Pueblo Revolt

Santa Fe New Mexico is a top tourist destination and draws thousands of people annually from around the world. Visit Santa Fe during the summer months and you’ll no doubt hear dozens of languages being spoken. Santa Fe has one of the richest histories of any city in the United States and to really learn about it’s roots you need to hear the famous story of the Pueblo Revolt.

What is referred to as the pueblo revolt is known in history as the Pueblo Revolt of 1680. This event was THE turning point in old Santa Fe history. If you have the opportunity to visit what is called “The City Different“, there’s a very visible reminder of the Pueblo Revolt that can be seen on top of a hill just a few blocks north of the Santa Fe plaza. The walk up the hill takes perhaps 15 to 20 minutes and you’ll enjoy a splendid view of not only the city below but also the Sangre de Cristo Mountains behind you to the northeast. On the top of this hill is a large white cross which is known as The Cross of the Martyrs. The cross is twenty-five feet tall and commemorates the death of 21 Franciscan friars and numerous Spanish colonists during the Pueblo Revolt of 1680. The Cross of the Martyrs was dedicated during Santa Fe Fiesta in 1920.

cross of the martyrs in santa fe

Cross of the Martyrs, Santa Fe NM

The Pueblo Revolt of 1680 was a repudiation of Spanish rule by the pueblo Indian tribes of northern New Mexico. It was the culmination of decades of forced conversion and servitude applied by the Spaniards. The church was at the center of the rebellion being the instrument for converting the local pueblo Indians to Christianity. There was also a good deal of harsh punishment against those pueblo Indians accused of sorcery and just about anything connected with their centuries old spirit worship. Whipping and being put in prison was not unusual punishment during these times. While the Pueblo Revolt may appear that it was set off by one distinct event in 1680, that really wasn’t the case. The anger was building up over decades. The harsh rules and punishments just came to a head in 1680. It just so happened that in 1680, the pueblo people had a galvanizing force from a leader named Pope (pronounced po-pay). Pope, who was just recently released from a prison, was the pueblo Indian who set up a network of messengers to communicate the detailed plans for revolt to neighboring tribes. Interestingly enough, even tribes that shared a mutual distrust of other tribes joined together for this assault. This was probably the key reason that the rebellion was successful.

With this being the case, the Franciscan friars were especially targeted by the pueblo Indians during this bloody uprising. As mentioned above, twenty-one friars were killed and this represented the vast majority of friars in New Mexico which at that time was named Nuevo Mexico.

cross of the martyrs

Walkway to the Cross of the Martyrs

The Pueblo Revolt was an act that violently addressed the grievances that the pueblo Indians had against the Spanish colonists. As such, it’s an interesting event with many twists and turns. One of the best books on the subject is The Pueblo Revolt of 1680: Conquest and Resistance in Seventeenth Century New Mexico by author Andrew L. Knaut. This fine book not only describes what took place during the revolt but also describes in great detail the rules and punishments meted out by the Spaniards against the pueblo peoples. It also describes in detail the interaction between the Indians and the Franciscan friars. It’s an excellent source of information about this historic rebellion.

view of santa fe new mexico

View of Santa Fe New Mexico from the Cross of the Martyrs

The Pueblo Revolt of 1680 expelled the Spaniards from Nuevo Mexico for a period of twelve years. The Spaniards were successful in reentering the territory in 1692 under the new leadership of Diego de Vargas Zapata Lujan Ponce de Leon. De Vargas was successful in persuading twenty-three pueblos to rejoin Spain’s empire. While there was some resistance from a few pueblos, in the end de Vargas succeeded and Santa Fe itself was reoccupied with settlers by 1694.

A key factor that aided de Vargas’ reconquest was the fact that there was trouble between the pueblo tribes during the twelve years of Spanish absence. Pope himself pushed the tribes to burn and destroy anything Spanish including all crosses. Marriages that occurred during Spanish rule were not recognized. In general, the pueblo tribes split up after the revolt and confusion reigned. It was in this atmosphere that the Spaniards under de Vargas returned in force in 1692 with the result being a bloodless reconquest.

Two additional articles we’ve published that you’ll find interesting are The Palace of the Governors and The Santa Fe Trail and Plaza.

