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by Judee Shipman
About a year later, in 1873, Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull spearheaded the first Lakota attack on the Northern Pacific Railroad. Only two white casualties were counted in the Battle of Arrow Creek. But the railroad workers got so scared they wet their pants, quit their jobs, and caught the first train back East on the track they had just built. This prevented further expansion into the Yellowstone Valley. Railroad construction came to a screeching halt, and the whole U.S. economy collapsed.
The warriors cheered all the way home, except for Crazy Horse, whose mind was elsewhere, as usual. Sheena-Sapa had been coughing a long time now. Lately, the baby had started coughing too. Crazy Horse was most eager to get back home.
On his return, Crazy Horse learned that his little girl had died of the coughing sickness. Whites called it Influenza, the villagers helplessly explained. Rushing to his lodge, Crazy Horse cringed and recoiled at the agonizing screams of his grief-maddened wife, whose arms were slashed and bloodied from numerous self-inflicted knife wounds.
To his daughter's resting place he rode in sorrow, on what every parent knows was the worst day of his life. The child lay in state seventy miles away, as the camp had been forced to move while Crazy Horse was gone. Frank Grouard insisted on accompanying him to his daughter's grave site. Crazy Horse hadn't the strength to refuse.
They set up camp about two miles from it. Then Crazy Horse walked off alone and approached the tiny funeral scaffold with all of his little girl's toys placed upon it. Crazy Horse climbed the funeral scaffold, draped his body across the body of his only child, and wept.
He did not leave that spot for four days. He rode back to his village a changed man: He never did and never would fear death, but now he welcomed its arrival like a friend.
Above: A child's funeral scaffold
Native American tribes Native American tribes Native American tribes
In 1874, shortly after the Red Cloud Agency was removed to Fort Robinson in northwestern Nebraska, General George Armstrong Custer led a surveying expedition into the Black Hills. Unexplained was the fact that many of the fifteen hundred men he brought along did not wear soldier uniforms. Some of them wore overalls and carried hammers and pick axes.
Custer soon announced, “in a voice that went everywhere,” the presence of gold in those hills. The resulting mad rush for gold chased away what was left of the game that sustained the tribes. The people were dying in great numbers now.
Chief Lone Horn died in 1875, having lived through 85 winters. In May of that year, Red Cloud, Spotted Tail and Touch-TheClouds (posing as his father Lone Horn) traveled once again to Washington DC, hoping to convince President Grant to honor existing treaties and keep miners off their land. The men were offered $25,000 for it. This was the “enforced sale” amount now dictated by the U.S. government. All three delegates refused the paltry sum.
In November, the U.S. Government, ignoring the treaty of 1868, issued an order commanding all Indians associated with Crazy Horse or Sitting Bull to report to reservations by the end of January, or be labeled “hostile” and therefore open to attack, as if they weren't in that predicament already.
The response to this order was virtually nonexistent. For some reason, Indians seemed reluctant to travel 300 miles on foot through deep snows and blinding wind storms in the dead of winter. So, in February of 1876, Lakota people living off the reservations were certified as “hostile,” allowing for them to be hunted down and exterminated by the U.S. Military, backed by the laws of its own U.S. Government.
Almost immediately and with much fanfare, scores of U.S. soldiers rode off to exterminate the Sioux, armed to the eyeballs in well stocked, horse drawn wagons, but they were forced to turn back because the weather made travel impossible.
Meanwhile, as Alexander Graham Bell was making the world's first phone call, Sitting Bull was organizing the largest gathering of Indians ever seen on the Great Plains. Since spring, Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull had been beckoning Indians of all kinds, recruiting any Indian who would join them. Sitting Bull urged everyone to share supplies with whoever showed up at the camp, no matter what tribe they were from.
“Don't choose special friends.” advised the Chief to the people, “Be equally kind and gracious to all who join us.”
Scouts were sent to the Agencies to encourage recruits, particularly targeting Indian scouts. No thanks to telephones, the group very soon expanded to a village of about twelve thousand people.
Two thousand tipis lined the banks of the Bighorn River that year.
