Where is Sitting Bull buried?
–Submitted by Robby J.
High on a bluff across the Missouri River from this north-central South Dakota town sits a bust of Sitting Bull, marking the famous
American Indian leader’s burial site.
The memorial is in sorry shape. The nose is chipped, perhaps from potshots or souvenir seekers, as is the inscription on the granite pillar supporting it:
“Tatanka Iyotake, Sitting Bull, 1831-1890.”
Broken beer bottles and trash are strewn about the monument’s concrete base. That’s about to change, thanks to two South Dakota men who have purchased the
Bryan Defender of McLaughlin and Rhett Albers of Mobridge bought the 40-acre property from James Heupel of Oregon in April. Heupel said his father, Dan, was part of a group that traveled to Fort Yates, N.D., in 1953 and helped retrieve Sitting Bull’s remains for reburial on land he owned within the Standing Rock Indian Reservation.
Sitting Bull rose to prominence as a leader of Indian resistance against the U.S. Army in the 1870s, which culminated in the 1876 Battle of Little Bighorn.
He and some of his Sioux followers fled to Canada after the battle, but he returned after five years and surrendered.
Sitting Bull was killed in 1890 on the Standing Rock Indian Reservation while being arrested by Indian police.
Since 1953, a dispute has raged between North Dakota and South Dakota over Sitting Bull’s remains – an ironic situation, given Sitting Bull’s disdain for white ideas about land ownership.
South Dakotans insist he was exhumed and reburied by the Heupel group at the request of Sitting Bull’s descendants.
North Dakotans maintain that the expedition missed some or all of Sitting Bull’s bones and that his remains still lie in Fort Yates.
Bernie Webb of Gettysburg, former president of the South Dakota Historical Society, said the expedition definitely retrieved all of the remains. The bones were brought back to the bluff across the river from Mobridge and placed in an
expensive casket, Webb said.
“They just set it up in the middle of a large grave on top of that hill and poured something like 20 tons of concrete in and around it,” he said.
But Tracy Potter of the Fort Abraham Lincoln Foundation in North Dakota said the state’s “semiofficial” position is that Sitting Bull still rests in Fort Yates.
“The standard North Dakota tourism position is that indeed there was an attempt to steal Sitting Bull’s bones and take them down to South Dakota, but they missed. They got the wrong bones,” Potter said.
However, according to the definitive source on the reburial, Robb DeWall’s book “The Saga of Sitting Bull’s Bones” the Heupel group was meticulous in sifting the soil from the grave site for the bones. And a subsequent attempt to
find bones the expedition might have missed turned up nothing.
Albers, citing DeWall’s book, said he believes Sitting Bull’s remains are underneath the monument.
“Regardless, Sitting Bull deserves to be honored,” Albers said.
He and Defender paid $20,000 for the 40-acre site, according to the Corson County assessor.
Albers said he has been interested in doing something with the site since he moved to Mobridge 13 years ago. He and Defender began making formal plans to buy it about three years ago.
“This is a site that deserves national and international attention. It is being used as a dumping grounds,” Albers said. “We’ve always thought that something needed to be done.”
Albers said he and Defender put the money up themselves. They plan to provide 24-hour security and clean up the area by summer, Albers said.
Eventually, they hope to develop a visitor or cultural center, perhaps in conjunction with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and the owner of the adjacent memorial to Sakakawea, an Indian woman who helped guide the Lewis and Clark
Albers mentioned the Crazy Horse Memorial near Custer as a possible partner in the venture. Korczak Ziolkowski, the sculptor who began the Crazy Horse Memorial, carved the bust of Sitting Bull from a piece of granite blasted from the
Crazy Horse Memorial.
“We could work with all the interested parties … and really do something positive,” he said. “We really want to try and protect and preserve the serenity of it.”