Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Crazy Horse's Last Year

Ambrose does a wonderful comparative analysis of Crazy Horse and General Custer. Two historical figures, both legends in American history. Get yourself a copy of this book.
Crazy Horse's Last Year
Life After The Battle Of The Little Bighorn

By Dakota Wind
FORT ROBINSON, N.E. - Ambrose was one of the greatest American historians, always able to relate the past to the contemporary reader – in his book, he draws parallels between two of the most remembered figures of the Battle of the Little Bighorn. Marshall takes a measure of primary source documents, generally Anglo accounts, and weighs it against oral traditions of Crazy Horse as the Lakota knew him. Bray’s book, while beautifully rendered and polished, is more of a perspective narrative on Lakota society than it is about Crazy Horse, though Crazy Horse is touched on.

A great companion to Ambrose's Crazy Horse and Custer is Joseph Marshall's The Journey of Crazy Horse. If any book about Crazy Horse should grace your library its this one. 

In Ambrose’s book, he mentions that Crazy Horse enlisted in the US Army as an Indian Scout. Ambrose tries to put the reader in Crazy Horse’s moccasins, as it were, about how the Oglala Lakota warrior must have felt deeply conflicted. My interested was piqued, and I paid a visit to the State Historical Society of North Dakota, the State Historical Society of South Dakota, Fort Robinson, Nebraska, and Fort Laramie, Wyoming. It is my thought that if you want a stronger oral tradition about Crazy Horse, and I believe that oral tradition can be accurate, contrary to some of the reviews of Marshall’s book on Amazon, I would encourage you, reader, to pick up a copy or purchase a copy of Marshall’s book.

Written as a narrative, more novel than history text, Powers' book is a wonderful example of telling the story through as many perspectives as possible, almost bogging his book down in detail, but as complete a story as has been put together thus far on the tragic death of Crazy Horse. Check this onw out of your local library before deciding to add it to your collection.  

Thomas Powers’ The Killing of Crazy Horse is a very heavy scholarly piece of work detailing the year following the Battle of the Little Bighorn. Powers breaks down the reasons for the Indian Wars, treaties, and is written as a narrative, which “takes the reader there.”
For an account of the life of Crazy Horse, there are several books from which to choose at your local library, but I would personally recommend: The Journey of Crazy Horse: A Lakota History by Joseph Marshall III, Crazy Horse: Strange Man of the Oglalas, A Biography by Mari Sandoz, and Crazy Horse and Custer: The Parallel Lives of Two American Warriors by Stephen Ambrose.

Tasunka Witko (Crazy Horse) was a phenomenal and charismatic war leader in his time. This is the story of his last days, when life on the Northern Plains was as confusing and uncertain as it was turbulent and violent.

Sitting Bull, after the Little Bighorn conflict, pictured here.

In May, 1877, nearly a full year following the last great victory of the Great Sioux Nation against General Custer and the 7th Cavalry, many Lakota made the journey to Indian agencies across the plains. Others fled north to Canada with Sitting Bull, and nearly all the great Lakota leaders had exchanged their nomadic way of living for a sedentary lifestyle. Some were tired of running. Others tired of being hungry. Still more were weary with heartbreak of watching loved ones die. 

Crazy Horse came to the conclusion that there was no possible way for the Lakota to ever be rid of the Americans, the Sacred Black Hills were lost, and the bison were nearly gone. Author Joseph Marshall III says that the only reassurances the Lakota people had was that they would be alive when they turned themselves in to the agencies.

Camp Robinson, this is the earliest known photo of the camp where Crazy Horse's journey was brought to a sudden end.

On May 6, 1877, Crazy Horse came in to exchange one lifestyle for another for the good of his people. On a flat a few miles north of Camp Robinson, Nebraska, Crazy Horse met with Lt. William Philo Clark. Upon meeting the lieutenant, Crazy Horse extended his left hand and reportedly said to Clark, “Friend, I shake with this hand because my heart is on this side; the right hand does all manner of wickedness; I want this peace to last forever.”

While at Camp Robinson, several officers and the Indian Agent James Irwin tried to convince Crazy Horse to make a journey to Washington DC and meet the Great Father. They were nearly successful. The purpose of that journey was for Crazy Horse to meet the president and receive authorization to establish his own agency, either in Beaver Creek country (near present-day Gillette, Wyoming) or close to the Bighorn Mountains (near present-day Sheridan, Wyoming).

