Thunder Hawk ~ Hunkpapa

Published on February 8, 2011 by Amy

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Thunder Hawk, Hunkpapa, 1872, by Alexander Gardner
Thunder Hawk, Hunkpapa, 1872,
by Alexander Gardner

Though little is written about Chief Thunderhawk, it is known that as a young man he was a companion of Sitting Bull, and a warrior of prominence. Since the Hunkpapa were a small band, Thunderhawk figured was important in Hunkpapa and Lakota affairs. He was a chief of his band, a position which he retained all his life.

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During the 1870s, Thunderhawk was a dominant leader of the reservation Hunkpapa people at the Grand River Agency. After allotment, his band moved to 20 miles below the Agency where his band constituted 28 lodges from Moreau River. He is credited, along with Mrs. Galpin, with saving the life of Father DeSmet. He, along with several other Hunkpapa, represented the Hunkpapa at the Sioux Indian delegation in Washington, D.C. in October 1888. He is buried near Thunderhawk, South Dakota south of Morriston, South Dakota.

The people under his group in 1885:

  • Okute (Shooter);
  • Hehaka Najin (Standing Buck Elk);
  • Sunka Paha Akau Najin (Dog Standing On the Butte);
  • Wanbli Upi Luta (Red Eagle Tail);
  • Hin Waste (Good Fur);
  • Pehin Siksica (Bad Hair);
  • Ite Nonpa (Two Face);
  • Isto Weganan (Broken Arm);
  • Hitunkasan Luta (Red Weasel);
  • Kangi Wiyaka (Crow Feather);
  • Cetan Wakiyan Hunka (Thunder Hawk’s Mother);
  • Hehaka Mani (Walking Buck Elk);
  • Ihpeyupi (Thrown Away);
  • Tasunke Hin Luta (His Red Horse);
  • Wapaha Sapa (Black Hat);
  • Sungila Luta (Red Fox);
  • Wanbli Wicasa (Eagle Man);
  • Ista Zizi (Brown Eyes);
  • Zintkala Gleska (Spotted Bird);
  • Sipto Hanpa (Beaded Moccasin);
  • Okahoniyeiciya (Thrown In);
  • Oyate (Nation);
  • Miniata (At the River);
  • Wahacanka Ska (White Shield);
  • Hehaka He Maza (Iron Horn Stag);

Thunder Hawk was born in the second half of the 1830s – 1835 according to the date obtained by Dietmar, 1837-38 according to the 1886 Standing Rock census, which gives Thunder Hawk’s age as 47. He was therefore a younger contemporary of Sitting Bull’s and is mentioned as a boyhood friend of Sitting Bull in Utley’s biography THE LANCE AND THE SHIELD, p. 10.

Vestal’s SITTING BULL, p. 47, notes Thunder Hawk as one of the Hunkpapa warriors who counted coup in the battle with the Crows, June 1859, at Rainy Butte – where Sitting Bull’s father was killed.

Thunder Hawk enters the documentary record in 1865. Treaty councils were held at Ft Sully during October of that year. On October 20 the commissioners met with the representatives of a tiny camp of less than ten lodges of Hunkpapas. The camp was located at the junction of Swan Creek and the Missouri, west of modern Akaska, South Dakota. Its leaders included three chiefs – Tall Soldier, Little Bear (father of Tall Soldier), and Iron That Comes Out, plus a chief soldier Whirling Heart, all of whom attended the treaty talks. Judging by earlier postings on the Hunkpapa Bands at the LBH thread, this should be part of the Che-okhba or Droopy Penis band of Hunkpapas. This band became the core of the pro-treaty faction of Hunkpapas.