On June 4th, a train arrived in San Francisco from New York City, completing the first coast to coast excursion of the First Transcontinental Railroad. The trip took 83 hours and 39 minutes. Ironically, the same trip takes just about as long today, and still no passenger train service exists in or anywhere near South Dakota.
The next day, many thousand Northern Cheyenne, Hunkpapa, Sans Arc, Brule and Minneconjou gathered for the Sun Dance ceremony, with Sitting Bull and White Bull in attendance. It was here that Sitting Bull danced for many hours while staring at the sun (don't try it). Eventually, he passed out. When he revived, he revealed the details of a vision.
He said he saw enemies with hats that slid down and covered their eyes. They were falling from the sky like grasshoppers, crashing dead into camp upside-down on their horses.
“The Great Spirit has given our enemies to us.” said Sitting Bull. “We are to destroy them, as they are ones who have no ears. We do not know who they are. They may be soldiers.”
The warriors cheered as Sitting Bull carefully warned every one of them NOT to take ANY of the soldier's belongings, and NOT to count coup on the bodies.
On June 17th, Crazy Horse led a band of about fifteen hundred warriors to what could be called a narrow victory if human beings were chess pieces. This battle happened on the Rosebud in southeastern Montana. General George Crook's troops numbered roughly thirteen hundred. Many were Crow and Shoshone scouts, ever thirsty for revenge against those bullying Oglalas.
Crazy Horse masterminded the plan of attack. For the third time, he urged his men to stop jumping the gun. Twice before, one impulsive brave or another had ruined an ambush by exposing their position too soon, allowing most of the enemy soldiers to escape. This time, Crazy Horse finally convinced them that this was not a game. This was not about bragging rights back at the lodge. This was a fight for survival.
Though once again congratulated for his heroism on the battlefield, Crazy Horse knew that the real hero at the Rosebud fight was a spellbinding Cheyenne girl warrior. Her name was Buffalo Calf Road Woman.
How fearlessly she'd fought alongside men. The Cheyenne were known for their female warriors. They needed all the help they could get. The US Army had destroyed seven Cheyenne camps by then, more than those of any other tribe. Many villagers – mostly women and children - had been mutilated beyond recognition.
The ferociously hard-fought, six-hour skirmish at Rosebud had initially forced the Cheyenne to retreat, abandoning some of their wounded on the battlefield. The battle was lost, assumed the Cheyenne. But one of the wounded left behind was Chief Comes-in-Sight. Lucky for him, he was the brother of Buffalo Calf Road Woman.
Racing swiftly to his rescue, she somehow managed to get him on her horse and get away. Her courageous act instantly inspired the retreating Cheyenne to rally and fight, which led to their narrow victory over General Crook and his forces.
Whites call it The Battle of the Rosebud. Northern Cheyenne natives call it The Battle Where the Girl Saved Her Brother.
As the people celebrated, for a moment, their victory, Sitting Bull announced that the Rosebud fight had not been the one from his vision. This fight had taken place near enough to the camp, but in his vision, they were falling directly into camp.
On June 25th, as is now common knowledge, Crazy Horse and about two thousand other warriors defeated General Custer's 7th Cavalry, which attacked their camp at dawn on the Little Bighorn River, known to the Lakota as Greasy Grass Creek.
Gall's wife and daughters were the first ones killed. Crazy Horse's 350-man unit (which included women) were joined by numerous other bands from the Oglala, Arapahoe, and Northern Cheyenne nations. Among these were Sitting Bull's band of about a thousand Bad Bow Hunkpapas.
Custer hadn't bothered waiting for backup troops. His field strategy was foolproof, he figured. He would split his company of 350 troops into three smaller units, so the village's two thousand tipis would be surrounded. That way, none could escape. Women, children, and old folks would be used as hostages and human shields. That way, if the Indians fought back, they would be shooting their own families. Custer's plan was identical to the plan already made for the following day, when back up troops would have arrived - only without the back up troops.
What could possibly go wrong?
“Too many Sioux. Stay away,” said one of Custer's six Crow scouts.
Custer scanned the vanishing darkness through his telescope lens. Here and there, small groups of women fetched water from a stream. Some carried babies on their backs. No one else was visible, perhaps because it was half past five in the morning.
