Crazy Horse

Crazy Horse "His-Horse-is-Crazy" was a highly respected war leader of the Oglala Lakota in his day and is still regarded so by me. Sources differ on the year of Crazy Horse's birth, but most agree that he was born between 1840 and 1845. Crazy Horse was killed with a bayonet on September 5, 1877 while in the captivity of the US Army. Crazy Horse's father, on the evening of his son's death, told Lt H. R. Lemly that his son "would soon have been thirty-seven, having been born on the South Cheyenne river in the fall of 1840.". In youth, his nickname was Curly. He had the light curly hair, light eyes, and not particularly dark skin.

After witnessing the death of Lakota leader Conquering Bear during the Grattan Massacre, Crazy Horse began to receive visions. Crazy Horse's visions first took him to the south where in Lakota spirituality you go when you die. He was next taken west in the direction of the Wakiyans (thunder beings) and given a medicine bundle that would protect him. His animal protector would be the white owl, which in Lakota spirituality gave him extended life. He was also shown his face paint, which consisted of a yellow lightning strike down the left side of his face and white powder that he would wet and with three fingers put marks over his vulnerable areas. When dried, they resembled small stones or pebbles. He was also given a sacred song that told him he would be a protector of his people. A medicine man, Horn Chips, gave him a black stone that he placed behind his horse’s, ear so that the medicine he received would make his horse and himself one in battle. Crazy Horse did not wear a war bonnet.

Through the late 1850s and early 1860s, Crazy Horse's ability as a warrior grew, along with his fame. Scant written information exists because the Lakota had no written language, depending only on oral historians. His first kill was a Shoshone raider who had killed a Lakota woman washing buffalo meat along the Powder River. He fought in many skirmishes with Lakota enemies: the Crow, Shoshone, Pawnee, Blackfeet, and Arikara. After the 1864 Cheyenne Sand Creek Massacre in Colorado, the Lakota joined with the Cheyenne against the US Army. Crazy Horse fought in many skirmishes and battles against the US Army. Due to his fighting ability, Crazy Horse was made a Shirt Wearer, or leader, in 1865.

On December 21, 1866 Crazy Horse participated in the Fetterman Fight. Referred to commonly as the Fetterman Massacre, I prefer Fight. It seems that if the Indians won, it was a massacre. Crazy Horse and 6 other warriors, lured Lt. William Fetterman's 53 Infantrymen and 27 Cavalry Troopers from Fort Phil Kearny on the Bozeman Trail into an ambush (see my photos page). The Troopers had separated from the Infantry, realized they were cut off from Fort Phil Kearny and vastly outnumbered. The Troopers regrouped with Lt. Fetterman in an attempt to bolster their numbers in a vain attempt to repel the Indians. Almost 1000 Braves participated in the trap and battle. At the time, it was the worst US Army defeat dealt by the Plains Indians. The terrain is quite steep and it was easy to hide the Braves and their horses. No whites survived. Corporal Adolph Metzger was honored after the battle, by his enemies, by not being mutilated and having a buffalo cape placed over his body. He fought hand to hand with a bugle after expending his ammunition. I’ll have a page about Cpl. Metzger posted in the future.

Crazy Horse participated in another famous battle involving Fort Phil Kearny, the August 2, 1867 Wagon Box Fight. This battle was a victory for the Army as 32 soldiers held off 400 to 1,000 Braves depending on whom you believe. After a wood cutting crew was ambushed, the soldiers fled to a circle of wagon boxes without wheels, using them for cover to fire at the attacking Indians. The Soldiers had been issued new breech loading rifles that increased their rate of fire from three times a minute to 10 times a minute. Not knowing this, the Braves made repeated charges and were repelled repeatedly. Indian casualties were around 200 killed and injured. Many were buried in the hills around Fort Phil Kearny in Wyoming. Red Cloud eventually won his people’s war and the Fort was shut down, with Red Cloud burning it.

