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Above: A depiction of the American Civil War
image credit: warfarehistorynetwork.com
by Judee Shipman
In 1861 the American Civil War began. You might think this released some of the pressure on the native tribes, as the U.S. Military now had bigger fish to fry. But the U.S. military were honored guests compared to the local vigilante Indian-haters who replaced them.
Liberally armed by the U.S. Government and respectfully referred to as “volunteer soldiers,” many of these men were nothing more than militant racist alcoholics looking for a fight. They pretty much used Indians for target practice.
Some among the Santee bands decided they had no choice but to remove all whites from the area, or die trying. So in August of 1862, a group of more than three hundred Santee Sioux braves attacked a number of white settlements along the Minnesota River.
Over the next few months, hundreds of white men, women and children were killed by (apparently) Lakota warriors along the emigrant trail. This chain of events became known as the Minnesota Uprising, and was a forced response to the behavior of the “volunteer soldiers.”
That November, more than three hundred Santee Sioux men were found guilty of the rape and murder of white settlers, despite that not a single white man had ever been punished for harming an Indian, nor were all of the attackers, in reality, Lakota braves.
All of the convicted Santee braves were swiftly sentenced to death by hanging. But President Abraham Lincoln intervened. So, on December 26th, 38 Santees were all-at-once hanged by U.S. Soldiers. Depending on who you ask, President Lincoln either saved the lives of several hundred Lakota people, or sent dozens of innocent men to their deaths.
Above: Ledger drawing of an Oglala courting ritual
image credit: Daniel Long Soldier
One day, Crazy Horse was invited to join a war party led by Red Cloud. He agreed, as he always did when his services were requested. Soon after the raiders departed from camp, an older man they called No-Water (some say due to his drinking problem, but more likely a family name) complained of a severe toothache and was ordered back to the camp, seemingly crushed with disappointment. Red Cloud grumbled and moaned, seemingly annoyed at the inconvenience of losing a man.
When the group returned from their excursion two weeks later, Crazy Horse was mortified to learn that No-Water had married Black Buffalo Woman while they were gone. Red Cloud didn't seem surprised to hear this. No-Water was smiling broadly, his apparent toothache apparently healed. Black Buffalo Woman avoided eye contact. Crazy Horse rode away from camp, heart-broken and humiliated. He was not seen again for several weeks.
There are many ways a young man can react to cold romantic rejection and public humiliation. Crazy Horse, as always, took the high road. He returned to the village bearing goods and gifts for the villagers. He stopped in on friends to say hello and acted as if nothing unusual had happened.
Quietly and respectfully, Crazy Horse visited the No-Water lodge many, many times over the next few years, and always remained friendly with Black Buffalo Woman. Never did he blame her for marrying someone else. In those days, many marriages were pre-arranged. A girl under pressure from a political family had not much say in the matter.
So Crazy Horse visited her home quite often and spent great lengths of time with her and her husband No-Water. He never behaved inappropriately. Just lingered longer than one might expect of a guest. When Black Buffalo Woman needed something, Crazy Horse rushed it over before No-Water got the chance. Everywhere No-Water looked, Crazy Horse was.
Of this arrangement, Black Buffalo Woman never complained. Well aware of her beauty and the power it held, she seems to have welcomed the attention of men. Even the Strange One. As for No Water, what could he do? Crazy Horse was a relative. They had to let him in.
Crazy Horse seemed oddly disconnected from the events of the recent uprising and everyone knew why: At the time, all he could think about was her...
Red Cloud was greatly admired for his skill in breaking horses and his bravery in battle. So keen were his senses that his eyes worked independently of each other, one seeing near while the other saw far. His undying determination to gain an advantage had earned him many followers. A figurehead at council meetings, he always had something to add to any discussion. Red Cloud was known for making brief-but-memorable speeches.
Red Cloud was a politically gifted head warrior whose personality had a cold, unpleasant edge that prevented him from ever being elected Chief. In fact, he once killed an Oglala Chief during a drunken argument. The result was the fracturing of the band into two bands. Killing among one's own tribe was virtually unheard of before the white man's whiskey came along.
Still, Red Cloud had achieved great recognition and commanded a good deal of respect through courage, skill, and a patriotic devotion to the welfare of his people, not to mention lies, propaganda, and politically important family connections through marriage. His own father had long ago died from too much whiskey.
Crazy Horse was tragically in love with one of Red Cloud's nieces. Her name was Black Buffalo Woman. By the age of fifteen, she had evolved into a gorgeous young lady.
Crazy Horse had it bad for Black Buffalo Woman.
So intense was his crush that he'd often stop by her lodge and sit with her (under the watchful gaze of her relatives, of course), without ever caring who saw him. She had eyes like a doe. Her shining, blue-black hair smelled of star jasmine, sage, and sweet grass.