“Mostly women and children,” decided Custer aloud, in a lapse of judgment so gigantic that some historians believe he was drunk at the time.
“Better wait for backup troops,” said one of Custer's men.
But Custer had no ears.
“The Seventh can handle anything!” Custer asserted, no doubt fantasizing colorfully about his grand appearance at the upcoming Centennial Parade.
“Give me the Seventh Cavalry!” bellowed the General.
“...and you'll wipe out the whole Sioux Nation.” said four Crow scouts with thinly disguised sarcasm.
General Custer had fatally underestimated the number of warriors out there who were desperate and ready to fight. The Army's miscalculation was partly based on estimating only the size of the bands led by Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse. They forgot to factor in the hundreds of families who had already surrendered, then escaped from what turned out to be Hellish conditions at the Agency.
Malnutrition. Disease. Violent, unprovoked attacks on individuals by drunken government employees. Murderous attacks on entire camps by blood thirsty U.S. Soldiers, as a message to the “hostiles” that they'd better come in. Death, everywhere you looked.
Agency Sioux had escaped in droves and not yet returned. Many of them were armed with repeating rifles, which they had managed to secure from Agency Indian scouts. Some of them were Agency Indian scouts. A great many fugitives attended the Sun Dance that year, reuniting with their hostile friends in preparation for battle.
People often ask, in 20-20 retrospect, why these warriors bothered to fight a losing battle, why they didn't “come in” sooner. Yet, no one ever asks why the Jews didn't “come in” from the dark, dusty attics and the cold, wet forests in which they hid. To assume that the people were fighting only to preserve a tradition is a mistake. Nowhere was it safe for them to go anymore. The fight against the U.S. military was not for a way of life, but for life itself. The white man aimed to kill. Honor had nothing to do with it. It was a good day to die.
Two thousand Lakota warriors occupied the Greasy Grass that day.
Crazy Horse instantly masterminded the engagement.
Above: A ledger drawing of the battle of Little Big Horn. That's Crazy Horse in the center wearing a breech cloth, with spots painted all over his body, aiming a gun as he easily rides a horse without using his hands.
image credit: commons.wikimedia.org
Crazy Horse probably just saw what Custer was doing from some secluded vantage point nearby, as no village dared let all of its inhabitants fall asleep anymore. With a flickering flash of his signaling mirror reflecting the sun's first rays, Crazy Horse sent his own men out to surround Custer's men.
It was that simple.
The stupidity of Custer's delusional battle plan brings to mind an old World War Two joke about how Nazi troops invaded Poland: The Nazis marched in backwards and the Poles thought they were leaving.
To make a long story short (you're welcome), the soldiers attacked the village and were quickly driven back. Then they were chased from all directions like a surrounded buffalo herd and clubbed to death. Custer himself was among the first to fall, although the people didn't even know he was there until much later.
In heroic fashion, Buffalo Calf Road Woman had made the scene again, whooping and wielding her war club, perhaps invigorated by the events of recent days past. She fought alongside her husband, Black Coyote. This lady is actually credited with delivering the fateful blow that knocked General George Armstrong Custer off his horse. He died moments later when a bullet ripped his chest.
The General and his troops were wiped out in about as long as it takes a man to skin a deer. Shelves are lined with countless books about a battle that took only forty-five minutes to fight.
It remains the most famous battle victory ever known to the Lakota Nation.
The warriors took no prisoners. But despite the dire warnings of their chosen leader, Sitting Bull, they escaped with a huge herd of horses, many firearms, and whatever precious little ammunition remained. Some forgot. Others just couldn't resist, so desperately they needed the supplies. Then some of the women, by then so very angry, mutilated the soldiers' bodies, thereby cursing their own descendants for the next four generations.
Sitting Bull (rolling in his grave as I write this) did not fight at the Battle of Little Big Horn, because his mother was so sick with worry she made him stay home. After all, he was forty-five.
