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Spotted Tail
Chief Spotted Tail
Native name Siŋté Glešká (birth name Jumping Buffalo)
Born 1823
Died August 5, 1881 (aged 57–58)
Place of burial Rosebud, South Dakota
Education Sinte Gleska University named for him, 1971
Known for Statesman and warrior, with interests in peace and education
Children Ah-ho-appa (Fallen Leaf)
Parents Father, Cunka or Tangle Hair; mother, Walks-with-the-Pipe
Relatives Sisters, Iron Between Horns and Kills Enemy

Siŋté Glešká (pronounced gleh-shka, Spotted Tail) (1823[1] – August 5, 1881) was a Brulé Lakota tribal chief. Although a great warrior in his youth, and having taken part in the Grattan massacre, he declined to participate in Red Cloud's War.[2] He had become convinced of the futility of opposing the white incursions into his homeland; he became a statesman, speaking for peace and defending the rights of his tribe. He made several trips to Washington, D.C. in the 1870s to represent his people, and was noted for his interest in bringing education to the Sioux.[3]


Spotted Tail was born about 1823 in the White River country west of the Missouri River in present-day South Dakota. During the previous 40 years, the Lakota or Teton Sioux had moved from present-day Minnesota and eastern South Dakota to areas west of the Missouri. They had differentiated into several sub-tribes or bands, including the Saône, Brulé and Oglala. During this time the people adopted the use of horses and expanded their range in hunting the buffalo across their wide grazing patterns. Spotted Tail's father, Cunka or Tangle Hair, was from the Saône band, and his mother, Walks-with-the-Pipe, was a Brulé. He was given the birth name of Jumping Buffalo.[4]

The young man took his warrior name, Spotted Tail, after receiving a gift of a raccoon tail from a white trapper; he sometimes wore a raccoon tail in his war headdress (sometimes called war bonnet). He was said to be a great warrior. He took part in the Grattan Massacre.

Two of his sisters, Iron Between Horns and Kills Enemy, were married to the elder Crazy Horse, in what was traditional Sioux practice for elite men. Spotted Tail may have been the maternal uncle of the famous warrior Crazy Horse, which meant he was a relative of the notable Touch the Clouds as well.[5]

Marriage and family

Wife of Spotted Tail

Spotted Tail married and had children.

Eugene Ware, a Fort Laramie army officer, wrote that Spotted Tail’s daughter, Ah-ho-appa (Fallen Leaf), “... was one of those individuals found in all lands, at all places, and among all people; she was misplaced.”[citation needed] He suggested that she adopted some European-American practices, and that she was thought to be secretly in love with one of the officers at the fort.

When she was dying in 1866, Fallen Leaf made her father promise that she would be buried on a hillside overlooking Fort Laramie. The entire garrison at the post helped Spotted Tail to honor her request by arranging for a ceremonial funeral, including a Christian service and Sioux ceremony. Many years later, Spotted Tail had her remains transported to the Rosebud Indian Agency in South Dakota and re-interred in a traditional Sioux way. He put up a monument to her.

The Treaty of Fort Laramie

Spotted Tail agreed to the treaty, which in 1868 established the Great Sioux Reservation in West River, west of the Missouri River. In 1871, the senior Spotted Tail visited Washington, D.C., to meet the Commissioner of Indian Affairs Ely S. Parker and President Ulysses S. Grant. While there, he met with Red Cloud, a chief of the Oglala Lakota, and they agreed to work together on preserving Sioux rights and land.

In 1881, following the Black Hills War, Spotted Tail was killed by Crow Dog for reasons which have been disputed. According to the historian Dee Brown:

"White officials... dismissed the killing as the culmination of a quarrel over a woman, but Spotted Tail's friends said that it was the result of a plot to break the power of the chiefs...."[2]

According to Luther Standing Bear in his memoir My People the Sioux, Spotted Tail was killed by Crow Dog after taking the wife of a crippled man. Perhaps more significantly, he was said to have sold land not belonging to him. Although this angered many of the Sioux leaders, Chief Standing Bear cautioned the others against hasty action. Spotted Tail's flaunting of his presumed power was brought to a head when he stole the wife of a crippled man. When told by a council of chiefs to give the man his wife back, Spotted Tail refused. He said the US Government was behind him. At this point, several men decided that Spotted Tail should be killed but, before they could act, he was killed by Crow Dog on August 5, 1881.

