The Assassination of Crazy Horse

This is good.  He sought death  and now he has found it.” —   Touch The Clouds, Crazy Horse’s cousin, and witness to his death.

No shot was fired, and Crazy Horse– a man who had lost his brother, his daughter, the woman he loved, several friends, his way of life, and even, for a time, his people–began his leaving as a man and his arrival as a myth, a man around  whom stories that are like little gospels accumulate.  A variation death of Crazy Horse would consist of at least a score of versions, all contributed or recollected by people, white and red, who were in the fort that night.” — Larry McMurtry, Crazy Horse
The Assassination Of Crazy HorseHey–

Public political assassinations are not a new American story.  In my own lifetime there have been the brazen and shocking murders of JFK, his brother Robert, Martin Luther King, and Malcom X.  In all cases, there were plenty of witnesses and one thing can be said of all of them; nobody ever tells the same story of the same killing.  Such is also the case of the assassination of Crazy Horse.  Many claim he was held by fellow red men while bayoneted by a white soldier.  Little Big Man, his betrayer, claims he stabbed himself.  There are many versions; so many, any is impossible to believe.  What is known is that for the interests of the Army and some Indians, he could not be allowed to leave the fort he was murdered at.   He was onto them.

When Crazy Horse witnessed the filth and conditions his fellow Indians were subjected to, for him, all bets were off.

Early in Larry McMurtry’s account of the life of Crazy Horse, the author is clearly puzzled by the perceptions of Crazy horse by whites and by Native Americans:  “They depict Crazy Horse as a kind of being never seen on earth: a genius at war yet a lover of peace; a statesman who apparently never thought of the interest of any human being outside his own camp; a dreamer, a mystic, and a kind of Sioux Christ, who was betrayed in the end by his own disciples–Little Big Man, Touch-the-Clouds and the rest.  One is inclined to ask, what is it all about?”

Crazy Horse is certainly an American kind of enigma; a man many would build monuments to and then sneer at clay feet of their hero.  The more I read about Crazy Horse, the more fascinated I am.  Every account I’ve read seems to be about a different person.  He defied type and was his own man.

Published in: on August 30, 2009 at 12:29 am  Leave a Comment  

The Yellow Day

The Yellow DayThere is a  sad, lovely song by the great James McMurtry called Ruby and Carlos on his Just Us Kids CD.  I always think of McMurtry’s music when I think of the West.  I don’t really know why.  I think maybe it is because he just has that lived-in voice that sounds like it ought to belong to a cowboy or a rancher or something.  This song is about an affair between a Gulf War vet and an older woman and it is as lovely as anything I’ve ever heard.  It is a song that for me will always be perpetually autumnal.  McMurtry is criminally underrated and the next time he comes through Chicago I will make it a point to check him out.

In my readings of the history of Crazy Horse, nature always has a powerful role in what he believed.  It seems nature and the idea of an almighty were much the same thing and about as predictable.  A redtailed hawk led him to the place of his “trances” and “vision quests.”  He painted hailstones on his forehead before battle and lightning bolts on his face; the power of nature seems omnipotent in his life. Whites regarded these beliefs as arcane and simple “superstitions.”   The visions interest me.  It is no secret that the peoples of the Black Mesa ate no small amount of peyote and one wonders if “vision quests” were not helped along by the powerful hallucinatory properties of many plants and mushrooms indigenous to the West and Southwest.  One also  must realize the Indian peoples had a very different relationship with nature than whites did.

Some years ago I did an artist’s residency at the University of Montana in Missoula.  I made the body of etchigs now known as the Autumn Etchings, and for the first time, I actually spent some time in nature.  I didn’t camp. Oh, no. I’m a room service and clean towels kind of guy and have no raging desire to wash my nuts in a river.  I stayed at a very nice Doubletree Suites place right next to the Bitterroot River and, at one point, took to walking next to the river every day.  I’d find these odd river rocks with whitish lines around them, dessicated wasp’s nests, porcupine quills, pieces of antler, and all other manner of natural detritus.  I started making little drawings of this stuff and a young man who was Oglala Lakota gave me a beautiful hawk’s skull as part of my “medicine.”

I enjoyed my walks along the river and one night, the front desk lady woke me up so I could go outside and witness a meteor shower, which was truly amazing to watch.  When it gets dark out there it gets knock-out dark.  There are no street lights or buildings or any of that shit; it just gets black, so you can see the stars.  And when there is a meteor shower you can see the stars dance.  It is a powerful thing and gives you the proper perspective as to about how big we are in the universe.