Too well she remembered the day his father, Standing Bull, had died from rushing into battle too old. Standing Bull knew better, but he very much wanted to die, because of a raging toothache that had kept him awake, writhing and moaning in deep, unbroken agony all night long. The tooth was not loose, but the pain would not subside. The medicine men had no help for it. He could simply not bear another night of agony.
So Standing Bull decided to die in the bravest possible way, with the highest possible tribal honors. Charging fearlessly forth into battle, he came face to face with a much younger enemy warrior and put up a valiant fight, but was killed. Sitting Bull then chased down that enemy warrior and cut him into bite-sized pieces.
Now Sitting Bull's mother only had Sitting Bull. Any time he tried to leave, her shrieks got louder the further he went. So Sitting Bull stayed home.
Still, he heralded the helpless ones at home to safer places, well away from the range of artillery fire. And because of his unblemished reputation for being dangerous when provoked, no one ever teased him about his mother.
Above: Another ledger drawing, also featuring Crazy Horse, symbolically depicts the Custer fight.
image credit: alamy.com
Above: A fairly accurate depiction of Custer's sad, sorry, and final engagement at the Little Bighorn River in 1876
image credit: Pinterest.com
As the United States congratulated itself with many grand and glorious Centennial celebrations, the “hostile” bands hid scattered in the Hills, where they would last about another ten months. They were surrounded on all sides by the U.S. Army, with its inexhaustible supply of fresh troops. The soldiers would simply wait it out until the absence of food, supplies, and sleep would force them to surrender. The soldiers waited in relative comfort, their so-called victory secured.
Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse, and their headmen did whatever they could to keep everyone alive, trying their best to ignore the hopelessness of the situation. Men, women and children searched constantly for food, ever alert for approaching soldiers. As the weather chilled and darkened, very few dared to build a fire.
Some families traveled to the agencies just to collect food and winter blankets, then left again. Nothing helped. The provisions were not enough to sustain everyone. Revenge by the Army seemed inevitable, and was.
Gradually, more and more frightened and disillusioned followers fled the hills in small groups to surrender, overtaken as they were by cold and hunger and stark, paranoid fantasies of every conceivable kind. Red Cloud now had a thousand more hungry mouths to feed. Apparently, he did not handle this situation as graciously as was expected of him.
In October, Crook fired Red Cloud from his post as Chief of the Red Cloud Agency, and appointed Spotted Tail Chief of all Indians at both agencies. Aside from further igniting Red Cloud's fiery anger, this change in Agency leadership had zero effect on anyone. The people could not have cared less which Indian the white men chose to call Chief.
On November 25th, General Mackenzie took revenge for the Custer battle by randomly attacking the Cheyenne village of Chief Dull Knife while the villagers slept along the banks of the Powder River. The soldiers murdered as many men, women and children as they could catch, destroyed their winter supplies, and killed all their ponies.
What was left of those quiet people ran screaming into the frost-bitten darkness and headed toward the hills. So cold were the nights on the unsheltered plains that eleven babies froze dead in their mothers' arms. Those who survived the trip came crawling on the brink of starvation into the camp of Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull, only to learn there was simply not enough food to feed them all.
The Chiefs shared whatever they had. The wounded were treated for their injuries, wrapped in blankets, and sheltered for the night. But the food supply was gone. The people had searched in futile desperation for game no longer abundant enough to feed them. They had been forced to eat their own horses again. Now, precious few horses remained.
The bands had scattered into smaller groups, to better remain hidden and find food. There was no community, no organization, no plan of action. No one really knew what to do. Those who came to Crazy Horse for help could not be made to understand this. They trekked back to the Agency from which they had run, overcome with reignited fear, and still hungry. On their return, they told the “friendlies” they had begged for food and Crazy Horse had given them none.
Never would they malign the great Chief Sitting Bull, so well able to speak for himself. But Crazy Horse was fast becoming a scapegoat. Agency Indians continued to endure punishment for the actions of the “hostile” bands, as they waited for Crazy Horse to appear. Chronic bereavement and constant physical suffering had impaired their judgment. There had to be a reason for the unending misery of the people. Some thought they needed someone to blame for all this.
