Transcribe your podcast

Thank you for listening to the Rest is History. For bonus episodes, early access, ad-free listening, and access to our chat community, sign up at restishistorypod. Com. That's restishistorypod. Com.


Sitting Bull, most renowned Sioux of modern history, is dead. He was an Indian with a white man's spirit of hatred and revenge for those who had wronged him and his. In his day, he saw his son and his tribe gradually driven from their possessions, forced to give up their old hunting grounds and espouse the hardworking and uncongenial avocations of the Whites. And these, his conquerors, were marked in their dealings with his people by selfishness falsehood, and treachery. What wonder that his wild nature, untamed by years of subjection, should still revolt? What wonder that a fiery rage still burned within his breast, and that he should seek every opportunity of obtaining vengeance upon his natural enemies. The proud spirit of the original owners of these vast prairies, inherited through centuries of fierce and bloody wars for their possession, lingered last in the bosom of sitting bull. With his fall, the nobility of the Redskin is extinguished, and what few are left are a pack of winding curves who lick the hand that smites them. The Whites, by law of conquest, by justice of civilization, are masters of the American continent, and the best safety of the frontier settlements will be secured by the total anihilation of the few remaining Indians.


Why not anihilation? Their glory has fled, their spirit broken, their manhood effaced. Better that they die than live the miserable wretches that they are. History would forget these latter despicable beings and speak in later ages of the glory of these grand kings of forest and plain. So that a George dropping editorial in the Saturday Pioneer, published in Aberdeen in South Dakota on the 20th of December, 1890, was by L Frank Baum, who was, of course, the author of The Wizard of Oz. Dominic people often say, Well, that escalated quickly. When you begin reading it, and it seems a moving threnody on the death of Sitting Bull, a tribute to the nobility and character of the Sioux. Then it ends up with him saying, Well, let's kill them all.


I know. It's extraordinary, isn't it? Sitting Bull has died. What a great man he was. The rest are whining curves. What is it? Lick the hand that feeds them or something. So let's get rid of the lot. Unbelievable.


Yeah. I was looking up some more of his editorials. I mean, you yourself, you've been known to write the occasional right wing editorial in a newspaper.


Trenchent, I think is the word, Tom. Trenchent.


Yes, but I mean, nothing on this scale. When he's not calling for basically the genocide of the Sioux, he's describing General Miles, the man who effectively destroyed the last resistance of the Lakota war bands, he's describing him as weak and vacillating, and it just seems amazing.


It's incredible, isn't it? The great thing about that editorial, though, so that editorial is published in the short period of time between The Death of Sitting Bull and the Wounded Knee Massacre, which are the two great subjects that we'll be talking about in this final episode. The great thing about that editorial, horrible as it is, is it absolutely captures that strange ambiguity of American attitudes to the plains Indians. Because on the one hand, there's all that stuff about, Oh, their great nobility, these grand kings of forest and plain, the wild nature untamed by years of subjection. Then on the other hand, the Whites by laws of conquest, by justice of civilization, are masters of the American continent. There is that social Darwinist and the lack of magnanimity in it, actually. No sense of guilt, no sense of conscience or regret.


I mean, maybe this is overstretching it, but one of the famous characters in The Wizard of Oz is the cowardly Lion, the lion that has been broken and tamed and is too scared to be fierce and wild in the way that a lion should. Maybe I'm overegging it. But it does set quite a light on the Wizard of Oz.


It does indeed, yeah.


Anyway, so he He went there. Again, I didn't know anything about this, but looked it up. He arrived there in 1887 in South Dakota and started up as a shopkeeper. Then he took over as editor of the Saturday Pioneer in 1890. The same year that he's writing that editorial. So he's going in hard, isn't he?


Yeah, very hard. So it's interesting you said he moved to South Dakota because obviously in the last episode, we talked about how many people did the pressure from the Republican administration to admit South Dakota and North Dakota as two states that they're hoping it'll be Republican and hold the balance of power in Congress. The enormous pressure on the reservations from the advance of the railroad, the death of the bison, the arrival of so many settlers. And then we talked, didn't we, about the Ghost Dance movement, this extraordinary cult millenarian movement that really has gathered strength in the summer of 1890 because of the drought and because native American society is in such freefall. The press feeding frenzy and the arrival of the troops that General Miles has sent all these troops mobilized a huge component of the US Army. Then we ended last time by the press point the finger quite unfairly at Sitting Bull. So he's the ring leader in all this, and there's going to be a massive bloody uprising. Remember Buffalo Bill said, I'll go and get him. I know Sitting Bull. I've worked with Sitting Bull. Then Agent McCoughlin, who hates Sitting Bull with a passion, says, I'll go and get Sitting Bull.


Leave it with me.


Yeah, I'll do it.


So Sitting Bull He doesn't even know all this is happening, that all these forces are gathering against him, that the storm clouds of-Public obliquoia.


Yeah, a gathering. A new storm.


Exactly. But he is oblivious to this, Tom.


Because he's in love, isn't he?


Ish. She's been hanging around with Mrs. Weldon. Mrs. Weldon is a new arrival on the scene. We always like to throw in a few new characters near the end of a series to spice things up. She's from Switzerland, and she's in her early '50s. She, in a way that we've already alluded to, but obviously would become very familiar later on, she has basically fallen in love with Native American culture, with the idea of Native Americans.


Yeah, because you don't get less Lakota war chief than a 50-year-old Swiss.


No, you don't. Not at all.


No offense to the Swiss listeners.


But that's the appeal, isn't it? That's the appeal for Mrs. Wheldon. Is that the cuckoo clock or whatever, chocolate, melted cheese. She's just sick of them. She's just had enough.


She wants the sun dance. Right.


Exactly. She's gone over to the US and she's joined an Indian rights group. There's an element of a much older and more Swiss, Greta Thunberg. She's gone over to the US.


Has she started dressing up as a Lakota, though?


I don't know that she wears Lakota dress, but I do know that she's moved to the reservation. Having initially corresponded and done public pressure and stuff, she decides, You know what? I'm actually just going to go and live at Standing Rock. She goes to the Standing Rock Agency and she writes to Agent McCoughlin and says, I love sitting Bull. He's brilliant. I think of him like a father. She moves in with him. He's built these two cabins on the banks of the Grand River with his coterie, his following, so his extended family and friends and stuff. Mrs. Wheldon arrives with her son, Christie, who's 12. I don't know anything about Christie. God knows what he makes of all this.


