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Sinte Gleska - Spotted Tail - 1823-1881

My Great-Great Grandfather

Sinte GleskaSinte Gleska (pronounced gleh-shka) was called Tatanka Napsica (Jumping Buffalo) as a boy. His father was called Tangle Hair and his mother was known as Cannupa Yuha Mani Win (Walks With Pipe Woman). Upon achieving warrior status he was called "Spotted Tail" for the magnificent Golden Eagle spotted tail feathers he wore in his headdress when dressed for war or ceremony. He also often wore a raccoon hat and many of the white settlers mistakenly believed he was named after this racoon hat that actually had rings rather than spots.

In 1855, Sinte Gleska helped bring an end to the brief but violent Overland Trail War by surrendering himself to imprisonment at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. This ordeal led the people to view this as an unselfish sacrifice for the good of the tribe, and they continued to follow him as war leader. During his imprisonment he learned to read and write English. This led to an association that enabled him to learn much about the white man’s ways and what would be needed to survive amongst them and even gained some of their faith and trust.


"Our cause is as a child's cause, in comparison with the power of the white man, unless we can stop quarreling among ourselves and unite our energies for the common good." But old- time antagonisms were too strong; and he was probably held back also by his consciousness of the fact that the Indians called him "the white man's friend", while the military still had some faith in him which he did not care to lose. He was undoubtedly one of the brainiest and most brilliant Sioux who ever lived; and while he could not help being to a large extent in sympathy with the feeling of his race against the invader, yet he alone foresaw the inevitable outcome, and the problem as it presented itself to him was simply this: "What is the best policy to pursue in the existing situation?" [From Spotted Tail, as Remembered by Ohiyesa (Charles A. Eastman)]


He rose to prominence and became Ogle Tanka Un (Shirt Wearer) or war leader. Later he became a Tribal Chief of the Brule and an influential Statesman making many trips to Washington D.C. on behalf of his people. Through his concern for his people he sought to help them survive and retain their spiritual ways. He encouraged them to become educated in the ways of the white man so they could learn to use the white man’s ways to maintain their own survival and heritage. His interest in their education led to Sinte Gleska University being created and named in his honor in 1971.

Eleven years after his release at Ft. Leavenworth he had gained great experience as a leader. He was elevated to Wicasa Itancan (civil leader), the highest leadership ranking found among the Sicangu Lakota. By 1870 his influence had spread and because of his ability to work with the U.S. Government. combined with his concern for his people’s rights and well-being, he was recognized as the overall leader of the Great Sioux Reservation.


The closing years of Sinte Gleska's life are considered the most significant in the terms of contributions made to the Sicangu Lakota, and quite possibly Native Americans in general. It was during these years that he began to look at long-range goals and the struggles that the Sicangu people were to endure. As one of the important Lakota leaders, Sinte Gleska viewed people from the highest position and perspective. Viewing people from his level and dealing with the U.S. government at its highest level, the Sicangu Itancan (leader) caught a brief glimpse of the future of the Sicangu.

What he foresaw in the twentieth century, due to the deteriorating condition of the Lakota and the extremely aggressive policies of the U.S. government, was shocking. Based on this observation and reaction, Sinte Gleska revealed that unless the Lakota were able to cope with this situation, they would not survive as a people. This need for survival prompted him to stress and advocate the idea of accepting the minimal, but basic, aspects of the Wasicu [white man] tool of education for survival in the white dominated world. He optimistically envisioned that a certain portion of the Lakota population would master the Wasicu basic skills of learning, and eventually these people would supplant the untrustworthy Wasicu working as clerks, translators, and other agency officials. This would then ensure the survival of the Lakota. [History of Sinte Gleska (Spotted Tail) 1823-1881, Victor Douville, Sinte Gleska University Lakota Studies Department]


In Remembrance, Sinte Gleska/Spotted Tail still lives in the hearts of his people for trying to save them from either annihilation or from being banished to land of oppression, starvation, and death called the “Oklahoma Territory.” Ultimately, he located his people on a preferred tract of land and was able to preserve substantial amounts of the tribal culture and authority. He saw and espoused the belief that education is an important tool in preserving Sioux culture and tradition.

Sinte Gleska died when he was shot in the back by Crow Dog for reasons that have since been disputed. Legend has it that he was killed by Crow Dog for having an affair with one of his wives. However, a cowardly shooting in the back is not a Native thing to do. Most likely he was assasinated by those who disagreed with his political perspective.

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