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Who Was Crazy Horse?

For a man like the great Oglala Lakota warrior Tashunkeh Witko, the man most people know as Crazy Horse, it seemed like an undignified way to die. On September 5th, 1877, four months after he and other Oglala leaders came to Fort Robinson at the Red Cloud Agency to surrender and negotiate a peaceful ending to the fighting, and just a year after the battle at the Little Bighorn, Crazy Horse was dead. While being arrested he was stabbed in the back by a soldier with a bayonet just outside a jail cell. How could this have happened to a man who rode fearlessly through a hail of arrows and gunfire in order to give his war parties time to regather themselves, a man who selflessly rescued fellow warriors from certain death on the battlefield? The U.S. Army called the stabbing an accident. Relatives, friends, and fellow tribe members of Crazy Horse thought differently.

Crazy Horse was born sometime around 1842 near Rapid Creek in the Black Hills of South Dakota to parents from two different Sioux tribes, his mother, Rattling Blanket Woman, a Miniconjou, and his father, Crazy Horse, an Oglala holy man. After Crazy Horse was born his mother began calling him Curly for his naturally light-colored, curly hair. When he was about twelve years old Curly witnessed the shooting of their great Lakota chief Conquering Bear by U.S. Army soldiers led Lieutenant John Grattan. The ensuing skirmish eventually left 29 U.S. Army soldiers dead, including Grattan, and later became known as the Grattan Massacre and the beginning of the Sioux Wars. As Curly grew into a young man, seeing that he was destined for great things, his father relinquished his own name to his son after the young warrior had revealed the vision he had of bullets and arrows vanishing in thin air before they struck him. His father took the name Worm, and with his new name, Curly had become a third generation Crazy Horse after his father and grandfather.

As tales of Crazy Horse’s heroics during battle grew, he quickly became a leader among his people who they willingly followed and trusted. But he was different from most Oglalas. He was shy, modest, never drew attention to himself, and many times seemed alone in his thoughts. Some considered him aloof. Unlike most Oglala warriors, informed by his vision, he almost never took scalps. He wore little or no face paint, never wore a war bonnet, and was content with wearing only one head feather. He did not dance and no one ever saw him sing, both activities that Lakotans loved. He never married his true love, Black Buffalo Woman. Her husband, No Water, shot Crazy Horse in the face when he found the two together in a tipi during a buffalo hunt. The shot glanced off the side of his face and left a permanent scar.

These are just some of the things we know about Crazy Horse, but much about his life remains vague at best. Only those who were close to him knew much of anything. Two of the most important resources that can give a researcher unique insights into the life of Crazy Horse come from two books, Mari Sandoz’s “Crazy Horse: The Strange Man of the Oglalas,” and John Neihardt’sBlack Elk Speaks.”

Growing up on the panhandle of present day Nebraska in the early 1900s, Mari Sandoz lived among the Oglala who often encamped near the Sandoz homestead. She befriended relatives and friends of Crazy Horse like He Dog, Short Bull, and Black Elk. Using her knowledge of the Lakota language, she artfully wove her tale of Crazy Horse by integrating the Lakota’s superb transcendental imagery into plain English. John Neihardt, an American poet and ethnographer, interviewed Black Elk, a Lakota medicine man and cousin of Crazy Horse. In “Black Elk Speaks,” through the translation of Black Elk’s son Ben Black Elk, Neihardt narrated Black Elk’s own stories and his visions as a medicine man, but also related many stories about Crazy Horse the warrior and leader of the Oglala Lakota.

eLibrary can also give you a step up in your research of the life of Crazy Horse. There are resources on the Plains Indians tribes, such as the Sioux and Cheyenne, and the Great Sioux Wars from the 1850s to the 1890s (including the Battle of the Little Bighorn and Battle of the Rosebud). Below are those resources and more related to Crazy Horse and his people.

Research Topics:
* Battle of the Little Bighorn
* Battle of the Rosebud
* Crazy Horse
* Sioux Indians
* Sioux Wars

Magazine Articles:
* How Little Bighorn Was Won
* Lakotas Feared Fighters of the Plains
* Tragedy at Red Cloud Agency: The Surrender, Confinement, and Death of Crazy Horse
* ‘We Belong to the North’: The Flights of the Northern Indians From the White River Agencies, 1877-1878
* What Did Crazy Horse Look Like?

Book Articles:
* Crazy Horse (Tasunke Witko)
* Sioux
* Plains War

Battle of the Little Bighorn

 

Sometime in early June of 1876 members of the Lakota and Cheyenne tribe met at a Sun Dance at Rosebud Creek in Montana where Sitting Bull (Tatanka Iyotanka), a holy man and chief of the Lakota tribe (Teton Sioux), collapsed into a trance and had a vision. There he met White Buffalo Calf Woman, a guardian spirit of the Lakota, who told him that there would be a great battle fought against the white man and that he and his tribe would be victorious. Approximately three weeks later, on June 25th, and a week after the Battle of the Rosebud, the Lakota-Northern CheyenneArapaho alliance decisively defeated Lieutenant Colonel George Armstrong Custer and the 7th Calvary at Little Bighorn, in what was probably the worst defeat by the U.S. Army by the Plains Indians.

The Battle of the Little Bighorn, or as the Lakota refer to it, the Battle of Greasy Grass, clearly stands in history as one of the great metaphors for lost causes, considering the numbers of Indian warriors the 7th Calvary ran into that day. The 7th, which encompassed 12 companies with a total of just over 600 men, engaged an estimated 3,000 warriors. To this day, the engagement continues to beg the question of why Custer, with overwhelming odds against him, was set on attacking the huge Plains Indians alliance. What were his motives? Was it shear arrogance and over-confidence? Was it a strategic error? What would cause Custer to go into battle that would eventually not only take his own life, but that of two of his brothers, a brother-in-law, and a nephew?

You can explore these questions and more by searching eLibrary’s resources below, beginning with the history of conflict between the U.S. government and Plains Indians, the background that set the battle in motion, the numerous broken treaties, and the resistance of the Plains Indians being moved onto increasingly smaller reservations.

Related Research Topics:

Battle of Little Bighorn
Crazy Horse
George Armstrong Custer
Manifest Destiny
Sioux Indians
Sioux Wars
Sitting Bull

Publications:

American History (Magazine)
Encyclopedia of North American Indians (Reference Book)
Military History (Magazine)
U.S. History (Anthology)
Wild West (Magazine)
Wounded Knee (Book)

Browse Topics in eLibrary:

19th Century Native American History
Battle of the Little Bighorn
Gilded Age
Native American History
Native American Leaders
Native Americans
U.S. Military Leaders
Westward Expansion