As winter approached, the “hostiles” suffered increasingly destitute conditions. Concerned for their safety, Crazy Horse tried to negotiate peace with the army. He sent a group of five delegates – five of his finest, most noteworthy men - to the Fort. All five were shot to death by vengeful Crow scouts as they neared the gate. The army hadn't ordered the attack. The Crow soldiers had acted independently, and with pleasure. But Crazy Horse had no way of knowing that the Army had nothing to do with the murder of those five great men. So the band remained in hiding until Spring.
In January 1877, Crazy Horse led a surprise attack on a group of wagons at Wolf Mountain in Montana. But General Miles, ever the thoughtful host, had prepared for his guests by hiding Howitzers in those wagons. Many hundred warriors - Lakota and Cheyenne - were forced to flee when the wagons opened fire. The war party narrowly escaped, hidden behind the blanket of a snowstorm that arrived out of nowhere, like a loyal friend to the rescue.
Three braves were killed by flying missiles, but not before they managed to kill five of the General's men.
This was the last battle of Crazy Horse.
The food was mostly gone by now, as Crazy Horse's people still begged him for help he could not give. When he had tried to negotiate peace at the fort, his men had been killed on sight. This had given him no reason to believe it was safe to come in. Crazy Horse sent word through scouts of his willingness to speak with military personnel, and his acceptance of Spotted Tail as a negotiator, if only the soldiers would kindly refrain from gunning down his men on arrival.
Then Crazy Horse started disappearing more often, for ever greater stretches of time. He spent many days in solitude, perhaps fasting and praying to the Great Spirit for help. He had never tried to be a leader, yet a thousand followers still placed their lives in his hands. A thousand mouths to feed. No food left in the hills.
At length, he consulted with Sitting Bull. They agreed that although Grandmother's Land was beyond the range of the handful of bison that remained, the Canadian government treated Indian people much more kindly than the Americans did. They could at least get fed there. Still, many of Crazy Horse's followers were insisting he feed their children, and soon. In their severely weakened states, many might not survive the trip to Grandmother's Land.
Meanwhile back at the Agencies, where news traveled at glacial speed, the commanding officer at Fort Sheridan sent Spotted Tail and about 200 men to entice Crazy Horse to surrender. At around the same time, another officer granted permission for Red Cloud and about sixty of his men to visit Crazy Horse at his mountain hideaway, in hopes of enticing Crazy Horse to surrender. Both commanding officers wished to take the credit for capturing Crazy Horse.
One afternoon, Crazy Horse reached the top of a ridge and sighted Spotted Tail's party approaching in the distance, bearing many wagon loads of gifts. Although he was relieved that the people would finally be fed, Crazy Horse must have considered himself a total failure as he looked across the vast sea of skeletal, half-dead bodies whose well being was all he had cared about. Spotted Tail's agency Indians were fat and happy compared to these. Overwhelmed with shame, Crazy Horse rode off and disappeared just as Spotted Tail's caravan arrived.
The people stuffed themselves to oblivion on the food Spotted Tail brought. Spotted Tail negotiated with Waglula. They agreed that Crazy Horse would bring everyone in for food, negotiations, and the apportionment of a suitable piece of land. But the band would have to give up their weapons and horses during their brief stay at the Agency. When Waglula resisted this detail, Spotted Tail backtracked over his own words and said they would only have to surrender the guns from the Custer fight.
A few days later, Red Cloud arrived at Crazy Horse's camp with a party of about seventy men. They, too, brought wagon loads of food and blankets, issuing friendly, encouraging words to all. It was okay to come in, Red Cloud sweetly assured Crazy Horse, as his followers enjoyed their meals. Everything was fine now at the Agencies. No more danger. No hard feelings. No need to mention that two hundred dollar bounty on the head of Chief Crazy Horse.
And furthermore, the officers would give Crazy Horse and his people a nice patch of land to call their own, if only he would come in and discuss the matter with them. Exhausted of all viable options, Crazy Horse bit the poisoned bait. With a great sigh of relief, he sincerely assured Red Cloud that all he had ever wanted was peace. All he asked was that his people be fed and treated with dignity, respect, and basic human decency.
Then Crazy Horse expressed his desire to navigate the white man's world somehow. Seeing that it couldn't be avoided, he wanted to learn all he could of the white man's ways, to better help his people live among them.
