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Crazy Horse

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Crazy Horse was a fearless leader of the Oglala Lakota tribe.  He was a renowned warrior and fierce fighter for most of his life, resisting the US government’s encroachment upon the Lakota’s lands.  Crazy Horse is well known for leading a party at the Battle of Little Bighorn, but was wounded and died in 1877 after surrendering to the federal government.

Crazy Horse was born in Lakota territory (present-day South Dakota) between 1840 and 1845.  His father was named Crazy Horse, but allegedly changed his name to Waglula when Crazy Horse matured and showed his strength.  His mother was named Rattling Blanket Woman.  Crazy Horse also had at least one brother, High Horse, and two cousins, Touch the Clouds and Little Hawk, who fought beside him on numerous occasions.

As a young Lakota, Crazy Horse is said to have experienced a series of visions after the leader of the Lakota was killed.  He and his father were led by a red-tailed hawk to opposite hills, where they experienced different visions.  Crazy Horse experienced a vision of a white owl, which would give him long life, and he was told that he would be a protector of his people.

Crazy Horse grew his reputation as a relentless warrior as he matured.  He fought many enemy tribes, including the Crow, Pawnee, Blackfeet, and Shoshone.  Crazy Horse banded with other tribes to fight against the US military in 1864, and for his ferocity was named a “Shirt Wearer”, or war leader, of the Lakota tribe in 1865.

He would continue to fight against the federal government, leading a small band of US troops to their deaths in the Fetterman Massacre in 1866.   The small regiment of troops was wiped out by nearly a thousand Lakota and Cheyenne.  Crazy Horse fought in many other battles with US soldiers as well, including the Wagon Box Fight.

In 1867, Black Buffalo Woman left her husband for Crazy Horse, a common practice in the Lakota tribe.  However, her husband, No Water, came and tried to kill Crazy Horse.  The issue was resolved when No Water gave Crazy Horse three horses in compensation, and Crazy Horse was no longer allowed the title of Shirt Wearer.  Crazy also took two other wives, Black Shaw Woman and Brown Eyes Woman.

Crazy Horse played a major role in the Great Sioux War, which began in June 1876 with an attack on the US troops in the Battle of the Rosebud.  Some 1,500 Lakota and Cheyenne attacked 1,000 cavalry and infantry, although there were no major losses.  A week later, in the Battle of Little Bighorn, he fought fiercely and courageously. 

The last battle that Crazy Horse fought took place on January 8, 1877.  The Lakota fought at Wolf Mountain against the US cavalry.  They had suffered a cold, long winter.  Crazy Horse and other leaders of the Lakota tribe formally surrendered to the US forces at Camp Robinson on May 5, 1877.  Crazy Horse died several months later when he attempted to escape and was mortally injured by a soldier.  He passed away in the night on September 5, 1877.

Crazy Horse, well remembered for his bravery and ferocity, is commemorated by a US postal stamp.  He also has two highways named in his honor, and a monument in progress near the Black Hills in South Dakota.

More about this author: Robert Hoglund

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