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Many things influenced Sitting Bull's decision to cross the border into Canada. After Custer's defeat at Little Bighorn, Sitting Bull had to live life in fear. He fought on the defensive for years. Sitting Bull and his followers fled from the onslaught of American howitzers. He then was able to find sanctuary in the White Grandmother's Country, north of the international boundary. "Most of the band drifted back in the next few years; Sitting Bull himself was to return in 1881 to end his exile" (Andrist 298)). They faced unknown obstacles, and challenges, all for a chance to live the way they wanted to. When times were bad they looked to the Canadians for assistance. When they could not help Sitting Bull struggle ended and asylum. Canada was no longer an option for Sitting Bulls starving people.
For Sitting Bull and his people "the winter of 1876-77 was a winter of despair. "Soldiers occupied the hunting grounds and kept the war going even when the snow fell and the temperature plunged"(Utley 174). Sitting Bulls options for the survival his people were being held in the hands of the soldiers surrounding his winter encampment. Who could at any time " burst into their village, shoot down the people, and destroy their homes and food supplies"(Utley 174).
Sitting Bull disliked the alternative of an unconditional surrender, which was out of the question. This surrender would have cost Sitting Bull and his people their guns, and horses. This was unreasonable for people who relied on these valuable tools in almost every aspect in their lives.
In April of 1877 the Miniconjoous, Sans Arcs, Hunkpaps, and others of equal prominence conviened a council at Beaver Creek. Spotted Eagle and Sitting Bull would make speeches advocating continuing the war against the white man. They would eventually realize them necessity to act in the best interest of the people. Sitting Bull stood firm in his way of life, as a hunter.
Around this time Crazy Horse made his decision to surrender. On May 6, Crazy horse surrendered at the Red Cloud agency in Robinson Nebraska. The group which consisted of 889 people, surrendered "12,00 ponies and 117 arms"(Utley182).
Sitting Bull faced new uncertainty in Canada. He had traveled to this country before "following Buffalo or seeking Slotas to trade with" (Utley184). He also knew from experience the contrast between the Grandmother (Canada) and the Great Father of the United States.
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Sitting bull would soon develop a relationship with a 34-year-old lawman by the name of James M. Walsh. Walsh was a 34-year-old Major for the Northwest Mounted police. Walsh would go on to play an influential role in the issues involving Sitting Bull's stay in Canada.
Walsh was very aware of the actions involving the Sioux. Even before the Battle of Little Bighorn, Walsh and other Mounties had realized that the U.S. military operations against the Sioux and Cheyenne were to drive hostile Indians north across the border" (Anderson 1).
On May 7, 1877 Walsh would follow a trail "that led up from the Montana, about 50 miles to the south" his scouts had said that "A good-sized band had passed over this ground"(Anderson 1). Walsh and his scouts "would have no small task preserving law and order in the border country" (Anderson 1). The Canadians "were already having problems with their own plains Indians and did not want to add to the numbers for which they were responsible" (Adams 337).
These problems arrived at the end of company rule in 1869. American whiskey traders had "spread demoralization and bloodshed among tribes" (Utley 184). This put the Canada in a situation it would have to deal with.
Sitting bull had reached a Slota trading camp on the Big Bend of Milk River by April 16th. Apparently heading for international boundaries. The movement had a total of around one thousand people, occupying 135 lodges. Some of these lodges were new, "but most were old, raged, and patched, all that could be salvaged agreed the Missouri River floodwaters swept through their village in March" (Utley 183). The Lodge of Sitting Bull and his extensive family was the shabbiest of any of the lodges. This showed the true generosity and devotion he had towards his people.
In early May of 1877, when Sitting Bull crossed the international boundary into "The White Mothers Country", as it would come to be known (Anderson 2). His movements were under the watchful eye of Walsh's scouts who had been anticipating the arrival of the Humkapapa leader.
Sixty miles above the boundary, Sitting Bull camped near Pinto Horse Butte, where they were first introduced to the North West Mounted Police. Major Walsh and his six men "rounded the hill to find a large camp spread before them. They sat in their saddles while a group of Indians rode toward them" (Anderson 2). The strangers then rode to the very edge of the village, dismounted and set up their own camp. Spotted Eagle informed Walsh and his men that they were the first white men to approach Sitting Bulls camp so close.
Walsh and his men met with Sitting Bull in a council lodge that afternoon. Sitting Bull spoke of the "misdeeds inflicted on him by the Americans" (Utley 185). Walsh informed him "the Sioux were in the land of the Great White Mother her laws protected every person whatever color. They were but would also punish any person who violated them" (Utley 185). Walsh also informed them that they had sanctuary in this land. Walsh also made it clear that no Indian would return to the United States to steal or kill or strike across the border against American soldiers. No Indian would steal horses they must this "forfeited the privilege of asylum in Canada" (Utley 185). Sitting Bull agreed to Walsh's terms, stating "he had 'buried' his weapons before crossing into the White Mothers Land" (Anderson 2).
