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Biographies of Plains Indians

Spotted Tail — 1823-1881

Spotted Tail was the leader of the Brule Sioux during the Plains Wars of the 1870s. His name came from a striped raccoon pelt given to him by a trapper. His prowess as a warrior against the Pawnee during the 1850s elevated the young warrior to be a war leader before he was thirty.

A valiant man, Spotted Tail surrendered himself to soldiers Ft. Laramie in about 1855 to spare the tribe retaliation after a Brule committed murder. Spotted Tail thought he would be executed, but instead was imprisoned for a year at Ft. Leavenworth. During his year in prison he learned to read and write English.

Spotted Tail allied himself with the war leaders after the Massacre of Sand Creek, but during Red Cloud’s war over the Bozeman Trail, he cooperated with peace negotiations. After the death of Chief Little Thunder, the Brule chose Spotted Tail as their new chief. He signed the Treaty of Ft. Laramie in 1868 agreeing to a large Brule reservation in South Dakota. During the 1870s he traveled many times with Red Cloud to Washington to lobby on behalf of the Sioux.

Spotted Tail refused to sell the Black Hills to the government after gold was discovered. The United States offered $6 million. Wisely, Spotted Tail researched it and asked for $60 million. The government refused. In the ensuing war Spotted Tail tried again to negotiate a peace treaty.

At the war’s conclusion the Sioux were forced to live on reservations and Spotted Tail became a very strong-willed administrator for his people. He maintained a police force to keep liquor off the reservation and he worked diligently to keep the Sioux from being sent to Indian Territory in Oklahoma. Once when a man from his tribe was accused of murder, he turned the man over to the federal authorities and then used his own money to hire a defense attorney.

Red Cloud accused Spotted Tail of selling tribal land throughout the 1870s and then keeping the money. Probably due to the dissension between the chiefs, several subchiefs plotted to overthrow Spotted Tail and in 1881, one of them, Crow Dog, shot and killed him.

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