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The Life and Times of Sitting Bull

by Robert M. Utley

Pub Date: June 22nd, 1993
ISBN: 0-8050-1274-5
Publisher: Henry Holt

 Enormous, groundbreaking biography of the great Lakota Sioux war chief (c. 1831-90). To date, the standard biography of Sitting Bull has been Stanley Vestal's Sitting Bull, Chief of the Sioux, written decades ago and more a triumph of literature than of history. Now, utilizing Vestal's original notes (collected in the 1920's and 30's and featuring interviews with many warriors who knew Sitting Bull intimately), as well as his own extensive research, Utley (Billy the Kid, 1989, etc.) has forged a new portrait of the Sioux warrior that places him squarely within his social and historical context. Whether Utley succeeds in his ambition of writing from both white and Native American perspectives is arguable--can anyone merge the two?--but he details with exquisite care and objectivity the life of the Lakota in the post-Civil War era, along with the intentions and actions of the Federal government. Into this powder-keg situation was born Sitting Bull, who soon demonstrated the revered Lakota male traits of bravery, humility, wisdom, and generosity. Utley, benefiting greatly from massive recent scholarship, traces Sitting Bull's rise as a war chief and as a wichasha wakan (holy man) with greater sensitivity to Native American ways than did previous biographers. In doing so, he puts the lie to earlier portraits of Sitting Bull as a cowardly ``pretender to high rank,'' revealing him as the supreme Sioux chief, a man ``distant and aloof from all whites,'' obsessed with his people's freedom, perhaps too stubborn but unquestionably a ``towering figure.'' Even the years of defeat--including a stint with Buffalo Bill's circus--shine with dignity, and Utley shows that Sitting Bull's death--which the author, going against popular belief, argues was not an assassination but an accident--marked a tragic loss for all Americans, white or Native American. The new standard against which all future lives of Sitting Bull will be measured. (Thirty-two b&w photographs, three maps) (History Book Club Main Selection)