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Above: A 19th century Lakota village, much like the one where Crazy Horse lived.
image credit: pinterest.com
by Judee Shipman
The people named it Hundred-Horses-Winter.
It was the year the city of Boston held its first town meeting. The year when, in Missouri, a thousand passengers boarded the first wagon train headed northwest. It was the year when a slave called Sojourner Truth left New York and trekked across America, alone and on foot, preaching freedom and equal rights, baring her breasts to the masses, reducing immense crowds to shamed silence with the simplest of questions pertaining to her race and her womanhood.
It was a year marked by very strange occurrences: To the west, Washington's Mount Rainier erupted. To the east in New York and Ohio, snows fell in June. Later that summer, settlers in South Carolina gaped in stunned disbelief as a live alligator dropped from the sky in the midst of a thundering rainstorm.
Meanwhile in New England, William Miller, a Baptist preacher with many followers, eagerly awaited the outcome of his vague prediction that "... Jesus Christ will come again to this earth, with all the saints, to cleanse, purify and take possession...”
His predicted time-frame for this event was somewhere between March of that year and March of the following year. But his vision was cursed by the usual preconceived notions regarding the details of such an event.
So he and his followers nearly died of disappointment when the sky didn't tear itself open, and harp-playing angels didn't come heralding downward, and dead bodies failed to get up from their graves and start walking around again.
Far away to the North, it was the year when an unstable star reached its greatest ever apparent brightness. The star, whose name means “Second Star of Sea and Mountain,” became the second brightest star in the earth's night sky, despite being eight thousand light years away.
It was the year when, somewhere in the unbroken western wilderness, a band of Brule and Oglala Indian warriors recovered a 3,000-year-old magic medicine arrow from the Pawnees, whose ancestors had stolen it from Northern Cheyenne Chiefs in countless winters past.
Oglala Chiefs returned the treasured artifact to its original owners, who were over the stars to see it again.
In gratitude, the Cheyenne Chiefs gave the Oglala Chiefs a hundred horses.
With these, the Oglala soon caught plenty buffalo, enough to feed their families for many moons to come.
And at the center of it all, deep in the Black Hills of what is now South Dakota, it was the year a most extraordinary child was born, in a shelter of willow poles and animal skins, under conditions so plain and unassuming that no one noticed anything odd at first.
It was a joyful year. The Northern Cheyenne named it Magic-Arrow-Winter. Whites called it 1843.1
He was born in the waxing of the Moon When Leaves Change Color, somewhere along the banks of Rapid Creek, in a pine-drenched wilderness that overlooked a vast prairie still blanketed from end to end with thirty million buffalo.
His ancestors had come from the woodlands that surrounded a cluster of sky blue lakes far east of the Big River. His original name was Egna Can. It means “Among-Trees.”
The new baby opened his eyes without crying.
His mother fed him, then bathed him in warm water infused with the wakanga herb, then dressed him in a pint-sized leather diaper, lined with the cotton-soft blooms of a cattail plant.
Then she placed his tiny form on a fresh new buffalo calf skin blanket near the warming fire, and swaddled him securely.
She covered the baby's feet with little beaded moccasins, hand crafted by one of many doting female relatives. The shoes were embroidered with hundreds of seeds painted red, white, yellow, and black – carefully arranged into symbolically significant geometric forms. Triangles for tipis. Circles for the Sun.
Beside him, his mom tucked two beaded deerskin dolls – a lizard and a turtle – made just for him by one of his many grandmas.
In the Lakota way, the line between immediate family and extended family is so fuzzy no one can find it. So it wasn't (and isn't) unusual for a child to have many grandmas.
The lizard, stuffed with sweet-grass and cekpa, represented a guardian spirit. The turtle, stuffed with sage, meant longevity and strength.
The child would become forever known as Crazy Horse.
His mother was Tasheena-Hlahla-Weeyan. In English, Rattle-Blanket-Woman. She was named for a blanket she had once owned with a snake rattle attached. The sound it made had always let villagers know she was near.
