Spotted Tail Goes to Washington

Sioux Diplomat (variation of Spotted Tail)

The most important chief of the Brule’ Sioux during the Indian Wars and early reservation period was Spotted Tail. His name was derived from a raccoon tail given to him by a white trapper. He wore this tail as part of his headdress in many battles. A fierce warrior in the mid 1800’s with over 100 scalps to his credit, Spotted Tail was later an eloquent negotiator in dealings with the U.S. Government. He still had his scalp-decorated shirt in his possession as late as 1870, the year he first made his trip to Washington as leader of a delegation visiting Ulysses S. Grant. His strong Native features and elegantly eclectic attire made him a colorful figure during several visits to Washington, DC to negotiate on behalf of his people. General Cook appointed him chief of both the Oglalas and Brule’s in 1877. There was some dissension among his followers because they felt he was too willing to cooperate with the government and in fact those on his side were called Progressives.

Spotted Tail hated whiskey and felt it would destroy his people. After an all-day drinking bout, Big Mouth, a Brule’ in favor of whiskey trade to the Sioux, drew a gun on Spotted Tail. His gun misfired, the Spotted Tail shot and killed him. Several years later in 1881, a Brule’ adversary of Spotted Tail and friend of Big Mouth named Crow Dog assassinated Spotted Tail after a council had elected him to lead another delegation to Washington.

With Spotted Tail’s death, the Brule’ People’s tribal structure began to deteriorate. He was the last chief who was able to hold the Brule’ together as a tribe and as a powerful negotiating force with the U.S. Government.