Are they protestants?


Must be. I would have thought if they're Swiss.


Because McClocklin is a very devout Catholic, isn't he? Yes, he is. The idea that Sitting Bull is now hanging out with Swiss protestants. It just confirms his darker suspicion. You reckon? Well, I think it must be playing into his animus against Sitting Bull.


He's like Charles IV in the middle of the 16th century, is he? Yes.


But the weird thing is that actually Sitting Bull is not really... I mean, He doesn't experience the Ghost Dance, does he? Because the great thing about him was that he could see into the future. He is afforded visions, but it doesn't work for him.


No, not at all. He's probably distracted by fondues and stuff. So Mrs. Wheldon has moved in. He hears about the Ghost Dance, and he says, I'm interested in it because he's interested in spiritual things. So he gets this guy kicking bear. He says, Come over to my bit of the reservation and teach us the dance. And they held the dance and they had more dances sitting Sitting Bull presides over them. When dancers have visions, he says, What did you see? And he tries to interpret what it means. But he doesn't have any visions himself. This is the tragic thing. He tries to have Ghost Dance visions, but he doesn't succeed.


I mean, Sitting Bull is renowned for the truth of his visions. I wonder if any of the Ghost Dancers have second thoughts. If Sitting Bull isn't seeing what is the visions of the future that others are claiming to see, do you think they think maybe they're bogus?


I don't know. Maybe they just think he's a busted flush. I mean, this hangs over him because in particular, his authority, partly because of the agent openly humiliating him, his authority on the reservation is in deep decline. Actually, he's lost a lot of his authority to Gaul, Tom, the fashion of the captain of the team and stuff, hasn't he?


Much admired by Mrs. Custer. Yes.


Gaul has now said, Let's collaborate with these guys. Let's get on with the reservation bosses. Sitting Bull has none of it. Some historians have suggested Sitting Bull embraces the Ghost Dance, not because he massively believes in it, but because it's a really good way to restore his authority against the more, inverted commas, progressive chiefs.


Because Gaul is now wearing Western clothes, isn't he? And dabbling with Christianity.


Yeah. So Mrs. Wheldon, as you would expect, if she is indeed a Swiss Calvinist, she thinks this is madness. She says to Sitting Bull, Don't get into this ghost dance business. If you do, they will turn against you. People will use it as a pretext to kill you. Actually, Sitting Bull says to her, Well, I'd be very happy if they did kill me, frankly. I'm really miserable. I'm tired. I've got nothing to do. He says, His heart would find rest if the soldiers did kill him? And Mrs. Wheldon then has a massive strop and says, Right, that's it. I'm out of here. I'm gone. And so she disappears. She takes Christie and off they go. And lots of observers said, When she left, it was like the light went out of Sitting Bull's life. The presence of this Swiss widow was what was keeping him going. And now he's really depressed and miserable.Fondue's gone.No more fondues.


High precision timepieces have gone. There's nothing left to live for.


Yes, exactly. The elaborate and frankly slightly shady banking arrangements, which he pinned his hopes, have vanished.


The tragedy of it, even racist genocidal columnists can sense the tragedy of it.


They can indeed. The only person who doesn't, of course, is Agent McCoughlin. Agent McCoughlin is, while this is going on, is sharpening his knives. He thinks the Mrs. Wheldon stuff, by the way, is an absolute disgrace. He There's no doubt in my mind that she and Sitting Bull are sleeping together, which seems not to have been true. But McCoughlin says, He's a polygamous libertine and habitual liar, a man of low cunning, devoid of a single manly principle in his nature or honorable trait of character, capable of inciting others to any amount of mischief.


That's what he's worried about, isn't it? That he will cause trouble.


Exactly. There are different versions of exactly what happens next, but I think what follows seems pretty fair, pretty reasonable. So that McCoughlin The solution to the Sitting Bull issue, which isn't really an issue, but he's drummed it up, is he will use the agency police-Who are the code to themselves. Who are the code to themselves, exactly. They're called the Metal Breasts, the Cheska Mazza. I don't know how to pronounce that? We'll just call them the Metal Breasts, I guess, because they wear their badges, big Sheriff-type badges. They're going to arrest Sitting Bull on the 20th of December, which is the day when everyone gets their rations because everybody would be distracted by getting their rations. They can just swoop in, Hoover him up, take him off to Fort Yates. The guy who he enlists to do this is a guy called Henry Bullhead. Bullhead was a Lakota who had once been one of Sitting Bull's warriors, but he's subsequently converted to Christianity and puts on trousers and stuff and has become more loyal than the most loyal agency policeman. Actually, Bullhead has a feud with Sitting Bull, where Sitting Bull's friend catch the bear over a horse, which means that he absolutely loaths Sitting Bull with a passion.


So Henry Bullhead is like, great, I can't wait to do this. I'll take charge. But they have to accelerate their timetable very unexpectedly because Sitting Bull, they get word that Sitting Bull is actually planning to go on a little trip. He's going to go and visit the Pine River Reservation, another reservation. So Bullhead and McCockelet say, Right, we're going to have to Hoover up Sitting Bull at once. And Bullhead orders the rest of the police, Assemble at my cabin on the night of the 14th of December. So we're approaching now the great showdown. And his men, the other policemen, arrive at the cabin that evening. And to give you a sense of what people these are, these are Lakota, as you said. A good example, one of the best accounts we have for this comes from a guy who's called John Lohneman. Lohneman had fought Custer at the Battle of the Little Bitcoin. He was a Hongpapa warrior. But he had converted to Catholicism and become a farmer and become a agency policeman. In other words, was your classic good Indian, I suppose, is what people would have called him at the time.


Sitting Bull must, in some way, serve as a reproach to him. Yeah, of course. A reminder of what he has given up.


