Chief Gall, a Hunkpapa chief, played a leading part in the Lakotas' long war against the United States. As a leader of the Hunkpapa Teton Sioux (Lakota), he was one of the commanders of the Indian cavalry forces at the Battle of the Little Big Horn. Chief Gall was one of the most aggressive leaders of the Sioux nation during their last stand for freedom.
Gall made his appearance into the Creator’s world some time around 1840 on the plains of South Dakota. He was born a citizen among many citizens of the Hunkpapa. His first name was Matohinshda, or Bear-Shedding-His-Hair.
The boy acquired his unusual name, Gall, (Pizia) when, as a hungry orphan, he ate the gall bladder of an animal killed by a fellow citizen. His guardian, Tatanka Yotanka, better known as Chief Sitting Bull, reared Gall as his own
Gall acquired a reputation as an accomplished warrior and hunter during his late teens and became a chief in his twenties. He fought at the Battle of Big Mound with Inkpaduta, and as a warrior in Red Cloud's campaigns of 1866 through 1868, he rose to a high status among the Lakota.
Gall refused to accept the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868 that ended the preceding hostilities. When the treaty of 1868 was disregarded, he agreed with Sitting Bull to defend the last of their once-vast domain. He constantly defended his people's right to their buffalo hunting grounds and believed that the government should be held to the letter of its agreements with them. Refusing to give up, Gall joined Sitting Bull and others who refused to remain as “prisoners" within the territory set aside for them by the whites. Gall eventually became Sitting Bull's military chief, and led attacks on army troops along the Yellowstone River in 1872 and 1873.
Gall enjoyed Sitting Bull’s total confidence as the latter planned and directed attacks against U.S. soldiers. He was a born military strategist, able to make note of, and grasp, an exploitation of his enemy. For Chief Gall, the trail to the Battle of the Big Horn began with Major Marcus Reno and his unprovoked attack on Gall’s village along the Little Big Horn River. During Reno’s attack, his troopers killed several members of Gall’s family. Gall, using superior skill combined with inspiring ferocity, led his band in a counterattack, which led them to the great defeat of George A. Custer and his 7th Calvary command.
At the Battle of the Little Big Horn in 1876, Gall led his Hunkpapa warriors, who first checked Major Reno's advance across the river by chasing them into the woods. He then swept his warriors north to join Crazy Horse of the Oglala Sioux. Then his forces carried out a frontal attack on Custer's column, defeating the hapless unit. Following the battle, Chief Gall entered Canada along with his chief, Sitting Bull
At some point, Gall and Sitting Bull had a disagreement that caused Gall to bring his band back across the border late in 1880. Gall appeared at Fort Peck at Poplar Creek, Montana on January 3, 1881. He surrendered to the military, bringing half of the Hunkpapa band with him. Although promised amnesty by the United States if they returned, when Gall crossed into the U.S., some of his people came under attack, and in the spring they were all rounded up and held as military prisoners at Fort Randall. From there they were transported to the Standing Rock Agency (reservation) in Dakota Territory. Gall settled on Standing Rock, where he became friends with the man who would prove to be Sitting Bull's bitterest enemy, Indian Agent James McLaughlin.
After Gall was subdued, he turned away from the freedom road and concentrated his attention on making his and his people's lives the best they could be, despite their internment on government reservations. Gall encouraged his people to accept the white man’s program for the Indian. Gall became a champion of federal efforts to "civilize" the Lakota. He lent his prestige to the reservation-farming program and became an active supporter of plans to educate Indian children in special schools.
As a farmer on the Standing Rock reservation, Gall became friendly with local settlers in his later years, eventually turning against Sitting Bull, possibly for the latter's affiliation with the Ghost Dance movement. Gall ignored the Ghost Dance religion when it appeared on the scene and instead became an envoy to Washington, D.C.
Gall became a reservation judge in 1889, and that same year gave his consent to the reduction in the reservation's size, despite Sitting Bull's opposition. Gall challenged Sitting Bull's leadership among the Lakota of Standing Rock, but he never matched his former mentor's influence and authority.
Gall was sought out by Buffalo Bill Cody to be a part of his Wild West Show. However, unlike Sitting Bull, Gall refused, saying, "I am not an animal to be exhibited before crowds." His spirit was tired, his eyes, dimmed. From then on Gall withered. A few years later, the old chief died on December 5, 1894, at his home on Oak Creek in South Dakota.