Crazy Horse pretended not to notice the smirks and sideways glances from other young warriors, each one waiting in line for his turn, each one eying the foxy teen maiden with sky-high hopes of his own.
Crazy Horse knew as well as anyone that he was considered a ridiculously inappropriate mate for Black Buffalo Woman. She came from an influential political family with many noble warriors to its credit. They would never even allow such a union. The politically ambitious Red Cloud ruled without sentiment. He had power, and wasn't afraid to use it. He cared with tremendous passion for those who lived under his leadership, but held a psychopathic disregard for those who did not. Truth and fair play were non-issues for Red Cloud. He would remove, like a wart, anyone who stood in the way of whatever he decided were his goals, which were usually political in nature. Crazy Horse, cursed with trusting innocence and blinded by desire, never saw the danger.
Red Cloud's folks fancied Crazy Horse laughably inferior. Black Buffalo Woman was the most desirable maiden in the village. Indeed, Crazy Horse had gained great prestige without even trying to. Never did he strive to become a Chief, but he very much preferred to behave like one. So he had earned himself a great deal of respect among the people as a brave, generous, and extremely talented hunter, warrior, and scout. But a public speaker he would never be. And not only was he inarticulate, but as the son and grandson of mere Oglala Holy Men, his lineage was of no importance to anyone. Neither had he the slightest understanding of politics. And boy, was he strange.
Further complicating matters was the fact that Crazy Horse and Black Buffalo Woman were distantly related. Perhaps they shared a common great-great grand parent. They were not related closely enough raise half an eyebrow in the white man's world, but the people were terribly afraid of incest, as they lived (and still live) in extended, close-knit family units.
Because of this fear of incest, marrying within one's own tribe was seriously taboo. Everyone knew the most appropriate place for courting was the annual Sun Dance, where many different tribes, even those who opposed each other all year long, called a truce for their most festive annual event.
In the Lakota way, if relatives show up at your home, you have to graciously invite them in and let them stay as long as they want to, no matter how distant the relation, and whether or not you hate them. This made Crazy Horse's appearance among the courting braves who waited in line even funnier to them, as Crazy Horse could just go ahead in, being related and all.
Crazy Horse either ignored or downplayed these stark realities, hypnotized as he was by the very sight of this ravishing, raven-haired girl, whose presence took his breath away and robbed him of his reason. He saw in her only what he wanted to see.
There were several ways to court a woman. A suitor might be allowed to call on her at home and invite her to walk with him under his courting robe outside her lodge. Hopeless romantics might stand outside the girl's tipi at night and vocally serenade her, or play songs on a flageolet. But standing around in the dark, trilling heart-shaped tones on a little wood flute, amid piercing shrieks of laughter from the Bad Faces, did not appeal to Crazy Horse's understated style.
He may have entertained thoughts of eloping with Black Buffalo Woman - perhaps dreamed they could run away together and live peacefully among the Northern Cheyenne, raising many healthy children beneath the tall, sheltering pines. Crazy Horse was fond of the Cheyenne. But he would never actually allow himself to do anything sneaky or dishonorable. Besides, she hadn't exactly made clear her feelings for him. Little did she mind his adoring attention, but the awkward silences might have made her uncomfortable. Words never came easy to Crazy Horse.
Ultimately, he chose a more practical approach: A man could possibly be deemed worthy of acceptance into a family by living among the family for a year or two and making himself useful. The Bad Faces wouldn't mind. He was always bringing them things, and they liked having things brought. Perhaps he thought the maiden of his dreams felt the same way he did. Perhaps he imagined they could read each others minds.
Despite leading every battle he ever fought, Crazy Horse had always been somewhat half-hearted about raids. He participated only as needed. He never fought unless attacked. He neither rejoiced over his victories, nor decorated himself with human trophies. When the dancing was done he fed scalps to the flames, as the curling blue smoke spiraled skyward. Villagers complained of the smell of burning hair.
Contrary (extremely) to popular myth, Crazy Horse was never looking for a fight. As a boy, when insulted by other boys, he remained silent. Of this, he may have been ashamed at times. He was extremely popular, yet he clearly preferred solitude. As a man, no one knew where he went or what he did. But they could always count on him to bring something home that they needed.
In the summer of 1864, when Crazy Horse was almost 21, he joined a raid against a band of Omahas, and killed an approaching Omaha rider who had very long, chestnut-brown hair. On closer inspection of the body, he realized it was a young woman he had killed. Crazy Horse sickened at the sight of her. He didn't take the scalp, but someone else did.
That evening, alone in the shadows he sat, enduring the loud celebration like a penance, while someone else danced victoriously around the campfire with the scalp of the girl he had killed. To kill a woman of child-bearing age was to kill all the children she would have had, and all who would have been their descendants. To kill a fertile woman is to kill forever.
Adding to Crazy Horse's deepening despair, Black Buffalo Woman was still married to No-Water. By this time they had a son, and she was pregnant with their second child. This made it more difficult for Crazy Horse to maintain his comfort zone of denial about their marriage. And this was the least of his troubles.
