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Four Horns (He Topa)

Hunkpapa • circa 1914 - 1887

by Gregor Lutz

Four Horns, an uncle of the famous Sitting Bull (II), was war leader and chief of the Hunkpapa Icira band, an aggregation of the Talonapin (Raw Meat Necklace), the Kiglaska (Tied in the Middle), the Ceknake Okisela (Half Breechcloth), the Siksicela, (Bad Ones) and the Tinazipe Sica (Bad Bows) bands. The principal leaders of the Bad Bows were Four Horns, Black Moon and, in later years, Sitting Bull.

Four Horns’ parents were the Hunkpapa Looks-For-Him-In-a-Tent (abt. 1786 – 1869) and his wife Brulé Woman. Returns Again or Jumping Bull (abt. 1799 – 1856) and Winona (born abt. 1810) were his siblings.

In the 1830s, Four Horns acted as a mentor to his older brother’s son Sitting Bull (1831 – 1890), as was usual in the Lakota society.

(See Ernie Lapointe, Sitting Bull – His Life and Legacy, p. 22)

According to Stanley Vestal’s New Sources of Indian History, 1850-1891 (page 317), He Topa “was a tall man of light complexion and serious mind, who took his responsibilities as a head man much to heart.”

Between 1834 and 1850, members of the Strong Hearts society were usually chosen as police, and their spokesman Little Bear was recognized as the Hunkpapa tribal headman. In 1851, population growth and increasing American demands for accountable leaders led the Hunkpapas to select four tribal Shirt Wearers – principal chiefs invested with ceremonial hair-fringed shirts. The men picked – Red Horn, Four Horns, Loud-Voiced Hawk, and Running Antelope – were chosen for their ability to balance the agendas of elders and warriors.


In different Winter Counts for the years 1853/1854 we find a glyph "Four Horns was Killed (Hetopa Ktepi).” This glyph shows a man wearing a bonnet with four horns attached. Some sources assumed that the Hunkpapa leader Four Horns disappeared after a battle with the Crows and was pronounced dead but later he returned to his camp. Other sources explained that this “Four Horns“ had nothing to do with the Hunkpapa. These sources say that horned headdresses were very popular among the Crows and Sioux at this time. The ethnologist Densmore suggests that a Crow enemy with a famous Four Horned headdress, who was slain in a battle, bestowed a name to this winter (year).

In March 1856, Four Horns attended the Harney council in Pierre – where Bear Ribs was made “head chief” – as one of the Hunkpapa Shirt Wearers. In the same year, he performed an alowanpi (adoption) ceremony for the Mnikowozu war leader Elk-That-Bellows-Walking who, in 1868, became known as Roman Nose during the 1868 Fort Laramie treaty negotiations. Elk-That-Bellows-Walking (1810 - ?), was probably a brother of the famous Mnikowozu chief Lone Horn II (1814 – 1875).This event was recorded in different Mnikowozu, Hunkpapa, and Brule winter counts.

(See Kingsley M Bray, “Lone Horn’s Peace: A New View of Sioux-Crow Relations, 1851-1858,” Nebraska History 66 (1985): 28-47)

In June 1868, Mrs. Mathilda “Eagle Woman” Galpin-Picotte, (1820–1888) of Hunkpapa and Two Kettle origin, accompanied Father Pierre-Jean DeSmet to Four Horns and Black Moon’s Hunkpapa camp, which had been located south of the Yellowstone River near the mouth of the Powder River. The Jesuit missionary had been authorized by the U.S. government to discuss the Fort Laramie Treaty with the northern Lakotas. With Mrs. Galpin's diplomatic support, DeSmet was well received by the Hunkpapas. Under a large white banner of peace, Father DeSmet was given a seat in a council tent placed between the two head chiefs, Four Horns and Black Moon.

DeSmet’s account to the government says:

The council was opened with songs and dances, noisy, joyful and very wild, in which the warriors alone took part. Then Four Horns lighted his calumet of peace; he presented it first solemnly to the Great Spirit, imploring his light and favor, and then offered it to the four cardinal points, to the sun and the earth, as witnesses to the action of the council. Then he himself passed the calumet from mouth to mouth. I was the first to receive it, with my interpreter, and every chief was placed according to the rank that he held in the tribe. Each one took a few puffs. When the ceremony of the calumet was finished, the head chief addressed me, saying, "Speak, Black-robe, my ears are open to hear your words.

DeSmet finally succeeded in coaxing the Hunkpapa to sign the treaty at Fort Rice in July 1868.

Four Horns was a very influential and respected man in his days. Not a rash person – a trait he handed down to his nephew Sitting Bull – he was elected Shirt Wearer about 1851. He held this position into the late 1860s, when he came up with a revolutionary idea for Lakota standards. He proposed to elect one supreme leader, who should represent all northern (= non-treaty) Lakotas. In the end he succeeded with his proposal and the man he had in mind, Sitting Bull.

In 1876, Four Horn was present when General Custer attacked the allied Lakota village at the Little Bighorn River. The young Hunkpapa Deeds, supposedly his grandchild, was the first casualty in this famous battle. Some months later He Topa took his people to Canada.

Returning from Canada in 1881, he and his family went with Sitting Bull to Fort Randall as prisoners of war. At this time the family consisted of his wife Blue Thunder Woman (Wakinyanto Win, age 60), his son Four Horns Junior (about 26 years) and a daughter Red White Buffalo Cow (20 years old). Blue Thunder Woman died at Fort Randall on December 12, 1881.

When Four Horns returned to Standing Rock in May 1883, his immediate family was comprised of Red White Buffalo Cow (now listed as Jenny Red Gray Cow, 24 years) and his (widowed?) older daughter Lean (Tamaheca, age 45). According to the 1885 Standing Rock Ration list, Four Horns had 12 lodges and 46 people under his care and leadership.

Four Horns died in 1887 on Standing Rock.

This drawing is by Rudolf Cronau, who visited Standing Rock and Fort Randall in 1881. Cronau sketched some Lakotas including Sitting Bull. In his book Von Wunderland zu Wunderland (From Wonderland to Wonderland) (1885), Cronau identified this man as "Jagoo, an Ojibway-Indian." Cronau combined this picture with a copy of George Catlin’s Wi-Jun-Jon (Assiniboine) account. In the 1830s, Wi-Jun-Jon travelled to Washington and was later killed by fellow tribesmen because of his narrations from the white world.

The German ethnologist Dr. Peter Bolz identified this man as Four Horns/ He Topa.