4/5/10 - crazy horse

In today's excerpt - Crazy Horse (1840-1877), the bold war chief who defeated George Custer in the Battle of the Little Bighorn, and who one writer would call 'the strange man of the Oglalas.' It was an appropriate description, for Crazy Horse went his own way:

"This warrior-mystic was born in the late fall of 1840 near Bear Butte, outside modern-day Sturgis, South Dakota, on the northern edge of the Black Hills. His father, also named Crazy Horse, was an Oglala holy man; his mother, Rattle Blanket Woman, a Minneconjou. His actual birth name was Light Hair, for his fine, sandy brown locks. His light hair, combined with his light complexion and sharp features, caused more than one settler to mistake him for a white child. An uncle died when the boy was about four, and his mother, grief-stricken, committed suicide. More than most Lakotas, Crazy Horse's life would be colored by the loss of those close to him.

"When Crazy Horse was a boy, he went by the name of Curly, and he was known for his shy personality. Like all young Lakota males, he was regaled with stories and songs that celebrated the cult of the warrior and progressed from paternal instruction and childhood games that emphasized war skills to buffalo hunts and war parties, during which older boys assisted seasoned fighters with relatively safe duties such as tending the packhorses and equipment. ...

"As a young man, Curly was introverted and somewhat antisocial, to the point that others in his tribe considered him peculiar. Almost all Lakotas danced and sang socially, but Curly never would. 'He never spoke in council,' said a longtime friend, He Dog. 'He was a very quiet man except when there was fighting.' He took to the life of a warrior naturally. When he came of age and displayed conspicuous bravery in a fight with an enemy tribe, his father passed on his own name, Crazy Horse, to his son and took the name Worm for himself.

"When fully grown, Crazy Horse was five feet seven inches tall, slight, and wiry. He had a narrow face, a straight nose, and 'black eyes that hardly ever looked straight at a man,' according to a close friend. When the wife of a white scout encountered him in 1877, she thought him 'a very handsome young man,' despite a noticeable scar on his left cheek.

"Throughout the late 1850s and early 1860s, in dozens of raids and fights against enemy tribes such as the Crows and the Shoshones in and around the Powder River country, Crazy Horse proved his worth as a warrior. His reputation was so secure that sometimes he would drop back and allow others to count coup; once he did this for his younger brother, Little Hawk. He always led his men from the front, and unlike most Lakotas, he dismounted to fire his rifle. He used good judgment and planned soundly.

"In battle he eschewed ostentatious dress. Instead, he wore a simple eagle feather upside down on the back of his head, a cotton shirt and breechcloth, and moccasins. His waist-length hair was braided down both sides. With one finger, he would draw a zigzag streak of red earth down the center of his face. As a good-luck talisman, he wore a small white stone in a bag under his left arm. Whether due to this amulet or not, Crazy Horse was rarely injured, though nine horses were shot out from under him in battle. Only once was he badly wounded, in the leg, and that was before he began carrying the stone."


James Donovan


A Terrible Glory: Custer and the Little Bighorn—The Last Great Battle of the American West


Little, Brown Company


Copyright 2008 by James Donovan


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