Every other year, it seemed, thousands among the people froze or starved, or both. Many more survived the weather, only to be wiped out by disease. Like the Seven Deadly Sins they came – Cholera, Smallpox, Diphtheria, Tuberculosis, Jealousy, Alcoholism, Greed.
Worse yet, the people had recently received a most sinister and disturbing message: In April, the U.S. Government had commanded the extermination of the Sioux. The genocide already in progress was now an official government order. So many among the people already were trapped at the Agencies.
As the villagers continued their dance of denial, Crazy Horse had started spending all his spare time training horses, curing hardwood bows with fire, shaping metal arrowheads of barrel rims and frying pans, carving arrow shafts from chokecherry branches, gathering firearms and ammunition whenever possible. The battle had always been about honor and horses. How swiftly it had become a matter of the life or death of an entire race.
Crazy Horse was sitting apart from the celebration, wrestling demons in typically high-minded fashion, when a captive Washeechu lady saw him and approached. She wore a long white cotton dress with a bright red sash tied around the waist. Her blue eyes darted rapidly about. A forced, frozen smile deformed her otherwise attractive face.
Crazy Horse was somewhat familiar with her. She called herself Fanikehli, and was somewhere around his age. She belonged to his Uncle Lone Horn, who had acquired her as a gift from a wagon raid that summer. Her husband had scampered off like a startled antelope, and her traveling companions had been killed before her eyes. Even her little girl had died in the ordeal. She, being a fertile young woman who begged for her life, was spared by the raiders and brought back to camp.
Recently, Chief Lone Horn had gone away for several weeks, and had dropped off Fanikehli at Red Cloud's camp for safe keeping until he returned from his trip. Before setting out on his journey, the old Chief had visited Red Cloud's lodge and told the story of his lady captive.
Lone Horn had grown exceedingly fond of her, despite that she still thought his name was Silver Horn. How touching he found her emotional attachment to the “talking leaves.” The bloodstained letters they made her translate whenever a war party raided a mail wagon always brought tears to her eyes, no matter how trivial the missive.
And how thoroughly impressed she was with the the Indians' phenomenal memories and insatiable thirst for learning to read, any time of the day or night. And oh, how she loved to mind small children while singing songs on request in her soft, quivering voice, any time of the day or night.
So downright eager she was to engage in the most mundane household chores. So cheerful and cooperative she was when passed around from Chief to Chief! The men of the village called her “Real Woman.”
The ladies of the village wished to build a fire, kill her slowly, and dance around her disemboweled remains. Knowing this forced Fanikehli to cling even more closely to their men.
A tough little woman indeed she was, Lone Horn explained to his friends. But so frail and fragile were her little bones that the five-sleep journey to the campsite over rocky terrain on a lame, unsaddled horse had almost killed her. So delicate were her sensibilities that she nearly starved herself to death by her finicky refusal to eat raw kidney served on the end of a muddy stick, no matter how freshly killed. Nor did she appreciate the crisp, crunchy grasshoppers baked in dirt ovens as they fell swarming by the millions from a clear blue sky.
Later, around the campfire, how rudely she had resisted the honor of being invited to participate in a scalp dance. Then she fainted like the dead at the sight of a mere tattoo needle. Funniest of all, they had somehow learned that she lived in constant dread of being burned alive at the stake, a notion which had not yet occurred to anyone. The Headmen had found this hilarious, and the room had erupted in rolls of uproarious laughter.
Fanikehli approached Crazy Horse and sat down. Perhaps she was drawn to his refined, peaceable demeanor. Or maybe to his milky complexion. Or maybe to the fact that he was sitting alone. Anything to get away from the dancing scalps.
Fanikehli crossed her bony legs, straightened her aching back, smoothed her soiled dress to neaten the imaginary folds, and arranged her sticky hair with two pats of her tiny, chapped hands. Then, folding her hands symmetrically upon her dainty lap, Fanikehli sighed with the feigned contentment of a socialite at a garden party. Having carefully affected the unfailing politeness and bland nonchalance befitting a proper Victorian lady, Fanikehli spoke.
“WHY SO SAD?!!!” she inquired, in a voice that screeched with blind hysteria.
Crazy Horse understood some English from a life spent among trappers, traders, settlers, soldiers, and mixed bloods, not to mention white-educated Indian men like Spotted Tail. In fact, Crazy Horse had white friends, like the artist Jack Howland from the trading post a few years back, and Casper Collins, who lived along the Platte. The son of an army officer, Casper was a fine and fearless young man who had spent time at the Crazy Horse lodge. The two had become buddies and taught each other much.
But Crazy Horse was ever the perfectionist, and his speech was less than perfect. So he preferred not to speak, and rarely found the need to. Yet, on some level he could relate to Real Woman. They were both outsiders looking in, so to speak. So he spoke.