Totally, Tom. I think that's a really good point. I think for these people, Sitting Bull's insistence that he will not assimilate, it's a standing rebuke, isn't it? It's a reminder of their own perfody, I guess. I mean, maybe that's what drives some of their animus against him. As they assemble, about 40 of them assemble at Bullhead's cabin, they all gather. Most of them don't speak any English, so a farmer has to translate the orders that they've been given into Lakota. A lot of them are Sitting Bull extended relatives. Sitting Bull's brother-in-law is there. A nephew of Sitting Bulls is there. And a lot of them are quite anxious and troubled about this. They know it's a slightly shameful thing, I think, that they're doing. They spend the night, they can't sleep. It's obviously freezing out there on the planes. They're all telling old war stories. I mean, the irony of it, they're telling stories about their own battles against the US Army. Then just before dawn, Bullhead leads them in prayers, Christian prayers. Again, a brilliant symbol of the assimilation process. Then at four o'clock in the morning, it's pouring with rain, but they go out in these...


It's very bleak scene. I haven't seen that many Westerners, to be brutally honest, but I imagine this would be so cinematic.


Yeah, it's like a shootout in Unforgiven.


Exactly, like Unforgiven. Yeah, exactly that. They ride out in the column, four o'clock in the morning, it's freezing cold, rain pouring down. They cross the frozen Grand River and they assemble outside Sitting Bull's cabin. So they go into the cabin They push their way in. And Sitting Bull is in bed, the different accounts, some say, lying down or sitting down with one of his wives and a small child, and he is totally naked. And Sitting Bull goes to reach for a rifle or something. A couple of these guys grab him and they blow out the light. Bullhead says to him, I've come to take you to the agency, you're under arrest. Sitting Bull gets up and they're pushing him around. He says, sarcastically, Oh, this is a great way to do things. Not to give me a chance to put on my clothes in winter. They say, Fine, get him some clothes. His wife goes to in the next cabin, next door, to go and get him some clothes. As they lead him towards the door, there's already a lot of people assembled outside who are What have you come for? Leave Sitting Bull alone, all this thing.


It's very tense and it's dark, so no one can see what's going on, and tempers are flaring.


Then isn't it his son who plays the crucial role in this story?


The tragic role, exactly. First of all, it's this guy, Catch the Bear, who is a great enemy of Henry Bullhead. Catch the Bear says, Oh, here they are. We knew they were coming, the metal breasts. What absolute dogs these people are. We should stand up for our chief. Sitting Bull, at this point, even at this point, is still looking like he's going to go with these guys. He's very anxious and almost a bit befuddled, I think. Almost since the middle of the night, so he's confused. But then his son, he has a son called Crowfoot. There are different estimates of his age. He's between 12 and 14, probably. Everyone says for Crowfoot, Crowfoot was very mature for his age. He tried to be one of the adults, not a little boy.


Because he is the first generation that can't test himself as a warrior.


It's true, Tom. Yeah, it's true. He's always grown up believing his father, Sitting Bull, stories about you stand up, you don't let yourself be pushed down. And Crowfoot says to Sitting Bull, You always called yourself a brave chief, but now you're allowing yourself to be taken by the metal breasts. And at that, Lone Man said later that that was the point that pushed Sitting Bull over the Edge when his own son, teenage son, says to him, Oh, you're not really as big a man as I thought you were. You're a coward. He says, Well, actually, I'm not going to go. No, I'm not going. A lone man said to him, Uncle, nobody's going to harm you. The agent wants to see you, and then you'll come back. Don't worry. Don't make any trouble. So they're still in the cabin. People outside are shouting and stuff. A couple of the policemen grab Sitting Bull by the arms and they push him outside.


Is he still naked at this point?


No, he's got some clothes on, I think. I mean, I picture it with him now, clothes, because they brought him some clothes, haven't they? Yeah. Let's imagine him clothes on because it's more decorous.


But more splendid.


You think so? Yeah. Okay.


Well, whatever. Imagine it as you will.


That's the beauty of the rest of history. Sometimes we're vague on the fact, so you can imagine them for yourselves.


Yeah, we're conjuring an image with words. Yeah.


It's a deliberate choice, isn't it? It's an editorial choice, that Tom, rather than a failure of research.


Yeah, that's the magic of it.


So they grab Sitting Bull by the arms and they semi-push him outside. And Bullhead is really clearly anxious and slightly losing patience.


Well, because presumably hostile crowds are gathering round, so he's twitchy.


Exactly. And he hits Sitting Bull on the back and he shouts to him, You have no ears. You wouldn't listen. And at that, this bloke catch the bear who's on Sitting Bull's side. He just thinks, Bring this on. And he throws off this blanket that he had, and there's a rifle underneath, and he shoots at Bullhead. He hits him. Bullhead, that's really unclear in the melle in the darkness, is either he does it deliberately or as he's falling, he fires his own gun and it hits Sitting Bull right in the chest. At that, another bloke called Red Tomahawk is like, Oh, right. Let's go for it. Let's do it. He takes his gun and shoots Sitting Bull in the head. Sitting Bull is down, and now total chaos. Most of the policemen end up taking refuge in the cabin, and there's bullets flying into the walls of the cabin and the splinters everywhere. In all this chaos, the other guys are outside blasting away with their rifles. Lone Man sees something crawling along, and it's this This boy, Crowfoot, and Crowfoot says it's a terrible scene. Crowfoot says, My uncles do not kill me. I don't want to die.


And Lown Man turns to Lieutenant Bullhead. Bullhead is still alive. He's been hit in the stomach, but he's lying there bleeding to death, but he's still compostmentus. And they say, What should we do with this guy, Lieutenant? And Bullhead says, Oh, do what you like with him. He caused all this trouble. So they're like, Oh, well, we're killing them. So they hit this boy on the head with their rifle butts, and then they shoot him and throw his body out of the door of the cabin.


And Dominic, What reputedly adds to the pathos and horror of this episode, and I don't know if it's true, but I've always read it, is that his horse, which supposedly had been given to him by Buffalo Bill and had been trained to do dance steps in response to the shooting at the climax of the show, is supposed to have started doing the dance.


That I did not know.


As the bullets are whistling and as Sitting Bull is lying there dead.


That's an incredible detail.


As a coder to the whole tragic story and the fusion of show business with the horrors of what had actually happened, whether it's true or not, it should be true.


Definitely, it should be true. If we make this Western, that will definitely be taking place. That's a terrible detail, Tom, and I'd like to believe it is true because it's such a good twist to the story. So whether the horse is dancing or not, Henry Bullhead's men then disgrace themselves, I would say. Well, actually, Maybe they don't by their own standards because people will remember 6,000 episodes ago when we talked about the culture of the Plains and the Plains Indians, and we talked about the habit of mutilating the bodies of your enemies so that they would be poorly equipped to face you in the afterlife.


