the quarterly journal of contemporary narrative verse Volume I Number 2 Summer 1997 LITTLE BIG HORN A SAGA OF SITTING BULL Ronald Gordon Ziegler, PhD.

c 1986 by Ronald Gordon Ziegler

I. The Great American Desert Out beyond where once was forest, passed the mighty river's bank, stretched the broad expanse of plainsland, reaching out until it flanked on the west the great mountains, on the north the arctic white, reaching out to the horizon, broad and endless in its flight. 8 An ambiance of open spaces -- wide open spaces of the west; here it was they sought their refuge, so that they, unlike the rest, need not bow beneath the white man, feel the crushing of his weight, break against his endless hunger -- thus, could they escape such fate. 16 Here was land no white man wanted, called it desert in his books, dry and yellow, useless to him, escaping all his envious looks. When they came, they kept on going, as a Great Desert it was known, teeming with great and wild bison who by the millions made this home. 24 Where were those would live as brothers, Pilgrims Squanto lent his hand, those who joined hands to crush the Pequot and their murderous band, they who like Franklin sought to forge one nation of us all? Now the plan was but Renewal, 'savage' was their fork-tongued call. 32 To this land fled the Dakota, the mighty Sioux, where they might pay their homage to the Great Spirit and live their noble beauty bright, hunt the buffalo they found there for their lodging and their food, their clothing, weapons, and utensils -- ample for their noble brood. 40 The earth, their sister and their mother, offered this to the Sioux, and their hopeful spirits took it -- they entered to begin anew the ancient traditions of the people in this clear and open air, as human beings they might dwell here, open skies and land to share 48 with their brothers of the prairie, the buffalo, their gentler friends, all the seasons, using what they might of the white man for their ends -- guns and horses -- to their favor. This way both could live in peace. This land was big enough to share out here beyond the white man's reach. 56 But the night sky glistening clearly with the bright skies and the moon, the wide reaches below the blue sky where they sang their ancient tunes, the great expanse where the clouds of storm were seen forming to come, the endless prairie filled with bison echoing with their beating drums 64 was to soon see other storm clouds gathering threatening in the east when the pale face learned the value of the land and quickly ceased to ignore its great potential -- then the Sioux stood in the way -- they once again would seek Removal to eclipse their bright new day. 72 But the night sky glistening clearly with the bright skies and the moon, the wide reaches below the blue sky where they sang their ancient tunes, the great expanse where the clouds of storm were seen forming to come, the endless prairie filled with bison echoing with their beating drums 64 was to soon see other storm clouds gathering threatening in the east when the pale face learned the value of the land and quickly ceased to ignore its great potential -- then the Sioux stood in the way -- they once again would seek Removal to eclipse their bright new day. 72 Then they came as conquerors seeking the land, not to share, but to take from the savage who had no claim to be there; seeking yet the yellow metal, forgetting man's yearn to breath free; and warriors who'd protect the refuge could not stand against this sea. 80 Warriors tall, with their weapons, would fight to hold where they'd fled, but against the onslaught, red men must flee in terror or fall dead; so now these brothers become foes came with new and vengeful might -- against their thirst unquenchable, these red men now would stand and fight. 88 "Let us fall upon our mother, upon the firm and solid ground, let our blood flow as the water if it must, we are bound by sacred duty," were words spoken by their grave and solemn breath, as the clouds rolled in upon them, echoing liberty or death. 96 But the great white father Lincoln, who understood Franklin's quest that we all might be one nation, was felled, and thus soon the west, that great plains beyond the river, dry and yellow as it lay, saw the fork-tongued pale face come, and the Sioux stood in the way. 104 Once the great war for the nation drew at last to its end, now brothers would fight other brothers -- the Republic would now bend beneath the weight of another civil war -- this one in the west, dividing the America of our fathers in this last great wilderness. 112 And these red men knew too well how the Trail of Tears forsook even the order of the high court -- the action Jackson finally took. These blue coat soldiers were not come to preserve peace in the land -- the savages were in the way -- now they had to make their stand. 120 The buffalo were being mowed down -- the Sioux would have to persevere on rations from cheating agents or steal beef from the settlers near, and they struck in desperation; so the soldiers would then move in -- the script was being written for them as a fight they could not win. 128 II. The Birth of Jumping Badger Poised across the spreading grasslands was one of the most powerful confederations of all the Indians -- in numbers perhaps unequaled -- the Dakota people whom the Chippewa gave the name snake or Sioux because they were a warlike enemy -- sure a name that would prove true. 8 They would not bow to the usurper -- when in council fire, scouts began to tell of the aggressions of the pale face, little doubt filled the minds of medicine men there who would grunt 'savagely' as the threat loomed ever larger, increasing in intensity. 