|Although Crazy Horse died in 1877, he still is held as a sacred figure to the modern Sioux Nation. Little is known of Crazy Horse’s early years except that he was born near Rapid Creek on the eastern side of the Black Hills. One legend describes Crazy Horse as very light-skinned with soft, light-colored hair. There is no authenticated sketch or photograph of Crazy Horse (contrary to claims made in recent years). His image has sacred overtures for the modern Sioux. They wish his image to be cloaked in faceless anonymity to forever symbolize their defeat and the need for inspired leaders once more.
Crazy Horse believed that he possessed special powers given to him by WAKANTANKA, the Great Spirit. To him, the men of the earth were living in the shadow of the real perfect world. Crazy Horse reached the real world by a self-induced trance, which he called dreaming. In this, his sacred world, everything floated ghost-like and his horse always danced in a wild, crazy manner. This was his vision and it led to his name, Crazy Horse.
This young Oglala, whose mother was Spotted Tail’s sister, played a decisive role in many battles with the United States Army. He witnessed the Grattan Battle of 1854. (A Brule had killed a Mormon’s wandering cow. Second Lieutenant J.L. Grattan, through a drunken interpreter, demanded the surrender of the guilty warrior. Grattan then opened fire upon the Indians. The Sioux killed Grattan and his troopers, but their chief, Conquering Bear, was fatally wounded.) Crazy Horse never again fully trusted nor expected the white men to keep their promises. He signed no treaties, hated the ways of the white men, and despised reservation life.
By the time of his mid-teens, Crazy Horse was a full-fledged warrior. His skill in battle made him much admired by the members in his own band, but aroused jealousies in another, the Bad Faces of Red Cloud. Crazy Horse courted Red Cloud’s niece, Black Buffalo Woman, but while he was on a raid, a Bad Face brave returned to camp fending to a toothache and took the girl as his wife. This incident left bad feelings between the two men and their friends that survived until Crazy Horse’s death.
Crazy Horse later married a woman of the Northern Cheyenne. With this marriage, he soon became the leader of the Southern Sioux and Northern Cheyenne who refused reservation life and any of the white man’s ways. He frequently attacked soldiers, defeating Colonel Fetterman and his 80 men on December 21, 1866.
The War Department of the United States declared that all tribes must be located on reservations by January 1, 1876. Crazy Horse ignored the declaration and was the first to feel the sing of war. Colonel J.J. Reynolds and his 450 men destroyed Crazy Horse's village of more than 100 lodges near the mouth of the Little Powder River on March 17, 1876. As Reynolds and his men released Crazy Horse’s pony herd, Crazy Horse and his Indians followed for 20 miles recapturing most of the horses.
On June 17, 1876, with his band swollen to more than 1,200 Oglalas and Cheyennes, Crazy Horse defeated General Crook at the Battle of the Rosebud. Even Red Cloud’s son had joined Crazy Horse’s band. Crazy Horse then moved north to join Sitting Bull at the Little Big Horn. He was an important strategic commander in the fight against Custer. After the victory at Little Big Horn, Crazy Horse harassed General Crook’s pursuing forces by fighting only at the time and place of his choosing.
Crazy Horse, who refused to go to the reservation or flee to Canada, as other Indian refugees were doing, set up winter camp in the Wolf Mountains. On January 8, 1877, with two pieces of artillery and a force of a few men, Colonel Nelson A. Miles attacked the Wolf Mountain village. Miles destroyed the village, but Crazy Horse led his people away in good order. With nearly no supplies, Crazy Horse and his people held out for another four months.
General Crook then turned to new tactics. First he convinced Spotted Tail to go to Crazy Horse to convince him to surrender, but Crazy Horse would not meet with his uncle. Red Cloud was then sent by Crook with the General’s promise that Crazy Horse would have a reservation in his beloved Powder River country if he would come. This promise and the fact that 1,100 men, women and children were starving, out of ammunition and with weak horses, persuaded Crazy Horse to give himself up at Fort Robinson on May 7, 1877.
Crazy Horse lived quietly at the fort until Crook heard rumors that the warrior chief was planning to break out. The old jealousies between Red Cloud’s Bad Faces and Crazy Horse’s followers came boiling to the surface. It appears that Red Cloud and his followers were jealous of the attention paid to Crazy Horse and plotted to be rid of him. Crazy Horse was arrested to prevent his rumored breakout of the reservation. As soon as he realized he was to be imprisoned, Crazy Horse drew his knife, intent on fighting his way to freedom. He was grabbed from behind by his once close friend, Little Big Man, and during the following fight was bayoneted by a soldier.
Crazy Horse’s death did not come swiftly as he would have liked in battle, but in lingering pain and delirium until September 6, 1877.
Sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski began work on the Crazy Horse Memorial in the Black Hills of South Dakota to commemorate the Sioux Leader.