Red Cloud and Spotted Tail had been at the Agencies a long time. They seemed to have come in good faith, with only the kindest intentions. They'd brought food, blankets, and medicine. Saved lives. But by that time they had their own agendas. As Crazy Horse remained forever devoted to the welfare of those under Sitting Bull, Agency Indians were being attacked and murdered on behalf of the “hostiles” who refused to come in.
Having already spent years at the Agencies, Spotted Tail and Red Cloud were all too well aware that Crazy Horse should expect not a handful of help nor an acre of land from the U.S. government.
Yet, to Crazy Horse, a Lakota without honor was as hard to imagine as a flame without heat. Charmed by their gentle persuasion, not to mention all out of options, Crazy Horse agreed to bring his people in just long enough to get them fed while he negotiated with U.S. Army Officers.
Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull agreed that as soon as the last frost melted, Sitting Bull would lead whoever chose to follow him up to the Canadian border. Crazy Horse would head South with his band to the Agency, then double back north with whoever chose to follow him, and meet Sitting Bull at the edge of Grandmother's Land.
That was the plan.
The men smoked the sacred pipe and prayed with renewed hope for a better future. Many had tried to persuade him before, but Red Cloud and Spotted Tail were two men Crazy Horse thought he could trust. They'd stand by him, he imagined, as Indians do. As relatives do.
No sooner had the last frost cleared when about nine hundred men, women, and children prepared to begin the grueling, four-sleep journey south to Fort Robinson, led by their chosen Chief, Crazy Horse. Of so many people, at least a few of them must have tried not to think about – symbolically - what it means to go south.
Crazy Horse was cautiously optimistic, eager to learn better English, and the gentle art of negotiation, in order that the people might survive after all.
Meanwhile, Sitting Bull and his band of about three hundred followers were ready to begin their twelve-sleep journey north. The two men mounted their horses and faced each other for a long, somber moment. Lakota language has no word for “Goodbye.” Instead, they use a word that means “See you again.”
“See you again, my friend,” said Sitting Bull.
“See you again, my friend,” said Crazy Horse.
The two groups quietly parted ways. Tashunka Witko and Tatanka Iyotake never saw each other again.
Those who manned the Forts had waited with tense apprehension for months, not knowing whether or not Crazy Horse intended to attack. A telling note from a soldier explained:
“This unvaried monotony month after month... tries men's souls and we sincerely trust that soon Crazy Horse will appear...”
Meanwhile, Crook was in Washington trying unsuccessfully to secure that piece of land he had promised the people.
As Sitting Bull and his followers neared the Canadian border, Crazy Horse and his people approached the gates of Fort Robinson, where they were greeted by First Lieutenant William P. Clark.
Clark treated Crazy Horse with the guarded care and reverent respect a man might give to the biggest fish he ever hooked, but had not yet hauled onto the boat. News reporters scouted the area, but Crazy Horse managed to remain inconspicuous, taking his place somewhere in the middle of the endless winding line before the clerk, camouflaged by the surrounding crowd. Whenever someone found him, his friend He-Dog did the talking.
Crazy Horse never surrendered.
How clearly he remembered the dead at Bluewater, when he was a boy of only ten, walking alone among the naked, mutilated forms of his friends and neighbors, no one left alive but the horses, immobilized from the shock of what they'd seen, staring silently north, as though waiting for someone to come back and explain.
To him, placing what was left of his people at the mercy of those who had killed the rest of them was beyond comprehension. By his reasoning, the defenseless, disarmed agency captives might be treated better as long as the U.S. Army knew there were “hostiles” still out there, ready to charge in and willing to fight.
All too well aware he was of agency conditions. Strapping young men sitting around with nothing to do, as the hunting and warring for which they had been trained was now obsolete, and the highly honored acts of raiding horses and killing enemies were now punishable by death. The best a man could now do was wait hours in line for a sack of flour. Those once so self-sufficient now had to beg for basic necessities.
