He proceeded to walk, with his noticeable limp, at a steady and deliberate pace toward the middle of the opposing force. When he had reached a point midway between the Lakota and the Long Knives, he sat down . . . He took some long leisurely puffs and passed it (the pipe) to his companions, who took smaller quick puffs.
The casual saunter and cross-legged pipe-puffing above occurs between the battle line of the warring Lakota and Long Knives, the latter white soldiers. Their bullets kick up swaths of dust.
Once the pipe was finished, Tatanka Iyotake took out the tamping stick and cleaned the bowl.
His three fellow loungers, two Cheyenne and his nephew White Bull, are said to have had “shaky legs.” They could hardly match the daring Tatanka Iyotake, chief of the Lakota Nation, or, as many know him, Sitting Bull. In placid contrast, he “rose up slowly . . . and started back at a measured pace toward his horse.” The immovable display well suits his namesake, but before we read of this stoic, bovine squat, Ernie LaPointe, our narrator and Iyotake’s great-grandson, narrates the chief’s days as a child. Iyotake’s boyhood name was Jumping Badger, but he was mocked as “Hunkesni, ‘slow-moving,’ ‘weak,’' for thinking before he acted, a moniker that, unlike his wounds, didn’t stick.
As the story unrolls with the face-to-face campfire feel of an indigenous oral yarn, LaPointe synthesizes treaties and dates galore, a relief for scrutinous history buffs, by which he refutes some long-assumed falsehoods of an earlier Sitting Bull biographer—Stanley Vestal. Factual insistence does not stifle the epic action and drama that proceed, however, at least not in this writer’s opinion. Like peering through backstage curtains on climactic scenes, LaPointe’s familial tie to Iyotake offers an intimate insider scoop on the warrior’s life from his hair-waving coup-counting days in the plains to his desperate scurry from Uncle Sam’s self-righteous boot.
We witness standoffs. Iyotake sets up his shield against a Crow. A whizzing bullet ricochets off, smacks the Lakota’s left foot (for the second time). Iyotake—the undead, indigenous revenant—with an arrow sticks the crow, strides at him, and stabs his heart, transferring the power of the opposing chief into himself—a Lakota belief. This and many other deeds, especially those of nonviolent restraint—frequent in his compassion—propel the man into being a member of the Strong Heart Society, Chief of the Lakota Nation, and eventually Wicasa Wakan (holy man) through which role he convenes with Wakan Tanka, the Great Spirit.
SITTING BULL: HIS LIFE AND LEGACY Chants for an Ill-Known American Legend
As mentioned, the book treats non-fiction navel-gazers as much as fiction aficionados. Sequences of heroic deeds at times give way for anthropological exactitude, brought down by voices close-knit and lineal and now onto paper through LaPointe’s pen.
A Lakota ritual, the Wiwang Wacipi, consists of a Cannupa Wakan (sacred pipe), sash, a cottonwood tree, and back-piercing bones tied to bleached buffalo skulls. It commences in visions. At one such ritual, Tatanka Iyotake, pipe in mouth, back to tree, watches “two whirlwinds” collide. Within this gaseous window to destiny, he sees “a rock formation with a blue streak as if it had been struck by lightning,” a formation his brethren recognize as the Deer Medicine Rocks. Grateful and compliant, he vows to grant Wakan Tanka “a whole buffalo and a red blanket” at the well-known spot. The gift, LaPointe claims, ensures the Lakota, Cheyenne, and Arapaho victory at the Battle of the Greasy Grass—known too as Custer’s Last Stand and at which war shrills of eagle bone whistles clash with gunfire blasts.
Sitting Bull: His Life and Legacy should enthrall scrupulous history buffs and lovers of legend alike with its intimate yet epic tales and myth-supplanting authenticity.
Price: $14.99 (paperback)
For more information and to purchase Sitting Bull: His Life and Legacy, please visit the Gibbs Smith Website.
Images courtesy of SITTING BULL: HIS LIFE AND LEGACY
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About the Author: Anthony Neri
An avid philosophizer and Dostoevsky fanboy, Anthony spends his time ruminating on very deep moral questions. Is he a genuine old soul or does he feign as much for the mystique?--perhaps a bit of both. When he isn't tormenting himself existentially, he reads fiction and translates ancient Greek and Latin texts, all the while developing his own literary flourishes with the hope of producing his very own dazzling prose. Cliche? Maybe. But he figures everyone starts out as a cliche.