Sheena was part Minneconjou, part Brule. Her lineage was French and Mongolian. Many hundred years ago, French trappers had settled and intermarried with a Minneconjou band, eventually creating the Brules.
Sheena came from a very important political family of tall and imposing warriors. Her father was Black Bull, a brave and brilliant, highly respected Brule Chief who once controlled the global trade routes as a middleman.
Black Bull's Brule village was perfectly situated just a short way northeast from the banks of the Big River where many traders passed, or tried to.
These days the place is called Pierre, South Dakota, but back then it was a Brule village where Chief Black Bull was a world-class negotiator.
His most preferred method of negotiation was lining the river banks with armed warriors, then commandeering a cargo vessel and demanding enough gifts to sink a barge.
Travelers agreeable to the terms of negotiation were granted the tribal courtesy of not being pumped full of arrows, and were invited to the Chief's lodge for a sleepover.
To commemorate the festive occasion, Black Bull graciously supplied the boat's crew with several hundred pounds of fresh bison meat, fully enough to sustain them on that long ride back in the direction they came from.
Then Black Bull and two of his Headmen, known as Partisan and Black Medicine, continued along the route's northern passage and traded European goods for crops from Arikara farmers.
The Brule people lived on large game animals, so Black Bull traded the Ree harvests for everything else with other tribes on the way home.
Black Bull and his men never strong-armed the allied bands, but it's a safe guess that Black Bull got the better end of every deal he made.
The great Chief always came home with many fine goods – blankets, hides, pelts, weapons, metal tools, stone bowls, leather garments, musical instruments, children's toys, craft supplies, and everything else they needed.
The influence of a Chief depended entirely on his ability and willingness to give. In this regard, Black Bull knew no equal. His village of 700 people or more was the largest of all Brule villages.
Black Bull once even negotiated with Lewis and Clark, if you call threatening to kill each other over a carrot of tobacco negotiating.2
Black Bull was born in the winter when people found horses.
Among his many children were at least four daughters, now known by English speakers as Iron-Cedar, Good-Looking-Woman, They-Are-Afraid-of-Her, and Rattle-Blanket.
He also had at least three sons, historically known as Elk-Voice-Walking, Lone Horn, and High-Back-Bone (a.k.a. “Hump”).
The sons and grandsons of Black Bull later became Chiefs of large bands and had many fine wives.
Chief Black Bull died in the Cough-Sick Winter, when Sheena was still a baby, in the time known to whites as 1815.
Crazy Horse's father was an Oglala soothsayer who was originally named Crazy Horse, but would later and forever become known as Waglula.
Waglula came from a peace-loving family of ceremonial healers. Waglula had two brothers, Black Elk and He-Crow, along with a sister called Big Woman. Their father was Makes-the-Song.
Little was Waglula admired as a warrior, but much he was appreciated for his tenacious hunting skills, tremendous generosity, and helpful, homespun wisdom.
Crazy Horse's mother was mad about Waglula, but she was also exceptionally fond of He-Crow.
Sheena enjoyed the security of imagining that if anything happened to Waglula, his brother He-Crow would have her as a wife, in keeping with the customs of the people.
And so it was that on the day when the only son of Sheena and Waglula caught his first breath of sweet clean air, all seemed right with the world.
Traditionally, for a short time after a child was born, baby and mom lived alone. Then slowly back to the village they went.
On their arrival, Waglula excitedly emerged from his lodge, followed by a gaggle of extended kin. All ran forth to greet their newest Oglala. Noisily they admired this fine, healthy boy. Curious children examined him closely. Holy Men predicted his imminent greatness. Ladies cooed and wondered aloud at the lightness of his hair.
The baby blinked his golden eyes in silence.
Above: Lakota tipis
image credit: Pinterest.com
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The following winter was marked by tragedy, as there were just too many ways to die that year.
