On the afternoon of September 9, 1876, 600 to 800 Lakota warriors led by Oglala leader Crazy Horse rode to the crests of some hills overlooking a broad depression near the Slim Buttes range of western Dakota Territory. What they saw below must have turned their stomachs. The village of Minneconjou Lakota leader American Horse lay in ruin. Most of the 40 lodges had been demolished, with dead ponies and personal belongings scattered about. Soldiers were everywhere, far more than Crazy Horse had expected to see. They were not shooting their guns now–there was no need to. No Indians were in sight.
Crazy Horse and his warriors had been called from their village some 10 miles away. The bluecoats had attacked and must be driven off. But Crazy Horse had been told there were no more than 150 soldiers, fewer than the number killed earlier that summer along the Greasy Grass in Montana Territory. Crazy Horse had been there, too, and before that on the Rosebud battlefield. He knew how to fight soldiers. Before him now, though, were more than 1,000 bluecoats. Captain Anson Mills and 150 cavalrymen had made the initial attack on American Horse’s village that morning, but they had since been reinforced by many more of Brig. Gen. George Crook’s troops. Most of the Indians from the village had fled to the south, and some women and children were captured. American Horse himself had surrendered after he was mortally wounded. Crook’s men had found a number of relics from the Greasy Grass fight, better known as the Battle of the Little Bighorn, including a swallow-tailed guidon of the 7th Cavalry.
From their positions atop the hills, Crazy Horse’s warriors opened fire on the troops. Crook immediately had his men form a defensive line around the horses and mules, while other soldiers went ahead and set the Indian village ablaze. The general then ordered some of his troops into skirmish lines to advance toward the warriors. Four companies of infantry led the way, with dismounted troopers from three cavalry regiments following. As the troops came within range, the Indians rained gunfire down on them, but the troops answered with a furious volume of fire and kept on coming. After 45 minutes of steady fighting, the troops drove most of the warriors from their positions on the hills. But some of the Lakotas held their ground, and at one point they charged Lt. Col. William Royall’s 3rd Cavalry, on the perimeter of Crook’s line. It took a well-aimed fusillade to drive them away.
The battle cost the lives of two cavalrymen and one of Crook’s scouts, Charles ‘Buffalo Chips’ White, but the outnumbered Indians, who had an estimated 10 killed, could not defeat the soldiers. That night, Crook’s men ate well while camping near the smoldering ruin that had once been American Horse’s village. When the bluecoats pulled out on September 10 and headed toward the Black Hills, Crazy Horse had his warriors keep up a running fight. On September 15, Crook finally reached a supply column in the Black Hills and was no doubt glad to have Crazy Horse out of his hair.
The September 9 Battle of Slim Buttes (fought near present-day Reva, S.D.) marked the first time since the late June fight at the Little Bighorn that Crazy Horse had fought soldiers in large numbers. During those couple of months in between, avoiding a fight with the bluecoats had not been difficult. After learning of Lt. Col. George Custer’s shocking defeat, Generals Crook and Alfred Terry had been unwilling to take on the Lakotas until reinforcements had arrived. Meanwhile, the Lakotas had kept on the move, traveling mostly east and burning the grass behind them to deny forage to the horses of any soldiers who might follow.
Crazy Horse had too few warriors to attack the soldiers in force, but he did all he could to resist the white intruders in Paha Sapa, the sacred Black Hills. Alone or with a few friends, he attacked miners and others, and then brought the spoils home to his people. One time he returned to his village with mules loaded with goods, and another time he brought sacks of raisins that the Indian children happily gobbled up. What he could not obtain enough of, though, was ammunition.
After the Battle of Slim Buttes, Crazy Horse and his people went west to the Tongue River. They settled in for the winter near Hanging Woman Creek. ‘It snowed much; game was hard to find, and it was a hungry time for us,’ recalled Oglala holy man Black Elk, who was Crazy Horse’s cousin through marriage and just a teenager in 1876. ‘Ponies died, and we ate them. They died because the snow froze hard and they could not find enough grass that was left in the valleys and there was not enough cottonwood to feed them all. There had been thousands of us together that summer, but there were not two thousand now.’
Meanwhile, General Crook, having retreated to Fort Laramie on the Bozeman Trail, outfitted for a winter campaign against Crazy Horse. He had 2,200 soldiers and more than 400 Indian scouts, including 60 Sioux from the agencies. His cavalry was commanded by Colonel Ranald Mackenzie and his infantry by Lt. Col. Richard Dodge.The soldiers left Fort Laramie on November 5, 1876, and followed the Bozeman Trail to Fort Fetterman and then to Fort Reno. There, Crook learned that some Indians had gone to warn Crazy Horse of his approach. At that point, the general changed his plan, sending Mackenzie and the cavalry to attack the Northern Cheyenne village of Dull Knife and Wild Hog, some 37 miles away on the Red Fork of the Powder River.
