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Indian peace negotiator shot, killed Sitting Bull

The Native American symbol of the North Dakota Highway Department is the profile of a Lakota Indian. Marcellus Red Tomahawk was a warrior who actively fought against non-Indians during the early years of Dakota Territory. He later settled on the ...

Marcellus Red Tomahawk
Marcellus Red Tomahawk of the Standing Rock Reservation served as a member of the Bureau of Indian Affairs police force. Special to The Forum

The Native American symbol of the North Dakota Highway Department is the profile of a Lakota Indian.

Marcellus Red Tomahawk was a warrior who actively fought against non-Indians during the early years of Dakota Territory. He later settled on the Standing Rock Reservation, becoming a member of the Bureau of Indian Affairs police force.

Red Tomahawk was part of several peace negotiations, served as a Lakota good-will ambassador, and met with U.S. presidents. He is most remembered as the man who shot and killed Sitting Bull.

Tacanke Luta (Tacanipiluta), "Red Tomahawk," was born in the late fall of 1849 in Montana Territory. His father, Sintemaza, "Peter Iron Tail," was from the Yantonai tribe, and his mother, Wamlisapa, "Black Eagle," was a member of the Hunkpapa tribe. Red Tomahawk was the name of his paternal grandfather.

While Red Tomahawk was growing up, non-Indians began making inroads into Montana and Dakota Territory, land he considered given to the Lakota by the Great Spirit. By 1862, he started going out with Lakota warriors to harass these intruders in the hope that it would discourage others from following.

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When military forts were built in Indian territory to protect non-Indians, Red Tomahawk and other warriors began to harass the soldiers.

In the mid 1870s, Red Tomahawk joined other Lakotas as they settled on the Standing Rock Reservation south of Bismarck. When Sitting Bull convinced many Indians to leave the reservation and join him to flee west into Montana, Red Tomahawk remained at Standing Rock.

After the defeat of Custer at the Little Big Horn and the discovery of gold in southern Dakota, the U.S. government drew up the Black Hills Treaty in 1877, which took that sacred land away from the Lakota. Red Tomahawk argued that this violated the Treaty of Fort Laramie, which had been signed nine years earlier.

In the late 1870s, Red Tomahawk converted to Catholicism, got married and took the Christian name Marcellus. One of the reservation policies was that Indians would have their own police unit.

On July 1, 1881, Red Tomahawk and his friend, Shave Head, enlisted as privates with the BIA Indian Police under the direction of the new agent, James McLaughlin. Through the Allotment Act of 1887, Red Tomahawk was given a parcel of land north of Cannon Ball on the reservation.

Sitting Bull rejoined his followers in 1889 at Standing Rock and almost immediately began to agitate his warriors through a religious ceremony known as the "Ghost Dance." Sitting Bull believed that, through this ceremony, the warriors would become invincible in defeating the whites.

Gen. Nelson A. Miles ordered William F. Cody (Buffalo Bill) to the reservation to arrest Sitting Bull on Nov. 28, 1890. McLaughlin refused to allow Cody to make the arrest because he had confidence his Indian police would be able to make the arrest with less turmoil.

Late in the evening of Dec. 14, 1890, McLaughlin was informed that Sitting Bull was preparing to leave the reservation. He sent Red Tomahawk, with instructions about the arrest of Sitting Bull: "You must not let him escape under any circumstances."

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Red Tomahawk rode to where his superior, Lt. Bull Head, lived. He then rounded up the "scattered detachments" of the other Indian policemen.

When they got to the house where Sitting Bull was staying, a Ghost Dance ceremony was in progress. Bull Head, Shave Head and Red Tomahawk entered the home and told Sitting Bull he was under arrest.

Sitting Bull said he wanted to get dressed, a delay that allowed many of his supporters to gather outside the house. Hostile words were exchanged as the police and Sitting Bull left the house, and shots rang out that mortally wounded Bull Head, Shave Head and other officers.

When Sitting Bull started to run away, Red Tomahawk shot him twice, killing him. Red Tomahawk was given a commission and placed in charge of the Indian police after the incident. He resigned in 1895 to become the head farmer of the agency demonstration farm at Cannon Ball.

Red Tomahawk received national recognition because of his action involving Sitting Bull. In 1902, he met with President Theodore Roosevelt in Mandan, and soon other dignitaries who visited North Dakota requested an opportunity to meet with him.

One of the most notable was Marshal Foch, commanding general of the Allied Forces during World War I. In November of 1921, Foch met with Red Tomahawk, and the French officer was given the Indian name "Charging Thunder."

In 1923, North Dakota became one of the first states to work out a uniform system for numbering and marking state highways. To commemorate this achievement, the state Highway Department wanted a nice emblem to put on the highway signs. W.G. Black, the department's chief engineer, decided to put the silhouette of a distinguished looking Indian on all of the state highway signs, and it was agreed Red Tomahawk best exemplified that look.

During the 1920s, some of the notable people who paid visits to the home of Red Tomahawk were the Queen of Romania; Gen. Charles P. Summerall, army chief of staff; and Patrick Hurley, secretary of War.

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In 1929, Red Tomahawk visited Washington, D.C., where he met with Summerall and President Herbert Hoover.

About his trip, the St. Paul Dispatch wrote, "Washington has seen many war heroes but it has seen few with the record of Red Tomahawk. His trip is adding glory to Fort Yates and Sioux County... In fact, Sioux County as a whole is to be congratulated that it has Fort Yates within its borders. But above all, Red Tomahawk is making friends for the Indians. That such a fine up-standing character comes from their county is complimentary to the entire Sioux nation."

Red Tomahawk died at his home in Cannon Ball on Aug. 7, 1931. In 1951, Red Tomahawk's profile became the official symbol of the North Dakota Highway Patrol and was emblazoned on the sides of all patrol cars and uniform shoulder patches.

Information about Did You Know That and all three volumes of the book are available at eriksmoenenterprises.com. The column and books are written by Curt Eriksmoen and edited by Jan Eriksmoen. Reach the Eriksmoens

at cjeriksmoen@cableone.net

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