Crazy Horse Appearing

This chapter features the Native American Names of people Crazy Horse knew. 

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To learn more about Native American Names, tribes, reservations, and national flags, visit any of the links at the bottom of this page. 

Speaking of Native American names, Crazy Horse's name in Lakota language was Tashunka Witko. 

Above: Touch The Clouds - a first blood cousin of Crazy Horse.

Crazy Horse Appearing

by Judee Shipman

Chapter 3

Crazy Horse's closest childhood friends included a boy called Lone Bear and an older cousin called Hump, formally known as High-Back-Bone. Hump was the namesake son of one of Crazy Horse's uncles on his mother's side. Four years older than Crazy Horse and noted for his fearlessness, Hump was Crazy Horse's mentor and closest ally. Hump taught Crazy Horse the skills a Lakota boy needed to become an expert Hunter-Warrior-Scout. 

Crazy Horse followed Hump everywhere, seeming to prefer the rugged activities of older boys to the simpler games of kids his own age. His natural abilities more closely resembled those of the village's most clever young men. In winters yet to come, Hump and Crazy Horse would always join the same war parties, often accompanied by Lone Bear. 

Many of Crazy Horse's boyhood companions were sons of Chiefs and Headmen. He-Dog, who was born in the same season of the same year as Crazy Horse,9 was the son of Black Stone and also a nephew of the powerful warrior known as Red Cloud. American Horse was the son of Chief American Horse, who came from a family of picture writers. Young-Man-Whose-Enemies-Are-Afraid-of-His-Horse was the son of a highly respected adviser to Chief Brave Bear. 

Adding to Crazy Horse's long list of friends were enough older cousins to form a small village. Hump, Black Fox, Fast Thunder, Frog, Spotted Elk, Touch-the-Clouds, Roman Nose, Swift Bear, Kicking Bear, and Flying Hawk. They, too, were friends and mentors who helped the boy grow up. Endlessly fascinated with his special abilities, the older braves relished watching Crazy Horse meet, with unquestioning acceptance and astonishing grace, the increasingly difficult challenges they presented. 

Crazy Horse was different. He was smaller and quieter than most Lakota boys. Yet, so terrifically piercing was his natural gaze that he avoided eye contact, so not to make others uncomfortable. His silky, sandy hair had a broad, gentle wave. He wore it loose and so very long that it brushed the backs of his legs when he walked. Crazy Horse very much resembled his cousin Fast Thunder, except that Crazy Horse's flesh was unusually pink, and his hair unusually yellow. 

As a rule, full blooded Oglala boys had straight, shiny black hair, deep copper complexions, and dark obsidian eyes. Crazy Horse's looks were more from his mother's side, but even the Brules noticed that his skin, a mere half-shade darker than the white trader's son, made him instantly recognizable among many thousand bronzed Lakota people. Despite long hours under the staring western sun, his skin never darkened much, nor did it burn. 

What's more, his otherness was not limited to his look. His behavior was also different. He kept to himself, muttered to himself, seemed to exist in a world of his own. He was singularly reserved. Impossibly skillful. Strangely silent. He was even left handed. His popularity and personal appeal did nothing to hide an intense oddness that sometimes evoked, among his own beloved kind, an instinctive human fear of things unknown. 

Crazy Horse was a gifted child. A prodigy to the highest degree. More skillful and better focused than other boys, with an unusually strong social conscience. Endlessly eager to succeed, he'd follow an instruction to the last detail, without question or hesitation, no matter how daunting the task, no matter how seemingly impossible the goal. Refusal was never an option. 

That's how the older guys got Crazy Horse to shoot at grasshoppers with a bow and arrow. Chase yellow butterflies among tangled branches. Try to catch a rabbit using only his hands. Hitch a bareback ride on a half grown wild buffalo calf, clinging to its coarse, curled mane until at last it exhausted itself to a state of placid tameness. 

During his downtime – that is, whenever the opportunity for an insane challenge failed to present itself - Crazy Horse practiced his aim. Or lassoed wild horses. Or crouched motionless in the brush for the better part of a day until, at long last, a fawn wandered within shooting distance. These were indispensable hunting skills. 

Each instruction was a challenge, and each challenge taught him something new. From quite a young age, Crazy Horse practiced each task, however tedious, for hours on end, never asking anyone if or when he should stop. 