“I killed the girl,” he confessed with a voice barely audible, in the most unsuccessful attempt at friendship ever made.
“I... beg... your... p-pardon?” asked Fani in a fizzling whimper, ironically wishing she were back at the dance.
“I... killed... the girl,” Crazy Horse helpfully repeated, leaning nearer to her and gesturing grimly toward the dancing fire where a thick, brown, flowing scalp was held so very high above the rest.
Their eyes met. The lady froze, fossilized with fear. Afraid to speak. Afraid not to.
Then Crazy Horse rose abruptly and walked into his lodge. Fanikehli heaved a huge sigh of relief, but went pale as a pillar of salt when he returned a moment later and sat back down. He now clutched a blue and white calico dress, caked with the dried blood of its previous owner. Struggling to match the symbolic images of his tortured thoughts to the sounds of spoken English, Crazy Horse spoke again:
“Her eyes… made me sorry,” he gently explained, as though seeking absolution.
In that moment, the lady lost whatever thin thread of hope she might still have held for being rescued. Clapping a hand to her gasping mouth, she rushed away in horror, then dropped to her knees and vomited.
Bemused and bewildered, Crazy Horse watched Fanny Kelly struggle to her feet and stagger off.
He wasn't trying to scare anyone. Yet, everyone seemed afraid of him.19
Above: A photo of Fanny Kelly graces the cover of her book.
image credit: amazon.uk
It was around this time when a Northern Cheyenne Chief made a truce with the U.S. Army, allowing his people to camp peacefully at a place called Sand Creek in Colorado. In exact accordance with the Army's instructions, Chief Black Kettle prominently displayed two flags high above his lodge - A white flag signifying surrender and peace, with an American flag flown above it.
The people of the band stockpiled whatever they had to call rations, and reinforced their homes with extra blankets. One November night, as the air turned cold, they quietly retreated to their tipis and the warming fires within.
At dawn, the camp was approached and surrounded by six-hundred Colorado soldiers. Colonel John Chivington led the pack, under absolutely no orders from anyone.
“Kill as many as you see, big and little,” ordered the Colonel to his troops.
“What about the truce?” asked a Private still green from West Point.
“Damn any man who sympathizes with Indians!,” declared the Colonel. “I have come to kill Indians, and I believe it is right and honorable to use any means under God's heaven to kill Indians!”
Hundreds of men, women, and children were attacked as they slept, and murdered on that frigid early morning. Among the mutilated corpses was Yellow Woman, the lady whose life had been saved by Crazy Horse at Bluewater when he was only eleven.
Soon, Lakota war parties were attacking white settlements all along the South Platte River, killing more than the number of victims who died at Sand Creek. On their behalf, Crazy Horse participated in an attack at Julesburg. The warriors burned that little Colorado city to the ground.
By the following summer, the Platte River Bridge Station had become a major pioneer crossing and a main stop on the Pony Express mail route. Once again, hordes of travelers crossing the bridge were scaring off the game. The people had to eat. So Crazy Horse devised a strategic plan to attack this vulnerable post.
Platte River Bridge was a relatively easy target. Here was where the soldiers stayed in tents along the river, rather than cloistering themselves away in bullet-proof forts. Crazy Horse volunteered to run the Daring Line. A few others did the same. Many braves concealed themselves behind reeds along the water's edge, while others rushed the fort and lured the troops into this well-laid trap of human forces, positioned around the river and the bridge like a net.
Out came the soldiers, led by the bravest among them, riding way out in front of the rest, fearlessly defending his men against the unprovoked Indian attack. The man was Casper Collins.
This was indeed a dilemma. Casper was a fine young man, genuinely liked and admired by the people. Casper had earned the friendship and respect of Crazy Horse and his family. And he was, after all, only protecting his post from an unprovoked Indian attack.
So the brave who put an arrow through his head had mixed feelings.
The place where Casper Collins fell was named in his honor, and is still known as Casper, Wyoming.
In July of 1865, General Patrick Conner organized three columns of soldiers to invade the Powder River Basin, spanning from the Black Hills to the Big Horn Mountains, a territory long ago won by the Oglalas. His Official Order:
“Attack and kill every male Indian over twelve years of age.”
Conner built a fort on the Powder. Wagon trains began crossing the Basin on their way to Montana gold fields. Innocent Lakota hunters were shot dead on sight. Then Conner, with the help of 125 soldiers and about ninety Pawnee scouts, attacked the Arapahoe Band of Chief Black Bear as they camped on the Tongue River. Not that the Arapahoe band had done anything wrong. They were simply the nearest Indian encampment to where the soldiers were camped.
The soldiers later claimed they meant to kill only men, but that hundreds of women and children “got in the way.”
This hideous incident caused the formerly peaceful Arapahoe Nation to ally with the Northern Cheyenne and Oglala Sioux tribes against the U.S. Army. The people held and emergency meeting. The popular opinion: Kill any white man who dares to approach.