One day, I got lost I wandered pretty far from the hotel next to the river and kind of wandered into the woods just finding shit.  After about 15 minutes, I realized I didn’t know where the fuck I was.  I also realized that grizzly bear, black bear and mountain lions lived around there as well.  Fuck me.

Luckily, the primal, lizard brain stem humans still retain kind of kicked in.  I stopped and listened for the river.  I walked back toward the sound of water and found my way, but for a minute, I thought I was going to be one of those simple assholes discovered  in the wilderness three weeks after the badgers have chewed through his pancreas.  I was happy to find my way back to the Doubletree.

That said, I know what intoxicates people about nature; how one desires to be lost in i. . .to get away from cable TV, the Internet and shitheads babbling hate on the radio.  I get it; the serenity. . . the quiet. . .the sound of water and birds and wind.   The first music.

Published in: on August 26, 2009 at 12:32 am  Leave a Comment  

The Thunder Being

“Crazy Horse’s vision first took him to the South, where in Lakota spirituality one goes upon death. He was brought back and was taken to the West in the direction of the Wwakiyans, or Thunder Beings. . .” – Wikipedia entry about Crazy Horse

Drawing For Crazy Horse #2 (The Thunder Being)

I haven’t a fucking clue as to what the above quote is supposed to mean.  Nor, I suspect, am I meant to.  Native American and Indian lore wasn’t written for me.  Still, the idea of a “Thunder Being” sounded powerful and poetic to me.  As a kid I was scared by thunder and thought of it as something that walked the earth; a giant of some kind.  As I grew older, I rather liked it.  It seemed something that nature had in its back pocket anytime it wanted to let us know who (or what) was in charge.

What i most admire about Crazy Horse is that he helped kill Custer; a stone, murderous, psychopath.  The movie Little Big Man, I think, pretty much has Custer’s number.  Custer pretty much attacked when he was sure he had a superior number to the opposition.  Years ago, I traveled all over the West and stopped in a small town not far from where the battle of Little Big Horn occured; Spotted Horse, Wyoming.  It was basically a post office and a diner/bar, and the guy who ran it was an old cowboy who had a tank full of rattlesnakes out in front of the place and he wore a six-shooter in a holster.  It was he who told me that Custer died slow.  He said that Custer was “turned over the women.”  I was shocked.  I asked Mark Turcotte, the Chippewa poet about this and he said, “Custer’s last breath wasn’t on the battle field.”

There are moments of history when I’d have liked to have been there; like when Custer was introduced to the Oglala nation. . .when he looked around and realized the Oglala had the ass over him and that he was truly fucked.  The wet-ass hour.

Did he pray?  Did he ask forgiveness?  Did he ask for mercy?  Did he realize his golden locks would be lashed to the end of a war-staff by the time the sun went down?

There is a powerful kind of atmosphere around that part of the country.  It is as if the land knows and that the scene of the American genocide of its first citizens still carries its ghosts.  Montana and Wyoming are places where nature is, to say the very least, formidable.  One doesn’t curse the snow, the rain, the dust, the hail, or god, because here; it is all the same thing.

When I was a kid, I thought thunder was something that walked the earth. Maybe Crazy Horse did, too.  I don’t try to explain what Native Americans mean when they speak of these things.  I’m not meant to understand it.  The more I read about Crazy Horse, the more admirable he is to me.

There is a mountain being carved  up as a monument to him; something he’d have probably found obscene.  Russel Means, the former leader of AIM, has spoken out against it on the grounds that it is contrary to the spirit of Crazy Horse.  While meant as a tribute, Indian peoples realize the mountain, itself, is triumph enough.

Published in: on August 24, 2009 at 4:24 pm  Leave a Comment  

Poem For Crazy Horse

Poem For Crazy Horse

This is a new piece.  In reading about the natural history of owls, I came across any number of Native American stories.  The most compelling stories for me are about Crazy Horse, my favorite person in American history.  It was Crazy Horse and his braves that handed Custer his ass at Little Bighorn. George Armstrong Custer was one of our history’s great psychopaths; a butcher of white men, red men, women and children; and on June 25th, 1876, Crazy Horse and the Lakota and Oglala nation, settled his hash once and for all.

Crazy Horse was born around 1840 to Lakota Oglala parents.  His father was also named Crazy Horse.  In his entire life, he was never photographed.  He had curly hair and was paler of skin than other Oglala, leading other children to taunt him about the possibility of white parentage to which the boy took great umbrage.  However, this taunting did not persist, as the young Crazy Horse routinely fucked-up anyone who attempted to bully him.

