Battle of Little Bighorn: 28 – Little Big Man Speaks Up

"The Custer Fight" by Charles Marion Russell. Lithograph. Shows the Battle of Little Bighorn, from the Indian side.

Senator Allison and his commission arrived in Sioux country on September 4, 1873. For the following month the commission tried to wrangle a deal with the Sioux to sell the Black Hills. The Sioux said “No” repeatedly and in a number of ways.

These determined warriors, many thousands in number, missed no opportunity to demonstrate their defiance. In turn, groups of warriors swarmed around the conference grounds. They galloped their horses past the commissioners and fired their guns into the air. It may have seemed like an uncivilized way of making their negative point but no doubt it frayed the nerves of the commissioners, which was probably exactly what the Indians intended to accomplish.

When the first full assembly of this commission met on the twentieth of the month, no less than 20,000 Sioux were in attendance. They arranged themselves in a great semicircle before the commissioners. When these “ignorant and almost helpless people” were ready for the meeting to begin they signaled that the commissioners had their permission to begin.

At first the commissioners attempted to convince the Sioux to lease to the government the right to mine in the Black Hills, advising the Indians that unless they agreed there would be fighting. At first, the Indians did not understand the concept of leasing.

Spotted Tail

Then Spotted Tail figured out that the commissioners were proposing that the Sioux loan the Hills to them and asked Allison if he would offer him, Spotted Tail, a team of mules on such terms. The meeting adjourned.

The Powder River bands had deliberately not attended this first meeting. On the twenty-third, when the meeting reconvened, these bands were there. They made their presence known when Little Big Man, who was a close friend of Crazy Horse, raced onto the meeting ground. Clad in only a breechclout and his eagle-feather war bonnet, he led some 300 hostile warriors, all similarly clad and wearing war paint.

Little Big Man

Swiftly, Little Big Man and his warriors pranced forward on their war ponies before the commissioners. And as they pranced they chanted:

Black Hills is my land and I love it And whoever interferes Will hear this gun.

Then Little Big Man, waving his Winchester, delivered his warning:

I will kill the first chief who speaks for selling the Black Hills!

Agency Indians managed to move these warriors away from the commissioners, but still Little Big Man delivered a message Crazy Horse had sent him to relate:

One does not sell the land the people walk on.

It was made clear that, whatever the agency Sioux decided to do, Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse, and their people would fight to keep the Hills.

Red Cloud

But the reservation Indians knew they were trapped–the commissioners had threatened violence if they did not give up the Black Hills. But still, many of them would not agree to sell the Hills, unlike Red Cloud and Spotted Tail who tried to keep a balance for their people in a world that they knew was changing.