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Native American Faces

Crazy Horse

Oglala Lakota (Sioux) -- 1849-1877

While there have been many renowned leaders among the Lakota (Sioux), perhaps the most high-profile of them all is Crazy Horse. A fierce and fearless warrior, and considered a visionary by his people, Crazy Horse also wielded great power and influence in many social and political affairs that faced the Lakota. While his role in battle is often recounted, more important perhaps was his dedication to tradition and the Lakota way of life.

As a child, Crazy Horse looked little like the rest of his people. In fact, his hair was so light and wavy he was called "Curly" as a childhood name. Many a white settler who saw him playing along side the trail they traveled thought he was actually a white captive living among the Indians. An enigma then, Crazy Horse remained so. While other Lakota and their leaders sat for portraits, Crazy Horse never allowed a rendering of himself in any medium, especially photographs, saying: "Why would you wish to shorten my life by taking my shadow from me?"

While still a very young man, Crazy Horse began his journey toward becoming a legendary warrior. At 13 he stole horses from the Crow and led his first war party before the age of 20. Early on he decided he would fight to protect the Lakota way of life and encroachment of white armies and settlers, fighting against the new arrivals in Wyoming with Red Cloud in the 1865-68 war, playing a key role in destroying William J. Fetterman's brigade at Fort Phil Kearny in 1867. That victory did not stop the influx, however, and the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868 opened the door of Lakota land to all that Crazy Horse fought to prevent. Undaunted, Crazy Horse led an attack on a surveying party sent into the Black Hills by General George Armstrong Custer in 1873.

When the U.S. War Department ordered all Lakota bands onto reservations in 1876, Crazy Horse took it upon himself to lead the resistance. Crazy Horse had taken a Cheyenne woman as his first wife, which allowed a close alliance between the Lakota and Cheyenne. Crazy Horse called upon his Cheyenne relatives to join forces with his Oglala warriors in an attempt to keep General George Crook from following the Rosebud Creek to Sitting Bull's camp on the Little Big Horn River. Crazy Horse and his band of 1,200 warriors turned Crook and his men back on June 17, 1876. This victory paved the way for hope. A week later Crazy Horse joined forces with Sitting Bull and Hunkpapa Lakota leader Gall in an attack that destroyed Custer's Seventh Cavalry.

Despite the Indian victory at the Little Bighorn, things changed. Though all three leaders chose not to submit to government orders to report to the reservation, Sitting Bull and Gall decided to lead their people to Canada. Crazy Horse chose to remain in the sacred lands of the Lakota. General Nelson Miles pursued Crazy Horse, the Lakota and their allies relentlessly throughout the winter of 1876-77, bringing Crazy Horse into battle several times. Eventually, the intense focus of the military on his position and intent, coupled with the decline of the buffalo population, led Crazy Horse to surrender on May 6, 1877.

Even in defeat, Crazy Horse remained a free spirit. On September 5, 1877, he left the reservation without authorization to take his sick wife to her parents. General George Crook, whom Crazy Horse had defeated a year earlier, ordered 43 men to go and arrest him, fearing that he was plotting an outbreak and return to battle. Crazy Horse did not resist arrest at first, but when he realized that he was being led to a guardhouse, he began to struggle. For the entirety of his life, Crazy Horse had abhorred gunfire and believed he could not be killed by bullets, and this belief held firm in the end for once he began to struggle, his arms were held by one of the arresting officers and a soldier ran him through with a bayonet.

He was secretly buried by his parents somewhere in the hills in the vicinity of where he was camped when he was arrested. The location has been known to very few over the years and remains a secret today.

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