In 1867 Crazy Horse invited Black Buffalo Woman on a buffalo hunt in the northwestern corner of South Dakota. Black Buffalo Woman was the wife of No Water, who spent a lot of time near military forts drinking alcohol. Lakota customs allowed a woman to divorce her husband at any time by moving in with relatives or with another man, or by placing the husband's belongings outside their lodge. Compensation was usually required and the rejected husband was expected to accept the divorce for the good of the tribe. No Water was extremely displeased and tracked down Crazy Horse and Black Buffalo Woman. From outside their tipi, No Water stuck a pistol inside and aimed for Crazy Horse's chest. Crazy Horse's cousin, Touch the Clouds, was sitting in the tipi near the entrance and knocked the pistol upward as No Water pulled the trigger, causing the bullet to hit Crazy Horse in the upper jaw. No Water fled, with Crazy Horse’s relatives giving chase, to his own village. Tribal elders convinced Crazy Horse and No Water that no more blood should be shed. No Water gave Crazy Horse three horses as compensation for the shooting. Because of the incident, Crazy Horse was stripped of his title as Shirt Wearer. Black Shawl was sent to aid Crazy Horse in the healing process. Crazy Horse and Black Shawl developed feelings for each other and married. They had a daughter, They Are Afraid of Her, in late summer of 1872. They Are Afraid Of Her died in 1874 at the age of two.

Crazy Horse participated in still more skirmishes and battles with the whites leading up to the showdown at Little Big Horn. Of major importance on June 17, 1876, Crazy Horse led a group of 1,500 Lakota and Cheyenne in an attack against General George Crook's force of 1,000 cavalry and infantry, and 300 Crow and Shoshone warriors in the Battle of the Rosebud. The battle delayed Crook from joining up with the 7th Cavalry under General George Armstrong Custer, sealing Custer’s fate at the Battle of the Little Big Horn. It was the first time the Indians had stood their ground against such a large number of US Army Soldiers in the west. The battle was close to a draw, but General Crook withdrew (I feel an Indian victory) without informing General Terry and General Custer of the size of the Indian war party or their new tactics. On June 25, 1876, General Custer's 7th Cavalry attacked the Indian camps along the Little Big Horn River. Crazy Horse entered the battle and was a major participant, leading groups of Braves in the remarkable Indian victory.

After the US Army recovered from this stunning defeat, the Indians were seemingly always pursued and on the defensive. On September 10, 1876 the 3rd Cavalry attacked a Minicoujou camp in the Battle of Slim Buttes, in South Dakota. Crazy Horse and his Braves attempted to rescue the camp but were repulsed. On January 8, 1877, Crazy Horses' Braves fought their last major battle at Wolf Mountain. On May 5, 1877 Crazy Horse surrendered to United States troops at Camp Robinson in Nebraska, his party extremely weakened by cold and hunger. Camp Robinson became Fort Robinson in 1878.

Crazy Horse resided in a village, near the Red Cloud Agency, for the next four months. Rumors of Crazy Horse's desire to slip away and return to the old ways of life started to spread, fueling further tensions between the various tribes themselves and the Army. Officers at Camp Robinson received word that Chief Joseph and his followers had fled their reservations in Idaho and were headed north through Montana to Canada. The Army asked Crazy Horse and Touch The Clouds to help fight the Nez Perce band led by Chief Joseph. Both declined stating they had promised to remain at peace when they surrendered. Some say Crazy Horse eventually agreed, after being promised more for his people, saying he would fight "till all the Nez Perce were killed". His words were improperly translated by Army scout Frank Grouard, who stated that Crazy Horse said that he would "go north and fight until not a white man is left". When Grouard had his translation challenged, he left the council. Another interpreter was brought in and quickly detected the growing tension, the damage already done. With the increasing tension at the Red Cloud Agency, General Crook was ordered to Camp Robinson. Another council of the Indian leaders was called, and then canceled, when Crook was informed that Crazy Horse had said that he intended to kill General Crook during the council. Crook ordered Crazy Horse's arrest and then departed at a particularly troubling time. Additional troops were brought in from Fort Laramie and September 4, 1877, soldiers moved against Crazy Horse's village, only to discover it had disbanded in the night. Crazy Horse had journeyed to the Spotted Tail Agency with his sick wife, who had contracted tuberculosis. Crazy Horse met with military officers at Camp Sheridan and agreed to return to Camp Robinson.

