Kicking Bear aka: Matȟó Wanáȟtake ( 1846? – 1904)




Kicking Bear, also known as Matȟó Wanáȟtaka, was a Lakota Sioux spiritual leader and a key figure in the Ghost Dance movement of 1890.

He was born around 1846 near Pine Ridge, in what is now southwestern South Dakota, into the Oglala band of the Lakota. He was a nephew of Sitting Bull and a cousin of Crazy Horse, both of whom would become famous Lakota leaders.

kicking bear

Kicking Bear became a chief of the Miniconjou band of the Lakota by marrying a daughter of Chief Sitanka. He fought against U.S. troops in the War for the Black Hills (1876–77), including the Battle of the Little Bighorn.

In 1889, Kicking Bear traveled to Nevada with another Lakota leader, Short Bull, and learned the new Ghost Dance religion from Wovoka, its founder. Wovoka taught that performing Ghost Dance ceremonies would bring Native ancestors back from the dead, make white settlers disappear, and restore traditional Native ways of life.

Read Also: Chief Iron Tail (1842-May 29, 1916) Oglala Lakota

When Kicking Bear returned home, Sitting Bull asked him to demonstrate the Ghost Dance on the Standing Rock Reservation.

White officials were alarmed by the Ghost Dance movement, believing it could be the start of a Native uprising. Government efforts to stop the Ghost Dance led to the massacre of more than 200 Lakota at Wounded Knee by U.S. soldiers in December 1890.


Kicking Bear, Short Bull, and other Ghost Dance leaders were arrested and imprisoned. The government offered to release them if they would perform in a European tour of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show.

Kicking Bear agreed but was angered and humiliated by the depiction of Native people in the show. He quit the tour and was sent back to prison. He was released in 1892.

In 1896, He was part of a Native delegation that traveled to Washington, D.C. to discuss Native grievances with government officials. Kicking Bear made his feelings known about the drunken behavior of traders on the reservation, and asked that Native Americans have more ability to make their own decisions.

While in Washington, agreed to have a life mask made of himself, which was to be used as the face of a Sioux warrior to be displayed in the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History.

Read Also: Medicine Wheel Native American Teachings Explained?

Kicking Bear was also a gifted artist who painted his account of the Battle of Greasy Grass at the request of artist Frederic Remington in 1898, more than 20 years after the battle.

Kicking Bear died on May 28, 1904, and was buried with an arrowhead as a symbol of his desire to resurrect the ways of his people. His remains are believed to be buried somewhere in the vicinity of Manderson-White Horse Creek.

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