A short while later, a well known white trader called Bird came riding down the trade route to barter with his friends among the Sioux, as he had done so many times in summers past. A band of Cheyenne warriors accosted him and set him on fire. They left the trader's charred remains rotting on the road, and distributed his goods among the people.
It was at least a year before the next white man dared to approach.
In December of 1866, Lakota warriors won a fight known as the Fetterman Massacre. Or the Fetterman Battle, depending on who you ask. The primary difference between a battle and a massacre is that the winners call it a battle and the losers call it a massacre. Based on the prophecy of a winkte consulted beforehand, the Oglalas called it the Battle of 100 Slain, although only 81 soldiers were actually slain. In any case, what happened was approximately this:
The recklessly overconfident Colonel Fetterman was an arrogant man. He fancied these primitive savages no match for his well-bred West Point education and his impressive military credentials. He took full-chested pride in his carefully chosen troops, and was itching to kill some Indians.
He was a 32-year-old Civil War veteran in a position of highest command. He resented the inflexible U.S. government orders that obliged him and his men to cower like namby pamby girly boys behind the Lodge Trail Ridge. He had survived the Civil War, for Pete's sake! This handful of half-dressed heathens would be a picnic in the park compared to that.
“Give me eighty good men,” Fetterman had said, “and I'll wipe out the whole Sioux Nation!”
And so it was that Colonel Fetterman could simply not resist chasing such a pathetically small group of disorganized Indians as the ones he saw nearby, especially that harmless looking little guy with the lame, limping horse.
On seeing Fetterman, the little guy whooped and waved his red blanket to alert his friends, then raced off and hid behind a tree like the scrawny, red-skinned coward Fetterman chose to believe he was.
Any doubts Fetterman may still have had about whether or not to give chase vaporized when three brave and dignified warriors rode up to a distance of about two hundred feet, then stood upon their ponies and mooned him.
The Colonel's face flushed with injured pride at this humiliating display of waggling bare bottoms, made worse by the keeling laughter of his troops, not to mention his own speechless envy of men clever enough to stand on moving horses. So Fetterman issued the wittiest comeback he was capable of conceiving.
“CHARGE!” called the Colonel.
No one was laughing now.
At Fetterman's vengeful command, he and his troops charged across the Lodge Trail Ridge and caught up with that pesky little Indian guy, who by then had untied something from his horse's foot, and the horse seemed fine all of a sudden.
Imagine that grim moment when Fetterman realized he'd followed a decoy.
Falling for the oldest trick in the book, Colonel Fetterman had led every one of his troops past the point of no return. The man who rode the Daring Line was none other than Crazy Horse, one of the last men whose acquaintance Colonel Fetterman would ever make.
The Colonel may have had just enough time to catch a glimpse of the panic-stricken faces of his men, who might have had just enough time to gape accusingly in his direction. Perhaps he managed one last, longing look over his shoulder at the Ridge he now so wished they'd never crossed.
By the time their jaws had finished dropping, Fetterman and his troops were surrounded and ambushed by about two thousand Oglala, Cheyenne, and Arapaho braves.
In sheer terror, Fetterman raced away from Crazy Horse, only to be faced with American Horse.
Charging full speed ahead, American Horse knocked Fetterman to the ground, then jumped from his mount to kill the Colonel with his hunting knife. But Fetterman would deny him the tribal honor.
As American Horse approached, Colonel Fetterman put his own gun to his own head and fired. American Horse was forced to console himself with the notion that a white man was not even worth the trouble it took to kill him.
All of Fetterman's U.S. soldiers were swiftly and easily annihilated. The Lakota lost only seven men, but some of them – Little Bear, Looking Horse, Yellow White Man, and especially Lone Bear – were lifelong friends of Crazy Horse.
Adding to the tragedy, Crazy Horse's cousin Black Elk got his leg crushed and was crippled for life. So Black Elk's three-year-old son (later known as Nicholas Black Elk) became that family's sole provider.
Above: Ledger art by White Bull, depicting himself
lancing a soldier during the Fetterman battle.
Below: A ledger drawing of Crazy Horse, whose immunity from bullets has always been well documented. Artist unknown.
The next major battle between the people and the U.S. Army was the Wagon Box Fight.
August 1867, soon after the annual Sun Dance, a Lakota group led by Red Cloud joined several bands of Northern Cheyenne at their camps along the Tongue and Rosebud Rivers. Increasingly heavy human traffic along the Bozeman Trail was once again chasing away the game.
So the warriors hatched a plan to destroy Fort C.F. Smith and Fort Phil Kearny both, to prevent further travel along the Bozeman Trail.
It was further decided that both forts should be attacked at the same time, since attacking one could give the enemy soldiers time to defend the other. Timing was key.
