Year
1877
Month Day
May 05

Sitting Bull leads his people into Canada

Nearly a year after the Battle of the Little Bighorn, Sitting Bull and a band of followers cross into Canada hoping to find safe haven from the U.S. Army.

On June 25, 1876, Sitting Bull’s warriors had joined with other Indians in the Battle of the Little Bighorn in Montana, which resulted in the massacre of George Custer and more than 200 troops of the 7th Cavalry. Worried that their great victory would provoke a massive retaliation by the U.S. military, the Indians scattered into smaller bands. During the following year, the U.S. Army tracked down and attacked several of these groups, forcing them to surrender and move to reservations.

Sitting Bull and his followers, however, managed to avoid a decisive confrontation with the U.S. Army. They spent the summer and winter after Little Bighorn hunting buffalo in Montana and fighting small skirmishes with soldiers. In the fall of 1876, Colonel Nelson A. Miles met with Sitting Bull at a neutral location and tried to talk him into surrendering and relocating to a reservation. Although anxious for peace, Sitting Bull refused. As the victor of the Battle of the Little Bighorn, Sitting Bull felt he should be dictating terms to Miles, not the other way around.

READ MORE: What Really Happened at the Battle of the Little Bighorn?

Angered by what he saw as Sitting Bull’s foolish obstinacy, Miles stepped up his campaign of harassment against the chief and his people. Sitting Bull’s band continued to roam about Montana in search of increasingly scarce buffalo, but the constant travel, lack of food, and military pressure began to take a toll. On this day in 1877, Sitting Bull abandoned his traditional homeland in Montana and led his people north across the border into Canada.

Sitting Bull and his band stayed in the Grandmother’s Country—so called in honor of the British Queen Victoria—for the next four years. The first year was idyllic. The band found plenty of buffalo and Sitting Bull could rest and play with his children in peace. The younger warriors, though, soon tired of the quiet life. The braves made trouble with neighboring tribes, attracting the displeasure of the Canadian Mounties. While the Canadian leaders were more reasonable and sensitive about Indian affairs than their aggressive counterparts to the south, they became increasingly nervous and pressured Sitting Bull to return to the U.S.

Ultimately, though, Sitting Bull’s attempt to remain independent was undermined by the disappearance of the buffalo, which were being wiped out by Indians, settlers, and hide hunters. Without meat, Sitting Bull gave up his dream of independence and asked the Canadian government for rations. Meanwhile, emissaries from the U.S. came to his camp and promised Sitting Bull’s followers they would be rich and happy if they joined the American reservations. The temptation was too great, and many stole away at night and headed south. By early 1881, Sitting Bull was the chief of only a small band of mostly older and sick people.

Finally, Sitting Bull relented. On July 10, 1881, more than five years after the fateful battle at the Little Bighorn, the great chief led 187 Indians from their Canadian refuge to the United States. After a period of confinement, Sitting Bull was assigned to the Standing Rock reservation in South Dakota in 1883. Seven years later he was dead, killed by Indian police when he resisted their attempt to arrest him for his supposed participation in the Ghost Dance uprising.

FACT CHECK: We strive for accuracy and fairness. But if you see something that doesn't look right, click here to contact us! HISTORY reviews and updates its content regularly to ensure it is complete and accurate.

ALSO ON THIS DAY

"One Hundred Years of Solitude" is published

On May 5, 1967, Gabriel Garcia Márquez's Cien años de soledad, or One Hundred Years of Solitude, is first published. The book, often referred to as a defining work of Latin American literature, made Márquez a prime candidate for the Nobel Prize in Literature, which he was awarded ...read more

“Spider-Man” becomes first movie to top $100 million in opening weekend

Directed by Sam Raimi and starring Tobey Maguire in the title role, the eagerly awaited comic book adaptation Spider-Man was released on Friday, May 3, 2002, and quickly became the fastest movie ever to earn more than $100 million at the box office, raking in a staggering $114.8 ...read more

Napoleon dies in exile

Napoleon Bonaparte, the former French ruler who once ruled an empire that stretched across Europe, dies as a British prisoner on the remote island of Saint Helena in the southern Atlantic Ocean. The Corsica-born Napoleon, one of the greatest military strategists in history, ...read more

Outnumbered Mexican army defeats French at Battle of Puebla

During the French-Mexican War (1861-1867), an outnumbered Mexican army defeats a powerful invading French force at Puebla. The retreat of the French troops at the Battle of Puebla represented a great moral victory for the people of Mexico, symbolizing the country’s ability to ...read more

Six killed in Oregon by Japanese bomb

In Lakeview, Oregon, Mrs. Elsie Mitchell and five neighborhood children are killed while attempting to drag a Japanese balloon out the woods. Unbeknownst to Mitchell and the children, the balloon was armed, and it exploded soon after they began tampering with it. They were the ...read more

IRA militant Bobby Sands dies

On May 5, 1981, imprisoned Irish-Catholic militant Bobby Sands dies after refusing food for 66 days in protest of his treatment as a criminal rather than a political prisoner by British authorities. His death immediately touched off widespread rioting in Belfast, as young ...read more

In This Day in History video clip - May 5, 1961: The first American in space - Cape Canaveral, Florida, Navy Commander Alan Bartlett Shepard Jr. is launched into space aboard the Freedom 7 space capsule, becoming the first American astronaut to travel into space. The suborbital flight, which lasted 15 minutes and reached a height of 116 miles into the atmosphere, was a major triumph for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

Alan Shepard becomes the first American in space

From Cape Canaveral, Florida, Navy Commander Alan Bartlett Shepard Jr. is launched into space aboard the Freedom 7 space capsule, becoming the first American astronaut to travel into space. The suborbital flight, which lasted 15 minutes and reached a height of 116 miles into the ...read more

The Examiner publishes John Keats’ first poem

The first published poem by 20-year-old John Keats appears in The Examiner on May 5, in 1816. Unlike many writers of his day, Keats came from a lower-middle-class background. His father worked at a stable in London and eventually married the owner’s daughter. John was the first ...read more

Human remains found in suitcase near Virginia Beach

On May 5, 2004, a suitcase holding what is later identified as the partial remains of William McGuire, a 39-year-old Navy veteran and computer analyst is pulled from the water near Virginia Beach. A second suitcase of body parts was found nearby on May 11, and a third washed up ...read more

Allies end occupation of West Germany

The Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany) becomes a sovereign state when the United States, France, and Great Britain end their military occupation, which had begun in 1945. With this action, West Germany was given the right to rearm and become a full-fledged member of the ...read more

Italian delegates return to Paris peace conference

On May 5, 1919, the delegation from Italy—led by Prime Minister Vittorio Orlando and Foreign Minister Sidney Sonnino—returns to the Versailles Peace Conference in Paris, France, after leaving abruptly 11 days earlier during contentious negotiations over the territory Italy would ...read more