Crazy Horse stole his first wife. Black Buffalo Woman was married to another man named No Water. Crazy Horse just up and stole her and, in time, she broke his heart. This theft of the heart led to no small amount of acrimony in the tribe, with both Crazy Horse and No Water making repeated attempts on the other’s life. Finally the Chief stepped in and made Crazy Horse give No Water two horses, and in time, Black Buffalo woman dumped him. She was the first of his three wives, all of which he would lose to death or abandonment.
When one drives through the Badlands, the history of that place–or places–seems to lay in wait. In the high desert, there are plants called Indian Paintbrushes, that I’d always thought were cactus of some kind. Evidently, they’re not. I actually don’t really know what the hell they are, other than beautiful.
I think I keep thinking about Crazy Horse because of the sad trajectory of his life. He’d lost his wives, his brother, his father and his dearest friend, Hump; and in his lifetime, he would also lose the ferocious landscape of the Badlands to the white man and the railroads. His was a life of furious loss, despite fighting mightily to hang onto some semblance of his history and ancestry. These things too, were lost to him.
His only solace was in nature. Being on the wrong end of history’s loaded gun, relegated him and millions of other Indians to the shameful footnote of white America’s own genocidal manifest destiny.
I guess the idea of belonging to a place is something I’ve always considered an idea worth fighting for. If you’ve ever been to a country that has just lost a war, you know what I mean. I visited Haiti in the ’80s and early ’90s and there was this despair that hung over the place like a shawl of angry shadows.
Friends of mine from eastern Europe have told me what it’s like for your country to suddenly lose its borders. You don’t have to travel to have this discussion; talk to any homeless person about how it feels to no longer have a tether, or a place…or a home.
In our country, we find ourselves in an economic climate where people are just trying to hang onto what they have. The economic safety nets have proven mythic and there is a hunger in our cities, the like of which we’ve not seen since the Great Depression. The difference now is that there is less continuity of community. In the 1930s whole neighborhoods pulled together to grow gardens, and conserve rags, tin, fat,rubber and other scrap just to make it by.
It is not so different than what Crazy Horse faced. History was moving faster than he could hope to; the wealthy taking what they want and sending men with guns to eliminate anyone that stood in the way.
This piece is called, “Indian Plume.”