(Photos are from author’s private collection)

Juan Bautista de Anza and the Expedition that Established San Francisco / The National Trails System

There is a very historic old Spanish trail that eventually established what is today San Francisco California, the historic Mission Dolores and the Presidio. Today, this trail is administered by the National Park Service through a partnership with other federal, state, county and municipal parks and volunteer groups. Some of the areas of this Spanish trail are in the hands of private ownership but there is a remarkably large amount of the trail that is ideal for a California auto tour. In 1990, Congress established the Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail as a part of the National Trails System.

juan bautista de anza

Juan Bautista de Anza, public domain

This very important Spanish trail was blazed by a Spanish military officer by the name of Juan Bautista de Anza. Ther idea actually originated with Anza’s father who dreamed of finding an overland route to Alta California. This was an important route for Spain who was trying to secure their stronghold in the region. Spain’s concerns were the explorations of both the Russians and the English. The Russians had a thriving trade operation in the area about 100 miles north of San Francisco Bay at Fort Ross on the Pacific coast. The English of course had operations in what is today Oregon at the mouth of the Columbia River.

Using mission and Indian trading routes, Juan de Anza found a path into Alta California in 1774. This route would allow passage of supplies, livestock and much needed settlers. When Anza identified the route he secured permission from the Viceroy of New Spain to make the Spanish expedition.

Juan Bautista de Anza’s expedition was quite different from a mere exploration. Some of the earlier expeditions were for simple exploration. This expedition was to help colonize a distant land. This essentially went hand in hand with the Spanish Mission system being established around the same years. Traveling through Sonora New Spain, Anza put out a call to men to join him and be paid as soldiers. His men told about the lush land to the north which was greatly different than the desert region around Sonora. Interest was high but Anza placed certain requirements to many of the prospective recruits. There were two primary conditions. The men would agree not to return to New Spain and they were obligated to bring along their families.

de anza trail map

Route of the Juan Bautista de Anza Expedition, public domain

Anza’s expedition departed from Tubac Presidio on October 23, 1775. The expedition included thirty families which amounted to some 240 men, women and children. The expedition had a purpose. The purpose in general was to safely deliver the settlers and their livestock to el Rio San Francisco, the first Spanish settlement in that key area. There was no guarantee of success but the travelers put their full faith in Anza. The families who joined the expedition, after weighing their current opportunities in Sonora, felt strongly that a better life could be found in Alta California. They risked everything for a chance to be among the very first settlers to California.

As with just about all Spanish expeditions, religion and the Franciscans played a large role. Most days began with Mass and hymns of praise. These were conducted by Franciscan priest Pedro Font. In addition to Font’s religious duties, he kept a very detailed diary and recorded latitudes using a quadrant. His journals were a running historic record recording locations, miles traveled and supplies used. It is from his diary and one written by Anza himself  that today we have an excellent record of the Anza expedition. Coming up from present day Mexico around the Nogales area, the expedition which included some 1,000 head of cattle crossed the Colorado River into Alta California at present day Yuma Arizona. Anza was fortunate to have received able help from the local Indians and this included finding the Yuma Crossing. The trail went through Riverside and north of present day Los Angeles to the coast near Oxnard. Then it was up the Pacific coast past San Luis Obispo and to the east of Monterey before reaching present day San Francisco. Much of the route fairly follows US Hwy 101. It’s interesting that riders on Amtrak’s Coast Starlight train from Los Angeles to Oakland also follow a section of this trail.

juan bautista de anza interpretive center in martinez california

The Juan Bautista de Anza Interpretive Visitor Center in Martinez, CA, from author's collection

The Juan Bautista de Anza expedition was a great success for Spain. After Juan de Anza selected a site for both a presidio and a Spanish mission, on June 27, 1776 a Lt. Moraga led the settlers to what is today the city of San Francisco. This marked the establishment of Mission Dolores on the San Francisco peninsula. This also marked the very northernmost settlement to that date for Spain. What’s very interesting to the tourist is that many of the names of settlers and military involved with Juan de Anza’s expedition are still seen today throughout northern California. These are names such as Moraga, Berryessa, Bernal and Peralta. Today, these are names of towns, highways, landmarks and counties. De Anza’s name can be found on buildings, schools and streets.

The National Park Service has sixteen sites along the de Anza Trail where many visitors like to collect stamps showing their visit. These stamps are given out by the NPS to officially confirm the visit. The National Park Service administers the Anza Historic Trail Exhibit Visitor Center located at John Muir National Historic Park in Martinez California. This is the historic adobe on the Muir grounds that has been made into the Anza Historic Trail Center. This center has some great exhibits and would be a fine addition to any san Francisco area trip planner. Martinez is located northeast of San Francisco opposite the town of Benicia California.