No rights. No freedom. No legal protection of any kind. White man's diseases. Malnutrition. So many children dead of unknown causes. Scores of villagers risking their lives to escape. It wasn't a life anyone wanted. Yet, most of his followers had already surrendered, sneaking away at night in small groups, too ashamed to behold, face-to-face, that monster of courage they had created.
Above: Lakota people stuck at the Pine Ridge Agency (reservation) in South Dakota
Crazy Horse, ever the humble servant, merely led the way for those who remained.
His plan was only to accept army-issue provisions for his starving people, and somehow reclaim the old way of life on a small tract of land in the Hills they called Home.
That Sunday, early afternoon, Crazy Horse's band finally approached Fort Robinson, chanting Peace Medicine songs all the way. Warriors rode painted ponies and wore feathered war bonnets and fringed hides adorned with tin bells, brass plates and glass beads.
“By God! This is a triumphal march, not a surrender!” noted an officer viewing the scene.
Crazy Horse's band immediately requested food, but were told they had to first give up all of their weapons and ponies. The officers in charge relieved the band of many hundred horses and more than a hundred firearms. Then the people were instructed to register their names with the clerk.
“Only take but a moment,” assured a uniformed soldier who guided them cheerily along.
“Which one is Crazy Horse?” asked a white voice in the gathering crowd.
At this time, the great and sacred name of Crazy Horse had only been important to military leaders since the wake of the Custer Battle, and in light of recent reports from angry Cheyenne people who, years later, admitted that Crazy Horse had done all that he could for them.
But before all that, Crazy Horse was regarded by Army Officers as just another Indian whose name they thought they might have heard somewhere. Now they knew him as the Great Warrior Chief, and Sitting Bull as the Great Council Chief.
In a long, crooked, winding line they stood, nearly nine hundred people in all. A 21-year-old clerk recorded the data, with the help of a single interpreter. The clerk shuffled papers in a leisurely manner, having just finished a leisurely meal.
Lodge by lodge, heads of hungry households stepped up to the clerk.
“Name.” said the clerk to an Indian.
“Caje,” said the interpreter to the Indian.
“Wah-kee-yan seen-day,” said the Indian to the interpreter.
“Thunder Tail,” said the interpreter to the clerk.
“T-H-U-N-D-E-R T-A-I-L,” wrote the clerk on Line One.
“Name.” said the clerk to the next guy.
“Caje.” said the interpreter to the next guy.
“Cekpapi Ska,” said the next guy to the interpreter.
“White Twin,” said the interpreter to the clerk.
“W-I-T-E...” wrote the clerk.
“White has an H,” revealed the interpreter.
“You sure?” said the clerk, “coz I gotta do this proper.”
“Quite sure,” said the interpreter.
“Supposin' I just look that up!” said the clerk, regarding the interpreter with the narrow-eyed suspicion of a schoolboy told by his older brother that the moon is a hunk of green cheese.
The clerk licked his thumb and slowly turned the yellowed pages of an unabridged dictionary, pausing occasionally to chuckle at interesting words that caught his eye.
“Well, I'll be hog-tied!” said the clerk five minutes later, on discovering the correct spelling of the word.
“At this rate, you will be.” said the interpreter.
“Can't hear the 'H' when you say it...” mused the clerk.
Following a thorough but futile search for an eraser, the clerk began asking around to see if he could borrow one. White Twin used all that was left of of his Indian-bred patience in suppressing the urge to rotisserie the clerk with his lance and slow-roast him over a hickory fire. Eventually, the clerk took his seat once again, and recorded White Twin's name on Line Two. Then the clerk counted the women and children among them, and recorded how many of each kind there were.
In keeping with the orders of his commander, he listed them as “Male” and “Female” instead of “Bucks” and Squaws,” as it had been explained to him that the use of these terms had seemed to offend most of the bucks, and even a few of the the squaws.
The clerk had now succeeded in recording all the inhabitants of the first lodge. Two males, five females and one male child. Eight people, altogether.
The clerk heaved a fat sigh of relief, leaned back in his chair and gazed upon his calligraphic penmanship with proud admiration. Only one-hundred-and-forty-four lodges to go. The clerk sharpened his pencil with fastidious care. It broke. Following a thorough but futile search for another pencil, the clerk began asking around to see if he could borrow one. As the lodge of White Twin shuffled off, the clerk resharpened his pencil and held it over Line Three.
