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In the beginning, he was just a man.
A Sioux Indian.
Today, he is becoming a mountain.
"A very great vision is needed and the man who has it must
follow it as the eagle seeks the deepest blue of the sky. I was hostile
to the white man...we preferred hunting to a life of idleness on our
reservations. At times we did not get enough to eat and we were not
allowed to hunt. All we wanted was peace and to be left alone. Soldiers
came and destroyed our villages. Then Long Hair (Custer) came...They
say we massacred him, but he would have done the same to us. Our first
impulse was to escape but we were so hemmed in we had to fight."
Crazy Horse, as
Remembered by Ohiyesa
(Charles A. Eastman)
Crazy Horse (Tashunkewitko) was born on the Republican River
about 1845. He was killed at Fort Robinson, Nebraska, in 1877, so that
he lived barely thirty-three years.
He was an uncommonly handsome man. While not the equal of
Gall in magnificence and imposing stature, he was physically perfect,
an Apollo in symmetry. Furthermore he was a true type of Indian
refinement and grace. He was modest and courteous as Chief Joseph; the
difference is that he was a born warrior, while Joseph was not.
However, he was a gentle warrior, a true brave, who stood for the
highest ideal of the Sioux. Notwithstanding all that biased historians
have said of him, it is only fair to judge a man by the estimate of his
own people rather than that of his enemies.
The boyhood of Crazy Horse was passed in the days when the
western Sioux saw a white man but seldom, and then it was usually a
trader or a soldier. He was carefully brought up according to the
tribal customs. At that period the Sioux prided themselves on the
training and development of their sons and daughters, and not a step in
that development was overlooked as an excuse to bring the child before
the public by giving a feast in its honor. At such times the parents
often gave so generously to the needy that they almost impoverished
themselves, thus setting an example to the child of self-denial for the
general good. His first step alone, the first word spoken, first game
killed, the attainment of manhood or womanhood, each was the occasion
of a feast and dance in his honor, at which the poor always benefited
to the full extent of the parents' ability.
Big-heartedness, generosity, courage, and self-denial are
the qualifications of a public servant, and the average Indian was keen
to follow this ideal. As every one knows, these characteristic traits
become a weakness when he enters a life founded upon commerce and gain.
Under such conditions the life of Crazy Horse began. His mother, like
other mothers, tender and watchful of her boy, would never once place
an obstacle in the way of his father's severe physical training. They
laid the spiritual and patriotic foundations of his education in such a
way that he early became conscious of the demands of public service.
He was perhaps four or five years old when the band was
snowed in one severe winter. They were very short of food, but his
father was a tireless hunter. The buffalo, their main dependence, were
not to be found, but he was out in the storm and cold every day and
finally brought in two antelopes. The little boy got on his pet pony
and rode through the camp, telling the old folks to come to his
mother's teepee for meat. It turned out that neither his father nor
mother had authorized him to do this. Before they knew it, old men and
women were lined up before the teepee home, ready to receive the meat,
in answer to his invitation. As a result, the mother had to distribute
nearly all of it, keeping only enough for two meals.
On the following day the child asked for food. His mother
told him that the old folks had taken it all, and added: "Remember, my
son, they went home singing praises in your name, not my name or your
father's. You must be brave. You must live up to your reputation."
Crazy Horse loved horses, and his father gave him a pony of
his own when he was very young. He became a fine horseman and
accompanied his father on buffalo hunts, holding the pack horses while
the men chased the buffalo and thus gradually learning the art. In
those days the Sioux had but few guns, and the hunting was mostly done
with bow and arrows.
Another story told of his boyhood is that when he was about
twelve he went to look for the ponies with his little brother, whom he
loved much, and took a great deal of pains to teach what he had already
learned. They came to some wild cherry trees full of ripe fruit, and
while they were enjoying it, the brothers were startled by the growl
and sudden rush of a bear. Young Crazy Horse pushed his brother up into
the nearest tree and himself sprang upon the back of one of the horses,
which was frightened and ran some distance before he could control him.
As soon as he could, however, he turned him about and came back,
yelling and swinging his lariat over his head. The bear at first showed
fight but finally turned and ran. The old man who told me this story
added that young as he was, he had some power, so that even a grizzly
did not care to tackle him. I believe it is a fact that a silver-tip
will dare anything except a bell or a lasso line, so that accidentally
the boy had hit upon the very thing which would drive him off.
It was usual for Sioux boys of his day to wait in the field
after a buffalo hunt until sundown, when the young calves would come
out in the open, hungrily seeking their mothers. Then these wild
children would enjoy a mimic hunt, and lasso the calves or drive them
into camp. Crazy Horse was found to be a determined little fellow, and
it was settled one day among the larger boys that they would "stump"
him to ride a good-sized bull calf. He rode the calf, and stayed on its
back while it ran bawling over the hills, followed by the other boys on
their ponies, until his strange mount stood trembling and exhausted.