Yeah. Well, I mean, if you kill Sitting Bull, the greatest warrior of his age, you don't want to meet him in your afterlife, do you? And if you do, you want to make sure that he hasn't got any hands or anything.


So they just get out their revolvers and they empty them into the body. One man hits him, keeps hacking at his face with an ax. Somebody's cutting him with a knife, and another bloke gets a big club or something, and he just basically beats Sitting Bull's head to a pulp. By this point, some of the US Army have arrived, and the US Army are appalled by this scene. Actually, there's a soldier who says to them, What the hell are you doing? Leave that man alone. He's dead. Stop it. The army men take it outside. They have an ambulance or a truck or something, and they want to load it with the dead bodies. It's actually the metal breasts, the Indian police, who say, We don't want Sitting Bull's body, along with our comrade. He's dead to us now as well as being dead. And eventually, they compromise that they will put his body in with the others, but he will be upside down, face down as a sign of humiliation while the others are face up. Anyway, that's the end of him. Two days later, they hold the funerals for everybody who died in the shootout because eventually the shootout peters out.


Sitting Bulls followers, skedad. And all the policemen, including Henry Bullhead, who had been shot, are given a big funeral, full military honors, combined Catholic and Protestant service. When that is done, Agent McClauchlin, who is there, goes to the corner of the cemetery, this basically pauper's grave with a rough wooden coffin and that sitting bull. There's no prayers, there's no service, there's no nothing. And no memorial. Yeah, no. The only people there are officers in the US Army who are basically presiding and the grave diggers who are prisoners, who are people in the penitentiary. They're shoveling a bit of Earth, bang, done. That's the end of him. Then you said about the horse.


Yeah, because it ends up going on tour, doesn't it? The log cabin. Don't they have a dwarf or something?


It does have a dwarf, yeah. I mean, this is that... As the story continued, if you go back to when we first did Custer, one of the parallel stories underneath all this, this is the age of the great rise of American capitalism, and of course, the mass entertainment that goes along with it. Actually, it's the Indian Wars, as the balance shifts towards the United States, it's clear they're going to win, so the wars turn into, even while they're happening-Entertainment.entertainment. This happens with Sitting Bull. So the following year, some people from Mandan, North Dakota buy his cabin, and they transport it to Chicago for the World's Fair. It is actually built. It's like a ride. It's like a Disneyland ride. It's built as Sitting Bull's Death Cabin. They have a glala there all dressed up.


In war paint and feathers and things. Yeah, exactly.


He will show you, Oh, here are bullets. They concoct this cock and bull story about, Oh, this bullet was fired by this person. This was Sitting Bull.


Where does Adolf come in?


Because then Un unbelievably, as if that wasn't in dignity enough, they then say, Oh, this is brilliant. We'll take you to the Coney Island Amusement Park. They have a land at Coney Island called the Historic Sioux Indian War Village. It has 50 ghost dancers, so-called. I don't know where they even are, ghost dancers. People pretend to do the Ghost Dance. It has teepees, and it has a female Sioux dwarf, said to be the only dwarf in the tribe, and as well as Sitting Bulls cabin. Finally, Tom A nod back to an episode a long time ago where we brought county cricket into it. They have an exhibition of taxidermy. Oh, right. Of stuffed animals.


So what Buffalo?


I guess Buffalo, bison, like plains animal, foxes, Who knows?


So they're also being wiped out.


I mean, the one consolation from this terrible story is they didn't stuff Sitting Bull. Because I wouldn't put it past them. Anyway, that's the end of poor old Sitting Bull. What a terrible story.


And what is the impact on the Lakota?


I think a lot of the Lakota, some of them are glad to see him go. Gaul and his collaborators. Yeah, he's a load off our minds. He was just a terrible drag and a pain. But I think most of them deep down, it is a further sign of their I feel harsh using these words because they're so loaded, but it's almost that they've been spiritually emasculated, cut off from their heritage, cut off from their history. This guy who was perceived as being the symbol of authenticity and integrity, I mean, of course, we can debate about how much that is a construct. But for him to be gone, that's why L Frankbaum writes that editorial.


Yeah, because it's in the wake of that, isn't it?


Because the end of Sitting Bull feels like bang. That is the end of the story, the whole story. Although, of course, it isn't.


It isn't. So, Dominic, should we take a break now? Yeah. And when we come back, we will look at the... Well, it's a massacre, isn't it? That is effectively the end of this story.


Yeah, the story of Wounded Knee in the End of the Ghost Dance. So we'll do that after the break, Tom.


Hello, listeners. It's Anita Arnind here from the Goalhanger Sister podcast, Empire, which I host along with...


Me, William Dalrimple. We are here to tell you about our new series on the Founding Fathers, The Men Who Made America.


We wanted to look at the men who actually founded the country, who Who dreamt the dream, who wrote the words upon which a country would be born? What were they like? What made them do what they did? What did they actually believe in? And how did they come to play the role that they did in the American Revolution and the creation of America?


What really interested me about this was the contradictions. We expect these men to be great figures. We've seen the portraits in the galleries. We know the faces from the banknotes, but they're deeply complex figures. But in that, and in that blend of contradiction and intellectual power and writing genius and curiosity and raw ability lies the nuance of complexity that allows us to understand them. The United States is in many ways a reflection of their beliefs, their experiences.


These are the men who wrote the Constitution. These are the men who created the federal system. In every way, they are totally fundamental to what American politics looks like today.


It all goes back to this extraordinary group of men.


Yeah, and they have rip-roaring yarns as well, let me tell you. If you want to know why America is the way it is and who the men were who made it, you can listen by searching Empire wherever you get your podcast.


Hello. Welcome back to The Rest is History, and welcome back to the very last segment of what has turned out to be an 11-episode sweep through the story of Custer, Crazy Horse, Sitting Bull. By this point in the story, They are all dead. The United States has comprehensively won. The Lakota are beaten people. But, Dominic, there is one last confrontation to come, isn't there?


There is. Some people will be familiar with the book by Dee Brown that was published at the beginning of the '70s called Bury My Art at Wounded Knee. That was the book that really transformed. I think it's now regarded as a bit outdated, isn't it, Tom?


I think it's regarded, though-As a a highly significant book in terms of how this clash is understood. Totally.


It was transformative.