Lakota braves had noticed during the Fetterman fight that muzzle loading rifles took an awkwardly long time to reload. The strategy was to advance while the enemy was busy reloading.
Under Red Cloud's command from a distant ridge, Crazy Horse led more than a thousand warriors in the attack on Fort Phil Kearny, as a second, smaller group of men converged at C.F. Smith.
Captain James Powell and his 31 soldiers, seeing all those warriors approaching Phil Kearny, shielded themselves behind fourteen wagons laid end-to-end in an oval configuration. There, the soldiers crouched and awaited the equestrian invasion, outnumbered by about 50 to 1.
Over the hill, like a tornado they came. Crazy Horse, as always, rode way out in front, far ahead of the rest of his men. Tip of the tornado.
But the warriors were in for a nasty surprise: These soldiers were equipped with the all-new Springfield breechloading rifles, supplied to them as a direct result of the Fetterman Battle. These rifles reloaded three times faster than the old rifles.
As wave after wave of approaching warriors fell to the latest technological advance, Red Cloud kept sending in more, hoping, praying, expecting the enemy to run out of ammunition eventually.
Yet line by line, a wave of his arm sent scores of warriors charging to their graves. As many as a hundred Sioux warriors were killed at those two forts that day.
Among the survivors were Crazy Horse, who ran the Daring Line and by all accounts should have died first, and Red Cloud, whose arm must have ached from all the waving.
Many years later, by then a very old man, Red Cloud gave a lengthy biographical interview. In it, he recalled the most mundane moments of each of his twenty trips to Washington, but seemed unable to recount a single detail of the Wagon Box Fight.
The fiercest competitors speak only of their victories. Though not entirely at fault, Red Cloud chose not to recall the day his well-intended plans caused the deaths of so many of his own men. He dismissed this glaring omission with typical political convenience:
“I tell you freely the things I plainly remember. There are other things not now so clear in my mind and these I do not try to speak.”
Throughout the entire interview, Red Cloud never once mentioned Crazy Horse.
Despite his complete absence of political ambition, thousands among the people by now were following Crazy Horse and calling him their Chief. He had earned many admirers, impressed as they were with his bravery, generosity, humility, and skill. In other words, his all-encompassing desire for their safety and well-being, and his proven ability to indulge it.
Never was Crazy Horse officially elected Chief, because he never sought the distinction. A job well done was its own reward. Reputation was everything in a tribal society, where people spent their whole lives together.
The reputation of Crazy Horse was without question. Men spoke admiringly of his courage, the power of his “Medicine,” and his intense-yet-unassuming demeanor. Women whispered with twinkling eyes of his fine and fetching looks. Children followed him everywhere.
Most outstanding about Crazy Horse were the qualities he lacked. Normal human failings - greed, envy, jealousy, vanity, idleness, animosity, self-doubt. Such traits were conspicuously absent from his character. Crazy Horse would have nothing to do with the Demons that took his mother.
It was his rare and winning personality that won him the trust and respect of the masses who adored him and named him their leader.
He may have hoped for a quieter life, but refusal was never an option. As the decade waned, the reputation of Crazy Horse as a leader of the people continued to grow.
Sometime in 1867, Sitting Bull's uncle Four Horns called a meeting and said it was important. Crazy Horse and his friend, a highly accomplished Hunkpapa warrior named Gall, were among the first to arrive.
Members of many Lakota bands showed up, happy just for the chance to be near such a man as Tatanka Iyotake! As the meeting began, all eyes were on Four Horns.
“The white invasion is a very serious matter,” said the aging Chief, “and so the Lakota Nation is in need of new leadership.”
“Ha!” agreed all Council members present.
“I recommend my nephew, Tatanka Iyotake!” offered Four Horns to the crowd.
“Ha!” “Washday!” “An excellent choice!” came various voices in the crowd.
“To fill this position, my nephew will need a brave, loyal, most able assistant,” said Four Horns. “For this, I recommend Crazy Horse.”
The air echoed with rounds of hearty applause. Then everyone fell quiet to see what fascinating speech the Silent One finally would deliver! How exciting it would be to learn of his many grand plans for the people!
Crazy Horse leaned almost imperceptibly toward Gall and whispered something no one else could hear.
“He says he will,” said Gall to the Chief.
A moment followed, with no one quite sure what to say next.
“Well... alright then! Very well.” concluded the Chief.
Four Horns then presented his nephew Sitting Bull, the new Chief of the entire Tiatumwa Lakota Nation, with a magnificent willow wood bow, a quiverful of perfect arrows, and one good rifle.
Then he presented Sitting Bull with a beautiful white stallion, and a headdress of black-tipped, white eagle feathers trailing to the ground, each feather signifying a specific act of generosity or courage.
Then everyone smoked of the sacred pipe, and the council meeting came to an end.
Red Cloud, Spotted Tail and almost all of their followers were conspicuously absent from this meeting, having already embraced the Washeechu way of life. But Crazy Horse had now pledged himself always to the old way, under the leadership of the Great Chief Sitting Bull, in answer to the desperate pleas of the people.
