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Indian Heroes And Great Chieftains
By Charles A. Eastman

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Crazy Horse was born on the Republican River about 1845. He was
killed at Fort Robinson, Nebraska, in 1877, so that he lived barely
thirty-three years.

He was an uncommonly handsome man. While not the equal of
Gall in magnificence and imposing stature, he was physically
perfect, an Apollo in symmetry. Furthermore he was a true type of
Indian refinement and grace. He was modest and courteous as Chief
Joseph; the difference is that he was a born warrior, while Joseph
was not. However, he was a gentle warrior, a true brave, who stood
for the highest ideal of the Sioux. Notwithstanding all that
biased historians have said of him, it is only fair to judge a man
by the estimate of his own people rather than that of his enemies.

The boyhood of Crazy Horse was passed in the days when the
western Sioux saw a white man but seldom, and then it was usually
a trader or a soldier. He was carefully brought up according to
the tribal customs. At that period the Sioux prided themselves on
the training and development of their sons and daughters, and not
a step in that development was overlooked as an excuse to bring the
child before the public by giving a feast in its honor. At such
times the parents often gave so generously to the needy that they
almost impoverished themselves, thus setting an example to the
child of self-denial for the general good. His first step alone,
the first word spoken, first game killed, the attainment of manhood
or womanhood, each was the occasion of a feast and dance in his
honor, at which the poor always benefited to the full extent of the
parents' ability.

Big-heartedness, generosity, courage, and self-denial are the
qualifications of a public servant, and the average Indian was keen
to follow this ideal. As every one knows, these characteristic
traits become a weakness when he enters a life founded upon
commerce and gain. Under such conditions the life of Crazy Horse
began. His mother, like other mothers, tender and watchful of her
boy, would never once place an obstacle in the way of his father's
severe physical training. They laid the spiritual and patriotic
foundations of his education in such a way that he early became
conscious of the demands of public service.

He was perhaps four or five years old when the band was snowed
in one severe winter. They were very short of food, but his father
was a tireless hunter. The buffalo, their main dependence, were
not to be found, but he was out in the storm and cold every day and
finally brought in two antelopes. The little boy got on his pet
pony and rode through the camp, telling the old folks to come to
his mother's teepee for meat. It turned out that neither his
father nor mother had authorized him to do this. Before they knew
it, old men and women were lined up before the teepee home, ready
to receive the meat, in answer to his invitation. As a result, the
mother had to distribute nearly all of it, keeping only enough for
two meals.

On the following day the child asked for food. His mother
told him that the old folks had taken it all, and added: "Remember,
my son, they went home singing praises in your name, not my name or
your father's. You must be brave. You must live up to your

Crazy Horse loved horses, and his father gave him a pony of
his own when he was very young. He became a fine horseman and
accompanied his father on buffalo hunts, holding the pack horses
while the men chased the buffalo and thus gradually learning the
art. In those days the Sioux had but few guns, and the hunting was
mostly done with bow and arrows.

Another story told of his boyhood is that when he was about
twelve he went to look for the ponies with his little brother, whom
he loved much, and took a great deal of pains to teach what he had
already learned. They came to some wild cherry trees full of ripe
fruit, and while they were enjoying it, the brothers were startled
by the growl and sudden rush of a bear. Young Crazy Horse pushed
his brother up into the nearest tree and himself sprang upon the
back of one of the horses, which was frightened and ran some
distance before he could control him. As soon as he could,
however, he turned him about and came back, yelling and swinging
his lariat over his head. The bear at first showed fight but
finally turned and ran. The old man who told me this story added
that young as he was, he had some power, so that even a grizzly did
not care to tackle him. I believe it is a fact that a silver-tip
will dare anything except a bell or a lasso line, so that accidentally
the boy had hit upon the very thing which would drive him off.

It was usual for Sioux boys of his day to wait in the field
after a buffalo hunt until sundown, when the young calves would
come out in the open, hungrily seeking their mothers. Then these
wild children would enjoy a mimic hunt, and lasso the calves or
drive them into camp. Crazy Horse was found to be a determined
little fellow, and it was settled one day among the larger boys
that they would "stump" him to ride a good-sized bull calf. He
rode the calf, and stayed on its back while it ran bawling over the
hills, followed by the other boys on their ponies, until his
strange mount stood trembling and exhausted.