Winter moons saw thirty-below temperatures and much heavy snowfall. Despite the building of corrals, horses froze to death where they stood. Swirling blizzards ripped tents from the ground and carried them off like dried leaves in the wind. Tribal villagers had to pitch tipis in the forests, using deeply rooted trees for lodge poles.
Then, almost as if nature exacted payment for the good fortune of the previous year, a raging smallpox epidemic ended many thousand lives among the people.
The final blow came in mid-July that year - the Moon When Sun Stands in the Middle. Absaroka Warriors (also known as Mountain Crow) attacked the severely weakened Oglala camp and murdered 38 villagers.
Among the dead was Waglula's brother He-Crow.
Tasheena Hlala Weeyan was rugged and tough, as are most folks who spend their lives outdoors. She had managed to survive the elements, escape serious illnesses, endure separation from her family, and avoid enemy attacks, but losing He-Crow broke her heart.
Now Sheena clung more than ever to her strong, handsome husband for emotional support, but Waglula had recently gone hunting with his friends.
Tasheena Hlala Weeyan was an overemotional wreck of a human being, awaiting her husband's return with tremendous longing.
Her kinfolk lived at the Brule campsite a few miles away. Traditionally, a Lakota husband lived with his wife's clan. But Waglula had wished not to leave his community. So Sheena had decided to live with him anyway, despite the urging of her family that she find herself a brave warrior who slays many enemies and lives with his wife's clan, as any nice man would do.
Now Sheena eyed the distant ridge, perhaps wondering how many more children they would have together.
Her heart ached for He-Crow, while still she missed her own beloved brother and his son, by that time nine winters gone.
One-Horn, just a year older than Sheena, was the first son of her brother Lone-Horn (in Lakota language, those two names are the same). Because of their closeness in age, One-Horn had been like a brother to Sheena, although whites would have called him her nephew.
One-Horn was a handsome, fearless young warrior and expert game hunter whose many fine credits included sitting for the artist George Catlin.
Sheena and One-Horn had grown up together as the best of friends in the most powerful of all the Brule bands. Their village was an idyllic, mile-wide circle of towering, translucent, white hide tipis that glowed under twinkling night stars from the warming fires within.
In the middle of the village was an even bigger tipi used for dances, ceremonies, feasts, and council fires.
Socially, the people met in groups. The men had their warrior societies. The ladies had their craft societies, one group of friends beading garments, another doing quill work, another making pretty things of leather.
There was always enough meat to feed everyone, and the sheer size of the village's population kept it safe from enemy attack.
When One-Horn fathered a son at the age of eighteen, Sheena had adored her brother's child as if her own.
Tragically, One-Horn and his little boy died suddenly, and far too young.
One-Horn had taken the boy on a buffalo hunt, and as any proud and reckless young man with a son might do, he had boasted of the time he approached a buffalo on nothing but his own two legs, and killed it with a single arrow.
The little boy's eyes had beamed with awestruck wonder!
A short while later, One-Horn looked around for his son, and across the prairie, witnessed the unthinkable – A bison bull standing strong, a small child dead at its feet.
The boy had tried to do like his dad.
Overtaken with guilt-stricken grief, One-Horn rushed the animal on foot with bow and arrow.
He tried to kill the beast like an enemy, but the animal killed him first.
Some say he wished it so, but Sheena was beyond despair. Her brother had known only twenty-three winters. Her nephew, only five.
The family of Chief Lone Horn carried on. Sheena stayed with them for a few years after the tragedy, more and more sure with each passing moon that her finest times were behind her.
Then came Hundred-Horses-Winter.
Above: a 19th century Chippewa woman and her baby.
image credit: Pinterest.com
Sheena was in love.
She and Waglula were both around thirty, more than twice the traditional marrying age, at least for a woman. Yet both had remained unattached and without surviving children until then.
So when Sheena found out she was expecting a child, it had seemed like the perfect union. Spiritually predestined, somehow. Whites might call it Serendipity.
