Origin stories tell of life beginning for the Lakota in a cave that is
located in what is now Wind Cave National Park on the southern edge of the
Black Hills of South Dakota.
The people emerged from the cave to join their relatives the Pte or
buffalo, which were to assist the people by sustaining life and providing
shelter, clothing and tools.
The Lakota were nomadic; moving from the Great Plains to the Great Lakes
and then to what is now North Carolina and back to Minnesota and then once
again to the Black Hills.
Victor Douville, Rosebud historian, said that star knowledge puts the
Lakota in the Black Hills in 1700 B.C. "It is important to understand our
history, it is important to understand us as a people. The old ways, the
origins give us basis," Douville said
The origin stories were used in land claims, especially for the Black Hills
settlement that gave the courts enough evidence to prove the Lakota had
title to the Black Hills, and that the land should not have been taken from
The Sicangu are part of the Lakota, one of the seven council fires of the
Great Sioux Nation. Sicangu means the Burnt Thigh people. The name was
acquired when a prairie fire erupted near a lake in now eastern South
Dakota and to escape many ran into the lake while others jumped through the
fire, burning their thighs, thus the name. The Sicangu are also part of the
Brule, some of whom live on the Lower Brule Reservation, along the Missouri
Before the treaties were established and reservations set, the Lakota
roamed the prairies of what is now Nebraska, Wyoming and South Dakota
following the vast herds of buffalo for survival.
As the white migration took place, the Sicangu were part of the Lakota who
fought the settlers and the U.S. Military to protect their lands.
Today the Sicangu and all Lakota consider the ground where the Battle of
the Little Big Horn took place to be theirs, not the Crow on whose
reservation the battlefield is located.
"We let it get out of our hands, the land is important to us. We allowed
the non-Indian and the Crow to take it over," Douville said.
In 1868 the Fort Laramie Treaty was looked upon as a treaty of peace to the
Lakota, who retained the rights to more than 11 million acres of land for
The treaty was supposed to end the Red Cloud wars. But in 1874, Lt. Col.
George Custer led an illegal expedition into the Black Hills to find gold.
That lead to the opening of the Black Hills by Congress and other lands
were opened after the reservation system was established.
Spotted Tail, Sitting Bull and Red Cloud traveled to Washington, D.C. in
1875 to protest that thousands of miners had entered the Black Hills in
search of gold, against the articles of the 1868 treaty.
Douville said Sinte Gleska (Spotted Tail), who was the leader of the
Sicangu at the time of the reservation's establishment, did not want to
settle on the banks of the Missouri River in fear that his people would be
forced to become farmers.
Spotted Tail led his people through the difficult times of settlement and
war with the U.S. government. He was born in 1823 and was given the name
Jumping Buffalo. He earned the name Spotted Tail when he became a warrior
and wore a raccoon tail given to him by fur traders.
In 1855 Spotted Tail and two other men surrendered themselves at Fort
Laramie to spare the rest of the tribe from harm after an unidentified
Brule was charged with murder. While imprisoned for one year he learned to
read and write English. He was saved from hanging by President Franklin
The Spotted Tail agency in 1877 was located just south of White Clay, Neb.,
south of what is now the Pine Ridge Reservation. Spotted Tail would move
his agency five times before establishing it at Rosebud in 1878. The
Rosebud then became homeland to the Sicangu.
Spotted Tail became the last real chief of the Sincagu Lakota Oyate. He
earned the title through his battle exploits and his diplomatic tact. He
was not a hereditary chief. He refused to sign the sale of the Black Hills
in 1875 and played a central role in the negotiations for the sale, to
which no Lakota leader agreed.
Spotted Tail was chosen to be a shirt wearer, one of the highest honors for
a Lakota man. He was killed by Crow Dog in 1881.
The Rosebud Reservation was opened to homesteading in 1904. The Allotment
Act of 1887 reduced the land owned by the Sicangu and the tribe from 3.3
million acres to less than 900,000 acres. Each family was given a parcel of
land, the tribe was given acreage and the rest was opened to homesteaders
for sale at the rate of $2.50 per acre.
In the late 19th century the U.S. government assigned religious groups to
open schools and missions on the reservations in order to assimilate the
The Rosebud was assigned to the Episcopal and Catholic churches. St.
Francis Mission, now the town of St. Francis became a boarding school where
many people were educated over the years, many on the Rosebud today, people
in their mid-50s remember the boarding school days at St. Francis. Some
remember those days fondly, others with disgust.
Speaking Native language was prohibited and many traditional students would
sneak away and hide behind buildings in order to speak their language. The
tribe took over the school and it is now a contract, tribal school still
located at St. Francis with a new building on the edge of town, away from
The Rosebud Sioux Tribe is an IRA tribe - meaning they adopted the federal
government's Indian Reorganization Act of 1934 that forced them to
establish a constitution much like the U.S.'s and use blood quantum to ID
members. They have administrative officers and a tribal council, a
president that serves for two-year terms and a vice president who are
elected at large. The 13 districts that make up the political structure of
the reservation elect 20 representatives to serve on the tribal council.