Sitting Bull asked Walsh for ammunition for his people for buffalo hunting, because they had used all of their bullets fighting against Americans. Walsh agreed to allow them enough bullets to hunt as long as they didn't use them to fight warfare across the border.
The next morning on May 8, Sitting Bull would witness firsthand the enforcement of the laws of the Great White Mother. "White Dog and two their Assinboines from the Missouri River rode into the village trailing five horses"(Utley 185). Walsh's scouts recognized three of the horses as property of a Roman Catholic priest who had been in Cypress Hills. An undeterred Walsh was quick on apprehending White Dog who was very defiant, attempted to seek aid from Sioux warriors watching the escalading drama who were "dumbfounded by the Mounties courage" (Anderson 3). He offered "an explanation about finding the horses grazing on the prairie"(Utley 185). He also stated that he was unaware that it was wrong to do so. In the end Walsh gave the Assinboine the benefit of the doubt. White Dog surrendered the horses to Walsh who intern gave him a lecture on obeying law in the White Mother's country.
Walsh had shown courage in front of the warriors, which was admirable to them. The "red coats laid down the rules unambiguously and then enforced them fearlessly, even at the risk of their own lives"(Utley 186). Walsh showed Sitting Bull and his chiefs a lesson that they would soon not forget.
On May 26, 1877 three Americans arrived in the camp near Pinto Horse Butte. The Sioux would have probably killed the American scouts, but they decided to seek council at Fort Walsh. These men were on a mission to track down sitting bull in order to arrange peace. One was the Catholic bishop of Dakota.
On the afternoon on June 2, two councils took place. The Bishop spoke on behalf of the U.S. government, but not officially. He also assured that all the promises made would be carried out.
Sitting Bull and other prominent tribal members spoke of there intent to stay in Canada. Sitting Bull said, "what would I return for? To have my horses and arms taken away? What have the Americans to give me? Once I was rich; but the Americans stole it all in the Black Hills?" (Adams 337). Sitting Bull ending his speech by saying " The Great White Mother takes care of everyone in her land in every part of the world. In the Queens land we all live like one family" (Utley 188). During the meeting Canadian Lieutenant Irvine told Sitting Bull that he would be protected, as long as he behaved himself.
The Lakota leaders started to realize that life in Canada a very appealing prospect. They now had protection against bluecoat (American) attack. They also had an abundance of buffalo between Cypress Hills and Wood Mountain. They had a new vision for the future
On the other hand the chiefs still had thoughts of returning to their homeland to fight for it's return. They knew that they had been defeated for the time being, for now renewing the fight was out of the question.
To add to the vision of a new life, and the old way of the buffalo. Walsh "granted traders the authority to sell strictly limited quantities of powder and ball" (Utley 190). The Sioux could then return to hunting the plentiful amount of buffalo in Canada. The Buffalo hunt would cause many young Lakota and Slotas to cross paths. "Inevitably, some would steal stock or commit other offenses" (Utley 191).
Sitting Bull had plenty of mouths to feed by the time the spring of 1878 came along. His band grew by 240 lodges when Crazy Horses band made it's way across the border, to what would be called the Canadian sanctuary. "45 of White Bird's Nez Perces had also attached themselves to the Sioux" (Utley 200). This brought Sitting Bull camp up to a total of 800 lodges, with a total of around 5,000 people (Utley 200).
The Buffalo supplies were not a plentiful as thought before. "The Canadian government had estimated that there were enough buffalo to feed its western Indians for at least another five years" (Anderson 6). This projection didn't account for the presence of 5,000 Sioux in Canada who were "making drastic inroads into the numbers of buffalo" (Anderson 6). The Canadian tribes began to see the dwindling numbers of buffalo. They did not hesitate on blaming the Sioux.
The Dwindling Buffalo was a burden in eyes of the Canadian government. They knew it would lead to intertribal warfare. The Canadian government did not want to feed the Sioux when the buffalo ran out. The attitude of Canada remained; the Sioux would eventually have to return to their own country.
In the Beginning of 1878 buffalo began becoming scarce in Canada. Sitting Bull's hunting "bands fell into the habit of straddling the line"(Anderson 6). Sitting Bull remained very hesitant to cross the boundary, so he often set the camps just slightly north of the border.
On July 17, 1879, a hunting Party that included sitting bull, ventured across the border were they exchanged shots with Bear Coat Miles' soldiers, and Crow scouts. Sitting Bull and his party was forced back across the line as a result of Miles' Howitzers. This strengthened the hatred Sitting Bull had toward the Americans. He was certain that he was going to be punished for what happened at Little Bighorn.