16 Among the great Sioux medicine men was a chief widely known for his prowess as a warrior -- one who had in hunting shown greatest skill and medicine in the chase for buffalo, so much so that he was given a new name by which to go 24 --'Sitting Buffalo Bull' they called him, or just simply Sitting Bull, his chief hunting lodge was near where the Grand River's waters flow in what is now called South Dakota -- there it was that his wife bore a son to him named Jumping Badger in the year eighteen and thirty four. 32 Fleet of foot, this young brave brought in small game he had run to earth. This brought him notice from the tribe. And just fourteen years from his birth, he rode beside his prideful father on the warpath against the Crow, and good medicine rode with him, for into manhood he would grow. 40 In the battle, a Crow warrior took an arrow in the chest -- the Sioux whooped and each one raced to get to him before the rest to claim the scalp of this foesman fallen from his pony there, but one among them dashed on foot with speed greater than the hare. 48 When the older braves exultant reached the fallen enemy, Jumping Badger stood before them holding out his first trophy. Although he had not slain this man, his scalp had been secured, without which no young Sioux could become a warrior. And this stirred 56 his father whose eye gleamed in pride, so that at evening he made a great feast in the camp at which to all the braves he bade that they should take from his corral their pick of ponies as their own in celebration of the honor that his son's spirit had shown. 64 He laid his hand upon the shoulder of his son and spoke to say: "Jumping Badger is no longer a boy, for he has on this day come of age and is a warrior. From now on, he shall not be known as Jumping Badger, hunting small game, but from now on he 72 shall bear my own name, Sitting Bull. He shall henceforth hunt big game, even men. I have spoken." The other warriors all proclaimed this great honor given to the young brave with their shouts of pride. Thus it was that Sitting Bull came into the councils of the tribe -- 80 Tatanka Yotanka it was they called him, man of vision and stout heart, full of guile winning through craft what others sought, for their part, to take with bare hands. Some would call him coward, foolish in their way, for he knew that he would who fights and runs may live to fight another day. 88 But at council fires no tongue held more sway than Sitting Bull. More respected for his medicine than as a warrior, he would pull his people to contest each inch of ground that the intruders were to claim, so by the time he was thirty, he was known far across the Plains. 96 For two decades he made war against the settlers, Shonshonie, Crow, and they came to know and fear him. And Sitting Bull grew to know that as the buffalo went, so too, the Sioux would follow before long, and within a decade of the Civil War, the buffalo were all but gone. 104 Slain for their pelts, their carcasses rotted away in the burning sun, and their bones whitened where they fell -- soon there was not even one to be seen where buffalo herds once had reached out beyond sight horizon to horizon -- all killed off by the whites. 112 The settlers and their iron horse, their wires and blue coats came, as an advancing horde, and the buffalo disappeared from the plains. But Sitting Bull was not deceived, for he knew all too well that the tide would mean his people would live in a pale face hell. 120 This was how Sitting Bull grew up -- he understood what it meant -- it was the reason that his men in 1866 were sent on the memorable raid on Fort Buford -- the haunting sceptre loomed across the whole Sioux nation and Sitting Bull knew that it spelled doom. 128 III. RED CLOUD Foremost of all the Sioux nation was Red Cloud who sought to stem the growing tide of white invasion through diplomatic ends to the disgust to Sitting Bull and others of the younger chiefs to whom such paper shuffling was but a ploy. Red Cloud's belief 8 led to the signing of a treaty at Fort Laramie in sixty eight guaranteeing to his people, or so they thought, a great expanse of land as reservation in the sacred grand Black Hills, bounded by the Yellowstone River on the north, and east until 16 the banks of the Missouri River, down to the Platte in the south, and up to the Big Horn Mountains to the west -- beyond a doubt one of the finest hunting preserves anywhere on the continent, rich in roaming buffalo, elk and deer magnificent, 24 full of antelope and big horn, grizzly bear and a myriad of fur-bearing smaller beasts -- indeed, they should be glad. There the rivers teemed with fish, birds filled the skies and trees. And to hunt here no white man was to be allowed entry. 32 Thus it was that for a time, there seemed to have come a peace, and white and red man hoped together that the western wars had ceased; but, indeed, they hoped too soon that such was in the past. Like Sitting Bull, there were those who knew it could not last. 40 Now Red Cloud was making ready to ride the Iron Horse east to visit the Great White Father's house to celebrate the peace. He saw the white man's wonders and for the first time he knew how many of him that there were, and his great weapons -- Sioux 48 could not hope to stand against him -- he saw his cavalry -- by thousands were the Pony Soldiers, besides the Infantry of Walkaheaps -- and his heart was heavy for he now heard exactly what the treaty said, translated to him word by word. 56 This paper they had understood had promised the red man that "so long as grass shall grow," no whites could enter on their lands, nor travel through them, camp nor hunt, nor settle there at all, yet all of this was being done, even, worst of all 64 in the Pa Sapa sacred lands of the Black Hills. Red Cloud knew what he has signed away when it was read aloud. For he had set his hand to sign that his people had agreed to leave their freedom on the land hunting wildlife to be 72 settled behind fences in small places where they'd