He was fearless and contrary and an absolute natural warrior; a tactician to equal  some of the best generals in U.S. history.  He was an expert decoy warrior, often using himself as bait.  Such was the case in the “Fetterman Massacre” in which Crazy Horse personally lured Lt. Fetterman and 80 of his calvary to their slaughter.

Crazy Horse painted his cheeks with lightning bolts and his forehead with hailstones, in honor of the Yakiwans (Thunder Beings) and, according to many eye-witnesses, was the most fearless of warriors; always getting very close to soldiers and screaming other-worldly battle screams to his fellow braves.  Crazy Horse terrified even his own men.

Crazy Horse is one of those mythic American characters that entreats conflicting historical information at almost every turn.  Even his death ( almost surely an assassination) is  shrouded in mystery and varying accounts.  After his death, a photograph of him was produced which was quickly proven a fraud.  Crazy Horse believed that the camera stole one’s soul and, given the  nature of celebrity, he was not all the way wrong.  History is an odd creature. It tends to be the lie we all agree upon.  Crazy Horse is a hero to the Lakota Oglala and actually to me, as well.  History, for the longest time, regarded him as something of a terrorist.  It’s an odd paradox; one is a terrorist until one wins, and then is proclaimed a patriot.

This one is called “Poem for Crazy Horse.”

Published in: on August 22, 2009 at 12:07 am  Comments (1)  

Little King

Little KingYears ago there was a rugged little bastard  named Roberto Duran, one of the greatest lightweight fighters in the history of boxing.  He was a mean little bastard who grew up stealing his dinner in his native Panama.  He mostly hung around the docks and wharfs and was a street kid with a huge punch.

The poverty of his early life fueled a furious boxing career and the game dubbed him, Manos de Piedra–Hands of Stone.  More than once he knocked out opponents with body punches.  Sugar Ray Leonard ducked him for a long time; until there was nobody else left for he, or Duran, to fight.  Not that Leonard was a pussy (far from it)  but back then nobody was in any big hurry to fight Duran.  He was like a Tasmainian devil who’d not just punch guys but, swarm them.  He was like a human helicopter blade; chop-chop-chop.  He was great to watch.  He didn’t just score knock-outs; he changed the shape of his opponent’s heads.

Small owls are tough little fuckers.  They often kill and eat things twice their size and they are always hunting.  Rodents can’t breed fast enough for these little bastards. They’re often compared to “cats with wings.”

I’m going on an owl watch with some friends when they figure out where they are.  I miss seeing them in the wild.

What people most remember about Duran was him quitting inexplicably in the eighth round of a rematch with Sugar Ray Leonard.  This is a shame.  I saw lots of his fights and pound for pound he may have been the best I ever watched.

This owl is for him.  It’s called, “Little King.”

Published in: on August 20, 2009 at 1:41 am  Leave a Comment  

The Radio Ghost

The Radio Ghost

If you drive rural roads,particularly the ones in the Midwest where the landscape is flat, you often see owls in radio towers at dusk or dawn.  This is mostly when they hunt.  When I was young, I hitchhiked everywhere (across the country a couple of times) and I remember being stuck on a road outside Galesburg, Illinois, which  is the very definition of “East Bumfuck,” trying to thumb a ride.  I got picked up by a guy who was shuttling U-Haul-style moving trucks who drove me back to Champaign where I was not attending college.   He gave me a job cleaning and servicing moving trucks which I used to load up with my friends after hours and had rolling parties, with 20 goofballs packed into the truck, a keg, and a boom box blasting AC/DC.  We would stop at a townie bar in Urbana called Huffy’s, owned by one Earl Huffman who was an ill-tempered drunk and bad pool player whom, when angered, would start throwing pool balls at the clientele while ordering everyone to, “Get the fuck out, Skippy!  Chop-Chop!”

Earl would be sheparded up the stairs and put to sleep for a couple of hours only to come back down later in a genial mood and buy drinks for everyone.  “Get us a round and some shots, Skippy. Chop-Chop!”

After I got shit-canned from the truck rental place (it turned out the guy checked the mileage on the trucks every week and it didn’t help that he found an empty keg  in the back of one of them), I got a job at Huffy’s as a bartender.  My first day, Earl showed me where all of the strategically-placed handguns were behind the bar.  There was a .25 automatic in the drawer, a 357 Magnum under the bar, and in the cooler (“in case things get really out of hand”), a sawed-off 12-gauge, which he affectionately referred to as “The Big Kid.”   He told me the .25 auto was merely to restore order, the 357 was “for emphasis” and the Big Kid was in case of a real emergency, like a stick-up. “Do not, under any circumstance, turn bitch and hand my money over to criminal motherfuckers. . .I abhor criminals.”

