Perhaps no individual is more important in the history of North Dakota and the history of the American West than Tatanka Iyotanke, Sitting Bull. This powerful leader of the Hunkpapa Lakotas (Sioux) was at the center of Lakota resistance to railroad construction and to the settlement of the northern Great Plains and the Black Hills. His warriors defeated the U.S. Army decisively at the Battle of the Little Big Horn.
Of course, Sitting Bull did not do all of this alone. He led the Hunkpapas, but he also encouraged the Brulés, the Minneconjous, the Northern Cheyennes, and other Plains Indian peoples to resist the increasing power of the U. S. government. For a few years, Sitting Bull and the Lakotas asserted a great deal of control over Indian policy, the Army, and Congress. Finally, it was the end of the great bison herds and a longing for their homeland and families that forced the remaining Lakotas to surrender.
Sitting Bull and the Hunkpapas became more powerful as northern Dakota Territory was growing in population. The territory divided into two states just a year before Sitting Bull died, but North Dakota’s early history will always be associated with Sitting Bull’s life and death. All over the United States, Sitting Bull and the Lakotas had a place in the imaginations of white people. The Lakota Sioux Indian in a war bonnet symbolized the struggle of the people of the United States to take control of the northern Great Plains.
In these pages, you will see many different words that mean the same thing. The people who were called the Sioux for many years are more properly called Lakota which is their own name for themselves. The Lakotas are part of a larger group called the Dakota. In this time period (1840-1890), Dakota or Sioux was the name most often used by non-Indians to describe Sitting Bull’s people. Today, Lakota is considered the better name to describe this band of the Western Dakotas.
The Lakotas (or Western Dakotas, or Sioux) are divided into seven bands. Sitting Bull was a leader of the Hunkpapa band. Hunkpapa is also spelled Uncpapa. Because the Lakota language was not written until recent times, the spelling is inexact. The alternate spelling of Minneconjou (one of the seven bands of Lakotas) is Miniconjou. Some linguists now spell Minneconjou as Mnikȟówožu. The pronunciation would be about the same: min-i-con-ju.
Most of the names of the important Lakota leaders who are mentioned in the text are written in English. Sitting Bull is English for Tatanka Iyotanke. Tatanka is the Lakota word for bull. Iyotanke might also be spelled as Iotanka. If you do a little research on the English names, you will find the Lakota name.
We have used all of these terms often so that you will become familiar and comfortable with the great variety of terms used in historical writing about the people once called the Sioux. The changes in terminology do not change the facts of the history. The Lakotas were a powerful tribe that controlled the course of history in the 19th century.