Sunday, May 31, 2020

The Woman Who Tried to Save Sitting Bull

Nothing about Susanna Faesch’s life seemed to fit in with the proper society of the late 1800s. As an adult, she moved to New York from Switzerland with her recently-divorced mother. Before long, she married a Swiss doctor and started a new life in Brooklyn. But Susanna was unhappy with her husband and left him for another man, with whom she had a son. Her hope for a happy life didn’t last long, because her new love left her.

Caroline Weldon in on the right

She was now an outcast among her peers. The era’s strict gender roles meant it was nearly unthinkable for a woman to get a divorce, much less publicly raise an illegitimate child without a husband.

Susanna had always been interested in the lives and rights of Native Americans in the United States’ western territories. At the time, a debate raged over how to treat the nation’s Native Americans as white people flooded into the west. The United States created the first Indian reservations in 1851 with the Indian Appropriates Act, acknowledging tribal rights but driving Native Americans onto reservations where they governed themselves.

Chief Sitting Bull, 1890, public domain image

Most white Americans, who believed that tribal loyalties could endanger American values, saw this as a threat. They felt that Native Americans should become more “civilized” and adopt their habits and customs, including adopting an agricultural lifestyle and speaking the English language.
As this viewpoint grew in popularity, a small opposition was born. Susanna joined the National Indian Defense Organization, which aimed to use U.S. laws to protect Native Americans and uphold their tribal sovereignty and land rights. The group opposed the Dawes Act’s proposed legislation which would break up tribal lands into individual plots and distribute them among tribe members.

In 1887, the Dawes Act was passed, and residents of the Dakota Territory tried to pressure the Sioux people who lived on land they wanted to occupy to move to a reservation. When Susanna heard that Sitting Bull, leader of the Hunkpapa Lakota Sioux, was opposed to the plan, she began to write him letters. Then, in 1889, she decided to walk away from New York life to help him and live among the Sioux people. She felt she had nothing to lose. There was nobody left to shame, and she didn’t really care. It was then that she took on a new identity: Caroline Weldon.

Sitting Bull, public domain image

Caroline arrived at Standing Rock Reservation in 1889 with her son. Being one of the few white women in the area, she became a figure of wonder and mockery. She informed Sitting Bull she wanted to be his secretary/representative and began to try to organize his supporters in the area to oppose the Sioux Bill. An artist, Caroline also painted his portrait four times, using oil paints to capture the solemn face of the beleaguered chief.

Local newspapers vilified Weldon as a harpy who was in love with Sitting Bull and called her his “white squaw.” They couldn’t accept that a white woman wanted to be associated with Native Americans, much less try to help them.

"The Ghost Dance by the Ogallala Sioux at Pine Ridge-Drawn by
Frederic Remington from sketches taken on the spot."
(Harper's Weekly, December 6, 1890, p. 960-961)"

During the time Weldon was with Sitting Bull, a religious movement called the Ghost Dance (to learn more click here: ) swept through the area. The Sioux believed if Native people performed certain songs and dances, white people would disappear and their dead ancestors would join them. The movement was popular among the Lakota Sioux, whose tribal holdings and unity were directly threatened by the Sioux Bill, but it was viewed as a threat by white settlers. Caroline warned Sitting Bull that siding with the Ghost Dancers would turn him into a target, but he ignored her. She began to advocate against the dance, causing a rift with Sitting Bull. Finally, she left the reservation.

Weldon’s instinct was right, for just a year later, U.S. officials arrested and killed Sitting Bull after he refused to stop Ghost Dance ceremonies on the reservation. After Susanna’s son died, she returned to Brooklyn, a social pariah because of her association with the “savages” most white Americans loathed. She lived in poverty and died in obscurity two decades later after a fire sparked by a candle burned up her apartment.

Caroline Weldon, public domain

Caroline Weldon and her fellow activists were not able to stop federal policy that threatened Sitting Bull and the Lakota Sioux. The Sioux Bill devastated the Sioux people, reducing their land holdings and decimating their finances. Caroline may be gone, but her amazing paintings live on.

Learn more about Caroline Weldon:

Book: Woman Walking Ahead: In Search of Catherine Weldon and Sitting Bull by E
ileen Pollack.

Movie on Prime: She Walks Ahead

Julia Scott is traveling to New Mexico with her father and younger brother. Her pa fought for the North in the war where her two older brothers lost their lives. Pa is looking for a fresh start in a new place, but Julia just wants him to be happy again.

Taylor Marshall, a Southerner who fought for the Confederates, is on his way to Colorado to raise horses. He’s attracted to Julia, but her father adamantly forbids them to talk to one another. Circumstances continually throw Julia and Taylor together, and their attraction grows. Will a forbidden romance bloom? Or will they go their separate ways when the trail splits?

On sale for $1.99/ Free on KU.

Vickie McDonough is the best-selling author of 50 books and novellas. Vickie grew up wanting to marry a rancher, but instead, she married a computer geek who is scared of horses. She now lives out her dreams penning romance stories about ranchers, cowboys, lawmen, and others living in the Old West. Vickie’s books have won numerous awards including the Booksellers Best and the Inspirational Readers’ Choice awards. When she’s not writing, Vickie enjoys reading, doing stained-glass projects, gardening, watching movies, and traveling. To learn more about Vickie’s books or to sign up for her newsletter, visit her website:


  1. A fascinating post. I love these kinds of obscure stories. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Thanks, Linda. I didn't know about this story until I saw the movie. It stirred my interest, so I researched it.

  2. How interesting! I admire this woman's ability to go after things she felt passionate about. Thanks for posting!

  3. Me too, and she did it without destroying people's property.

  4. Better remove that top photo, that is my great grandmother Catherine Weldon who with her husband helped to open up the west of Canada. By the way, I read somewhere that Caroline Weldon just attached her surname, picked out one she wanted.

  5. Your top photo is not Caroline Weldon, that is my grandmother Catherine Weldon from Canada. Please remove.