have to farm plowing up the buffalo grasslands; agreed not to harm in any way the Iron Horse, tearing up its rail or down the wires of the telegraph. In fact, they were bound 80 to allow them to be built anywhere across the buffalo grass that they pale face wanted to without even having to ask. And Red Cloud's breaking heart shattered as he came to understand that he had promised that his people would leave forever the land 88 they held so dear, for reservation set aside for them in the empty lands far to the east where there was not even game or grass, but barren rock. They had agreed not to stray from those hard banks of the Mini Sosi, the Missouri's winding way. 96 From the lips of this brave Dakota, there went out a great cry, as a wild horse roped he sprung up, before the startled eyes of the white leaders and other chiefs and from his blanket he drew a pistol he had hidden there -- a thing Red Cloud only knew. 104 The other chiefs quickly seized the weapon from his hand, as he held it to his temple, before he could fire, and instead, he roared that he would tell the Sioux of the shame that had been betrayed upon them, and then he exclaimed 112 that he would tell his people that though they numbered few compared to the white man, that they should fight onto the last breath until no pony was left to bear their fire: "He has made a fool of me, and there can be no peace with liars." 120 "Stay away from my people from this day forward!," he yelled. Those with him quickly sought somehow his anger to be quelled. Response to Red Cloud's outburst was not altogether kind, but the Sioux had been betrayed and undying anger filled his mind. 128 IV. THE CAMP OF BLACK KETTLE There was the cold and the calm of the quiet full autumn night and the smoke from the campfires rose up in narrow streams out of sight into the full and deep darkness, set against the forested pine. The Sioux teepees were squatting there at random, haphazardly lined, 8 not far from the whispering brook, in the broad clearing nearby, and ten thousand stars were flashing, lighting up the cloudless sky. Encamped with the Sioux were the Cheyenne, Arapaho and Kiowa, too, gathered to spend the Deep Snow Time, and now that peace was due, 16 they could rest here, safe and warm, for Red Cloud had set his hand to the treaty with the White Man -- word of it had fanned out across the prairies. Black Kettle and the other chiefs gave thanks and assurance to the people, for it was their belief 24 that so long as the grass should grow this land would be their home and unencumbered by the white man, they would be free to roam. There would be peace with settlers gone. The pony soldiers no more would be out for blood. Black Kettle sat, and he remembered the wars. 32 He had escaped at Sand Creek -- the white man had been wrong, but so, too, had the red man -- to both, guilt had belonged: he knew about Solomon River, and the raid at Saline River, too, the Republican River, Cimarron Crossing, Fort Wallace, and Spanish Fork, true, 40 but all that evil would end now. Outside, the November night showed itself in the breath of the horses, frosty silver in the light of the moon and stars in the biting cold -- the Indian horses were weak from lack of grass in the winter snows, but not far from the creek 48 silvery puffs rose in columns from other horses and men. Beyond the low hills across the snow, not far off from them, quietly moved the Seventh Cavalry, with Colonel Custer in command, and he had orders other than peace as he searched out Black Kettle's band. 56 And now his scouts has spotted the lodges of the four tribes here. First, a barking dog had told them, and now as they drew near, the snow crunched beneath the lightened loads for they had laid aside all but what they needed for battle, as in a slow trot they did ride. 64 Major Elliot would swing wide and then attack from the east; Colonel Meyers would go to the right and from the south would unleash his assault, while Colonel Custer and Captain Thompson with the rest would attack from the center, hitting them from the west. 72 The men of Thompson and Custer split apart into two lines to snake around the hill ahead as toward the camp they'd wind. Thompson had his orders to hold his command to a walk until they were seen by the natives. None of the troops would talk, 80 so there was only the crunching snow and the saddle leather squeak. The gray light of early morning shown and the sun had begun to peak above the horizon hill tops. From the village there came no sound as the Pony Soldiers sat the trap about the encampment they had found. 88 Their orders had not been peace, but to seek out and attack the Indians and scatter them so they could be driven back onto the reservations -- none were to escape or go free. On the far side of a hill ahead, there stood a lone teepee. 96 From it ran a narrow path to a hill top on which each dawn a lone sentry, Double Wolf, would make his way along, for they knew the soldiers were nearby. If the soldiers came, he was to raise a white flag that to them peace would proclaim. 104 In the first rays of sunlight, the cavalry came into view, and Double Wolf saw at their head, in the sunlight, one he knew -- the long gold hair cascading from beneath the wide black hat, the red neckerchief and high polished boots of the one who sat 112 erect upon his horse, and he cried out in Cheyenne tongue "Heovae!" "Yellow Hair, Yellow Hair is coming," And his cry did convey his sense of fear to the camp, which quickly was astir, aroused by the sentry's warning -- he knew well this officer. 120 Perhaps he thought it useless, but Double Wolf gave no thought to Black Kettle's orders of peace, instead, he turned and quickly brought his rifle to his shoulder and fired directly at Yellow Hair astride the lead horse -- he missed. The soldiers answered and Double Wolf died. 128 Continue