The next tribe we encounter along our southward journey on the Great Plains Trail is the Lakota. The Lakota is a member of the larger Great Sioux Nation. The Great Sioux Nation consists of 7 tribes known in the Lakota language as Ochethi Sakowin or “Seven Council Fires.” The seven tribes traditionally held an area that extended from the eastern parts of Minnesota to the western parts of North and South Dakota. The Lakota were generally in the western reaches of this area.
The Lakota are arguably the most famous of Native American tribes. They boast some of the most famous names from Native American history: Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse, Black Elk, and Red Cloud.
They are also the tribe that Hollywood most likely had in mind when it made its attempts to portray Native Americans in movies during the 20th century. The movies were often about battles with the U.S. Army, and the Lakota have the dubious distinction of being the last tribe standing in a roughly 250 year war that spanned the continent. The final battle of which in 1890 involved many Lakota people, and it too is famous: Wounded Knee.
By the time Sitting Bull was alive, photography had been invented, so the record seems more authentic than say, Chief Pontiac of the Ottawa Nation who fought his respective battles during the mid 1700s. For all of these reasons, the Lakota are famous.
What is perhaps lesser known is how relatively late they arrived in present-day western South Dakota. During the 1700s, they migrated from more easterly parts, but it wasn’t until 1730 that the horse arrived in their culture. The horse allowed for much greater travel and also for the Lakota to develop their culture around the buffalo. The buffalo were to be their everything, and the horse provided a way to hunt them effectively.
From 1730 to 1890 is “only” 160 years, and you may think that to be a short time to develop such a distinctive culture, but keep in mind, the “car culture” in modern America is less than 100 years old, and the “internet culture” is a mere 15 years old. Do you remember how you did things before the internet? Human beings are very adaptive, and cultures can move quickly when the conditions are right.
I can do no better than to end with this quote from Sitting Bull:
“When I was a boy, the Sioux owned the world. The sun rose and set on their land.”