Historic Old Town Albuquerque / A Spanish Settlement in the New World

Old Town Albuquerque New Mexico is very representative of most of the Spanish settlements in the southwest United States. The most distinguishing characteristic is the town plaza. Old Town Albuquerque resides in about ten blocks filled with adobe structures. Today it is a very popular tourist destination with a wide assortment of shops, unique art galleries and restaurants. Old Town is the Historical Zone of the City of Albuquerque and home for many families whose ancestors founded the town. On the banks of the Rio Grande, Old Town Albuquerque has thrived for three centuries. Vacations in New Mexico offer many alternatives. If you’re searching for things to do in Albuquerque, the Old Town Historic District is a great choice.

old town albuquerque plaza

Old Town Albuquerque Plaza

The plaza didn’t come into being until 1780. Prior to that the Albuquerque area was a scattered agricultural area. The plaza appeared after settlers built adobe homes around a defensible center for protection against the Comanche and Apache Indian attacks. The defensible area became what is now the plaza. Prior to that, the fortress would have been the church.

Everything pertaining to Spain in the southwest first occurred when Francisco Vasquez Coronado explored this area in 1540.The region was inhabited by a combination of Pueblo Indians and the nomadic Apaches and Comanches. It would be about 60 years later that the Spaniards started to settle and colonize the region. It would be about another one hundred years before Albuquerque was officially founded.

For almost three centuries Old Town has been the crossroads of the Southwest. On the north side of the plaza, which is the focal point of Old Town, is the San Felipe de Neri Church, the oldest building in the city, which was built in 1793. The church was first named San Francisco Xavier by Don Francisco Cuervo y Valdez, who founded the city of Albuquerque in 1706. Valdez named the church after the Viceroy of New Spain. Later, the Duke of Albuquerque ordered that the titular saint for the church be changed to San Felipe de Neri in honor of King Philip of Spain. The original church on the site was founded back in 1706, at the time of original settlement, by Franciscan priest Manuel Moreno.

san felipe de neri church

San Felipe de Neri Church in Old Town

This church however collapsed in 1792 due to very heavy rains. The new church was built in 1793 and is the one that stands there today. When you visit the church you’ll also see the beautiful gardens in the front facing the plaza.

Everything for the church changed in 1821 after Mexico won it’s independence from Spain. Mexico ordered the Franciscan priests to leave which was happening throughout the old Spanish territories. Later in 1853, after the United States took possession of New Mexico Territory, a French priest, Father Joseph Machebeuf, was named pastor of Albuquerque by Bishop Lamy of Santa Fe. At this same time the church was remodeled which included a new roof. It’s a very beautiful structure.

It’s interesting to note that the El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro, the Royal Road of the Interior Nuevo Mexico territory, which connected Mexico City with New Mexico’s Spanish capitals ran right through Old Town Albuquerque. The capitals were San Gabriel and then later Santa Fe. This was the main route to the new Spanish territory for all commerce until the Santa Fe Trail from Missouri was established in 1821. The U.S. government has now designated the El Camino Real a National Historic Trail. This amazingly long trail from Mexico City went back to the year 1598, about a decade before the founding of Santa Fe.

old town albuquerque shops and galleries

Old Town Albuquerque shops and galleries

Several flags have flown over the Old Town Albuquerque plaza. First it was Spain’s, then Mexico’s beginning in 1821 and then it was the United States flag beginning in 1846. The only interruption with the United States flag from 1846 to today was a thirty-nine day period during the American Civil War when General Henry Sibley’s Texas Volunteer regiment flew the Confederate flag over the plaza. General Sibley would go on to be defeated later by Colorado Volunteers at the Battle of Glorieta Pass which is just to the east of Santa Fe. During the Civil War, southern forces made large inroads into the southern section of the New Mexico Territory. There are two Mountain Howitzer guns that are on display today on the plaza. Both guns were left behind by retreating Confederate troops.

The move east to New Town, downtown today, occurred in 1880 and was a direct result of the Atchison Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad coming into Albuquerque. Eventually there was a Harvey House, named the Alvarado, at the site of today’s train terminals. Unfortunately, the Alvarado was torn down in 1970.