Now Sheena rocked the baby, swinging softly side to side his upright painted cradle board. She sang a distracted lullaby while gazing at the ridge where she had last sighted her husband, perhaps wishing she could see right through it. A scout had recently announced the return of the hunting party.
Sheena had implored Waglula not to go. He must have reassured her on leaving of the all fun they would have when he came home again.
“I will bring much meat.” he must have told her, with his usual unbridled optimism.
So on this day, Sheena fetched the wood and water, cleaned the buffalo hide bedding, mended worn garments, and organized their meager belongings into separate parfleches of painted rawhide.
Then she built a cozy, warming fire, and covered the tipi floor with a deep, cushioning layer of fresh, fragrant sage.
She probably wished she had more friends and relatives around.
She probably wished she had more help with household chores.
She probably wished somebody would mind the baby so she could get some rest.
She probably should have been careful what she wished for.
At long last, the hunting party appeared upon the crested horizon. Sheena smiled broadly as the group began its unhurried approach, but her smile diminished with the closing of the distance between them, and gradually disappeared altogether, never to be seen again.
Waglula had with him... three young women.
They rode alongside him on ponies that carried his equipment. The four of them chatted back and forth with festive familiarity. One threw her head back and laughed in the carefree way of a barefoot maiden.
Then Waglula spotted his wife evil-eyeing them in the distance.
He and the three suddenly assumed a humorless demeanor, riding straight postured on their ponies and looking intently ahead as if they didn't notice each other.
Villagers passed by Sheena as she waited.
Someone cast a pitying glance her way.
Another smirked with cruel satisfaction.
Many awkwardly avoided eye contact.
Sheena went inside their tipi, placed the baby on his sleeping robes and waited, her throat closing with the rising panic of being about to learn something she did not want to know.
Indeed, Waglula had taken three sisters as additional wives. Their names were Corn-Woman, Gathers-Grapes, and Red-Leggins.3
New wives were not what Waglula had in mind when he set out after buffalo with the hunting party a week earlier. His son was less than a year old. The custom of the day was for parents to have children at least five years apart, for safety's sake.
But somewhere near Bear Butte, the hunting party chanced by the village of Waglula's friend, a Minneconjou Chief named Corn Man. Corn Man's village was under vicious attack by the same Crow warriors who had recently killed Waglula's brother.
Waglula howled a battle cry and rushed in without even consulting his men. Fought like a rabid grizzly. Chased those Crow all the way to Wyoming.
On his return, Waglula was hailed as a hero, credited with saving whatever was left of Corn Man's village.
Tragically, one of Corn Man's wives was killed in the attack. Her name was Iron-Between-Horns. She and Corn Man had raised three girls together. Corn Man was inconsolable.
It was customary for a bereaved Lakota husband to give away all his belongings in mourning.
So Corn Man gave Waglula his three most precious possessions - the three grown daughters of his now dead wife. By then, the sisters had washed their tear stained faces and now stood smiling and ready, clutching their neatly packed belongings in small leather pouches, eager to follow home this handsome hero who had saved their village.
Waglula knew that Sheena would not approve. Sheena had become more of a burden than a comfort – not at all the rock-solid, traditional wife he might have once imagined her to be.
Yet, refusing this gift would be an unspeakable insult to Corn Man, the brave, trusting, lifelong friend who had fathered these three (extremely attractive!) young ladies.
On entering the Hunkpatila village, Waglula hitched his horses and ambled toward his lodge, as casually as he could manage to appear. He would use his soothsayer voice – the one that always worked with grieving hearts.
Gentle reasoning was key.
After all, polygamy was not unheard of. And it was not at all unusual for sisters to share a man's tipi.
It is often said that the existence of the typical Lakota Hunter-Warrior-Scout was precarious, so women outnumbered men in those days. Truth be told, this was merely a convenient lie told to school kids by Christian Missionaries.
Men always have and always will be men, but among the people, honesty was prized. Traditional wives typically welcomed the presence of other women who could share some of the more unwished-for household chores such as gathering, tanning, washing, sewing, and sex.