On the morning of September 5, 1877, Crazy Horse departed for Camp Robinson with the soldiers and some of his followers. An order was given for Crazy Horse was to be arrested and under the cover of darkness taken to Division Headquarters, such was the Army’s fear of the great leader. Crazy Horse was led to the post guardhouse. Once inside, Crazy Horse realized his fate and struggled with the guard and Little Big Man in an attempt to escape. As he fled out the door of the guardhouse, Crazy Horse was stabbed with a bayonet by one of the guard detail. He was treated by the assistant post surgeon, Dr. Valentine McGillycuddy, and died late that night. Some say Crazy Horse died at midnight, what a chilling premonition that is. The great Warrior was struck down and succumbed at the darkest hour of night, the ways of his people also falling into the great black abyss with him. Official military records say he died before midnight, making September 5, 1877 his acknowledged death date. Dr. McGillycuddy wrote that Crazy Horse "died about midnight.". The following morning his body was turned over to his parents who took him to Camp Sheridan, where he was placed on a scaffold. The following month when the Spotted Tail Agency was moved, Crazy Horse's parents moved the body to an undisclosed location. There are thought to be four major possible locations noted on a state highway memorial near Wounded Knee, South Dakota. The great leader’s final resting place remains unknown.

Years later, the traitorous (my opinion) Little Big Man told that as Crazy Horse was being taken to the guardhouse he pulled two knives, one in each hand. One knife was reportedly fashioned from the end of an army bayonet. Little Big Man not wanting the soldiers to have any excuse to kill him, seized Crazy Horse by both elbows, pulling his arms up and behind him. As Crazy Horse struggled to get free, Little Big Man abruptly lost his grip on one elbow, and Crazy Horse's released arm drove his own knife deep into his own lower back. I guess it is possible such a freaky thing could have happened, but I have serious doubts that an extremely adept hand to hand weapon combatant like Crazy Horse could stab himself in the back!

Little Big Man's account is questionable, as it is the only one of 17 eyewitnesses accounts (Indian, US Army, and "mixed-blood" individuals) which fail to attribute Crazy Horse's death to a soldier at the guardhouse. The "last words" attributed to Crazy Horse contain "I came here with the agent to talk with the Big White Chief but was not given a chance. They tried to confine me. I tried to escape, and a soldier ran his bayonet into me. I have spoken. " . The Identity of the soldier responsible for the bayoneting of Crazy Horse is also unknown. One account identifies the soldier as Private William Gentles. To this day, the identification remains questionable.

There is a great controversy whether Crazy Horse was ever photographed. Crazy Horse was distrustful of whites (who can blame him?) and was fearful that the cameras would steal his soul. In 1956, a small tintype portrait reported to be Crazy Horse was published. The photograph had belonged to the family of scout, Baptiste "Little Bat" Garnier. Twenty years later, the portrait was published again with more details about how the it was taken at Camp Robinson. The original tintype is currently in the Custer Battlefield Museum in Garryowen, Montana, and is promoted as the only authentic portrait of Crazy Horse. Both sides of the controversy have valid arguments. I have viewed the tintype in the museum, I have no idea who is correct. I hope it is Crazy Horse, I would like to think I have gazed on the face of this great leader. William Bordeaux made a sketch of Crazy Horse for his book, based on a description of him by Bordeaux's father and Crazy Horse's relative, Julia Clown (Iron Cedar Woman). Both said Crazy Horse was never photographed, and they knew him personally. Like I always state, do your research and read both points of view in depth, and then make your own educated decision.



Sketch of Crazy Horse

Crazy Horse photo?


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