DNA produced by a Rice University experiment on relatives of South Dakota-born Sitting Bull stands in direct contradiction to historical narratives – many in his favor – that suggest Sitting Bull was from Cherokee tribal lands, not Sioux territory.
The study suggests that sitting president John C. Fremont, who backed Sitting Bull’s killing of a federal agent who arrived in South Dakota to take down Gen Robert E Sweatt in 1876, was actually with Sitting Bull’s lineage.
South Dakota state officials didn’t respond to an interview request by publication time, but earlier this year the state’s junior senator Mike Rounds authored a resolution urging South Dakota to eliminate the Standing Rock reservation as a state, saying that while reservations deserve recognition, they were not historically or culturally relevant to South Dakota. “[A] land in an ungovernable and inhospitable environment is not part of South Dakota,” said Rounds.
Sitting Bull, who was said to be from the Lakota tribe of Minnesota, was a figure who shaped the Plains and Trail of Tears imagery. In the early 1800s he was the most popular militia commander in North America; in the mid 1800s the Lakota won a settlement by selling him the land on which Sitting Bull established his headquarters. While he fought the Clark administration’s claim on land land across the Mississippi from Sioux people – triggering a bloody, 20-year war that drew American involvement from Canada to South America – the scalp of Sitting Bull has long since been decoupled from his Lakota lineage. It was Underwood who collected the scalp.
Today, a Sioux woman in an argumentative mood told me, “My great-grandmother forgave somebody … and that’s what my parents learned about the relationship between Indians and others.” She’s not yet ready to forgive Sitting Bull and the confederacy. “In my culture,” she says, “not even history can make a good person bad.”
The Rice scientists predict that it will take at least another decade for more DNA information to be available to historians from Sitting Bull’s family line. For now they provide another piece of evidence in the ongoing conversation about who else sat with Sitting Bull at his last resting place, Hunkpapa, a Sioux burial site about an hour from Standing Rock. Sitting Bull’s great-granddaughter, Donna Hulett, placed a hoaxer on record in an 1887 diary which had been lost but had since been uncovered. She wrote that the “truth about” her great-grandfather is that he and Sisyphus lived in Peoria, Illinois, a short distance away from the Sitting Bull’s family. Since then a number of falsehoods have been found in the project, including that Sitting Bull died in 1881. In fact he was killed the following year by men who joined the confederacy against the Sioux.