Traditional wives did not fool themselves into thinking they owned a man. Traditional wives did their work, minded their business, and just knew better than to dwell on what men get up to.
Waglula left his new wives with a neighbor and went home, armed with nothing but the monumental cluelessness his old wife might have once found adorable.
The lodge was clean and tidy. Their bed was made and ready. The look on the face of the mother of his son would castrate a bison bull.
“All is well, my darling. Let me explain,” Waglula might have actually said.
Gentle reasoning never stood a chance.
The fight that followed woke the baby, and kept him awake until the morning star appeared. The baby didn't cry, just lay awake all night, eyes wide open, listening, as Waglula tried his best to explain.
“They are fine young ladies! They are cherished daughters of my true and trusting friend. They have just lost their mother! What would you have me do? Leave them freezing in the forest? Trade them for hides and horses? Parcel them out like toys for young braves to play with?”
“You bring home too much MEAT!” could have been Sheena's bitter reply.
Whatever was said, Waglula's three fine new wives were more than the lonely mother could stand. Her husband had come to mean too much to her. Like anyone foolish enough to fall in love, she had told herself he would never love another.
Now her husband had more wives than a Chief.
Waglula was a lady's man, through no fault of his own. Not at all a womanizer, but quite simply a charming, magnetic human being as generous as he was attractive, with always a sympathetic ear to lend and a kind, encouraging word to spare.
Those who knew him were deeply moved by his bravery in the face of danger, and his eagerness to share whatever meat he had with all who entered his lodge.
Sheena had always seethed at the attention he garnered from every giggling, whispering maiden they passed, yet how proud she had been of her handsome accomplishment!
Now the newer, younger wives were here to stay. Sheena's complaints fell on deaf ears. Her tears drew no sympathy at all. Neighboring wives disdained her immaturity.
Men of the village reminded her that Waglula had just lost his brother, and urged her to be a good wife and be happy for her husband's happiness.
It was, after all, a woman's job to maintain domestic harmony.
No one seemed to care what Sheena thought of all this.
To her husband, Sheena pleaded for mercy. But Waglula only informed her, in his unfailingly polite manner, that she was being selfish and unreasonable. That he was, after all, a man. That he was not about to let a woman tell him what to do. That she would just have to get used to the new arrangement or go back home to her family.
He probably also let her know that if she left, the child would stay, as her declining mental state now had him worried.
For Sheena, returning to her family must have seemed no longer an option, so often had she boasted of the one true love of her life. So shamed she was by his betrayal, however unintentional it seemed.
As Sheena's emotions spun out of control, her husband's new wives, in trying to console her, only made things worse. She did not want their help around the tipi. She did not want their friendship. She did not want their nasty, slutty hands on her child. All she wanted was her husband, all to herself.
Sheena's love was forever blind to the inappropriateness of her demands. False Pride, Vanity, Jealousy, and Greed consumed her. Tragically, there had once been a time when vices such as these were virtually unknown (or at least unshown) among the people.
But violent blizzards, sweeping epidemics, blood thirsty invaders, and soul-crushing loneliness had taxed her ability to cope.
To Sheena, there must have seemed no escape.
She had no friends in Waglula's camp. She shared a one-room lodge with her husband and his three new (much younger) wives, forcing her to face them every day. Worse yet, forcing her to hear them every night.
Eyes wide open, listening.
And that was when a Demon appeared, having been there all along.
It showered her shattered soul with lies and false comfort, assuming the shape-shifted forms of her dearest brother and darling nephew, looking so peaceful and happy and young, beckoning her to the Land of Plenty Meat.
Beside them stood He-Crow, so tall and gallant and strong! So comforting was the sound of his familiar voice pledging eternal devotion to Sheena!
“You will be my One Wife,” said the Demon.
Three scouts found her under a willow tree the following day, swinging softly side to side from a braided sapling noose.4
It was a dreadful year. The people called it Crows-Came-and-Killed-38-Oglalas-Winter.
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.
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