The white man called him Crazy Horse. He was born near what today is called Rapid City, South Dakota in the Northwest area of the United States. A man of deeds not words, Crazy Horse was a distinguished warrior who made his name fighting the unwinnable war against manifest destiny. He won his share of battles but ultimately he died at the hands of his enemies.
He was born to a people that was once known as Oceti Sakowin ("Seven Council Fires") and who became the Great Sioux Nation (a confederation of three groups delineated by language: the Dakota, Lakota and Nakota.) Their enemy, the Chippewa, called them nadowe-is-iw ("little snakes") which led to the French corruption Nadowessioux. English-speakers known for their brevity shortened it and called these native American the Sioux. By the time Crazy Horse was born in the middle of the 19th century the Sioux had settled and dominated the Black Hills area. An early uneasy association with the Euro-Americans, mostly traders from France yielded later to a virtual state of war as the Sioux resisted the influx of settlers and travelers headed West.
The Euro-Americans' traditions bore no resemblance to those of the Sioux. The valued traits in the Sioux universe would become liabilities in a land being overtaken by people who valued commerce and gain above all else.
As a young boy Crazy Horse was exposed to what must have seemed to him utter brutality on the part of the white invaders, many in the uniforms of soldiers. He was in a Sioux camp in northern Wyoming when U.S. Army soldiers killed the tribal chief Conquering Bear. He witnessed the destruction of his people's homelands by the troops of General William Harvey and others as they led punitive expeditions through Sioux territory. These early negative experiences with the Euro-Americans made Crazy Horse a militant patriot committed to preserving his people's traditions and way of life.
It was out of commitment to his people's traditions that Crazy Horse did not allow any photographs to be taken. There is a monument made years later to honor him and there are pictures of other Sioux warriors that give us an idea of what he might have looked like. But there is no known photographic likeness of Crazy Horse. He perhaps is best known as one of the warrior chiefs who defeated Custer on June 25, 1876 at Little Big Horn. Crazy Horse led the warriors that attacked from the north and west helping destroy the ill-fated Custer and his men. By this time, at age 31 Crazy Horse was already a well-known and heroic Sioux warrior.
His first taste of battle had occurred fifteen years earlier when as a 16-year-old brave. He had fought against a rival tribe. Crazy Horse distinguished himself in his first battle by saving a fellow warrior while enemy arrows flew around him. But it wasn't until he was 21 that he directly confronted the white man in battle. The Sioux decided in 1866 to launch a more aggressive resistance against the ever-increasing number of white traders. While Crazy Horse was not a member of the tribal political leadership that determined policy, he completely agreed with the need to staunch the flow of white people into the Sioux homeland. Crazy Horse would be instrumental in carrying out the resistance policy.
One of the flash points in the conflict between the Sioux and the white people was an area along what is known as the Bozeman Trail in what is now known as Wyoming. At the time it was part of the Dakota Territory that the United States had defined in 1861. The trail, established in 1862-63 by John M. Bozeman was essentially a shortcut off the Oregon Trail and it led to points west. The Bozeman Trail saved travelers almost 400 miles on their journeys. The trail also passed right through country occupied by the Sioux. Because of the Sioux's growing dislike of the Euro-Americans, travel along the shortcut was dangerous. To help protect its pioneering citizens and their wagon trains the Euro-Americans called out its army.
On May, 1866 about 700 soldiers of the 2nd Battalion, 18th U.S. Infantry Regiment, under the command of Colonel Henry Bebee Carrington of Connecticut, departed Nebraska en route westward to the Bozeman Trail. The regiment had orders to construct forts and protect citizens from Sioux harassment. Also included in this contingent were about 12 wives, 11 children and a 25-piece band to provide music. The regiment reached its destination in July and Carrington picked an area at the forks of the Big and Little Piney Creeks in what is known as Powder River country. The Powder River is a southern tributary of the Yellowstone River. The new installation was built and christened Fort Kearny, named for Civil War Maj. Gen. Philip Kearny, who died in 1862 at the Battle of Chantilly (Virginia). Life at Fort Kearney was harrowing according to Margaret Carrington, wife of the Fort's commander. Mrs. Carrington wrote in her journal, "Every day brought its probabilities of some Indian adventures--every night had its special dangers which unanticipated might involve great loss."
As part of the decision to increase their resistance against the Euro-American invaders, the Sioux kept up a steady pace of harassment. Typically a band of Sioux warriors would attack the wood trains sent out of the fort to gather wood for building and heat.
In November 1866 infantry Captain William Judd Fetterman arrived at Ft. Kearney as a replacement officer. With his arrival a series of events began to chain together that ultimately would lead to his and some eighty other soldiers' death at the hands of the Sioux. Crazy Horse would play an integral part in what Euro-American history calls the "Fetterman Massacre" and which the Sioux call the "Battle of the Hundred Slain."
The battle was actually the third serious skirmish in a month between the soldiers of Ft. Kearney and the Sioux. On December 6 and 19 the Sioux harassed the wood trains and soldiers from the fort were sent out. During the December 6th engagement one of Carrington's officers, Lt. Horatio Bingham was killed. A second attempt to draw out the army soldiers failed on December 19. But on December 21 during the mid-morning hours the Sioux warriors laid a trap that the overly aggressive officers defending the fort would fall into. The Sioux sent a decoy party to harass the wood train and draw the soldiers out of the barricaded fort. Carrington sent Fetterman with about 80 men to drive away the Sioux harassers from the wood train detachment. Carrington gave Fetterman strict orders not to pursue the Sioux beyond an area known as Lodge Trail Ridge. In addition to the wood train decoys another group of Sioux decoys led by Crazy Horse approached near enough to the fort to draw artillery fire. The aggressive Captain Fetterman from his vantagepoint on the Ridge could see a small group of Sioux warriors apparently retreating just below his position. Fetterman disobeyed his orders and pursued them. (It has been speculated that Crazy Horse might have been one of these decoy retreaters limping along hoping the U.S. soldiers would follow.) By the time Fetterman had descended over the ridge into what is known as the Peno Valley a massive swarm of attacking Sioux warriors arose from their hidden positions in the grass. It was a successful and brutal ambush that lasted about 40 minutes. At the end, Fetterman and his compliment of 80 soldiers were dead. Later, as the Sioux left the killing grounds. a relief party from the fort arrived and removed 49 mutilated bodies. The Sioux, in an attempt to prevent the white man's soul from achieving any harmony in death, had dismembered their victims.
Crazy Horse would spend the next ten years harassing the Euro-Americans. His warrior activities culminated in the already mentioned defeat of Custer at Little Big Horn in 1876. In July 1877 recognizing that resistance against the manifest destiny of the white man was futile the proud warrior led several thousand of his followers to a surrender of sorts at Fort Robinson in Nebraska. But either because of a conspiracy against him by his enemies or because he just couldn't be restrained, not by the white man, a series of events culminated in Crazy Horse's death inside the fort on September 5, 1877.
|Crazy Horse Cosmic Baseball Record|
Crazy Horse was drafted from the League of
Lakota Sioux by the Wonderland Warriors in 1999.
|Crazy Horse Links|