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The amazing visit to Montreal of Sitting Bull and Buffalo Bill on tour with the show “Buffalo Bill's Wild West”

The amazing visit to Montreal of Sitting Bull and Buffalo Bill on tour with the show “Buffalo Bill's Wild West”

Indigenous wars at the end of the nineteenth centuryH The twentieth century in the United States has marked history in many ways.

It highlights not only the insidious policy of colonization pursued by the American authorities at the time, but also the lack of understanding and fascination with the way of life of the indigenous peoples of the American West in both North America and Europe. If there is one character that cannot be separated from resistance to the reservation policies of indigenous tribes at the time, it is Sitting Bull. A chef so popular that he came to Montreal for Buffalo Bill's big show…

Buffalo Bill

Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

American colonialism that destabilizes the way of life of indigenous peoples

The history of Sitting Bull is primarily inseparable from the history of the colonization of the American West since the 1830s. At this time, there was a significant increase in the American population, which needed farmland, showing a growing interest in it – called the Northern Plains, ideal for agriculture. However, these lands are inhabited by Sioux, Blackfoot, and Cheyenne. Between 1830 and 1860, the territory of the United States nearly doubled in size, favored by the beginning of the California Gold Rush from 1849.

This massive white access to indigenous-occupied lands caused, among other things, competition for bison (the indigenous people used all hunted animals, while Americans at that time hunted them mainly for their fur). Conflicts then become inevitable and often lead to bloody wars.

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Resistance symbol leader reserve

Treaties and agreements were signed to try to calm the situation, but many indigenous leaders refused to cooperate and particularly refused to be confined to reserves. This is the case of the Lakota Sioux leader, Tatanka Yutanka, known as Sitting Bull. On January 31, 1876, he and his colleagues received an order from the Chief of Indian Affairs stating that all Lakota who refused to enter the reservations would be considered hostile… Sitting Bull and other leaders such as Crazy Horse refused to cooperate, which led to a refusal to cooperate. In sending armed detachments to its territory and numerous skirmishes taking place. The discovery of gold in the Dakotas in 1874 exacerbated the situation.

On June 25 and 26, 1874, the forces of US General George Armstrong Custer faced forces from several clans in a bloody battle known as the Battle of the Little Bighorn, which took place in Montana. The local warriors, led by Sitting Bull, were victorious, and Custer and his regiment were killed. Sitting Bull then became a legend.

Sitting Bull, by D. F. Barry, circa 1883

General George Armstrong Custer

Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

Sitting Bull, by D. F. Barry, circa 1883

Lithograph of the Battle of the Little Bighorn

Wikimedia Commons / Charles Marion Russell / Public Domain

A very popular leader in exile

After these events, the reactions in the United States were very strong, so Sitting Bull and his clan then took refuge in Manitoba for 4 years. But living conditions there were so difficult, he and 186 members of his clan returned to the United States and agreed to live on a reservation. Sitting Bull is very popular in Canada, and his reputation as a warrior and dignified appearance have made him a star. In 1884, the American authorities agreed to allow him to tour with Buffalo Bill's hugely popular show, entitled Buffalo Bill's Wild West.

Sitting Bull then travels across America. He charges $15 a week and charges $1 for photos. He came to Montreal in 1885, where he was a real star! Furthermore, one of his most famous photographs was taken in the studio of William Notman and Son Senior in Montreal. These photos are all the more important because they are among the last photos taken of the great Sioux leader.

Indeed, the latter was assassinated on December 15, 1890 on the Standing Rock Reservation in South Dakota, after a somewhat confusing event that aroused fear of American forces. The photographs of William Nortman and his son have forever cemented his image as a great chef.

Sitting Bull, by D. F. Barry, circa 1883

William Notman and Son, Sitting Bull, Montreal, 1885, dry gelatin dish, 17 x 12 cm, McCord Museum