The main Hunkpapa village in fall 1865 was on the Little Missouri, and the diplomacy of trader Charles Galpin and his Lakota wife (mother Hunkpapa, father Miniconjou: Broken Arrow band) secured the attendance of sizeable deputations from the Hunkpapa and several other tribal divisions. The Galpins brought these paerties in to Fort Rice and then down the Missouri to Ft Sully. On October 28 the Hunkpapa contiongent met with the commission, being represented by the following leaders:


  • Gut Fat
  • Bear Ribs II
  • Running Antelope
  • Heart For All

“Soldiers” (i.e., akichita or tribal police):

  • Thunder Hawk
  • Iron Horn
  • Plenty Crows
  • Fears the Eagle
  • Spotted Bull

Thunder Hawk appears again in the treaty commission reports from the following year. At Ft Sully the commission met again the ultra-friendly Hunkpapa camp of Tall Soldier and Plenty Crows, now counted at 13 lodges. On June 21, 1866 the commission met with 600 lodges at Ft Rice, including 173 Hunkpapa lodges. The named leaders were as follows:


  • Eagle in the Sky
  • Left-Hand Bear
  • Thunder Hawk
  • Fears the Eagle

Note that both Thunder Hawk and Fears the Eagle were akcihita in 1865, rated as chiefs in 1866. Later the commission met with representatives from the non-treaty village of Hunkpapas (by difference from the above figures about 150 lodges) – the people of Four Horns, Sitting Bull, etc. We see here a three-way split in the Hunkpapa tribe, with a small friendly camp; a modest majority of wait-and-sees – this includes Thunder Hawk; and a large minority of non-treaty or ‘hostile’ people. The four chiefs at Fort Rice, the fact that two of them had been counted as akichita the previous fall – make me think these may be the four Hunkpapa Deciders (Wakichunze) seated in spring 1866. These were leaders, not necessarily band chiefs, who were temporarily granted coercive power to run the big summer hunting villages.

Thunder Hawk is next mentioned as one of the party that escorted Fr De Smet to Sitting Bull’s village in June 1868 to secure attendance at the treaty talks at Ft Rice. The fact that he with Mrs Galpin is credited with helping save the life of De Smet during the dramatic negotiations makes me think maybe he’s a relative of Mrs Galpin’s? maybe LaDonna can help out on that connection?

Thunder Hawk is not listed (under that name) as one of the 1868 signatories. He next crops up in the record in a list of headmen at Grand River Agency in March 1870. He together with Gall, Wolf Necklace, Heart For All, Slave, and Little Wound (not to be confused with the Oglala), appear to have arrived at Grand River from the hunting grounds in Jan.-Feb. of 1870. He seems to be a fixture at Grand River/Standing Rock after 1870, accompanying the 1872 delagation to Washington (whence the first phot posted by Dietmar above). He remained at the agency right through the Great Sioux War.

Warrior society affiliations: the skunk skin garters visible in the 1872 shots are said to be part of the regalia of the Crow Owners society. The De Smet 1868 connection suggests that he belonged to the Strong Hearts. Traditionally isolationist and increasingly militant, the Strong Hearts formed a core of the emerging non-treaty people. However, according to Josephine Waggoner one chapter of Strong Hearts formed around the supporters of De Smet – they were said to be pro-trader, even pro-Catholic. This seems to be the origin of the Fool Soldiers who distinguished themselves in 1862 by rescuing white captives from the Santees. Thunder Hawk may have been one of their members. — Kingsley Bray

I heard that descendants of Thunder Hawk are on the Pine Ridge Res, Porcupine District. I just scanned the 1890 Pine Ridge census and find a Thunder Hawk family in the Porcupine Dist., belonging to the Waceunpa (Meat Roaster) band. However the age of this Thunder Hawk, 53, makes him a near-exact contemporary of the Hunkpapa, not possibly a son. Maybe it’s a different family and coincidence…?

When did Thunder Hawk and his camp live on the Moreau River?

Just as an idea, could TH’s band be the Legging Tobacco Pouch band (Hunksa Chantojuha)? They are not mentioned in early band lists, but appear in the camp-circle obtained by S.R. Riggs – their place was on the north horn, opposite the Sore-Backs (Running Antelope’s band on the south horn). Do any of the Thunder Hawk people know what band he belonged to? — Kingsley Bray

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