Above: Tatanka Iyotake (a.k.a. Sitting Bull) in later years
In 1868, Hunkpapa Council Chiefs awarded Crazy Horse the prominent distinction of Shirt-Wearer, along with several other “notable” Oglala men.
Among the other recipients were American Horse (son of Chief American Horse), Young-Man-Whose-Enemies-Are-Afraid-of-His-Horse (son of Chief Old-Man-Whose-Enemies-Are-Afraid-Of-His-Horse), and George Owns-a-Sword, a singularly unaccomplished 18-year old Oglala who just happened to be Red Cloud's favorite nephew.
The role of a Shirt-Wearer was by then obsolete. Shirt Wearers had always been chosen by Chiefs. People were elected more for their family connections than their personal merit.
Over time, the politics behind it all had caused the community to lose respect not only for the title, but for those who held it.
Generally, the younger braves no longer looked up to the Chiefs, as it seemed to them that whatever the Chiefs were doing didn't seem to be working lately. Not that the younger braves could have done any better, but being so young, they imagined they could.
As much as Crazy Horse despised the attention and fuss of a ceremony, the new title may have suited him fine. A Shirt-Wearer was expected to display exemplary behavior at all times, so as to set a positive example for other tribal members. A Shirt Wearer was always helpful and harmed no one. He might have hoped it would lead to a quieter life.
With the title of Shirt-Wearer came the gift of a handcrafted sheepskin shirt - by today's standards, an overworked monstrosity exploding with intricate quill work and fringed at the seams with hundreds of human hair locks. The back was crudely covered in every possible pigment with pictures of horses and weapons and men, symbols of the many brave deeds of Crazy Horse.
In those days, Indian artists created pigments using plants, minerals, and other natural resources. Bright reds came from pomegranates, beets and berries. White came from a certain type of clay. Brown was made from dried blood. Blue was derived from duck manure. Yellow came from the bile in a buffalo's liver. Green was an eclectic blend of buffalo bile and duck manure.
Camouflaging his reluctance in masterful style, Crazy Horse shed his scarlet blanket, the one and only thing he called his own. Graciously, he donned his new shirt before the fawning, applauding Council crowd.
It was stiffer than a rawhide drum and weighed more than a dozen stone-tipped arrows. He took the first chance to remove, it and draped himself once more in the comforting simplicity of his familiar red blanket.
On an important note, Crazy Horse was the first Shirt-Wearer who was not politically connected in any way. He achieved the distinction on merit alone.
In the Brule camp, he belonged to a family of Chiefs. But even among his father's Oglalas he was recognized as the greatest hunter/warrior/scout among them – if also the strangest:
Never counted coup. Never collected scalps. Never showed his rank. Never sought prestige. Never even spoke - let alone boasted - of his accomplishments. In fact, he rarely ever spoke at all. And he seemed to want nothing for himself.
It was as if, somehow, this world is just a minimal representation of a brighter, better world unseen to most.
There was something downright unsettling about him! Something that originates in the pit of the stomach. Something you’re not sure you want to know.
Yet, whatever was his difference, Crazy Horse exemplified loyalty, kindness, integrity, and trust.
Nicholas Black Elk said it best when recalling a typical visit with his strange-yet-beloved older cousin:
“I used to go visit Crazy Horse in his lodge and sit there and feel afraid. I wasn't afraid he was going to hurt me or anything. I was just afraid.”
As the bison population continued its downward spiral toward extinction, times were grim for the “hostiles,” as well as for the Loafers who hung around the forts. Agency Indians – especially children - were dying in mysteriously large numbers. Provisions continued arriving late, when they arrived at all.
In the wild, where game was increasingly scarce, raiding had become a literal necessity – a matter of life or death. The attacks had taken a vicious turn, casualties more numerous than before.
And those were just the native tribes. There was also the white man to contend with.
So Crazy Horse continued fighting, alongside his hero, Sitting Bull.
In one battle, Crazy Horse rode the Daring Line, as usual. It was considered the most dangerous position any man could take during battle. Crazy Horse often rode the Daring Line, but in some small way, may have also wished to impress his hero.
As the white soldiers fired their bullets, Crazy Horse was the first to volunteer to ride the Daring Line. As he rode back and forth, soldiers shot at him repeatedly, wasting ammunition, missing him and his horse every time. Crazy Horse glanced in Sitting Bull’s direction.
Not to be outdone, Sitting Bull invited anyone who wished to join him, then walked across the Daring Line, wandered further forward about 200 feet, directly into the line of enemy fire, then sat down on the ground, removed his pipe from its bag, and calmly began filling it!
The other braves nearly died of heart failure to see him take such a risk. It’s hard to say why he wasn’t killed.
