Chief Joseph White Bull (Pte-san-hunka) was born in April 1849 in the Black Hills of South Dakota. He was the son of Makes Room, a Miniconjou chief, and Good Feather Woman. White Bull was a nephew of Sitting Bull, who was a brother to Good Feather Woman. White Bull was trained in the arts of warfare and hunting, and by adulthood played a major role in the protection of Teton land from settlement.
By the time of the Battle of the Little Bighorn on June 25, 1876, White Bull participated in nineteen battles, and was twenty seven years old. At this battle, the forces of the 7th Cavalry, under the command of Lieutenant Colonel George Armstrong Custer were met by a large contingent of Dakota and Cheyenne warriors. Custer's forces were completely wiped out, with only a lone horse escaping. In this legendary battle, White Bull has sometimes been credited with slaying Custer. White Bull’s writing has been interpreted the following way: he and Custer were engaged in hand to hand combat, but eventually White Bull gained the upper hand. He was able to grab Custer’s carbine, after which he shot Custer in the chest.
White Bull surrendered to government troops in 1876. He eventually became a chief, replacing his father upon his death. He also acted as a judge of the Court of Indian Offenses, and was a proponent of Lakota land claims in the Black Hills. He took part in the 50th Anniversary Commemoration of the battle in 1926, and died on June 21, 1947.
Warpath: The True Story of the Fighting Sioux Told in a Biography of Chief White Bull. Written by Stanley Vestal. Originally published by Houghton Mifflin, 1934. Call Number: E99.T34 W488 1984
The Warrior Who Killed Custer: The Personal Narrative of Chief Joseph White Bull. Translated and Edited By James H. Howard. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1968. Call Number: E99.D1 W66
Lakota Warrior: A Personal Narrative. Edited by James H. Howard. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1998. Call Number: E99.D1 W66 1999
The White Bull Manuscript, as it is commonly known, was commissioned by Usher Burdick in 1931. Burdick encouraged White Bull to chronicle his life. In a black bound business ledger, White Bull recorded the events of his life in his native Dakota language. The ledger measures 14.75 x 10.5 inches, and contains writings and/or pictographs on a total of 51 pages. The pictographs are rendered in ink, lead pencil and colored crayon, with explanatory text in Dakota. Buffalo and bear hunts, horse raiding exploits, instances of "counting coup," and battles and skirmishes are among the subjects. White Bull also included a typical Teton winter count, or calendrical history. No pictographs were created for the winter count.
Through the generosity of John Douglas Leith (1898-1989), Class of 1920, the University of North Dakota purchased the ledger book from Usher Burdick in 1959. James Howard translated the manuscript in The Warrior Who Killed Custer: The Personal Narrative of Chief Joseph White Bull, published in 1968. A related set of pictographs, also created by White Bull, can be found in the Walter Stanley Campbell Papers at the University of Oklahoma. Campbell commissioned White Bull to draw his life's story in 1932. Campbell, using the pen name Stanley Vestal, published Warpath: The True Story of the Fighting Sioux Told in a Biography of Chief White Bull in 1934.
The White Bull Manuscript was featured in the national art exhibition “Plains Indians Drawings, 1865-1935: Pages from a Visual History,” held by the American Federation of Arts from 1996 to 1998.