrender.

To this Major Crozier agreed, and tomorrow the deputation starts, and it is fair to conjecture that upon their return to Wood Mountain, Sitting Bull and his camp will emigrate to Uncle Sam's genial clime. One thing < missing > which has had a good deal to do with < missing > this surrender so near is the forcible < missing > Thompson from Sitting Bull's camp.

This man was arrested lately by the < missing > Police and committed for trial by Major Crozier on a charge of forgery. It has < missing > thought he may have influenced < missing > and the Sioux against surrendering < missing > the Indians are destitute and a < missing > actually suffering from starvation < missing > they have behaved very well under the circumstances.

A slight scene ensued between Major Crozier and Sitting Bull not long ago. The major was pointing out to some of the Sioux the advantages to themselves and the wishes of his Government as to the matter of them surrendering when Sitting Bull interrupted him and made some remark about "the Indians that went across must be fools", whereupon the Major turned around and in a very few suggestive words cautioned Mr. Bull that if he ever again caught him trying to induce the Indians to remain and starve whilst they could go across and get fed by their own Government he would find a place for him in the Queen's boarding-house inside the post.This had quite an effect on Bull and he has been very amiable ever since.

Outside of Indian matters there is very little news. We have had a large quantity of snow here this winter and a great deal remains on the prairie, but a week of warm spring weather will take it all away.


WESTERN.

Note:

The section marked < 2 words illegible > indicates a damaged part of the newspaper.
The multiple sections marked < missing > indicates a portion of a column which is altogether missing.


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Last modified May 4, 2001