The continual slaughter of buffalo throughout the Great Plains by whites and Indians, led to the end of large herds migrating north of the border. By 1879 there were only scattered herds in Canada. Canadian Indians and Sioux were starving. This forced many of Sitting Bull's people to surrender at Fort Keogh. Surrendering in some cases was the only alternative to starvation.
In the early summer of 1879, a party of young Sioux raided 50 or more horses the Metis, a native Canadian tribe. The Sioux laughed at one Metis named Poitras, rode into the Sioux camp to demand the return of his horses. Poitras then rode to Walsh's post at Wood Mountain, and complained. Walsh intern rode to the Sioux encampment and threatened to force them to move back across the border, if they didn't return the horses.
The lack of food had led the Sioux to ask for provisions from the Canadians. During the meeting with Walsh after the horse raid, Sitting Bull complained about the White Mothers lack of compation toward the Sioux. Walsh was insulted by his comments, he said
Have you forgotten that you're American Indians? You haven't any right to be in Canada. You've caused us police any amount of trouble. You've stolen horses. You've been a goddamn nuisance. You seem to think that all white men are afraid of you. Well, Get your god dam provisions at the trading post. If you keep on making trouble, I'll put the whole damn lot of you in jail (Anderson 7).
During the dispute Sitting Bull attempted to pull out his revolver, but was quickly halted by another chief. Then he got up and walked away.
By June of 1879 the Canadian government resolved to end the put an end to the encouragement to the Sioux, and they should be pressed to return to the United States. Walsh was not the man to carry out such a policy. This only because he liked the Sioux, understood them, and believed that they were abused by the United States.
"Walsh's superiors at Fort Walsh and Ottawa sensed his Liabilities, and in the spring of 1880 they moved discreetly to separate him from the Sioux"(Utley 214). Prime Minister Sir John MacDonald, who started the Mounted Police in 1873, was convinced that Walsh was being too sympathetic to Sitting Bull. So he transferred Walsh from Wood Mountain to Fort Qu'Appelle, 160 miles northeast.
Sitting Bull was devastated when he heard of the departure of Walsh; he also was in need of assistance. He presented Walsh "with a eagle feathered war bonnet, telling him: "take courage when the Lakota were strong" (Anderson 8). Walsh. Before the departure Sitting Bull asked if Walsh could plead for a reservation in Canada. Walsh said, "that it would be useless for him to do this...he would have to eventually return to the United States" (Anderson 9). Sitting Bull wanted Walsh to assure that he and his people would be treated fairly when they returned. He feared retaliation for the victory over Custer. Walsh told Sitting Bull that he would try to go to Washington if the Prime Minsiter permitted him.
Walsh "had told himself that he had done no more than promise to make known the wishes of the Sioux in Ottawa and, if permitted Washington. What he had actually done was planted large expectations in the minds of the Sioux" (Utley 214).
Walsh would not be allowed to travel to Washington though. He was not even able to travel back to Wood Mountain to report the outcome of his mission to Sitting Bull.
Sitting Bull continued to hold out, and in desperation he went to a Canadian post at Qu' Appelle river. "He begged the Canadian authorities to give his people a reservation. But the answer was, No. The Americans had a reservation south of the border if they would only comply with the demands of the United States Government. Sitting Bull then asked them for food" (Adams 348). Sitting Bull was finally starting to realize his fight was almost over.
Sitting Bull did not have a large number of followers. "There were no longer thousands of massive warriors as there had been at Little Bighorn, just a handful of immediate followers, numbering in les than two hundred, who remained faithful to the ideal of resistance. Sitting Bull dream of living free in Canada was soon to end.
Inspector Liet N.F. replaced Walsh at Wood Mountain, with the intent to rid Canada of Sitting Bull. He was unable to gain the respect of sitting bull. He lacked the true dedication that Walsh had they would act quick and steadfast in expelling sitting bull from Canada. Jean Louis Legare' who was trader at Wood Mountain had assisted many Sioux with provisions and accompanied them to Ft Buford. He had hoped to be reimbursed by the American and Canadian governments for feeding and assisting the Sioux in moving back into the states.
On July 12, a caravan of thirty-seven carts hauled food and supplies necessary to get the remaining Sioux from Canada to Fort Buford. Sitting Bull surrendered on July 19, 1881 putting and end to his exile. Alexander Macdonnell of the Mounted police accompanied him
Sitting Bull's long struggle for the trational Indian way of life ended with the depletion of the buffalo herds. He spent for years in Canada under a close watchful eye of Walsh, Canadian Mounties. In the end sitting Bull was able to escape the terror of the United States had for four years.