Crazy Horse ~ Oglala Lakota Tribe

Published on August 10, 2010 by Christian

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Crazy Horse
Crazy Horse

Crazy Horse (Lakota: TÈŸašúŋke Witkó (in Standard Lakota Orthography), literally “His-Horse-Is-Crazy” or “His-Horse-Is-Spirited” ; ca. 1840 – September 5, 1877) was a Native American war leader of the Oglala Lakota. He took up arms against the U.S. Federal government to fight against encroachments on the territories and way of life of the Lakota people, including leading a war party at the Battle of the Little Bighorn in June 1876. After surrendering to U.S. troops under General Crook in 1877, Crazy Horse was fatally wounded by a military guard while allegedly resisting imprisonment at Camp Robinson in present-day Nebraska. He ranks among the most notable and iconic of Native American tribal members and has been honored by the U.S. Postal Service with a 13¢ Great Americans series postage stamp.

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Sources differ on the precise year of Crazy Horse’s birth, but they agree he was born between 1840 and 1845. According to a close friend, he and Crazy Horse “were both born in the same year at the same season of the year”, which census records and other interviews place at about 1845. Encouraging Bear, an Oglala medicine man and spiritual adviser to the Oglala war leader, reported that Crazy Horse was born “in the year in which the band to which he belonged, the Oglala, stole One Hundred Horses, and in the fall of the year”, a reference to the annual Lakota calendar or winter count. Among the Oglala winter counts, the stealing of 100 horses is noted by Cloud Shield, and possibly by American Horse and Red Horse owner, equivalent to the year 1840-41. Oral history accounts from relatives on the Cheyenne River Reservation place his birth in the spring of 1840. Probably the most credible source, however, is Crazy Horse’s own father. On the evening of his son’s death, the elderly man told Lieutenant H. R. Lemly that his son “would soon have been thirty-seven, having been born on the South Cheyenne river in the fall of 1840.”

Crazy Horse was named at birth Cha-O-Ha (In the Wilderness or Among the Trees, meaning he was one with nature.) His mother’s nickname for him was “Curly” or “Light Hair”; his light curly hair resembled that of his mother.

Crazy Horse lived in the Lakota camp with his younger brother, High Horse (son of Iron Between Horns and Waglula) and a cousin Little Hawk. (Little Hawk was the nephew of his maternal step-grandfather, Corn). The camp was attacked by Lt. Grattan and 28 other US troopers during the Grattan massacre.

After witnessing the death of Lakota leader Conquering Bear, Crazy Horse began to get trance visions. His father Waglula took him to what today is Sylvan Lake, South Dakota, where they both sat to do a hemblecha (vision quest). A red-tailed hawk led them to their respective spots in the hills; as the trees are tall in the Black Hills, they could not always see where they were going. Crazy Horse sat between two humps at the top of a hill north and to the east of the lake. Waglula sat south of Harney Peak but north of his son.

Young Crazy Horse
Young Crazy Horse

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 wakiyans (thunder beings). He was given a medicine bundle to protect him for life. One of his animal protectors would be the white owl which, according to Lakota spirituality, would give extended life. He was also shown his “face paint” for battle, to consist of a yellow lightning bolt down the left side of his face, and white powder. He would wet this and put marks over his vulnerable areas; when dried, the marks looked like hailstones. His face paint was similar to that of his father, who used a red lightning strike down the right side of his face and three red hailstones on his forehead. Crazy Horse put no makeup on his forehead and did not wear a war bonnet. He was given a sacred song that is still sung by the Oglala people today. Lastly, he was told he would be a protector of his people.

A contemporary tribesman and cousin of Crazy Horse, in his classic text, Black Elk Speaks: being the life story of a holy man of the Oglala Sioux was said to provide an account of Crazy Horse’s vision from which he derived his name.

“When I was a man, my father told me something about that vision. Of course he did not know all of it; but he said that Crazy Horse dreamed and went into the world where there is nothing but the spirits of all things. That is the real world that is behind this one, and everything we see here is something like a shadow from that world. He was on his horse in that world, and the horse and himself on it and the trees and the grass and the stones and everything were made of spirit, and nothing was hard, and everything seemed to float. His horse was standing still there, and yet it danced around like a horse made only of shadow, and that is how he got his name, which does not mean that his horse was crazy or wild, but that in his vision it danced around in that queer way.

It was this vision that gave him his great power, for when he went into a fight, he had only to think of that world to be in it again, so that he could go through anything and not be hurt. Until he was killed at the Soldiers’ Town on White River, he was wounded only twice, once by accident and both times by some one of his own people when he was not expecting trouble and was not thinking; never by an enemy. ”

This story appears to be an addition by John G. Neihardt, as his original interview transcripts with Black Elk make no mention of the origination of Crazy Horse’s name.

Crazy Horse received a black stone from a medicine man named Horn Chips to protect his horse, a black-and-white “paint” which he named Inyan (rock or stone). He placed the stone behind the horse’s ear, so that the medicine from his vision quest and Horn Chips would combine; he and his horse would be one in battle.

Source: Wikipedia

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