Red Cloud pictured here. He too enlisted as a sergeant in the US Indian Scouts.

Contenders for authority of the Oglala Lakota (Red Cloud and Spotted Tail) immediately worked to convince Crazy Horse that going to Washington was not in the best interest of his people, and were rewarded when Crazy Horse suddenly decided not to go.

Crazy Horse's enlistment as Sergeant in the Ogallala Detachment of US Indian Scouts.

In addition to being harassed by officers to go and distracters to stay, news came from the northwest that Chief Joseph and the Nez Perce were fighting and winning a running battle against Colonel Nelson Miles, and they were planning to join Sitting Bull and the Hunkpapa Lakota across the Canadian border. Lt. Clark quickly enlisted as many Oglala Lakota as possible to assist against the Nez Perce. Crazy Horse is reported to have said to Clark: “I came here for peace. No matter that if my own relatives pointed a gun at my head and ordered me to change that word I would not change it.”

Lieutenant WP Clark stands next to Little Hawk. Clark later went on to publish his Indian Sign Language, which was required reading at West Point Military Academy at one time.

Clark devoted himself to pestering Crazy Horse without ceasing or relenting and eventually wore down the Oglala Lakota warrior. Crazy Horse enlisted as Sergeant Red Cloud and Sergeant Spotted Tail had done, with the rank of sergeant and the Oglala Lakota Detachment of US Indian Scouts were formed. 

A beleaguered Crazy Horse, worn from harassing officers, distracters, and talk of the Nez Perce campaign, went to Clark and in the presence of two interpreters (Grouard and Louie Bordeaux) and reportedly said: “We came in for peace. We are tired of war and talking of war. From back when Conquering Bear was still with us we have been lied to and fooled by the whites, and here it is the same, but still we want to do what is asked of us and if the Great Father wants us to fight we will go north and fight until not a Nez Perce is left.”

The Lakota word for Nez Perce is Pohgehdoka (Poh-GAYH-doh-kah; glottal sound on the second "h"). The Lakota word for Anglos or Europeans is Wasicu (Wah-SHEE-Chu).

One of the interpreters misinterpreted Crazy Horse’s words, saying instead that Crazy Horse would fight until there were no more white people left. Rumors grew and swirled as rumors do, about Crazy Horse’s supposed intention to kill every white person.

General Crook, pictured here, became known for his part in the wars with the Apache.

On September 2, 1877, General Crook came to Camp Robinson to pick up his detachment of scouts. Crook left on September 4, 1877, exasperated with the rumblings that Crazy Horse wanted him dead or that Crazy Horse would start another war. Crazy Horse didn’t go with Crook on campaign to bring in the Nez Perce, neither did the Oglala Lakota Detachment of Indian Scouts (Crook instead picked up the Cheyenne Detachment of US Indian Scouts on route west and north), for Crazy Horse had urged the Oglala Lakota Detachment not to go.

According to the post surgeon’s report, at Camp Robinson, Crazy Horse had his fill of strawberries and cream on September 3, 1877, and was incapacitated with a sour gut which effectively removed himself from Crook’s command whether or not he wanted to go on campaign.

General Crook ordered Crazy Horse arrested, but Crazy Horse fled north to Spotted Tail Agency. Crook left on the Nez Perce campaign. On September 6, 1877, Crazy Horse was escorted back to Camp Robinson. Once there, he was taken to the Adjutant’s office where one of Red Cloud’s warriors shouted loudly enough for all to hear that Crazy Horse was supposed to have been a brave man but was now a coward. Crazy Horse lunged after the anonymous warrior but Little Big Man grabbed him by the arms and held him back.

Little Big Man was known for being crafty but also for being a trouble maker.

When they reached Colonel Bradley’s office, the colonel ordered Crazy Horse bound and taken to the guard house. What happened next is a tragedy. It is also a mess of confusion. There is the claim that a soldier killed Crazy Horse with a bayonet thrust, but years later a story by Little Big Man tells us that is was he who plunged his knife into Crazy Horse, twice. Some say they saw a hawk circling above which cried out, perhaps in honor of the mortally wounded Oglala Lakota warrior.

Crazy Horse’s last words are reported to be, “Let me go, my friends. You have hurt me enough.” The soldiers carried Crazy Horse back to the guard house, but Touch-The Clouds intervened and reportedly said, “He was a great chief. And he cannot be put into a prison,” and picked him up and carried Crazy Horse instead to Colonel Bradley’s bed where he later died.

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