At the age of sixteen he joined a war party against the Gros
Ventres. He was well in the front of the charge, and at once
established his bravery by following closely one of the foremost
Sioux warriors, by the name of Hump, drawing the enemy's fire and
circling around their advance guard. Suddenly Hump's horse was
shot from under him, and there was a rush of warriors to kill or
capture him while down. But amidst a shower of arrows the youth
leaped from his pony, helped his friend into his own saddle, sprang
up behind him, and carried him off in safety, although they were
hotly pursued by the enemy. Thus he associated himself in his
maiden battle with the wizard of Indian warfare, and Hump, who was
then at the height of his own career, pronounced Crazy Horse the
coming warrior of the Teton Sioux.

At this period of his life, as was customary with the best
young men, he spent much time in prayer and solitude. Just what
happened in these days of his fasting in the wilderness and upon
the crown of bald buttes, no one will ever know; for these things
may only be known when one has lived through the battles of life to
an honored old age. He was much sought after by his youthful
associates, but was noticeably reserved and modest; yet in the
moment of danger he at once rose above them all -- a natural
leader! Crazy Horse was a typical Sioux brave, and from the point
of view of our race an ideal hero, living at the height of the
epical progress of the American Indian and maintaining in his own
character all that was most subtle and ennobling of their spiritual
life, and that has since been lost in the contact with a material

He loved Hump, that peerless warrior, and the two became close
friends, in spite of the difference in age. Men called them "the
grizzly and his cub." Again and again the pair saved the day for
the Sioux in a skirmish with some neighboring tribe. But one day
they undertook a losing battle against the Snakes. The Sioux were
in full retreat and were fast being overwhelmed by superior
numbers. The old warrior fell in a last desperate charge; but
Crazy Horse and his younger brother, though dismounted, killed two
of the enemy and thus made good their retreat.

It was observed of him that when he pursued the enemy into
their stronghold, as he was wont to do, he often refrained from
killing, and simply struck them with a switch, showing that he did
not fear their weapons nor care to waste his upon them. In
attempting this very feat, he lost this only brother of his, who
emulated him closely. A party of young warriors, led by Crazy
Horse, had dashed upon a frontier post, killed one of the
sentinels, stampeded the horses, and pursued the herder to the very
gate of the stockade, thus drawing upon themselves the fire of the
garrison. The leader escaped without a scratch, but his young
brother was brought down from his horse and killed.

While he was still under twenty, there was a great winter
buffalo hunt, and he came back with ten buffaloes' tongues which he
sent to the council lodge for the councilors' feast. He had in one
winter day killed ten buffalo cows with his bow and arrows, and the
unsuccessful hunters or those who had no swift ponies were made
happy by his generosity. When the hunters returned, these came
chanting songs of thanks. He knew that his father was an expert
hunter and had a good horse, so he took no meat home, putting in
practice the spirit of his early teaching.

He attained his majority at the crisis of the difficulties
between the United States and the Sioux. Even before that time,
Crazy Horse had already proved his worth to his people in Indian
warfare. He had risked his life again and again, and in some
instances it was considered almost a miracle that he had saved
others as well as himself. He was no orator nor was he the son of
a chief. His success and influence was purely a matter of
personality. He had never fought the whites up to this time, and
indeed no "coup" was counted for killing or scalping a white man.

Young Crazy Horse was twenty-one years old when all the Teton
Sioux chiefs (the western or plains dwellers) met in council to
determine upon their future policy toward the invader. Their
former agreements had been by individual bands, each for itself,
and every one was friendly. They reasoned that the country was
wide, and that the white traders should be made welcome. Up to
this time they had anticipated no conflict. They had permitted the
Oregon Trail, but now to their astonishment forts were built and
garrisoned in their territory.

Most of the chiefs advocated a strong resistance. There were
a few influential men who desired still to live in peace, and who
were willing to make another treaty. Among these were White Bull,
Two Kettle, Four Bears, and Swift Bear. Even Spotted Tail,
afterward the great peace chief, was at this time with the
majority, who decided in the year 1866 to defend their rights and
territory by force. Attacks were to be made upon the forts within
their country and on every trespasser on the same.

Crazy Horse took no part in the discussion, but he and all the
young warriors were in accord with the decision of the council.
Although so young, he was already a leader among them. Other
prominent young braves were Sword (brother of the man of that name
who was long captain of police at Pine Ridge), the younger Hump,
Charging Bear, Spotted Elk, Crow King, No Water, Big Road, He Dog,
the nephew of Red Cloud, and Touch-the-Cloud, intimate friend of
Crazy Horse.

