Sitting Bull c. 18311890

Bailey, Dix, and Mead (active 1882)
Albumen silver print, 1882

National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.

Having first battled American soldiers in the 1860s, Sitting Bull gained a reputation as one of the most hostile warriors during the three-decade-long military conflict between the Lakota and the U.S. Army. On repeated occasions he led campaigns to rid the growing presence of Americans from traditional tribal lands. When, in 1874, officials tried to persuade a group of friendly chiefs to cede the Black Hills—where George A. Custer had recently discovered gold—Sitting Bull intervened to stop this transaction.

Two years later his forces routed Custer’s Seventh Cavalry at the Battle of the Little Big Horn, an event that prompted U.S. officials to expand their military commitment in the West. Sitting Bull and a group of followers eluded U.S. authorities until 1881, when defections and a dwindling food supply compelled him to surrender. This photograph was taken not long afterwards, during his imprisonment at Fort Randall, in present-day South Dakota.