Crazy Horse (tashunka witco)

Painting showing an American Indian holding a spear and riding a white and brown horse.
Deep Ravine with 7th Cavalrymen and Warriors

NPS/Martin Pate

The date and location of Crazy Horse's birth is in dispute. He was born in or near the Black Hills of South Dakota, probably in 1840. His father was called Crazy Horse and his mother's name was Rattle Blanket Woman. They were members of the Oglala Band of the Lakota Sioux.

As a young boy Crazy Horse was known as Curley Hair. Later he was renamed Horse On Sight. During a battle with the Arapahos the young Crazy Horse showed bravery. As a result Crazy Horse, the father, passed on his name to his son in honor of his war deed. The father would be known thereafter as Worm.

Crazy Horse had a formative vision as a teenager. In the young Crazy Horse's vision, a man appeared to him on horseback. The man's instructions to Crazy Horse was that he was not to wear a war bonnet or to tie up his horse's tail (tying up the tail was a common Lakota practice) and he was never to take trophies in battle. Before going into battle, Crazy Horse was to rub dust over his body. The man said Crazy Horse's death was not to come at the hands of an enemy or as the result of a bullet. Crazy Horse followed this vision.

Crazy Horse was present and participated in the series of events that led to the Sioux War of 1876-1877, including the Powder River Campaign, Red Cloud's War, and the Battle of The Little Bighorn. In all of these events, Crazy Horse played a leading role. He signed no treaties, avoided the ways of the white men, and spurned reservation life.

On June 17, 1876, along with more than 1,200 warriors, Crazy Horse helped defeat General George Crook at the Battle of the Rosebud. Eight days later he helped defeat the 7th Cavalry at the Battle of the Little Bighorn.

Following the Battle of the Little Bighorn, the bands of Lakota and Cheyenne present at the battle began to scatter. The U.S. Army continued to track the dispersed bands, attempting to drive them back to the Great Sioux Reservation. Crazy Horse, who refused to go on a reservation or flee to Canada as others were doing, set up winter camp on the Tongue River in south-central Montana Territory. He attacked Colonel Nelson Miles' force on January 8, 1877, but was defeated. The relentless pursuit by the military, combined with the defeat at the Battle of Wolf Mountain, convinced Crazy Horse that surrender was inevitable. On May 7, 1877, Crazy Horse led 1,100 followers into Fort Robinson to surrender.

At Fort Robinson and the Red Cloud Agency, old rivalries and misunderstandings between military officers and various Lakota Sioux personalities, and Crazy Horse erupted into open animosity. Crazy Horse was arrested to prevent continued disruption, and in the ensuing scuffle, Crazy Horse was stabbed and mortally wounded. He died on the evening of September 5, 1877.

Learn More: Kingsley M. Bray, Crazy Horse: A Lakota Life (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2008).


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