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Letter From American History - August 2011

Originally published by American History magazine. Published Online: June 09, 2011 
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Sitting Bull was a Sioux medicine man who healed broken hearts and broken promises," Barack Obama wrote in his 2010 children's book, Of Thee I Sing: A Letter to My Daughters. The president placed Sitting Bull in a pantheon of 13 American heroes that includes Washington, Lincoln, Neil Armstrong, Martin Luther King, Albert Einstein and Helen Keller. The choice proved controversial, drawing fire from the Fox News Web site, which proclaimed, "Obama Praises Indian Chief Who Killed U.S. General." Actually, as Elliott West reveals in our cover story, "Soothsayer," Sitting Bull was not really a "medicine man" or a "chief," and he didn't kill any U.S. generals. He is revered by the Sioux as a holy man whose deep connection with the Great Spirit gave him prophetic insight and lent special power to his prayers. But the brouhaha over the book illustrates how he continues to mystify most Americans. "On one hand, Sitting Bull is one of the three or four most famous Indian leaders," West says, "yet the fact that he was a holy man is not widely known at all."

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