Sitting Bull’s Last Living Descendants Identified Through DNA Testing

by Clayton Edwards

Those with even a cursory knowledge of American history know the name, Sitting Bull. He was the legendary Hunkpapa Lakota Sioux warrior and chief who led the defense against General Custer in the Battle of Greasy Grass, better known as Custer’s Last Stand or The Battle of Little Big Horn. His real name was Tatanka Iyotake, which translates to “Buffalo Bull Who Sits Down,” and he was killed by US forces in December of 1890. Today, we know who this legendary warrior’s descendants are.

According to New York Post, South Dakota-based author and Lakota Sioux tribal member Ernie LaPointe knew he and his three sisters were the direct descendants of Sitting Bull. They are his great-grandchildren. However, he ran up against skepticism while trying to prove it in the past.

Make no mistake, LaPointe didn’t just go around claiming to be descended from Sitting Bull. He had paperwork to prove his progeny. He put in the time to research his family’s genealogy and could provide birth certificates, a family tree, and historical records to back his extraordinary claim. However, that wasn’t enough for many.

Now, LaPointe has DNA evidence that links him to Sitting Bull. He teamed up with University of Cambridge scientists to do the research and published it in the journal Science Advances. In a statement tied to the publication, he spoke about the new evidence. In that statement, he said he knows that some will still doubt his claim. “People have been questioning our relationship to our ancestor for as long as I can remember. These people are just a pain in the place you sit – and will probably doubt these findings also.”

Obtaining Sitting Bull’s DNA

Sitting Bull died over 100 years ago. As a result, some might wonder how they found his DNA to test against LaPointe’s. According to the research article, Fort Myers’ post surgeon took several souvenirs from Tatanka Iyotake’s body before his burial. One of those just happened to be his scalp lock, the lock of hair that held the feather at the crown of the chief’s head. Later, the Smithsonian preserved the hair. In 2007, they gave the scalp lock and other souvenirs to LaPointe and his sisters.

When Eske Willerslev, the scientist who authored the report, heard of this, he reached out to LaPointe. The scientist admired Sitting Bull and said he would be honored to help LaPointe prove his genetic link.

That lock of hair no longer exists. LaPointe and others burned it as part of a spiritual ceremony. However, he kept a strand of Sitting Bull’s hair for later research. After fourteen years of study, Ernie LaPointe and his family finally have their proof. One could say that his great-grandfather’s blood lent him the strength and determination to continue pushing forward until he had his proof.