Crazy Horse a flawed, but superior warrior

Saturday, December 9th, 2017 6:45pm


Image Caption

The Crazy Horse Memorial in the Black Hills of South Dakota.

By Dianne Meili Archives

Who would have thought it would be a jealous wintke (an old Lakota word meaning a man who 'wants to be like a woman') named Woman's Dress, who would help bring down one of North America's most famous warriors, Crazy Horse?

The two were childhood friends, but their relationship soured when a teenaged Crazy Horse rebuked her advances. Angered at the rejection, Woman's Dress vowed revenge and, years later, helped set into motion a series of events that resulted in the Oglala chief's death.

Crazy Horse was known to his mother as "Curly" or "Light Hair" and his birth in a Lakota camp near a sacred monument known as Mato Sapa, or Bear Butte, caused his mother, Rattle Blanket, concern.

The baby was healthy in every way, except his skin was the light color of the wasichu (white man) and his hair was not dark and straight, but, rather, sandy and curly.

His father, Crazy Horse (senior), went to the mountains to pray with his pipe and find out why his son was born the way he was. While up on the butte, he received a visit from a bear, who gave him powers to conquer all earthly beings, including the wasichus, who were arriving in droves upon the land.

"But I am not a warrior. I am a holy man," Crazy Horse said after his vigil. "No, I conclude the gift was given to me to give to my son, who will grow strong. He will use the gift of the bear spirit to become a great leader of our people."

The boy knew nothing of his father's vision. Young Sioux boys had great freedom and could do what they liked. Because Curly looked different, he felt he had to do better than other boys to be accepted. At a young age, he fought harder than other boys in their mock battles and took more risks, but he was also considered a little strange because he was a loner.

Early on he established his physical superiority, but it was on one of his many solitary journeys into the Plains that he decided to be a great warrior.

Perhaps he decided that such renown might ease the pain of being different from others. Whatever his reasoning, he was determined to be prepared to make choices that would lead him to warrior-hood.

As years passed and Curly grew up, he witnessed bloodshed and death associated with attacks on his people by army generals Grattan, Harney and Sumner. After he witnessed the unwarranted killing of Chief Conquering Bear, who had only wanted peace, at the hands of the wasichus, Curly's thoughts turned to revenge.

Even though he harboured distaste for ritual and ceremony, he knew he needed spiritual assistance if he was to fight off the newcomers. While fasting, no vision was bestowed upon him and, discouraged, he walked back down the mountain.

When he reached his horse, he fainted and slipped "into the world where there is nothing but the spirit of all things ... the real world behind this one" he later told his cousin.

In his vision, a warrior approached him riding on a horse that seemed to float above the ground. The warrior told him never to wear a war bonnet and never to take the spoils of a raid for himself. The warrior's progress was sometimes impeded by his own people clutching his arms and making his riding difficult, a portent of what was to come.

Crazy Horse (senior) sang outside his son's lodge and bestowed upon him his own name when Curly was a teenager and after he showed great skill on a raid against the Shoshone.

"Long ago, my father, Makes The Song, told me of a dream," he told Curly. "He saw that one day my son would have the spirit of a wild horse, powerful and untamable. Behold the warrior, Crazy Horse!"

Curly, now Crazy Horse, had taken an arrow in the leg during the raid, and it was sore. As he rested in the woods, Woman's Dress came to see him and ask him how his leg was healing. She tried to rub the sore muscles, but as her hand slipped up to her childhood friend's thigh, Crazy Horse brushed her away and stood quickly. Rebuffed, Woman's Dress vowed revenge as she watched Crazy Horse limp away.

In 1865, a group of Big Bellies who were Elder warriors, called for a ceremony to install new shirt wearers in which warriors would be named to a certain high-ranking brotherhood.

When his name was called, Crazy Horse knew he had been selected because of his ability as a warrior and his status as a man with superior responsibility to his people. Since he cared little for the bragging and bravado warriors shared after a victory, he found the office of the shirt wearer easy to uphold, with one exception.

He was in love with a woman named Black Buffalo, who had ignored his youthful advances and married a more senior warrior named No Water. Crazy Horse found himself hanging around her lodge and, eventually, ran off with her.

As the two lovers camped some distance away from their people, No Water found them and shot Crazy Horse in the face, just below his left nostril.

The office of the shirt wearer suffered irreparable damage after this. As an adulterer, Crazy Horse felt humiliated and depressed by his lack of integrity and the fact he had put his own interests before the community's.

There was more devastation to come as his little daughter, with a later wife, died of cholera and the buffalo became increasingly scarce. Crazy Horse vowed he would fight harder than ever to protect his people's way of life from the invading wasichus. To that end his personal courage played a big role in the Battle of the Little Bighorn and the killing of George A. Custer. Sioux battle participant, Little Soldier, said "the greatest fighter in the whole battle was Crazy Horse."

But after that victory, life for Crazy Horse took a turn for the worse. In 1877, after fighting his last major battle in Montana against the United States Cavalry, his people were weakened and hungry after a harsh winter. In May of that year he surrendered to the troops at Camp Robinson in Nebraska.

At Red Cloud Agency, near Camp Robinson, Crazy Horse lived out his days. Now in his late 30s, he found himself to be something of a legend and an object of attention to army officials and younger warriors. Red Cloud and Spotted Tail, leaders who had earlier adopted white ways, were jealous and spread rumors that Crazy Horse would betray the army and that he only wanted his own freedom.

Woman's Dress added to the smearing of Crazy Horse's reputation. As officers planned a large council to make peace with another tribe, Woman's Dress told General Crook that Crazy Horse planned to kill the tribe's leader and escape, taking the camp with him as his followers.

There has never been any evidence that Crazy Horse planned to do this.

On the morning of Sept. 5, 1877, Crazy Horse travelled with Lieutenant Lee to a camp where Lee had orders to arrest him. As he was being taken to the guardhouse, Crazy Horse struggled and attempted to escape. He was stabbed with a bayonet by one of the members of the guard, or, perhaps by his old friend Little Big Man, a fact rumoured to have been hushed up to avoid interclan disputes.

Crazy Horse was tended by the camp surgeon, Dr. Valentine McGillycuddy, but died late that night. His body was turned over to his heartbroken parents, who moved him to a place somewhere on the Plains he had loved.

His final resting place remains unknown.

No pictures of Crazy Horse exist, but a modern day monument of him is carved into a mountain in the Black Hills of South Dakota in the tradition of the Mount Rushmore National Memorial.