Kicking Bear was a Native American medicine man who was born Oglala Sioux, but became a sub-chief among the Minneconjou Sioux during the period known as the Sioux Wars (1854-1890). Both the Oglala and the Minneconjou belonged to the Lakota Nation. He was a first cousin and close friend of Chief Crazy Horse.
Kicking Bear, whose native name was Mato Wanartaka, was born about 1853 among the Oglala Sioux people. Kicking Bear’s father was named Black Fox, and his mother was Wood Pecker.
Kicking Bear married Woodpecker Woman, the daughter of Chief Big Foot. The young warrior paid the marriage price with horses he had taken from the Crow Indians, who were continually at odds with the Sioux.
By his marriage to a chief's daughter, Kicking Bear became a band chief in the Lakota Nation. Kicking Bear distinguished himself in several battles to fight for Lakota land during the War for the Black Hills (1876-77), including the Battle of the Little Big Horn. In 1889, Kicking Bear traveled to Nevada to learn the new Ghost Dance religion, then brought it back to his people. The Ghost Dance movement was revived (from an earlier form) in Nevada in the year 1888 by Wovoka , a Paiute Indian mystic and holy man. Performance of the dance was supposed to revive the the native peoples' fortunes and traditions, rejoin them with their ancestors, and return their lands to a pristine state with buffalo and other wildlife in abundance. In addition, the white man would be swallowed up in the earth. The dance was performed by both men and women. Upon Kicking Bear’s return, Chief Sitting Bull , Kicking Bear's uncle, asked him to demonstrate the dance at the Standing Rock Reservation in North Dakota, in October 1890. White officials became concerned about the ritual and dispatched police to escort Kicking Bear off the reservation.
Nevertheless, Kicking Bear had taught the Ghost Dance to his people. Within two years, the dance would spread over most of the western half of the United States. Just after Christmas in 1890, a shot rang out, and the U.S. Army effectively crippled the Ghost Dance movement among the Lakota when it slaughtered 290 men, women, and children of Chief Big Foot’s band, who were being held at a camp along Wounded Knee Creek. The Wounded Knee massacre was the worst domestic atrocity committed by the army in U.S. history. The legacy of Kicking Bear
Government agents arrested Kicking Bear and imprisoned him in Fort Sheridan, Illinois. To alleviate tension and the possibility of renewed hostilities following the decline of the Ghost Dance, the U.S. government persuaded a group of prominent Sioux to tour with Buffalo Bill Cody's Wild West Show. In 1891, Kicking Bear’s sentence was commuted, provided that he join the show's European tour — an experience he would find humiliating.
Following a year-long tour, Kicking Bear returned to the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, to care for that which mattered most, his family. Kicking Bear seemed to have just faded away after his return from the tour. He died on May 28, 1904, at the age of 51.