The attack on Fort Phil Kearny was the first fruits of the new
policy, and here Crazy Horse was chosen to lead the attack on the
woodchoppers, designed to draw the soldiers out of the fort, while
an army of six hundred lay in wait for them. The success of this
stratagem was further enhanced by his masterful handling of his
men. From this time on a general war was inaugurated; Sitting Bull
looked to him as a principal war leader, and even the Cheyenne
chiefs, allies of the Sioux, practically acknowledged his
leadership. Yet during the following ten years of defensive war he
was never known to make a speech, though his teepee was the
rendezvous of the young men. He was depended upon to put into
action the decisions of the council, and was frequently consulted
by the older chiefs.

Like Osceola, he rose suddenly; like Tecumseh he was always
impatient for battle; like Pontiac, he fought on while his allies
were suing for peace, and like Grant, the silent soldier, he was a
man of deeds and not of words. He won from Custer and Fetterman
and Crook. He won every battle that he undertook, with the
exception of one or two occasions when he was surprised in the
midst of his women and children, and even then he managed to
extricate himself in safety from a difficult position.

Early in the year 1876, his runners brought word from Sitting
Bull that all the roving bands would converge upon the upper Tongue
River in Montana for summer feasts and conferences. There was
conflicting news from the reservation. It was rumored that the
army would fight the Sioux to a finish; again, it was said that
another commission would be sent out to treat with them.

The Indians came together early in June, and formed a series
of encampments stretching out from three to four miles, each band
keeping separate camp. On June 17, scouts came in and reported the
advance of a large body of troops under General Crook. The council
sent Crazy Horse with seven hundred men to meet and attack him.
These were nearly all young men, many of them under twenty, the
flower of the hostile Sioux. They set out at night so as to steal
a march upon the enemy, but within three or four miles of his camp
they came unexpectedly upon some of his Crow scouts. There was a
hurried exchange of shots; the Crows fled back to Crook's camp,
pursued by the Sioux. The soldiers had their warning, and it was
impossible to enter the well-protected camp. Again and again Crazy
Horse charged with his bravest men, in the attempt to bring the
troops into the open, but he succeeded only in drawing their fire.
Toward afternoon he withdrew, and returned to camp disappointed.
His scouts remained to watch Crook's movements, and later brought
word that he had retreated to Goose Creek and seemed to have no
further disposition to disturb the Sioux. It is well known to us
that it is Crook rather than Reno who is to be blamed for cowardice
in connection with Custer's fate. The latter had no chance to do
anything, he was lucky to save himself; but if Crook had kept on
his way, as ordered, to meet Terry, with his one thousand regulars
and two hundred Crow and Shoshone scouts, he would inevitably have
intercepted Custer in his advance and saved the day for him, and
war with the Sioux would have ended right there. Instead of this,
he fell back upon Fort Meade, eating his horses on the way, in a
country swarming with game, for fear of Crazy Horse and his braves!

The Indians now crossed the divide between the Tongue and the
Little Big Horn, where they felt safe from immediate pursuit.
Here, with all their precautions, they were caught unawares by
General Custer, in the midst of their midday games and festivities,
while many were out upon the daily hunt.

On this twenty-fifth of June, 1876, the great camp was
scattered for three miles or more along the level river bottom,
back of the thin line of cottonwoods -- five circular rows of
teepees, ranging from half a mile to a mile and a half in
circumference. Here and there stood out a large, white, solitary
teepee; these were the lodges or "clubs" of the young men. Crazy
Horse was a member of the "Strong Hearts" and the "Tokala" or Fox
lodge. He was watching a game of ring-toss when the warning came
from the southern end of the camp of the approach of troops.

The Sioux and the Cheyennes were "minute men", and although
taken by surprise, they instantly responded. Meanwhile, the women
and children were thrown into confusion. Dogs were howling, ponies
running hither and thither, pursued by their owners, while many of
the old men were singing their lodge songs to encourage the
warriors, or praising the "strong heart" of Crazy Horse.

That leader had quickly saddled his favorite war pony and was
starting with his young men for the south end of the camp, when a
fresh alarm came from the opposite direction, and looking up, he
saw Custer's force upon the top of the bluff directly across the
river. As quick as a flash, he took in the situation -- the enemy
had planned to attack the camp at both ends at once; and knowing
that Custer could not ford the river at that point, he instantly
led his men northward to the ford to cut him off. The Cheyennes
followed closely. Custer must have seen that wonderful dash up the
sage-bush plain, and one wonders whether he realized its meaning.
In a very few minutes, this wild general of the plains had
outwitted one of the most brilliant leaders of the Civil War and
ended at once his military career and his life.

