This Week in History


Sitting Bull at Fort Walsh

For the week of Monday October 12, 1998

On October 17, 1877, three men met at Fort Walsh, in present-day Saskatchewan. They were Sitting Bull, leader of the Lakota Sioux; General A.H. Terry, commanding United States troops on the plains; and Major James Walsh of the North-West Mounted Police.

Sitting Bull, Chief of the Lakota Sioux

Sitting Bull, Chief of the Lakota Sioux
© Library and Archives Canada / C-20038

Sitting Bull had recently wiped out the US Army's General George Custer and the Seventh Cavalry at a battle on the Little Big Horn River. Knowing he might not win the next battle, Sitting Bull crossed the border into Canada. General Terry was anxious to know Sitting Bull's plans, and to persuade him to give up his horses and weapons and return south to live on a reservation. Walsh, with only a few men to patrol a vast and troubled territory, wanted to end the 11-month stay of Sitting Bull and his companions in Canada.

This meeting did little to settle the troubles of the Sioux. Nine years earlier, a treaty at Fort Laramie had set aside the Black Hills (now in South Dakota) for Sitting Bull and his Sioux followers. The discovery of gold in those hills brought an illegal influx of white settlers. Respecting the treaty, Sitting Bull refused to relocate to reservations. The army came to escort them out. Sitting Bull was forced to fight for his land, and defeated Custer at Little Big Horn on June 26, 1876.

In May of 1877, with the US Army in pursuit, Sitting Bull and thousands of Sioux took refuge in Canada. In December, Major Walsh visited them at Wood Mountain and warned them against crossing the border to raid settlements. Sitting Bull replied by claiming that his people were British subjects. The Sioux had been British allies against the Americans during the War of 1812, and had often hunted north of the 49th parallel. Canadian authorities, however, feared disruption of relations with other Aboriginal nations in the Prairies, who were traditional enemies of the Sioux.

The Buffalo dance of the Sioux at Qu'appelle Fort, 1881

The Buffalo dance of the Sioux at Qu'appelle Fort, 1881
© Library and Archives Canada / Sydney P. Hall / C-12940

After the terrible winter of 1880-81, Sitting Bull led his people back to the United States. The buffalo herds had already disappeared, and because the Sioux had no treaty with Canada, they received no provisions. Faced with starvation, Sitting Bull went south again, and on July 19, 1881 surrendered to the US government at Fort Buford, Dakota Territory.

Fort Walsh National Historic Site was designated nationally significant in 1924. Major James Morrow Walsh is also commemorated by a Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada plaque at Fort Walsh.

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