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Spotted Tail




Spotted Tail (ca. 1823-1881) spent his formative years in the band of his mother, the Wazhazha band of Brules. His father, a Sihasapa, had married into the Wazhazha band, and seems to have settled among his wife's people; he was what Lakotas called a 'buried man'. Spotted Tail rose to prominence as a warrior during the 1840s, and remained one of the leading warriors of the Wazhazha band. As such he helped his cousin Red Leaf avenge the death of Scattering Bear, and was subsequently interned at Ft Leavenworth and Ft Kearney in 1855-56. After his return to the Brules, he shifted his allegiance. He left the Wazhazhas and married into the newly emerging Southern Men band, led by Little Thunder, which hunted in southwest Nebraska (the Wazhazha range centred between the upper White and South Cheyenne rivers). This must be partly due to emerging political differences between the Brule bands, with Little Thunder's leadership stressing co-operation with the Americans, something that Spotted Tail's detention led him to believe was imperative. However I have been told by a modern Brule historian that the reason was due to the band leadership within the Wazhazhas remaining hereditary, hence the succession of Red Leaf to the chieftainship. Spotted Tail was ambitious, and the new Southern Men band council elected its chiefs. With its enhanced scope for leadership, the Southern Men attracted in people from several Brule bands, including Spotted Tail, who in 1867 succeeded Little Thunder to the band chieftainship.

The new Southern Men band had attracted many of its people from the old Middle Village (Choka-tunwan) band, known as the Brules proper. The term ho-choka refers to the circular space or 'Ring' in the middle of a camp-circle, hence, I'm sure, the usage 'Ring Band' which is recorded in 1867.

Interesting in the 1868 treaty how Spotted Tail is listed fourth, but the treaty negotiators were favouring the leaders of the Northern Brules, those bands, i.e. the Wazhazhas and Orphans, who had been involved in the Bozeman Trail war on the Powder River. Although considered by American officials as the Brule head chief from 1866 onward, this played distinctly badly with the Northern Brule leadership, especially Iron Shell, who was bitterly resentful of Spotted Tail's preferment. Over succeeding years, Spotted Tail was able to cement his position as the Brules' principal leader, but in 1868 it remained distinctly moot. — Kingsley Bray

Very interesting information about the Wazhazha having a hereditary band leadership. I wonder what was their own concept of "hereditary": was it referred to a whole tiyospaye or was it more similar to the American-European idea of it? If we give credit to Thomas Twiss' statement (reported by George Hyde) that Spotted Tail's father was a brother of Scattering Bear and Red Leaf's own father and that these two brothers had married two sisters, this would make Spotted Tail part of the leading tiyospaye and therefore his lineage wouldn't preclude him from trying to get the Wazhazha leadership.

On the other hand, Scattering Bear's family tree appears to be a rather complex one. By the way, according to some of Hyde's informants, Crow Dog, who later murdered Spotted Tail, was a nephew of Scattering Bear as well and later joined the Wablenicha band (by marriage?). — jinlian


The following publication contains information about Spotted Tail:

Article: "Was It Only Custer's Folly?" by Carl W. Breihan Golden West: True Stories of the Old West Vol. 4, No. 5 July 1968.



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