In this dashing charge, Crazy Horse snatched his most famous
victory out of what seemed frightful peril, for the Sioux could not
know how many were behind Custer. He was caught in his own trap.
To the soldiers it must have seemed as if the Indians rose up from
the earth to overwhelm them. They closed in from three sides and
fought until not a white man was left alive. Then they went down
to Reno's stand and found him so well intrenched in a deep gully
that it was impossible to dislodge him. Gall and his men held him
there until the approach of General Terry compelled the Sioux to
break camp and scatter in different directions.

While Sitting Bull was pursued into Canada, Crazy Horse and
the Cheyennes wandered about, comparatively undisturbed, during the
rest of that year, until in the winter the army surprised the
Cheyennes, but did not do them much harm, possibly because they
knew that Crazy Horse was not far off. His name was held in
wholesome respect. From time to time, delegations of friendly
Indians were sent to him, to urge him to come in to the
reservation, promising a full hearing and fair treatment.

For some time he held out, but the rapid disappearance of the
buffalo, their only means of support, probably weighed with him
more than any other influence. In July, 1877, he was finally
prevailed upon to come in to Fort Robinson, Nebraska, with several
thousand Indians, most of them Ogallala and Minneconwoju Sioux, on
the distinct understanding that the government would hear and
adjust their grievances.

At this juncture General Crook proclaimed Spotted Tail, who
had rendered much valuable service to the army, head chief of the
Sioux, which was resented by many. The attention paid Crazy Horse
was offensive to Spotted Tail and the Indian scouts, who planned a
conspiracy against him. They reported to General Crook that the
young chief would murder him at the next council, and stampede the
Sioux into another war. He was urged not to attend the council and
did not, but sent another officer to represent him. Meanwhile the
friends of Crazy Horse discovered the plot and told him of it. His
reply was, "Only cowards are murderers."

His wife was critically ill at the time, and he decided to
take her to her parents at Spotted Tail agency, whereupon his
enemies circulated the story that he had fled, and a party of
scouts was sent after him. They overtook him riding with his wife
and one other but did not undertake to arrest him, and after he had
left the sick woman with her people he went to call on Captain Lea,
the agent for the Brules, accompanied by all the warriors of the
Minneconwoju band. This volunteer escort made an imposing
appearance on horseback, shouting and singing, and in the words of
Captain Lea himself and the missionary, the Reverend Mr. Cleveland,
the situation was extremely critical. Indeed, the scouts who had
followed Crazy Horse from Red Cloud agency were advised not to show
themselves, as some of the warriors had urged that they be taken
out and horsewhipped publicly.

Under these circumstances Crazy Horse again showed his
masterful spirit by holding these young men in check. He said to
them in his quiet way: "It is well to be brave in the field of
battle; it is cowardly to display bravery against one's own
tribesmen. These scouts have been compelled to do what they did;
they are no better than servants of the white officers. I came
here on a peaceful errand."

The captain urged him to report at army headquarters to
explain himself and correct false rumors, and on his giving
consent, furnished him with a wagon and escort. It has been said
that he went back under arrest, but this is untrue. Indians have
boasted that they had a hand in bringing him in, but their stories
are without foundation. He went of his own accord, either
suspecting no treachery or determined to defy it.

When he reached the military camp, Little Big Man walked
arm-in-arm with him, and his cousin and friend, Touch-the-Cloud,
was just in advance. After they passed the sentinel, an officer
approached them and walked on his other side. He was unarmed but
for the knife which is carried for ordinary uses by women as well
as men. Unsuspectingly he walked toward the guardhouse, when
Touch-the-Cloud suddenly turned back exclaiming: "Cousin, they will
put you in prison!"

"Another white man's trick! Let me go! Let me die fighting!"
cried Crazy Horse. He stopped and tried to free himself and draw
his knife, but both arms were held fast by Little Big Man and the
officer. While he struggled thus, a soldier thrust him through
with his bayonet from behind. The wound was mortal, and he died in
the course of that night, his old father singing the death song
over him and afterward carrying away the body, which they said
must not be further polluted by the touch of a white man. They hid
it somewhere in the Bad Lands, his resting place to this day.

Thus died one of the ablest and truest American Indians. His
life was ideal; his record clean. He was never involved in any of
the numerous massacres on the trail, but was a leader in
practically every open fight. Such characters as those of Crazy
Horse and Chief Joseph are not easily found among so-called
civilized people. The reputation of great men is apt to be
shadowed by questionable motives and policies, but here are two
pure patriots, as worthy of honor as any who ever breathed God's
air in the wide spaces of a new world.



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