With boys his own age, Crazy Horse engaged in mock mortal combat. Mounted on horseback, the boys would charge forth and try to knock each other off their horses. Other times, they'd race their ponies full speed ahead on the flat grasslands of the open plains. In summer, they greased themselves with buffalo fat and swam naked in a crisp, cool lake, racing each other across it or diving to the bottom for whatever treasures they might find there. 

Back at the campfire, they played games like Arrow-thru-the-Hoop, which improved their skill at hitting moving targets. One boy rolled a willow hoop while another tried to shoot an arrow through it. 

The treasure hunt was a favorite game for younger boys. For Crazy Horse, Hump might hide a prize of some sort, and leave clues along the trail leading to it. Crazy Horse would use his scouting skills to locate the prize. 

Thoroughly, his eyes scanned the landscape, beginning where he stood and spreading outward, left-to-right and back again, in an ever-expanding arc. In this way, he could direct his vision at every part of the space that lay before him. He'd been carefully trained to notice anything unusual, anything out of place, anything that moved. 

From a cottonwood tree in the far-off distance, he might have spotted something swaying lightly in the breeze. A closer look might reveal (let's say) a yellow cloth streamer tied to a low branch. The Four Great Directions of the Wind, he knew, had color. Black represented the great mysteries of the West. Red was the color of North. White signified South, and the sleep from which no earthly being awakens. Yellow symbolized the East, where the sun always rises. 

Heading East, Crazy Horse searched for another clue. Nearing a bluff, he noticed (perhaps) two stones of different sizes placed adjacently in the middle of a trail. If the smaller stone was placed on the left, Crazy Horse turned left. 

Later, he might spot an arrow on the ground, and travel in the direction the arrow pointed. 

Eventually, he'd come to a place where three twigs were laid parallel - or maybe three tufts of prairie grass, each tied in a knot like the tails of three horses dressed for battle. Three of anything was like the big red “X” that “marks the spot” on storybook treasure maps. Three of anything meant the reward was very nearby. The treasure might be a flint arrowhead, or a hawk feather, or a handful of hack berries. It didn't matter. The value of a prize could never match the significance of having found it. 

Above: Young-Man-Whose-Enemies-Are-Afraid-Of-His-Horse stands next to his father, Old-Man-Whose-Enemies-Are-Afraid-Of-His-Horse.

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When Crazy Horse was still a boy, anything seemed possible. His was the last generation able to hope for a traditional Lakota life among the people. Raised in the old way, a boy was free to become whatever his personal vision revealed. 

Boys typically dreamed of becoming warriors, but this was not always how it was. For instance, he might have wanted to be a Healer. Administer basic medical services to the wounded. Soothe the bad hearts of those who grieved. Maybe he imagined having his own magic medicine bundle, and the ability to access spiritual powers to protect the helpless ones at home against illness, injury, and death. 

In a young boy's dreams, a man could be anything: A Warrior basking in the glory of his victories, bringing many horses home to graze. A Scout pioneering secret trails, discovering hidden caverns in the Hills. A Woodcutter, keeping every body warm beneath those heartless winter moons. A Picture Writer, illustrating dreams, calendars, battles, and hunts. A Messenger. An Explorer. A Rancher. An Interpreter. A Trader. A Holy Man. Anything! 

A man could even be a Winkte. This, to Crazy Horse and to most boys, was the least appealing option of all. A Winkte was a man who lived as a woman and hung around the camp helping women with their chores. These rare individuals were highly prized and popular members of Lakota society.

Yet, it was every father's secret wish that his son would not become one, and many a boy's most primal fear that he might, somehow, turn into one. The thought gave Crazy Horse an identity crisis he was too young to understand, like that time at the trading post when that ignorant Washeechu lady had mistaken him for a captive white girl.  

A Winkte was thought to possess the gift of prophecy, and was often consulted for advice by the Council Chiefs. A Winkte was also called upon to give children secret names, which were said to bring good luck. If you heard some of these names, you would know why they were kept secret. Most fathers gently advised their sons to avoid the lodges where a Winkte lived. 

A Winkte was queerer than a flying moose. But the ever-so-bashful Lakota people were too polite to mention it. So the kids were pretty much left to their own imaginings, while the elders just pretended not to notice. 