He is buried in Rosebud, South Dakota.[6]

A tribal university (Sinte Gleska University) on the Rosebud Indian Reservation in South Dakota was named for him in 1971. [7]

Prelude to the Great Sioux War of 1876-77

Spotted Tail's delegation to Washington

In 1874, George Armstrong Custer led a reconnaissance mission into Sioux territory that reported gold in the Black Hills, an area held sacred by the local Indians. Formerly, the Army tried to keep miners out but did not succeed; the threat of violence grew. In May 1875, delegations headed by Spotted Tail, Red Cloud, and Lone Horn traveled to Washington, D.C. in a last-ditch attempt to persuade President Grant to honor existing treaties and stem the flow of miners into their territories. The Indians met with Grant, Secretary of the Interior Delano, and Commissioner of Indian Affairs Smith, who informed them that Congress wanted to resolve the matter by giving the tribes $25,000 for their land and resettling them into Indian Territory. The Indians rejected such a treaty, with Spotted Tail’s reply to the proposition being as follows:

“My father, I have considered all the Great Father told me, and have come here to give you an answer.... When I was here before, the President gave me my country, and I put my stake down in a good place, and there I want to stay.... I respect the Treaty (doubtless referring to the 1868 Treaty of Fort Laramie) but the white men who come in our country do not. You speak of another country, but it is not my country; it does not concern me, and I want nothing to do with it. I was not born there.... If it is such a good country, you ought to send the white men now in our country there and let us alone....”

Although the chieftains did not achieve their goal of gaining exclusion of miners, Spotted Tail and Red Cloud did not take part in or support the Great Sioux War of 1876-1877 led by Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull.

Spotted Tail, by Henry Farny

Death in 1881, and Impact on Indian Law and Tribal Sovereignty

On August 5, 1881, after a long simmering feud, Crow Dog shot and killed Chief Spotted Tail (who was also at the Grattan massacre), on the Rosebud Indian Reservation. Crow Dog was arrested and tried in a territorial court in Deadwood, Dakota Territory, and found guilty of murder and sentenced to hang. In the csse of "Ex Parte Crow Dog - 109 U.S. 556 (1883)"[8] the US Supreme Court overturned the verdict because the Deadwood Court had no jurisdiction in a case of one Indian killing another on reservation lands. Crow Dog was released and returned to the Rosebud.[9]

Spotted Tail's death influenced critical Indian law principles, long after his death. The case of Ex Parte Crow Dog established that Indian tribes retain their sovereignty. The case also motivated the immediate creation, starting in 1885 of a series of federal statutes laying out the division of power between federal courts and Indian tribal courts to try Indian and non-Indian persons, in different circumstances for different crimes on Indian reservations. However Ex Parte Crow Dog also established the plenary powers doctrine, giving Congress the power to pass any law they choose (including laws altering treaties that had been previously entered into), even over the opposition of the tribes or tribes affected.

See also

  • Paha Sapa (The Black Hills photography.)
  • Ex Parte Crow Dog


  1. Hyde 2006, p. 3
  2. 2.0 2.1 *Brown, Dee (1970). "Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee". Bantam Books. ISBN 0-553-11979-6. 
  3. "St. Francis Indian School, School History". Retrieved November 21, 2008. 
  4. Hyde 2006, pp. 3–22
  5. Hyde 2006, pp. 14–15
  6. "Find A Grave: Spotted Tail". Retrieved December 8, 2006. 
  7. History of Sinte Gleska Sinte Gleska University
  8. "Ex Parte Crow Dog - 109 U.S. 556 (1883)". Justia, U.S. Supreme Court Center. Retrieved 19 October 2013. 
  9. Hyde, George (1979). Spotted Tail's Folk. Normal, Oklahoma: University of Oklahoma Press. pp. 332–335. 


  • Griske, Michael (2005). "The Diaries of John Hunton". Heritage Books. pp. 66–69, 91–96. ISBN 0-7884-3804-2. 

External links

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