At the age of sixteen he joined a war party against the Gros
Ventres. He was well in the front of the charge, and at once
established his bravery by following closely one of the foremost Sioux
warriors, by the name of Hump, drawing the enemy's fire and circling
around their advance guard. Suddenly Hump's horse was shot from under
him, and there was a rush of warriors to kill or capture him while
down. But amidst a shower of arrows the youth leaped from his pony,
helped his friend into his own saddle, sprang up behind him, and
carried him off in safety, although they were hotly pursued by the
enemy. Thus he associated himself in his maiden battle with the wizard
of Indian warfare, and Hump, who was then at the height of his own
career, pronounced Crazy Horse the coming warrior of the Teton Sioux.
At this period of his life, as was customary with the best
young men, he spent much time in prayer and solitude. Just what
happened in these days of his fasting in the wilderness and upon the
crown of bald buttes, no one will ever know; for these things may only
be known when one has lived through the battles of life to an honored
old age. He was much sought after by his youthful associates, but was
noticeably reserved and modest; yet in the moment of danger he at once
rose above them all -- a natural leader! Crazy Horse was a typical
Sioux brave, and from the point of view of our race an ideal hero,
living at the height of the epical progress of the American Indian and
maintaining in his own character all that was most subtle and ennobling
of their spiritual life, and that has since been lost in the contact
with a material civilization.
He loved Hump, that peerless warrior, and the two became
close friends, in spite of the difference in age. Men called them "the
grizzly and his cub." Again and again the pair saved the day for the
Sioux in a skirmish with some neighboring tribe. But one day they
undertook a losing battle against the Snakes. The Sioux were in full
retreat and were fast being overwhelmed by superior numbers. The old
warrior fell in a last desperate charge; but Crazy Horse and his
younger brother, though dismounted, killed two of the enemy and thus
made good their retreat.
It was observed of him that when he pursued the enemy into
their stronghold, as he was wont to do, he often refrained from
killing, and simply struck them with a switch, showing that he did not
fear their weapons nor care to waste his upon them. In attempting this
very feat, he lost this only brother of his, who emulated him closely.
A party of young warriors, led by Crazy Horse, had dashed upon a
frontier post, killed one of the sentinels, stampeded the horses, and
pursued the herder to the very gate of the stockade, thus drawing upon
themselves the fire of the garrison. The leader escaped without a
scratch, but his young brother was brought down from his horse and
While he was still under twenty, there was a great winter
buffalo hunt, and he came back with ten buffaloes' tongues which he
sent to the council lodge for the councilors' feast. He had in one
winter day killed ten buffalo cows with his bow and arrows, and the
unsuccessful hunters or those who had no swift ponies were made happy
by his generosity. When the hunters returned, these came chanting songs
of thanks. He knew that his father was an expert hunter and had a good
horse, so he took no meat home, putting in practice the spirit of his
He attained his majority at the crisis of the difficulties
between the United States and the Sioux. Even before that time, Crazy
Horse had already proved his worth to his people in Indian warfare. He
had risked his life again and again, and in some instances it was
considered almost a miracle that he had saved others as well as
himself. He was no orator nor was he the son of a chief. His success
and influence was purely a matter of personality. He had never fought
the whites up to this time, and indeed no "coup" was counted for
killing or scalping a white man.
Young Crazy Horse was twenty-one years old when all the
Teton Sioux chiefs (the western or plains dwellers) met in council to
determine upon their future policy toward the invader. Their former
agreements had been by individual bands, each for itself, and every one
was friendly. They reasoned that the country was wide, and that the
white traders should be made welcome. Up to this time they had
anticipated no conflict. They had permitted the Oregon Trail, but now
to their astonishment forts were built and garrisoned in their
Most of the chiefs advocated a strong resistance. There were
a few influential men who desired still to live in peace, and who were
willing to make another treaty. Among these were White Bull, Two
Kettle, Four Bears, and Swift Bear. Even Spotted Tail, afterward the
great peace chief, was at this time with the majority, who decided in
the year 1866 to defend their rights and territory by force. Attacks
were to be made upon the forts within their country and on every
trespasser on the same.
Crazy Horse took no part in the discussion, but he and all
the young warriors were in accord with the decision of the council.
Although so young, he was already a leader among them. Other prominent
young braves were Sword (brother of the man of that name who was long
captain of police at Pine Ridge), the younger Hump, Charging Bear,
Spotted Elk, Crow King, No Water, Big Road, He Dog, the nephew of Red
Cloud, and Touch-the-Cloud, intimate friend of Crazy Horse.