The Albuquerque Museum of Art and History is located at 2000 Mountain Road. This is about 1,000 feet east of the plaza itself. Included in the museum are traveling exhibits, southwestern art, Albuquerque history artifacts and outside is a sculpture garden. You’ll also want to check out Old Town area B & B’s and hotels. There’s a great choice.

Old Town Albuquerque is located about two miles west of the City of Albuquerque downtown area. Of special note, is that Old Town Albuquerque can be reached rather easily from the Santa Fe area by riding the New Mexico Rail Runner train. The NM Rail Runner will take you to the train station in downtown Albuquerque and your train ticket will get you a free bus ride to and from Old Town. It’s a good way to fit in a trip to Albuquerque while visiting Santa Fe.

(Photos from author’s private collection)

Oregon Trail Diaries / Would You Have Taken One Family’s Trek Across America?

In the year 1849, would you have taken one family’s trek across North America? The chances are that you could have embarked on the journey, but the real question is “would you have?”. Learning about the trip from Oregon Trail diaries and narratives will help you decide. Hearing about the sacrifices and ordeals of such a journey from someone who made it is the best history narrative available. The Oregon Trail diaries and narratives are invaluable historic artifacts.

Covered Wagon and gear on display at Sutters Fort in Sacramanto California, from author's collection.

In the very enlightening book, Women’s Diaries of the Westward Journey, by author Lillian Schlissel, there is a very vivid description of one family’s travels from Clinton Iowa to Sacramento California. The reason the trip was made were purely economic. There was gold in California. There was plenty of it but not quite the easy pickings that most stories that made it back to the midwest declared.

Why Head West?

One major reason that many families decided to risk a trip through hostile lands was the economic shape of the U.S. at that time. Most historical accounts, not all but most, ignore the real driver of this emigration. That was the Economic Panic of 1837. Just like today, there were economic panics that placed many in rough economic shape. In fact, this economic collapse depressed farm real estate prices well into the 1840’s. It wasn’t a one or two year event. Many merchants lost their businesses or owed a considerable amount to creditors. To say the California Gold Rush was talked about is an understatement. Our history books tells us that it was THE subject being discussed everywhere in America during 1849. People asked their neighbors and friends if they would be making the journey. Advice was given out freely. Some of it good and some of it not so good. You can imagine just how exciting the prospect was for a new start in life and the possibility of riches in a backdrop of national economic weakness. What exactly would it take to make the decision to risk everything for possible riches? Even if the risk didn’t result in riches, which for most it didn’t, would the journey through America’s wilderness in a covered wagon still be worth it? Many people in 1849 thought it was.

The family chronicled in this particular diary and narrative were newlyweds with the husband being a lawyer by trade. They ran into financial difficulty like many others. Also, like many others, they were hearing incredible stories from California. In the case of this particular family, their desire to go to California, which they termed the new El Dorado, was to acquire enough gold to return to Clinton Iowa and pay off their creditors. A return trip to Iowa at some future date was always part of the plan. The Oregon Trail beckoned. It was the shortest way to California from the jumping off towns. Whether for economic reasons or time frame, a voyage to California by ship was not realistic.

Guernsey Lake State Park Wyoming Museum

The majority of the Oregon Trail travelers in 1849 were midwesterners. Those from the eastern seaboard states that wanted to get themselves to California often went by ship whether around Cape Horn or through the isthmus of Panama.

Assembling in Council Bluffs Iowa

When the decision was made to head west, the family left with four wagons. Two of the wagons were filled with merchandise that they would sell at enormous profits when once reaching the remote gold fields. The profits were there to be made if only you could reach California. In 1849 there were three main jumping off points as they were called for those heading west. They were Council Bluffs Iowa, St. Joseph Missouri and Independence Missouri. These are the points where people convened to join wagon trains. It was where you might spend some time beforehand acquiring what supplies you hadn’t already. The journey to Council Bluffs of course was the easiest segment. You could camp near farmhouses, easily purchase needed food supplies and the terrain was flat and green. For obvious weather reasons, journeys started in April after the winter snows melted. Understanding that the journey might very well take at least six months, an April start was necessary to avoid the Sierra Nevada snowstorms in the fall. The launching off from Council Bluffs Iowa most likely would begin in May. The diary and narrative excerpts of this 1849 journey were kept by Catherine Haun, who with her husband and five other men and a female cook, set out from Clinton to Council Bluffs Iowa and from there into what was referred to as the wilderness. To an Iowa family in 1849 it was the great unknown.

