Sitting Bull was the first man to become chief of the entire Lakota Sioux nation.
Sitting Bull was born around 1831 into the Hunkpapa people, a Lakota Sioux tribe that roamed the Great Plains in what is now the Dakotas. He was initially called “Jumping Badger” by his family, but earned the boyhood nickname “Slow” for his quiet and deliberate demeanor. The future chief killed his first buffalo when he was just 10 years old. At 14, he joined a Hunkpapa raiding party and distinguished himself by knocking a Crow warrior from his horse with a tomahawk. In celebration of the boy’s bravery, his father relinquished his own name and transferred it to his son. From then on, Slow became known as Tatanka-Iyotanka, or “Sitting Bull.”
Sitting Bull was renowned for his skill in close quarters fighting and collected several red feathers representing wounds sustained in battle. As word of his exploits spread, his fellow warriors took to yelling, “Sitting Bull, I am he!” to intimidate their enemies during combat. The most stunning display of his courage came in 1872, when the Sioux clashed with the U.S. Army during a campaign to block construction of the Northern Pacific Railroad. As a symbol of his contempt for the soldiers, the middle-aged chief strolled out into the open and took a seat in front of their lines. Inviting several others to join him, he proceeded to have a long, leisurely smoke from his tobacco pipe, all the while ignoring the hail of bullets whizzing by his head. Upon finishing his pipe, Siting Bull carefully cleaned it and then walked off, still seemingly oblivious to the gunfire around him. His nephew White Bull would later call the act of defiance “the bravest deed possible.”