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

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 occurred, 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?

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 cavalry 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 ( 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.

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.

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 January 16, 2012 at 10:14 pm  Comments (1)  

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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. I like this print, I like the essay.

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