The notes taken by Mrs. Haun point out that there were certain attributes looked for when joining a wagon train. First was that there was an ample supply of firearms and ammunition. Secondly, that the train’s wagons were not loaded so full that they would hinder travel time. Animals needed to be sturdy whether they were oxen or horses. Oxen were preferred because they were considered less likely to stampede and were less likely to be stolen by Indians. Indians wanted horses, not oxen. Good general health was also a benefit and you didn’t want a caravan with a disproportionate amount of women and children. Of course all the planning in the world could not totally isolate one from the surprises and dangers of the wilderness. When all was said and done, the caravan which included the Haun party consisted of seventy wagons.

Indians

The biggest concern seems to have been the possibility of Indian attack although it was thought of more than spoken about. Mrs. Haun writes that the bucks with their bows and arrows, buckskin garments and feathered headgear followed the wagon train regularly. They were relatively friendly yet were to beg often at mealtimes. She wrote that they seldom molested any of the whites. Catherine Haun does write that throughout their journey the Indian presence still caused anxiety. She was never sure of their friendship and being alert was a necessity. She writes of instances where Indians crept into their camp at night and stole items such as blankets. Mrs. Haun describes how their soft moccasins made it hard to hear their presence. The fact that Indians could enter a campsite undetected was itself alarming to the wagon train party. Compared to what some pioneers endured the Haun caravan seemed fortunate. Mrs. Haun notes in her diary that after the wagon train passed the prairie lands, the Indians appeared to be more treacherous and numerous. At night, for protection, the caravan would draw their wagons in a circle. When they determined where they would spend the night, one wagon would go left, the other to the right and so on and so forth until they had a circle with a good size area in the middle.

Monument near site of Gratton Massacre in 1854. twenty nine soldiers were killed near Fort Laramie

It should be noted that the year the Haun’s journeyed to California was not nearly at the height of Indian trouble on the Oregon Trail. The real trouble appeared to start between 1854 and 1860 when a large number of army troops were sent east to fight the Civil War. At the same time there were disputes between the U.S. government and Indians regarding emigrants and promised annuities. This led to increased Indian attacks throughout the plains and down into Texas. Many times, wagon trains were the targets.

Sickness

Emigrant deaths along the Oregon Trail stemmed from many causes. Accidents, drownings and sickness being the major ones. Indian attacks would not be significant causes. There may have been no larger single cause of death among the Oregon Trail pioneers than cholera. The chief cause of cholera was bad water and the sickness was highly contagious. Catherine Haun points out the enormous number of graves, some fresh, that their wagon train passed along the Oregon Trail. One of the reasons that exact estimates of cholera deaths on the Oregon Trail is hard to determine is that the custom was to bury many people in unmarked graves. This was to avoid having them dug up by Indians or wild animals. Mrs. Haun notes that their caravan passed a grave which had been opened by Indians in order to get at clothes. Many suppose this also caused the Indians to pick up the dreaded disease. It’s been written that cholera may have killed up to 3% of all Oregon Trail travelers during the epidemic years of 1849 to 1855.

Rivers

Wagons could cross rivers on their own if the water was shallow enough. If not, they would be rafted over to the other side but not before removing their wheels so that they would lie flat and not tip over. Not an easy job in any circumstance.

Before trying to drive your wagon pulled by oxen over a river you would need to be sure the bottom wasn’t quicksand. This was a problem with several river crossings and there was more than one wagon lost to the river bottom.

The Mountains

There was a reason the short lived Butterfield Overland Stage Line ran through Texas and the New Mexico Territory in 1858. Less high mountains. Much of the Butterfield Stage route traveled over desert. What mountain passes that were encountered were nothing like the Sierra Nevadas in California. Imagine trying to manage wagons, teams of oxen and horses, not to mention people, over some of the most formidable mountain passes in North America. Everyone was aware of the fate of the Donner Party in the Sierra Nevada winter of 1846.

 

Sierra Nevada Mountains from Emigrant Gap California, from author's collection

When the trail reached steep inclines and declines, people had to join in to keep the wagons going uphill, and when they started a descent, ropes behind the wagons needed to be pulled by as many people as possible to keep the wagon from crashing into the oxen in front.

Following is an excerpt on this subject from Catherine Haun..”and oh, such pulling, pushing, tugging it was! I used to pity the drivers as well as the oxen and horses-and the rest of us. The drivers of our ox teams were sturdy young men, all about twenty-two years of age who were driving for their passage to California”.