Because the story of how the West was won is now how the West was lost. Exactly.


It was absolutely transformative in the way people view that balance between Native Americans, for want of a better phrase. He obviously got the title from the poem that you quoted in the previous episode. But this idea of Wounded Knee as this terrible scar, psychological scar, and the end point, the end point of the whole story. That's really what we're building up to now. So Sitting Bull, you mentioned what did the Lakota make of the death of Sitting Bull just before the break. Sitting Bull is following his people, his relatives and stuff. They all flee in panic after his death, and they flee to a village on the Cheyenne River, which has a chief called Bigfoot. Now, Bigfoot has been very into the ghost dance, but he's actually a moderate person. He's well known as somebody who will make peace. He's actually, therefore, quite a good person to go to because he should be able to negotiate with the government, with the agency officials and so on. General Miles, who is still lurking around with his troops, he's quite anxious that Bigfoot is out there. He says, Right, we need to bring Bigfoot in. We need to get his village, and we need to escort these people to a fort where we can basically have them under surveillance, and we can sort them out, and then assimilate them back into the reservation.


But instead of coming back to a fort as planned, Just before Christmas, Bigfoot's camp, which is now about 300 people, they have an military escort, but they slip away from the escort and they head off randomly across the plains. Actually, what they're doing is they're a bit frightened. They're worried that they're being lured into a trap at this fort, which they probably weren't.


But you can see why they think that.


Oh, totally. You can see why they think it.


Looking at what happened to Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull.


Correct. It's not unreasonable that they think that at all. They say, We're going to go to a different reservation, the Pine Ridge Reservation, Red Cloud, who's 640. He's there, and he will be able to look after us. And so the commanders send more troops to ram these guys up. They say, We can't have these guys just roaming randomly across the center of America. Go and get them. So it's absolutely freezing cold. So it's December in the South Dakota, Nebraska borderlands. It's really bleak. I mean, this adds to the atmosphere.


Sumber quality of the story.


Exactly, Tom. The The troops are looking for these guys, and the troops make camp at a place called Wounded Knee Creek, which is right in those borderlands, and the snow falling and everything, and everybody's cold and miserable, and their mood is very gloomy. And on the 28th of December, their scouts say, We've spotted Bigfoot's people. Actually, Bigfoot's people are in an incredibly bad way. Bigfoot himself has got pneumonia in the winter. He's incredibly ill. Basically, he and his people have given up hope, and they've actually decided they're going to come in after all. What they're going to do is they want to come and join up with us, the army, so we can all go together to the Pine Ridge Agency. The scouts say they're hungry, they haven't eaten for days. They're just in rags and they're huddled in blankets. A lot of them are ill. They're a really pitiful scene, but they're very anxious and nervous. They know they've run away from their escort. They're where they're in trouble and all this. The commander's like, Okay, we'll find more. Tell them to come in. They find that evening Bigfoot people turn up, 300 of them, very miserable spectacle.


It's like the the Exodus of the Israelites or something. The army give them some food, and they set up a cordon around them so they can't get away. At that point, army reinforcements arrive, so that evening. As luck would have it, the army reinforcements are the second battalion of the seventh Cavalry. They're commanded by a guy called Colonel Fawcith. Now, What we have is almost 500 soldiers. They have, by the way, these guns called Hotchkiss guns, which are like machine guns mounted on a cart or trolleys or something.


The kind that Custer had not taken.


Exactly. Yes, exactly right.


Am I right in thinking that the members of the seventh Cavalry who are there, they're all raw recruits? They are. They haven't really had combat experience, but obviously, they've been raised on stories of the massacre of the seventh Cavalry.


Totally, yeah.


They're itching for vengeance, itching to win battle honors for the seventh Cavalry that will redeem its lost honor.




Also a sense that the people that they're facing are inveterately savage and dangerous.


Yeah, exactly. Exactly, Tom. A very large proportion of them have literally never fired a gun before. They are the raarest of recruits. But as some historians say, this is the generation now that have grown up being pumped with adventure stories, dare I say, cowboys and Indians. Now, as we said in the previous episode, cowboys never fought Indians because they came in after the Indians had been driven out. But these are probably the first people who have grown up reading these stories and obsessed with the idea of the cruelty and savagery of the Indians.


But also that it's becoming a myth, isn't it? Yeah. The Custer's Last Stand has already become a myth. Exactly.


I think they're in the seventh Calvary. It's exactly that. They know that this is Custer's. They're Custer's boys, posthumously.


A scalp for Custer.


That's what they're talking about. That night, the soldiers are sitting up getting absolutely wasted drinking, and they're talking about, Were any of these people at the Big Horn? Which one was at the Big Horn? All this thing. Actually, some of the Lakota who lived to tell the tale said that that night, they would come up to them and point guns at them and say, Were you at the Big Horn? Were you at the fight with Custer? Drunkenly. It's quite an intimidating scene. Morning break, so at the 30th of December now, Somehow I skipped a day there, but we can live with that. Actually, since we're episode 11, nobody's listening anyway. It's freezing cold and snow is falling, and it's incredibly bleak and cheerless scene. Colonel for Sighth rounds up Bigfoot's people, and he positions his troopers around them in a circle.


Which is quite Custer coming across the Lakota or Cheyenne village, isn't it?


Yeah, the Washeeta, the of the Washington. So he says, before we move off, I really must take all your weapons. And so his troops are all around them. But it's very difficult for him to get order. Bigfoot is too ill. So Bigfoot is just huddled up in a bed somewhere. A lot of the men are in their Ghost Dance shirts, and they're wondering about randomly. It's all very... It's got a cross between a battle and a rock festival and a scout camp or something, or a refugee camp, I suppose, would be the analogy. It's just really hard for him to be heard. Finally, very stridently, he manages to assert his authority, and he says, Right, I want all your guns. Now, the guns are so important to them. For them, the gun owner The ownership of the gun is like owning a horse or something. It's so precious to you. It is your identity.


And a marker of your dignity.