Into is pipe, Sitting Bull carefully placed equal amounts of tobacco and willow bark. Then he produced a carefully measured pinch of sage from a smaller pouch, sprinkled it on top of the tobacco blend, and carefully packed it down.
Some of the soldiers half-heartedly fired bullets his way. Others just gawked in utter disbelief, as Sitting Bull lit his pipe and casually smoked.
Then several soldiers opened fire in his direction, but they may have been aiming to miss, because they missed, although one of the bullets whizzing by missed his head by only about four inches.
All eyes were on Sitting Bull. Nobody noticed Crazy Horse.
At some point, two of the bravest of the braves decided to accept Sitting Bull’s invitation, and ventured forth.
They both ran like rabbits to where Sitting Bull sat, snatched the pipe from his hands, took a quick puff, threw it back into his lap, and raced back to the safety of the other side of the Daring Line, where they promptly collapsed, eyes agape, and momentarily lost control of their bladders.
From that day on, those two men were noted for their bravery.
Sitting Bull continued smoking where he sat, until his pipe bowl was good and empty. Then he carefully cleaned his pipe, and placed it properly back inside his pipe bag. Then he stood up and walked calmly away.
Crazy Horse just had to crack a smile. The two had a friendly rivalry, each one trying to outdo the other, with Sitting Bull always the winner. On this day, Sitting Bull made the men who rode the Daring Line look like cringing cowards!
Not that Crazy Horse was afraid to join Sitting Bull. In terms of courage, those two men were equally matched. It was just that he didn’t want to diminish the older Chief’s stunning act of bravery. And Sitting Bull had thought of it first.
So Crazy Horse stayed on the Daring Line, laughing at the soldiers as he rode along, unharmed.
In summer, a number of Lakota Chiefs attended another treaty signing near Fort Laramie, regarding the “sale” of the Black Hills. Crazy Horse preferred to hang several miles back from the meeting tents, content to learn of the proceedings from his scouts.
This treaty provided for a permanent reservation for the Sioux in all of South Dakota west of the Missouri River. In this treaty, the government promised that no whites would enter the Sioux reservation without Sioux permission, and that the signature of three out of four adult Sioux males must be secured before any changes or further negotiation could be made. The U.S. also agreed to abandon its forts and withdraw completely from Lakota territory.
While the Army officers were explaining all this, their soldiers were building new forts at better locations.
At some point during proceedings, the diminutive, insecure Oglala they called Little Big Man importantly charged forth on a reluctant gray horse, then ran it around before the officers' tent in a most flamboyant fashion. Decked out for battle and surrounded by thugs, he menacingly threatened to kill any Indian who “touched the pen.”
Oglala Chiefs cringed at the sight of him. Red Cloud turned his back in disgust. Even the horse looked embarrassed as Little Big Man was dragged away by some of the Chiefs' advisers.
The Chiefs already knew they didn't want to sell the land. They were just hoping for some gifts from the soldiers, and perhaps some useful information. But neither gifts nor intelligence was received because the meeting was shortly adjourned, due to the fuss Little Big Man made.
Some signed the treaty. Some did not. Very little was accomplished, as usual. The provisions of the treaty were abjectly ignored, as always. Red Cloud soon surrendered with his family to the agency.
Within a year, the Oglalas were trading horses and mules for sacks of flour to survive.
Meanwhile, in keeping with the treaty signed (by some) the year before, the cooperative agency Indians feasted on white man's cattle, which tasted pretty good when you were half dead from hunger.
The Oglalas were raiders more than traders, and being the biggest, most powerful tribe meant never having to negotiate. The lack of this ability led to some catastrophic decisions by their leaders. Not that any other decisions would have mattered, necessarily.
Red Cloud had recently visited Washington DC and turned down an offer of sixty million dollars (by today's standards, that's about six hundred million) for the Black Hills. Well managed, that much money could be feeding their families to this very day. But the people, untaught in the handling of money, were forever getting robbed, and now had nearly nothing left.
No one showed them how to use the dollars. Not that it mattered. The dollars never would have arrived.
The people called it Mules-Sold-By-Hungry-Sioux-Winter.
So preoccupied were the people now with finding food and burying their dead that the Oglala Winter Count Calendar for that year doesn't even mention the total solar eclipse that followed the course of the Missouri River for about a thousand miles, turning day to darkness as it passed.
Above: The 1868 treaty signing, featuring
General Sherman and several Oglala Chiefs.
image: Black Hills Knowledge Network
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Here are some Classic Short Stories from the public domain:
Told in the Drooling Ward, by Jack London
The Ransom of Red Chief, by O. Henry
The Tale of Peter Rabbit, by Beatrix Potter
Go here for selected Moral Stories.
See this page for Aesop's Fables, other short stories, printable poems, and more.
Click this link to learn Why Reading Is Important.
Native American Flags of Indian Nations
Native American Indian Reservations by State
Native American Tribal Tattoo Designs