The attack on Fort Phil Kearny was the first fruits of the
new policy, and here Crazy Horse was chosen to lead the attack on the
woodchoppers, designed to draw the soldiers out of the fort, while an
army of six hundred lay in wait for them. The success of this stratagem
was further enhanced by his masterful handling of his men. From this
time on a general war was inaugurated; Sitting Bull looked to him as a
principal war leader, and even the Cheyenne chiefs, allies of the
Sioux, practically acknowledged his leadership. Yet during the
following ten years of defensive war he was never known to make a
speech, though his teepee was the rendezvous of the young men. He was
depended upon to put into action the decisions of the council, and was
frequently consulted by the older chiefs.
Like Osceola, he rose suddenly; like Tecumseh he was always
impatient for battle; like Pontiac, he fought on while his allies were
suing for peace, and like Grant, the silent soldier, he was a man of
deeds and not of words. He won from Custer and Fetterman and Crook. He
won every battle that he undertook, with the exception of one or two
occasions when he was surprised in the midst of his women and children,
and even then he managed to extricate himself in safety from a
Early in the year 1876, his runners brought word from
Sitting Bull that all the roving bands would converge upon the upper
Tongue River in Montana for summer feasts and conferences. There was
conflicting news from the reservation. It was rumored that the army
would fight the Sioux to a finish; again, it was said that another
commission would be sent out to treat with them.
The Indians came together early in June, and formed a series
of encampments stretching out from three to four miles, each band
keeping separate camp. On June 17, scouts came in and reported the
advance of a large body of troops under General Crook. The council sent
Crazy Horse with seven hundred men to meet and attack him. These were
nearly all young men, many of them under twenty, the flower of the
hostile Sioux. They set out at night so as to steal a march upon the
enemy, but within three or four miles of his camp they came
unexpectedly upon some of his Crow scouts. There was a hurried exchange
of shots; the Crows fled back to Crook's camp, pursued by the Sioux.
The soldiers had their warning, and it was impossible to enter the
well-protected camp. Again and again Crazy Horse charged with his
bravest men, in the attempt to bring the troops into the open, but he
succeeded only in drawing their fire. Toward afternoon he withdrew, and
returned to camp disappointed. His scouts remained to watch Crook's
movements, and later brought word that he had retreated to Goose Creek
and seemed to have no further disposition to disturb the Sioux. It is
well known to us that it is Crook rather than Reno who is to be blamed
for cowardice in connection with Custer's fate. The latter had no
chance to do anything, he was lucky to save himself; but if Crook had
kept on his way, as ordered, to meet Terry, with his one thousand
regulars and two hundred Crow and Shoshone scouts, he would inevitably
have intercepted Custer in his advance and saved the day for him, and
war with the Sioux would have ended right there. Instead of this, he
fell back upon Fort Meade, eating his horses on the way, in a country
swarming with game, for fear of Crazy Horse and his braves!
The Indians now crossed the divide between the Tongue and
the Little Big Horn, where they felt safe from immediate pursuit. Here,
with all their precautions, they were caught unawares by General
Custer, in the midst of their midday games and festivities, while many
were out upon the daily hunt.
On this twenty-fifth of June, 1876, the great camp was
scattered for three miles or more along the level river bottom, back of
the thin line of cottonwoods -- five circular rows of teepees, ranging
from half a mile to a mile and a half in circumference. Here and there
stood out a large, white, solitary teepee; these were the lodges or
"clubs" of the young men. Crazy Horse was a member of the "Strong
Hearts" and the "Tokala" or Fox lodge. He was watching a game of
ring-toss when the warning came from the southern end of the camp of
the approach of troops.
The Sioux and the Cheyennes were "minute men", and although
taken by surprise, they instantly responded. Meanwhile, the women and
children were thrown into confusion. Dogs were howling, ponies running
hither and thither, pursued by their owners, while many of the old men
were singing their lodge songs to encourage the warriors, or praising
the "strong heart" of Crazy Horse.
That leader had quickly saddled his favorite war pony and
was starting with his young men for the south end of the camp, when a
fresh alarm came from the opposite direction, and looking up, he saw
Custer's force upon the top of the bluff directly across the river. As
quick as a flash, he took in the situation -- the enemy had planned to
attack the camp at both ends at once; and knowing that Custer could not
ford the river at that point, he instantly led his men northward to the
ford to cut him off. The Cheyennes followed closely. Custer must have
seen that wonderful dash up the sage-bush plain, and one wonders
whether he realized its meaning. In a very few minutes, this wild
general of the plains had outwitted one of the most brilliant leaders
of the Civil War and ended at once his military career and his life.
