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Crazy Horse

Updated: August 4, 2020

Reenactment of Battle
Reenactment of Battle

Crazy Horse, of the Oglala Lakota Sioux, was born on the banks of the Republican River around 1845, probably in the territory we now know as the State of Nebraska. But he perhaps best known for his role in the Battle of Little Bighorn in southeastern Montana. Though many people associate his name with Custer's infamous death, his own people do not remember him as a killer. This tale of Crazy Horse's life is taken in part from remembrances by his friend and ally, Ohiyesa. Ohiyesa was a Santee Dakota Sioux, raised in the traditional ways before his father sent him to Boston to study medicine. Ohiyesa worked his whole life to bring white and native peoples together.

From childhood on, Crazy Horse was both handsome and modest. His parents taught him the value of generosity, often giving great feasts to celebrate their son's achievements such as his first step or his first word. During the winter, when he was about four or five, his tribe was snowed in and very short on food. The men could not find the buffalo herds. One day, the boy's father brought home two antelope. Without asking permission, Crazy Horse jumped on his pony, rode through camp, and announced to the elders that they could pick up some meat at his parents tipi. His mother had to give almost all the meat away. The next day, when Crazy Horse asked for food, his mother explained that it was all gone, saying, "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 reputation."

Crazy Horse would live up to his reputation, proving that he was indeed brave. When he was just sixteen he joined a war party and followed a well-known Sioux warrior, Hump, into battle against the Gros Ventres. When Hump's horse was wounded Crazy Horse was there to pick him up and carry him to safety. The two became lifelong friends. Crazy Horse was again at his side when Hump died in a skirmish with a neighboring tribe.

He never forgot his parents' lessons of generosity either. In his early twenties, during a winter buffalo hunt, Crazy Horse took ten buffalo in just one day. Knowing that his father was a skilled hunter who would not return home empty-handed, he left all ten buffalo for the less fortunate men; those who had no meat to take home to their families. We can imagine praises once again sung in the name of Crazy Horse. And in battle, Crazy Horse would often choose not to kill his enemy, for he saw little reason to waste a life in that way.

Although he had never participated in attacks on whites, in 1866 Crazy Horse was chosen by the elders to lead an attack on Fort Phil Kearny. The attack was a success and from that time on the Sioux were in a general state of war with the U.S. Army protecting territory that the Sioux felt they had the right to live on and travel through. Early in the summer of 1876, at the direction of Sitting Bull, the wandering bands of Sioux and Cheyenne were gathered along the upper Toungue River in Montana for feasts and to discuss strategies for defense against the Army.

Soon the bands began to feel uneasy. They crossed a divide and descended upon the Little Bighorn River where they seemed safe, temporarily. In mid-day on June 25, 1876, General Custer ambushed the tribes. Custer planned to attack the camp from both ends. But Crazy Horse quickly realized that Custer wouldn't be able to cross the river where he planned. It was too wide and too deep for the horses. So Crazy Horse quickly led his men to the point where Custer would cross. By then it was too late for the Civil War hero. Amidst smoke and dust, Crazy Horse had outwitted Custer on the banks of the Little Bighorn. And he had forged a lasting piece of Montana history.

He was urged by some to surrender and face trial on the reservation but Crazy Horse held out for nearly a year, until the disappearing buffalo -- and all the generosity in the world -- could no longer support his people. So in July 1877, Crazy Horse went to Fort Robinson, Nebraska unarmed and prepared to discuss peace. But there would be no discussion. Army leaders were plotting to imprison Crazy Horse without a fair trial. The moment this was explained to him, Crazy Horse resisted. An officer stabbed the gentle warrior in the back. He died that night with his father beside him. His body was hidden somewhere in the Bad Lands in order that Crazy Horse might find a lasting peace.

It is said that Crazy Horse never hated white people; that he refused to fight with his mind. He fought only to preserve rights for his people and to guarantee justice. He fought for the same reasons that people like George Washington had fought for a century before. He was just 33 years old when he died. No photographs of Crazy Horse are known to exist.

You can visit the Little Bighorn National Monument on the Crow Indian Reservation in southeastern Montana. For more information about this historic site you might want to visit the Custer Battlefield Historical and Museum Association: or Custer Battlefield Museum:

A nine-story memorial statue of Crazy Horse is being revealed in a mountainside seventeen miles from Mount Rushmore, in South Dakota. Visit the Crazy Horse Memorial Foundation:

Encyclopaedia Britannica: Crazy Horse

Updated: August 4, 2020

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