Needless to say, Huffy’s was a tough place.  I spent the first couple of weeks breaking up fights and sometimes fighting for my life in the process.  We didn’t get many students; they were smart enough to vacate after a beer, or in the middle of one.  It was full of bikers and mechanics and hard-labor guys who didn’t much like the “college pukes.”  They scared the shit out of me, and I was careful to keep my head and learned the gentle art of cutting people off when I sensed  trouble.

I had several fist-fights; these guys loved to fight  A guy named Daskell Vaughn would come in once a week  and insist I fight him.  Thankfully, Daskell wasn’t big, particularly tough, and was perpetually drunk.  But he was plenty crazy.  He once threw the brick we used to prop open the door of the place with at me while my back was turned and just missed me.  My one friend there, a big, good-natured deisel mechanic named Orrin told me, “Now you have to go put Daskell in the dirt–else you’ll never get any respect from him.”  He didn’t really have to tell me that; I was halfway over the bar and I settled Daskell’s hash that day for good. Never had an ounce of trouble from Daskell after that.

I used to bar these guys from the place and Earl would always let them back in.  He’d tell me, “They’re good boys; unemployed is all.  They all got laid off from Harvester.  Makes ’em mean, when they can’t do a man’s work anymore.”  There was an International Harvester plant not far away that had started laying guys off and a lot of them would cash their unemployment checks at Huffy’s and drink the days away.  I learned that the end of the month was a particularly dangerous week to tend bar there.

On my way home every night I’d pass this  landscape of empty lots next to a radio tower and there would be this short-eared owl up on the tower hunting mice and rats.  On occasion, I’d sit up there with a six-pack of Bud and a cigarette and from a few hundred feet away, watch him pick off rodents.  He’d dive from the tower two or three times an hour and more often then not, fly back with the unlucky mouse in his beak.

As quiet as ice.

Published in: on August 11, 2009 at 11:43 pm  Leave a Comment  

Black Mesa Owl

Black Mesa OwlAfter reading a bunch of Hopi prophecies it is easy to get freaked out.  They are farmers and artists and made some of the most beautiful pottery, baskets and fethishes in Native American culture.  They were also right next to the Navajo and the Apache peoples in the Southwest.  Reading the natural history of animals in America is always about who wrote it.  White people write the facts, just the facts.  ma’am, where Latino and Indian peoples write the poetic histories.

Eduardo Galeano‘s Genesis; Memory of Fire starts with the first day of creation and moves forward in metaphor to the earth, the Sun, the water, the birds and on and on.  Native peoples ascribed the power of “the Almighty” to the Sun and to them, the idea of  a god was nature.  They were not monotheistic (there were many spirits) but nature fulfilled the role that god did in other cultures.

Owls mean many things to Indian peoples; good and bad.  The Navajo think them an omen of death, the Hopi think them as protectors of the dead and their burial grounds.

In Italy, the barn owl is said to possess the malocchio or, “the evil eye” (or as my  paisan friends used to call it, “the shit-eye”) when you eyeball somebody with malice in your heart (and who doesn’t enjoy that once in a while?).

The  ocular peculiarities of owls are what provoke the visceral in people.  The large and luminous eyes that seem to be all-seeing.  It is kind of what I’ve always loved about drawing them; there are no other creatures like them.

I once issued a fairly thorough ass-kicking over the spotted owl.  There was a big debate over their habitat in the Pacific northwest around 20 years ago and I was tending bar in Villa Park, Illinois and one of the assholes at the bar started bitching about “all this fuss over a fucking owl, that is supposed to be extinct.”  The TV news had just done a report on the near extinction of this owl.  He went on about how some species were “just supposed to disappear from existence, it is natural– it’s what god wants.”  So I said, “Why don’t you leave?”   He just looked at me and I said, “Maybe god wants assholes to be extinct too.  Maybe you should follow the spotted owl off this mortal coil.”  And that was it.  Me and Tommy Crough went round and round and Tommy lost.  He was a dick who worked for the phone company and used to get his ass beat at Brennan’s Pub about once every 10 days.  Card-carrying pacifists would kick the shit out of Tommy Crough; he was that annoying.  He was the guy who would grab women’s asses, snort coke in the john, and worst of all, root against the Sox, loudly, on Sunday afternoon.  Everybody beat this fucker up and everyone was well within their right to.  When the cops would be called after someone would assault Tommy, more often than no, the cops would smack Tommy as well.

My guess is owls will outlast all of us; which is as it should be.

Published in: on August 4, 2009 at 10:23 pm  Comments (1)  
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