A dignity, and it's very expensive. It's probably one of the most single, if not the single most expensive thing you own. A lot of these guys are very reluctant to give over their guns, and a lot of them are actually hiding their weapons. They've deliberately hidden their weapons under blankets and in boxes and stuff. And so there's a bit of a standoff. And Colonel Fawcall says, If you're not going to surrender your guns. This is a complete shambles. We're going to start to search you, person. We're going to search you. We're going to make you lift your blankets to show that you don't have any guns. And he sends some soldiers forward to do this. They search, by some accounts, three guys, and then they I approach another guy called Black Coyote. Black Coyote is a younger warrior, but he's also deaf. He holds his gun over his head. It's a Winchester. He says, I've paid a lot of money for this gun. I don't understand what's going on because obviously he's deaf, but no way I'm giving you my gun because you'll have to pay me for it. And some soldiers come to him.


It generates pretty quickly into a struggle for the gun. And at some point, it's hard to tell exactly what happens, but the gun goes off and a shot goes up into the sky.


Into the icy air.


And at that point, an army scout, or either just before, just after, it's hard to tell, shouts, Look out, they're shooting, they're shooting. The commanding officer, Colonel for Sight, just loses it completely.


Because everything has presumably prepped him to lose it.


I guess so, Tom. You're being very generous.


I mean, they have worked themselves up into a state where they think they are confronting dangerous hostiles.


Yes, of course.


They are doing it in the context of everything that had gone before. They think that they are still a part of this history that they are so familiar with.


I guess, yeah, you're right. You're right. Actually, the comparison is with, think of so many imperial massacres in history by colonial forces against occupying forces.


Yeah. But I think, particularly with this, that sense of the drama of this great period of history where the two sides have been matching each other, and now that has gone. And it's almost as though people on both sides can't bear to let it go.


Yeah, I can see what you're saying there.


You can understand that with the Ghost Dance. You'd want to believe that there's a possibility that the Buffalo will come back, that the white people will go, that it will go back to being the way it was. But don't you think there's possibly also a sense on the part of the American army that just to patrol refugees and corral them up is demeaning compared to riding into battle and coming up against Sitting Bull or Crazy Horse or Warras of that caliber? I mean, a bit like the young boys of the Lakota wanting to prove themselves. There's a new generation of the seventh Cavalry, and they want to feel that they are part of this story, too, don't you think?


I do, Tom. I think you're absolutely right. I think there's a sense in which everybody there is-Play acting in the way that they have been.


So the Buffalo Bill stuff and the Sitting Bull cabin being taken on tour and things, it's becoming a drama, and now they're back in it.


I I completely agree with you. I think there's an element of the role-playing going on, particularly from the seventh Cavalry. It was also there in the press reports that we talked about last time, predicting this great Indian war. They wanted to believe that something was going to happen. But also, I don't know, it always seems to me with this story that so much of the great saga has been played out in very dramatic technicolor scenes in baking heat and dust and light, and now it's monochrome. Yeah, really dark, cold, snowy, pathetic, and bleak ending.


It's the blood on the snow.


The blood on the snow, yeah. The soldiers, when forsyth shouted, Start shooting fire, fire on them, the soldiers immediately, as in so many massacres in history. They just start shooting, and then it becomes infectious. The extraordinary thing is, of course, he has put his men in a circle. The soldiers are killing each other. This is one of the things that outrages his commanders about is that actually soldiers shoot each other in the chaos.


It's so squalid, isn't it? Friendly fire, women and children dead. It's the worst.


But in the middle, 300 people, there were children playing games, there were boys playing leapfrog, The boys who play leapfrog all die immediately. They're just torn apart by bullets. At that point, those who have weapons, so knives, clubs, that some of them do have hidden guns, or they grab guns from soldiers, they try to fight back, and it just degenerates straight away into this horrendous orgy of bloodshed. The soldiers, of course, what happens in this first few moments confirms what the soldiers suspected, right? We are facing these dreadfully savage people, and they're going to turn on us, and they're like, Oh, they have. So they become even more relentless. The artillery use these machine guns, these Hotchkiss guns, and they are just ripping through, as you said, I mean, refugees is the word. They're ripping through these unarmed refugees. Lots of people try to run for it. They run into a ravine, but the soldiers then take the machine guns and fire down into the ravine to kill all the people hiding there. Even when women and children crawl out of the ravine, troopers follow them, shooting at them, and just Just as Black Kettle, the Washita, was killed, isn't Bigfoot?


He's shot in the back, isn't he?


He's shot in the back, and so is his daughter.


His daughter, too.


He's shot in the back first. She runs to his body, and they shoot her in the back. Those who survive, so almost all the men are killed. Women and children, they try to take refuge in the surrounding canyons and things. The soldiers fire. They fire, keep firing. They follow them when they find parts of bodies, when they find children, small children moving.


I mean, fair to point out, Custer behaved better than that.


Custer tried to restrain at the Washington Massacre. He tried to restrain his men from killing women and children. In this case, there's clearly a tacit encouragement.


Exterminate all the brutes.


Correct. We must now eliminate everybody. I mean, there's a terrible story, actually. So some of the privates are shocked. As in any massacre, there are some people who are appalled. In this private, as the firing is dying down, next to a pile of bodies of women and children, he finds two babies, and they are still alive. And he picks them up, and he starts to carry them off to a hospital tent that had been set up overnight for the refugees. And a sergeant meets him and he says, What the hell are you doing? He says, Smash their brains out against a tree, because otherwise, someday, they'll be fighting us. The private is horrified and he says to his sergeant, I would rather smash you than smash these children. But most people there didn't think like that.


So are they spared?


Those two kids are spared, yeah, but they're a minority because of the 350 odd people who were there, about 300 of them are killed. Their bodies, the soldiers hack a trench into the frozen ground, and then they throw all the bodies in in a mass grave. That is the Massacre of Wounded Knee. When word got back that this had happened, so obviously word travels almost immediately, General Miles, who is, we said before, a very ambitious man, decisive, ruthless, a hard man. He was married, as we said before, to Sherman's niece, General Sherman's niece. He wrote to his wife and said, It was the most abominable criminal military blunder, a horrible massacre of women and children. He is absolutely appalled by it. Miles, to his credit, says, We must have a big inquiry. As it were, heads must roll. This is totally unacceptable. He's horrified by it. But it's actually too late because the first press reports have already gone back. There were journalists, you see, with the soldiers.


As there always had been.


All of this time, the journalists have been ramping up the whole Ghost Dance hysteria.


Dominic, you said that lots Lots of the Braves, they're not Braves anymore, are they? The men were wearing Ghost Dance shirts, which supposedly could stop bullets, and they didn't.


