Spotted Elk

Published on April 27, 2012 by Amy

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Chief Spotted Elk
Chief Spotted Elk

Spotted Elk (Unpan Glešká, sometimes spelled as OH-PONG-GE-LE-SKAH, or Hupah Glešká), (1826 – December 29, 1890), was the name of a chief of the Miniconjou Lakota Sioux. He was a son of chief One Horn (Miniconjou) and became a chief upon the death of his father. He was a highly renowned chief with skills in war and negotiations. He was given the derogatory name of Big Foot or Sitȟáŋka by an American soldier at Fort Bennett, although this is not to be confused with the Oglala Bigfoot who was known Ste Si Tanka or Chetan keah. In 1890 he was killed in South Dakota, along with at least 150 other members of his tribe, by the United States Army in what came to be known as the Wounded Knee Massacre.

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Early life

Spotted Elk (Unpan Glešká {Lakota} sometimes spelled oh-pong-ge-le-skah ) was born the son of Lakota Sioux chief One Horn about 1826. His family belonged to the Mniconjou (“Planters by the River”) subgroup of the Teton Lakota (Sioux). He had three brothers: Roman Nose, Frog and Touch the Clouds, each of whom were to become leaders of Mniconjou bands. Spotted Elk became the chief of his tribe at his father’s death at age 85 in 1875.

Chief Spotted Elk

Skillful diplomat
As chief, Spotted Elk (who later became known by the name of “Big Foot” or Sitȟáŋka) was considered a great man of peace. He was best known among his people for his political and diplomatic successes. He was skilled at settling quarrels between rival parties, and was often in great demand among other Teton bands.

Alliance with Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse
During the 1870s, he allied his tribe with Sitting Bull and his cousin, Crazy Horse (together with Touch the Clouds) against the U.S. Army. He saw no major action during the war in 1876-77. The Miniconjou Lakota suffered during the Great Sioux War of 1876-77, after which they surrendered.

Reservation placement
Following the Sioux Wars, the government placed the Minneconjou on the Cheyenne River Indian Reservation in South Dakota. Spotted Elk encouraged his people to adapt to life on the reservation by developing sustainable agriculture and building schools for Lakota children. Spotted Elk was among the first American Indians to raise corn in accordance with government standards. Spotted Elk also advocated that his people take a peaceful attitude toward white settlers.

Participation in the “Ghost Dance” movement

New religious movement
Due to poor living conditions on the reservations, the Lakota struggled greatly to survive. In some cases corrupt Indian agents carried out fraud and stole from supplies and annuities from the Lakota. By 1889 they were in despair and looked for change from their problems.

The radical solution came in the form of the “Ghost Dance” movement, a new religion initiated by Paiute prophet Wovoka. Spotted Elk and the Lakota became among the most enthusiastic believers in the Ghost Dance ceremony when it arrived among them in the spring of 1890. Although government-imposed reservation rules outlawed the practice of the religion, the movement swept like a wildfire through the camps. Local Indian agents reacted with alarm. Some agents successfully suppressed the dancers; others called for federal troops to restore order.

The invitation of Chief Red Cloud
After Sitting Bull was killed on the Standing Rock Reservation on December 20, 1890, his followers fled for refuge at the camp of his half-brother Chief Spotted Elk. Fearing arrest and government reprisals against his band, Spotted Elk headed south to the Pine Ridge Reservation at the invitation of Chief Red Cloud. Red Cloud hoped that his fellow chief could help make peace. Hoping to find safety there, flying a white flag and with no intention of fighting, Spotted Elk contracted pneumonia on the journey to Pine Ridge.

Death at Wounded Knee

Peaceful surrender
On December 29, the 7th Cavalry intercepted the Lakota. Ill with pneumonia, Spotted Elk surrendered peacefully. The cavalry took him and his band into custody and escorted them to a site near Wounded Knee Creek, where they were to set up camp. The campsite was already established with a store and several log houses.

Massacre at Wounded Knee
The night before the ‘Wounded Knee Massacre’, Colonel James Forsyth arrived at Wounded Knee Creek. He ordered his men to place four Hotchkiss cannons in position around the area in which the Indians had been forced to camp. On the morning of December 29 soldiers under the command of Colonel Forsyth entered the camp and demanded that the Lakota give up their weaponry. In the confrontation that ensued, a firearm was discharged. It was later believed to have been by a deaf man named Black Coyote, who presumably did not hear the order to put down his rifle. A large gun fight quickly ensued. The US forces killed at least 150 Lakota men, women and children, and Spotted Elk was among those massacred.

Source: wikipedia Unabridged
Based on the collective work of, © 2015 Native American Encyclopedia.
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