“Name.” Said the clerk to an Indian.
Many hours later and somewhere down the line, a head-of-household forced a grin, approached the clerk, grabbed his hand, and shook it with exuberant cheer, as a white man might greet a much welcome guest.
“Name.” said the clerk to the Indian.
“Caje.” said the interpreter to the Indian.
“Miye pakite mitawa uze kici mitawa nape,” said the Indian to the clerk.
“What?” said the clerk to the interpreter.
“I think he said he wipes his backside with his hand,” said the interpreter to the clerk.
“He WHAT??” asked the clerk above the rising din of the fidgety crowd.
“He said he has SHIT on his HAND.” enunciated the interpreter a little more loudly.
“Said he has WHAT???” shouted the clerk.
“SHIT! ON HIS HAND!!!” screamed the interpreter.
The crowd went silent. All eyes fell on the embarrassed interpreter.
“S-h-i-t-s O-n H-i-s H-a-n-d,” wrote the clerk with his free hand.
Some time later, three warriors locked arms and approached the clerk in a theatrical, sashaying manner.
“Name.” said the clerk to no one in particular.
“I am the Rump!” announced the smallest of the three, with exaggerated Oglala pride.
“I am Little Prick!” the next one continued, smacking his lodge mate smartly on the ass.
“I like to be on top!” added the third man, scanning the ledger as if searching for the line where that information might best be put.
“What?” said the clerk to the interpreter.
The interpreter shook his head “no,” but was democratically outnumbered by three stern-faced braves nodding “yes.”
With commendable diplomacy and unparalleled professionalism, the interpreter sputtered an awkward and stilted translation, his face flushing deeper crimson with each added word. The clerk scratched his head and furrowed his brow, his little mind fighting to process it all. On remembering he couldn't care less, the clerk shrugged and picked up the pencil.
“Little Prick... Sits Up Above... The Rump,” wrote the clerk with smug finality, and without the faintest notion of a smile.
Away walked “The Rump” and “Little Prick,” dejected as two booed comedians, consoled by their three wives and four children.
Later still, three highly agitated members of the American Horse lodge approached the clerk.
“Name.” said the clerk, picking food from his teeth with a paper dollar.
“Caje.” said the interp--
“ASSHOLE!!!” screamed an Oglala, in the English he had learned waiting in line all night.
“A-s-s-h-o-l-e,” wrote the clerk.
After that, the next few Indians were increasingly respectful and well behaved, giving only their real names to the clerk. Then, two shivering winktes approached, each one hooking the arm of a man so diminutive and drab that he was practically invisible. They appeared like two color photos flanking a black & white.
“Name.” said the clerk to the invisible man in the middle.
“Crazy Horse.” said Crazy Horse.
“C-r-a-z-y H-o-r-s-e” wrote the clerk.
Eventually, morning light took hold. As the last family in line approached the clerk, the head-of-household exploded in a stormy tirade.
“You are not fit to feed my dog!!!” spat the man in his own mother tongue. “You are good for nothing!”
The clerk eyed the interpreter.
The interpreter did his best.
“D-o-g N-o-t-h-i-n-g,” wrote the clerk, and finished the tail of the “g” with a whimsical loop.21
It was early May under the waning Moon of New Grass Appearing. Later that May, Crazy Horse would give a small ledger book containing about ten drawings to a reporter named George Wallihan of the Cheyenne Leader.
On deck was the warm, golden Moon of Shedding Ponies, which had yet to shine its full-bodied light on the world. Up next would be the bountiful Moon of Making Fat. Then the hot, hazy Moon When Sun Stands in the Middle. This, followed faithfully by the Moon of Black Cherries, and perhaps the long-awaited buffalo hunt beneath it.
After that, no more moons for Crazy Horse.
Above: A ledger drawing of Crazy Horse in battle,
possibly a self-portrait.
image credit: indiancountrymedianetwork.com
FREE Audio Books: Crazy Horse Appearing - Ch-1
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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.
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