We now have definitive proof that the Ghost Dance did not work. Sorry for those people who were hoping that they might have worked, it didn't. So one of the first journalists, William Kelly, who was with the Lincoln State Journal, he said, Oh, the Indian shot first. The Indians attacked us. Before night, I doubt if either a buck or a square out of all Bigfoot's band will be left to tell the tale of this day's treachery. The members of the seventh The Cavalry have once more shown themselves to be heroes in deeds of daring. I mean, a terrible thing to write about what was obviously just such a horrific massacre. But most Americans want to believe that at the time. They'd be conditioned to believe it, but also they're itching for Payback, right? It's the seventh Cavalry, Custer's Regiment.


But it's only payback if they're facing dangerous hostiles. Of course. And so that's what they have to be told.


But people say, Well, it starts to get out. There's a lot of women and children. But the New York Tribune, A Sioux squar is bad an enemy as a man, and the little boys can shoot quite as well as their fathers. In other words, yes, sure, they're women and children, but they're still fair game. Kill them all. So they held an inquiry. Colonel Fawcith was cleared. Miles was furious at this.


I mean, it's it is actually the high command in the army who are much more alert to the squalid nature of what the army has been up to than the civilians.


Then the civilians. The civilians throughout this whole story, the politicians, by and large, disgrace themselves. I mean, a perfect example, the Secretary of War, Benjamin Harrison, Secretary of War guy called Redfield Proctor. Classic. Two surnames instead of one first name and a name.


Always a bad sign.


Always a bad sign. He said, The conduct of both officers and men throughout the whole affair demonstrates an exceedingly satisfactory state of discipline in the seventh Cavalry. Their behavior was characterized by skill, coolness, discretion, forbearence, and reflects the highest possible credit upon their regimen. I mean, incredible. Absolutely incredible. There were no consequences from the Massacre Wounded Knee. The Ghost Dance business basically fizzled out immediately thereafter. General Miles' combination, which was the combination that the army had used successfully since the 1870s of carrot and stick. He tightens the cordon around the reservations, rounds up any stragglers. But he says, If you go back to the reservation, if you abandon this ghost dance nonsense, we will be lenient. We We will give you food. We will even give you gifts. We will give you perks and things.


Dominic, isn't there also a further option that they can go into show business?


Yeah, of course. Of course, they can go into show business. Miles had 27 Ghost Dancers arrested, and 23 of them chose to sign up with Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show. They had their sentences commuted as recompense for doing that. I find this just an absolutely mind boggling story. These included Kicking Bear and Short Bull, who were the two guys who had gone on that big pilgrimage to bring the word of the Ghost Dance to the Lakota. They said, Fine, it's all done, dust, it's all over, it's all gone. We'll sign up with Buffalo Bill. They were allowed out of jail to join Buffalo Bill's show and go on a tour of Europe. So off they go to Europe. We have the adverts from the London newspapers. Buffalo Bill said, I will be exhibiting the prisoners taken in the heroic battle at Wounded Knee.


The battle of Wounded Knee, not the massacre. Yeah, exactly.


Fifty of the worst Indians engaged in the Wounded Knee fight. These guys weren't even there. I mean, that's the incredible thing. There's a stage show, you'd see it in London or in Paris or whatever, and they would reenact the battle, and these guys would play the villains, the defeated villains.


So they come on and there are boos and hisses.


Exactly. There's a terrible detail. I can't remember which book I read this in, but it's Unforgettable. The very last date of the tour was in Glasgow in Scotland. When the show was over and they were leaving, Kicking Bear insisted on staying on the stage. He didn't leave the stage with the other performers, and he started speaking to the audience. What he was actually doing, people think, was telling them what had really happened, putting right what had unfolded in the last two hours. But he was speaking in Lakota.


No one could understand him.


Nobody knew he meant, and nobody knows what he said. Isn't that sad? A couple of years later, 1893, Frederick Jackson Turner, a very famous American historian, wrote a article called The Significance of the Frontier in American History, one of the most famous things ever written about American history. He said, The US has been living this extraordinary historic movement. This has been a specific moment in world history where the conquest of the West, what the Mediterranean was to the Greeks, the frontier has been to the United United States and directly into Europe, more indirectly. Now, he says, Four centuries from the discovery of America. I suppose discovery of America isn't a phrase you'd use now, discovery of America at the end of 100 years of life under the Constitution, a frontier has gone, and with its going has closed the first period of American history. The frontier is gone. Every last Native American has been rounded up and basically incarcerated on a reservation. White settlement has spread across all Great Plains, all the intervening states between the two coasts. Most people think this is the end. This is the end of Native Americans. They will wither and they will either die out or they will become-Be assimilated.totally assimilated, which actually doesn't happen.


I mean, that's one of the things that they got wrong because there are still almost 4 million people in the United States who identify the census as belonging to one specific a fit tribe. And there are about 6 million people who are mixed. So they might be half Cherokee or half Lakota or whatever. So that gives you a total of almost 10 million people, which is about three % of the total. And as we all know, they tend to be by far the poorest, the least likely to have jobs, the least likely to live to a ripe old age in good health. And they live in places blighted by unemployment, alcoholism, opioid addiction, all of these kinds of things, and have done for decades.


But, Dominic, just on the history, the way the history of this story is understood. There is a case for saying, I think more than a case, I think it's clearly true, that today the Native American understanding of what happened has a salience that is inconceivably greater than it was at the time when the Massacre of Wounded Knee was being presented as a glorious victory. That in a way, the Native American has triumphed.


Yeah, I think you're right in terms of the historography. So since Dee Brown, Burying My Heart at Wounded Knee.


But I wonder, even before that, somebody sent me, I hadn't seen it, a song by Johnny Cash called Custer. Now, I will tell you, Buster, that I am a fan of Custer, which he wrote in, I think, 1964, and it was part of an album of tracks about Native Americans. He was claiming to have Cherokee ancestry. Oh, really? In fact, he didn't at all. He was completely British-Irish ancestry. He sang it with Buffy Saint-Marie, very famous activist claiming Indigenous Canadian ancestry. But again, wasn't at all. There is a sense, I think, that there are certainly descendants of the settlers who now want to identify with the people who were displaced.


Tom, I can feel you gearing up to explain that this is a consequence of their Christianity, that they empathize with the underdog and with the victim because in suffering lies virtue.