Passing the Time

It’s a fact that most wagon trains tried to start moving before 6 AM. As a consequence most people didn’t keep late hours. Catherine Haun describes the evening hours…” We did not keep late hours but when not too engrossed with fear of the red enemy or dread of impending danger we enjoyed the hour around the campfire. The menfolk lolling and smoking their pipes and guessing or maybe betting how many miles we covered the day. We listened to readings, story telling, music and songs and the day often ended in laughter and merrymaking”.

The Haun’s wagon train reached the Laramie River on July 4, 1849. Mrs. haun goes on to describe some of things planned for that special day. ” After dinner it was proposed that we celebrate the day and we all heartily joined in. America West was the Goddess of Liberty, Charles Wheeler was orator and Ralph Cushing acted as master of ceremonies. We sang patriotic songs, repeated what little we could of the Declaration of Independence, fired off a gun or two, and gave three cheers for the United States and California Territory in particular!”. (California would gain statehood one year later).

Two related articles regarding the Oregon Trail which you should find interesting are Lake Guernsey State Park Old Wagon Wheel Ruts and Fort Kearney and the Oregon Trail.

Summing Up the Overland Journey

Catherine Haun wrote down her feelings about the after they reached California. She wrote…”Upon the whole I enjoyed the trip, spite of it’s hardships and dangers and the fear and dread that hung as a pall over every hour. As though not so thrilling as were the experiences of many who suffered in reality what we feared, but escaped, I like every other pioneer , love to live over again, in memory those romantic months, and revisit, in fancy, the scenes of the journey.

Inside of Sutters Fort, Sacramento California. The destination for many traveling the Oregon Trail. From author's collection.

As it turned out, the Hauns did not strike it rich in the California gold fields. Someone was calling for a lawyer to help draw up a will. Mr. Haun offered to do it for the man for a fee of $150. With the money Mr. Haun earned he bought lumber to construct a home. After that he dropped any idea of working the gold fields and hung out his lawyer shingle. Mrs. Haun noted that they had gamblers on one side of the house (they gave them the property to build on) and a saloon on the other. She goes on to conclude that she never received more respectful attention than she did from those neighbors.

As mentioned previously, the Hauns were fortunate to have traveled over the Oregon Trail before major problems developed with the plains Indians. Clashed leading to much bloodshed occurred starting in 1854 around Fort Laramie Wyoming and generally escalated with fits and starts into what is commonly referred to as the Plains Indian Wars. They led up to Custer’s Battle of the Little Bighorn and beyond. Most historians believe the Indian Wars ended for good with the Wounded Knee Massacre in 1890. Wagon trains that journeyed over the Oregon Trail and connecting trails after 1854 and especially after 1860 and beyond were regularly attacked. The attacks were also much more violent as opposed to the harassment in the late 1840’s and early 1850’s. The level of warfare between the U.S. Army and particularly the Sioux and Cheyenne bands grew in violence up through George Armstrong Custer’s expedition in 1876.

Again, the question is… knowing, or perhaps not knowing, what the wilderness between Iowa and California had in store during the gold crazed year of 1849, would you have elected to make this journey?

 

Sitting Bull and Buffalo Bill Cody

The story about the great Lakota Sioux Chief Sitting Bull and William “Buffalo Bill” Cody were two life stories as dissimilar as can be imagined while at the same time had some interesting traits in common.

sitting bull

Sitting Bull

There was probably no other Indian leader who resisted the United States takeover of Sioux native lands as much as Sitting Bull did. Sitting Bull was believed to have been born in 1831 near the Standing Rock Agency which was in the Dakota Territory. To be sure, Sitting was a warrior during his younger years. He was very involved in leading war parties during Red Cloud’s War which lasted from 1865 to 1868 and resulted in the abandonment of three army forts along the Bozeman Trail in Wyoming and Montana. Sitting Bull went on to become the central figure in the Sioux War of 1876 which resulted in the Battle of the Little Bighorn debacle. Following that battle, Sitting Bull along with a few hundred of his people fled to Canada in 1877. His stay in Canada was quite an ordeal for both he and his people. The winter weather was severe and food was in short supply. Finally, in July of 1881 Sitting Bull crossed back into the United States and surrendered himself to the army.