In this dashing charge, Crazy Horse snatched his most famous
victory out of what seemed frightful peril, for the Sioux could not
know how many were behind Custer. He was caught in his own trap. To the
soldiers it must have seemed as if the Indians rose up from the earth
to overwhelm them. They closed in from three sides and fought until not
a white man was left alive. Then they went down to Reno's stand and
found him so well intrenched in a deep gully that it was impossible to
dislodge him. Gall and his men held him there until the approach of
General Terry compelled the Sioux to break camp and scatter in
While Sitting Bull was pursued into Canada, Crazy Horse and
the Cheyennes wandered about, comparatively undisturbed, during the
rest of that year, until in the winter the army surprised the
Cheyennes, but did not do them much harm, possibly because they knew
that Crazy Horse was not far off. His name was held in wholesome
respect. From time to time, delegations of friendly Indians were sent
to him, to urge him to come in to the reservation, promising a full
hearing and fair treatment.
For some time he held out, but the rapid disappearance of
the buffalo, their only means of support, probably weighed with him
more than any other influence. In July, 1877, he was finally prevailed
upon to come in to Fort Robinson, Nebraska, with several thousand
Indians, most of them Ogallala and Minneconwoju Sioux, on the distinct
understanding that the government would hear and adjust their
At this juncture General Crook proclaimed Spotted Tail, who
had rendered much valuable service to the army, head chief of the
Sioux, which was resented by many. The attention paid Crazy Horse was
offensive to Spotted Tail and the Indian scouts, who planned a
conspiracy against him. They reported to General Crook that the young
chief would murder him at the next council, and stampede the Sioux into
another war. He was urged not to attend the council and did not, but
sent another officer to represent him. Meanwhile the friends of Crazy
Horse discovered the plot and told him of it. His reply was, "Only
cowards are murderers."
His wife was critically ill at the time, and he decided to
take her to her parents at Spotted Tail agency, whereupon his enemies
circulated the story that he had fled, and a party of scouts was sent
after him. They overtook him riding with his wife and one other but did
not undertake to arrest him, and after he had left the sick woman with
her people he went to call on Captain Lea, the agent for the Brules,
accompanied by all the warriors of the Minneconwoju band. This
volunteer escort made an imposing appearance on horseback, shouting and
singing, and in the words of Captain Lea himself and the missionary,
the Reverend Mr. Cleveland, the situation was extremely critical.
Indeed, the scouts who had followed Crazy Horse from Red Cloud agency
were advised not to show themselves, as some of the warriors had urged
that they be taken out and horsewhipped publicly. Under these
circumstances Crazy Horse again showed his masterful spirit by holding
these young men in check. He said to them in his quiet way: "It is well
to be brave in the field of battle; it is cowardly to display bravery
against one's own tribesmen. These scouts have been compelled to do
what they did; they are no better than servants of the white officers.
I came here on a peaceful errand."
The captain urged him to report at army headquarters to
explain himself and correct false rumors, and on his giving consent,
furnished him with a wagon and escort. It has been said that he went
back under arrest, but this is untrue. Indians have boasted that they
had a hand in bringing him in, but their stories are without
foundation. He went of his own accord, either suspecting no treachery
or determined to defy it.
When he reached the military camp, Little Big Man walked
arm-in-arm with him, and his cousin and friend, Touch-the-Cloud, was
just in advance. After they passed the sentinel, an officer approached
them and walked on his other side. He was unarmed but for the knife
which is carried for ordinary uses by women as well as men.
Unsuspectingly he walked toward the guardhouse, when Touch-the-Cloud
suddenly turned back exclaiming: "Cousin, they will put you in prison!"
"Another white man's trick! Let me go! Let me die fighting!"
cried Crazy Horse. He stopped and tried to free himself and draw his
knife, but both arms were held fast by Little Big Man and the officer.
While he struggled thus, a soldier thrust him through with his bayonet
from behind. The wound was mortal, and he died in the course of that
night, his old father singing the death song over him and afterward
carrying away the body, which they said must not be further polluted by
the touch of a white man. They hid it somewhere in the Bad Lands, his
resting place to this day.
Thus died one of the ablest and truest American Indians. His
life was ideal; his record clean. He was never involved in any of the
numerous massacres on the trail, but was a leader in practically every
open fight. Such characters as those of Crazy Horse and Chief Joseph
are not easily found among so-called civilized people. The reputation
of great men is apt to be shadowed by questionable motives and
policies, but here are two pure patriots, as worthy of honor as any who
ever breathed God's air in the wide spaces of a new world.
Crazy Horse Malt Liquor Protest
Biography written by Mari Sandoz
"The Strange Man of the Oglalas"
Return to Indigenous Peoples' Literature
Compiled by: Glenn Welker
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