I think that is absolutely a part of it. I think that there's no question that the Lakota did not celebrate the people whose lands they'd taken. They were not saying, Oh, the poor crow, were they?


No, they'd never have done that, would they?


No, they were not into that. Basically, what is being commemorated is not the whole cutting off testicle stuff. No. It's not that. It is the sense of the cruelty and the horror of what happened to them. But I guess also it's a bit what the reading that we began with, that even the most genocidal white people do recognize the heroic quality of the Lakota and mourn it. I think so. I think there is a Christian reflex, the identification with the victim, the sense that the victim ultimately triumphs over the victor. I mean, morally, but obviously not in terms of possession of land or anything or wealth. But I think there is also a response to the Humeric quality that we've been talking about throughout this series. Totally there is. It's the coexistence of the Humeric with industrial civilizations organization that makes this story so remarkable.


I think that's absolutely true. I was really struck in the Museum of the American Indian in Washington. They have a very powerful little exhibition, which is basically depictions of Native Americans throughout American culture and history. And it's just basically endless Redskins and scores and people with Tomahawks hacking off heads and stuff. And the way in which they've been used to sell everything from butter. The Washington Redskins American football team who were renamed in 2020, and they ended up becoming the Washington Commanders, the sense that it's not just the fact of the defeat, but it's also the indignities piled up on them afterwards. But actually, the Washington Redskins is a really interesting example because they dropped the name after the George Floyd murder, basically in response to Black Lives Matter. I think there is still an element of, sure, you're never going to make a Western now in which the plains Indians are the baddies. I mean, that's inconceivable.


Well, you say that. I think a film is being made of blood meridian in which everyone is the baddy. Yeah, that's fine.


You could do that, I think, but I don't think you could do a John Wayne type film, right?


No, no, no.


But I do think the issue, frankly, is not seen as glamorous, as morally virtuous, or as salient as the issue, for example, of slavery. So that project that we talked about when we did the American Revolution episodes, the 1619 project run by the New York Times, which was an attempt to basically recalibrate all American history on very woke lines and make it all about slavery and all about the sufferings of African-Americans. They do that with African-Americans, but they wouldn't do it. It wouldn't be as sexy if they did it with Native Americans. There's a sense I always think that this is an under discussed, a massively under discussed area of American history.


But it must shadow Thanksgiving.


Of course, it doesn't. How many of those films have you seen where Will Ferrell is traveling and he has to make it back to Thanksgiving. No, I know.


But I think it is to a degree now. I think every time Thanksgiving comes around, people say, Well, who gives us the food?


I think the only people that say that are academics on social media.


Yeah, maybe. But I think against that, there is a sense of the power. It's almost like a desire to rewild the Great Plains.


Yeah, of course.


See the Buffalo back, see the wolf back, but also see the cultures that existed there come back.


But the tragedy of that, is that those cultures are now trapped in Aspik, and people want them to be trapped in Aspic. I talked in a previous episode about how I'd been on holiday to the American Southwest and been to Monument Valley, which is actually run by Navajo. There, basically, the communities make their money by playing themselves.


Yeah, by cosplaying.


Yeah, by playing their own ancestors. I find it, I wasn't that unsettled by it because I still went, but it was on my mind the whole time. I mean, this is Buffalo Bill. It's basically Buffalo Buffalo Bill show.


It is Buffalo Bill. It absolutely is Buffalo Bill. It's Woke Buffalo Bill. I completely agree. But the thing that I think is striking about this, and another reason why it is so powerful and yet so tragic, is that far from embodying We've said this before, but a timeless culture, it's a brief moment in the sun that the Lakota are predatory expansionists in exactly the way that the settlers are. It's just that the settlers come in such overwhelming numbers that ultimately the Lakota have no chance of withstanding them. But they do have this fleeting moment, and the power of their culture is such that it has triumphed over the victors. I think people do feel its power. They do feel a regret for it.


I think they do. I think it's going too far to say it's triumphed over the victors, though, Tom.


What's the balance of sympathy been with in this series? I would say with the Lakota, not with the seventh Cavalry. I respect the courage of members of the seventh Cavalry who rode with Custer. I mean, I really do. But I would say the balance of sympathy is with those who end up losing.


Sure. But I think that's not the victory to want to win, right?


I'm not saying it isn't. Of course. I mean, they've lost everything. But I don't think that the narrative that says the brave boys of the seventh Cavalry behave with perfect discipline, which is what Sherman is writing about Custer's performance at Washita and then the performance of the seventh Cavalry at Wounded Knee. I don't think that that is the perspective anymore.


No, it isn't. You're right. I think within in the academy, indeed in popular history and in popular renditions of the story.


But I think popular culture as well.


Popular culture, yeah, of course.


In Hollywood and everything. Of course. I agree that is small compensation, but it's better than nothing.


I guess the other interesting question is how could it have been different? I think it's actually really hard to imagine how it could have played out differently. I was thinking about a contrast with the other story we did, which is a bit like this, which is Mexico. The difference in Mexico is that the indigenous people are sedentary. They have cities. They're not blown away by the arrival of European civilization because they're already there. Actually, what happens is there's quite quickly a fusion between European arrivals and the existing peoples of Mexico, Mesoamerica. Here, that wasn't possible because they're not sedentary. They don't have cities, they don't have towns. They're moving, and their entire way of life is predicated actually on an ecosystem that would be destroyed by the arrival of mass migration from across the sea.


But I do think the blaze of their destruction does linger in a way that the destruction of other peoples in America hasn't. The image of the Lakota warrior with the wall paint and the feathers, particularly, is the image of the Native American in the world.


Yeah, it is.


To that extent, I think that is tribute to the power of this story and the tragedy of it. It is.


Tom, you're very keen to find that silver lining, aren't you?


Well, it's such a downer. Anyway, listen, this has been an epic sweep, so we should come to a close. It's been a long series, our longest yet.


To give people a sense for this, uniquely, we've recorded this episode at 7:30 in the morning because we ran out of time. We had literally no hours to record because we'd recorded so many episodes.


We keep putting in the schedule, Finish the series. Oh, we got three more we need to do. Anyway, thank you all, those of you who have accompanied us this far to the bitter end. Thank you very much for listening. We'll be back soon with something I suspect a little shorter.


Shorter and very different. Bye-bye. Bye-bye.