Of all the things a man could do, this boy wanted only to ride horses and hunt Buffalo. Crazy Horse was born for the hunt, and throughout his life he lived for the hunt. But until a certain age, the best Crazy Horse could do was tag along and view the action from the safety of a distant hillside. He would catch as many details as he could through his trusty far-seeing tube which he held, still as stone, inches from his master eye, just as they had shown him. 

The bison were enormous, awesome creatures, a full head taller than a man, and ten feet long from nose to tail tip. An average bison bull weighed a ton. The largest one ever caught topped 2,800 pounds. Yet for all their massive girth, these agile giants ran as fast as racehorses, and could clear a three-foot wall in one great, springing leap.

Even with other types of game in abundance, a man would have to bag five moose, six elk, ten deer, or two hundred geese to equal the meat of one buffalo. 

For longer than any oral family history could recall, bison had nourished the Lakota people, housed them and kept them warm. In return they had honored it, worshiped it, and thanked it for the gift of life it gave them. When they killed one, they often apologized to it and tried to make it understand why things had to be this way. Sometimes they prayed to Wakantanka (The Great Spirit) for the safe passage of the soul of this fine animal, and for its eventual return to life on Earth in a fresh, new buffalo robe. 

Formalities completed, the happy hunters went to work, butchering the carcasses with their bowie knives and packing each horse to its full capacity with meat so fresh it bled all the way home. 

Some of the organs were eaten raw, right there on the spot. A fatty, blood-filled, purple kidney, flavored with a bitter touch of intestinal gall, was indescribably delicious. The smooth, tender richness of raw liver was truly irresistible. Tough, chewy intestines stuffed with partly digested prairie grasses were savored like the finest gourmet sausages. The dark, thick, salty blood was best when sucked fresh from a severed artery. The juicy pink tongue was everybody's absolute favorite. 

The oversized heart was mild and meaty, and the sooner it was eaten after the last of its beating, the better it tasted, and the stronger the hearts of those who consumed it. The hunter who killed the animal earned the first bite of raw buffalo heart. 

These were the delicacies in greatest demand, often gone before the hunters could haul them to a cooking fire. Swiped like Christmas candy by eager, excited, hungry young villagers who tagged along to witness the chase. 

Buffalo sustained the Plains people almost entirely. Its flesh became their flesh as they consumed it. Its skin became their skin as robes and tipis. Brains were perfect for treating hides, once you got used to the smell. Fat could be used for cooking, or made into candles and soap. The tough, elastic sinew made excellent rope and thread. The stomach lining was used like a pot for boiling meat, by adding hot stones to the water it held.

Horns were giant soup spoons. Bones were fashioned into weapons and tools for building, fishing, farming, and crafts. The pelvis functioned so well as a saddle that it seemed preordained for that purpose. 

Half a ribcage meant many fine hours of winter sledding as children covered the curved, toboggan-like frame with hides or blankets, and went zooming down the valley slopes at gut-crunching speeds, sliding to an eventual stop on the flat, frozen steppe lands below. 

At the Brule camp, 1853 was the year when a band of about fourteen Nez Perce raiders silently invaded the village. On being discovered, they all ran screaming into the lodge of Chief Lone Horn, shoved a pipe in his face, then dropped to their knees and pleaded for mercy.

Lone Horn puffed the sacred pipe, then protected his enemies from danger and ordered their safe release.11 Later, the Brule headmen sat around a fire, smoking and laughing at the weakness of that peace-loving tribe, while also noting how difficult it was to dislike them. 

Crazy Horse was proud of his Uncle, the great Chief Lone Horn. 

At the Oglala camp, it was the year when the Crazy Horse family was mourning the death of Waglula's brother Black Elk. A white man happened by and made strange medicine on the body, taking it down from the funeral scaffold and putting it in the ground. 

For the people, this event seemed ominous enough to include on that year's Winter Count calendar. They were as disturbed as you would be if someone dug up your dead relative and placed his decomposing remains on a wood frame high in the air, before you had yet finished weeping.10 

Crazy Horse Appearing

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Told in the Drooling Ward, by Jack London

The Ransom of Red Chief, by O. Henry

The Tale of Peter Rabbit, by Beatrix Potter

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