Shortly after the Sioux War of 1876-77, the Native Americans of the Montana and Wyoming area began returning to reservations. Some held out longer than others such as Crazy Horse, but in the end they all gave themselves up and were transported to various reservations. Steamboats were even used by the government to transport some of the Sioux. In fact, as a bit of irony, the steamboat Far West, which was used to transport many of the wounded soldiers from the Sioux battle of June 1876 back to Fort Abraham Lincoln, was also employed by the army to transport surrendering Sioux back downriver towards their reservations months later. This occurred all during the years of Sitting Bull’s self-imposed Canadian exile.

buffalo bill cody

William "Buffalo Bill" Cody

When Sitting Bull surrendered in 1881 he was moved down to the Standing Rock Agency which today is very near the North and South Dakota border. He and his people were kept separate from the others fearing that his presence night reignite trouble. At one point in 1881 Sitting Bull and his band were sent to Fort Randall in the southern part of the territory as prisoners of war but were moved back once again to the Standing Rock Agency in 1883. While Sitting Bull was totally aware that the struggle against the white man was over, he still resisted adopting a new way of life. In a way it was peaceful resistance. At the same time, the U.S. military was aware of Sitting Bull’s influence among his people.

What’s interesting to the historian of the Indian Wars and the old west in general is how Sitting Bull’s return happened about the same time that William Cody was organizing his Wild West. Cody was born in 1846 and went on to be a soldier, a buffalo hunter and finally one of the United States’ most successful show promoters. Buffalo Bill’s Wild West began in 1883 in North Platte Nebraska. This would have been the same year that Sitting Bull was relocated to the Standing Rock Agency.

Although Cody served as an army scout, he fully respected the rights of native Americans. Buffalo Bill was quite outspoken in his belief that the Indian troubles were a direct result of broken treaties on the part of the U.S. government. He went out of his way in calling the Native Americans our “former” foes who are now our friends. This was not necessarily an opinion held by many and it did set buffalo Bill apart from others. The former bison hunter also pressed for limits on hide hunting and the establishment of hunting seasons.

William Cody was known for his employment of Native Americans as part of his Wild West productions. In answer to criticism from some quarters, Cody simply pointed out that he was giving useful work to unemployed Indians. The one thing that could be said about the Wild West was that audiences were seeing the real thing. Native Americans performed as warriors attacking stagecoaches and wagon trains. They and their families were also encouraged to set up camps while traveling with the show similar to the camps they would have set up on their native land. Cody’s use of the native Americans as performers was one of the reasons for the Wild West’s enormous success.

sitting bull and buffalo bill cody

Sitting Bull and Buffalo Bill Cody

In regards to Sitting Bull, Buffalo Bill Cody held no grudges. Sitting Bull was as entrenched in his beliefs as Cody was with his. Sitting Bull was asked by Buffalo Bill to join his show as a performer. Sitting Bull was given permission by the army to leave the reservation to join the Wild West. The great Sioux chief received about $50 a week for riding once around the arena, where he was a popular attraction. Not bad money at all in 1884.  A story was started that Sitting Bull cursed his white audiences as he rode his horse in the arena but historians could find no proof that this really occurred. It was said that Sitting Bull did give out autographs for about one dollar each before and after performances. The Chief reportedly gave this money back to his people who were quite poor. Sitting Bull was also known to have given speeches promoting education for Native Americans and for all parties, Indian and white, to reconcile relations. Sitting Bull spent merely four months with Cody’s Wild West and afterward returned to the Standing Rock Agency. Sitting Bull was ultimately killed while being taken into custody in 1890 during what was called the Ghost Dance movement. The story of the Ghost Dance and Sitting Bull can be found on our link Ghost Dance..

Another related article that’s quite interesting is the story of Pawnee Bill and his Wild West show.

When you look at both Sitting Bull and Buffalo Bill Cody, it’s not too hard to see how both men came together in the Wild West shows. The early 1880’s were a time of transition for both. The Indian Wars were winding down, Sitting Bull was being held on the reservation and Buffalo Bill was preparing to showcase an entire era of American history to the world. If anything, Sitting Bull’s participation in Cody’s Wild West gave him a platform to press for aid for his people. Where at one time Sitting Bull was considered an enemy, he was now acting as a delegate for Native Americans everywhere. It’s also fitting that someone with the respect for Native American rights that Buffalo Bill Cody surely had, would also be in a position to help the Indian by offering a public platform for one of their most famous Chiefs.

(Photos are in public domain)