Mackenzie hit the village at dawn on November 25 and destroyed it. Although the village had been warned of Mackenzie’s approach, the attack was a surprise. Some 40 Cheyenne men, women and children were killed. The rest escaped, but only with the clothes on their backs. For two weeks they trudged northward through the snow and subfreezing temperatures to reach their only source of help, the village of Crazy Horse. Several people, mostly children, died along the way. Crazy Horse took in the surviving refugees, feeding, clothing and sheltering them as best he could. But Crazy Horse’s own people could not keep up such support for long; they themselves were suffering. Some of the Northern Cheyennes left the village to surrender to the whites at Camp Robinson.
Mackenzie’s attack on Dull Knife’s village and the lack of game that winter convinced many of the Lakota leaders on the Tongue River to pursue peace. Crazy Horse, whose following at the time consisted of about 250 lodges, struggled with that concept and, according to Black Elk, began to act even queerer than usual. ‘He hardly ever stayed in camp,’ Black Elk said. ‘People would find him out alone in the cold, and they would ask him to come home with them. He would not come, but sometimes he would tell the people what to do. People wondered if he ate anything at all. Once my father found him out alone like that, and he said to my father: `Uncle, you have noticed the way I act. But do not worry; there are caves and holes for me to live in and out here the spirits may help me. I am making plans for the good of my people.”
Crazy Horse knew not only of Crook but also of Colonel Nelson A. Miles, who had established a cantonment at the mouth of the Tongue River (and would soon build Fort Keogh nearby). Miles, a veteran of the Red River War in Texas, had effectively campaigned against Sitting Bull and the Hunkpapa Lakotas in October and November. By mid-December, Crazy Horse had come to agree with those Lakota leaders who said it was in their best interests to talk peace with Miles. A delegation of 25 Lakotas and Northern Cheyennes made the trip. As they drew close to Cantonment Tongue River, five of them went ahead, carrying two white flags of truce. To reach Miles’ headquarters, the peacemakers had to pass through a camp of Crow scouts. The Crows greeted the Lakotas, shaking their hands, but then, without warning, one of the Crows pulled a pistol and shot the Minneconjou Gets Fat With Beef. The Crows surrounded the others and killed them too.
The murders did not sit well with Miles, who ordered the remaining Crows disarmed and their horses seized. He sent the Lakotas the guns and the horses and a letter of apology, assuring them that the white men had nothing to do with the killings. Crazy Horse did not buy it. Clearly, the whites still could not be trusted, and he wanted revenge. Most of the other Indian leaders agreed with him. They held a council and decided to send a decoy party to draw the soldiers away from the post and into an ambush by the main body of warriors. A similar Lakota tactic at Fort Phil Kearney in 1866 had enabled Crazy Horse and friends to annihilate Captain William Fetterman’s force in the Fetterman Fight (also known as the Fetterman Massacre).
The decoy party struck the post on December 26, 1876, stealing nearly 250 head of cattle and driving them south. Miles immediately sent Companies C and F, 22nd Infantry, and Company D, 5th Infantry, all under the command of Captain Charles Dickey, in pursuit. The next day, Lieutenant Mason Carter’s Company K, 5th Infantry, followed. On December 28, Miles himself set out with three companies (A, C and E) of the 5th Infantry, eight scouts, a 12-pounder Napoleon cannon and a 3-inch rifled Rodman gun. In all, Miles had 436 men in the field. The decoy party allowed Miles to follow it southwest through the Tongue River valley, engaging in small-scale skirmishes with his rear guard on January 1 and 3, 1877. The deep snow and freezing temperatures made conditions difficult for everyone, but the soldiers were better prepared. They wore buffalo coats over layers of clothing, as well as fur caps, rubber overshoes and warm mittens. ‘Bear Coat’ Miles, relentlessly eager to find Crazy Horse’s village, was playing right into the hands of the Lakotas. The decoy party was leading him to a spot near Prairie Dog Creek, where the ambush was supposed to take place.
On January 7, Miles’ scouts, led by Luther ‘Yellowstone’ Kelly, captured nine Northern Cheyenne women and children who were trying to reach Crazy Horse’s village. Miles now knew that Crazy Horse was close. But a Northern Cheyenne warrior, Big Horse, had seen the soldiers seize the others, and he immediately went off to warn Crazy Horse that the troops were coming. Instead of waiting for Miles’ attack, the Oglala leader would go on the offensive. Half of the warriors would strike from south of the soldiers’ camp, and the other half, under Crazy Horse, would attack from the west. Things did not work out as planned because the element of surprise was lost when the decoy party, fearing the nine captives might be killed by the soldiers, sprang the ambush early.Instead of waiting for the main war party to arrive, 40 or 50 warriors attacked Yellowstone Kelly’s scouting party. The gunfire brought a company of Miles’ foot soldiers and mounted infantry to the scene. By the time these bluecoats arrived, more than 100 Indians were in the fight. Small-arms fire was exchanged for more than an hour before the soldiers opened up with an artillery piece that forced the warriors to retreat into the rocky hills to the south.
Miles’ camp was in a fairly good defensive position in a grove of trees on the south bank of the Tongue River. The camp was east of the Wolf Mountains, some 115 miles south of Tongue River Cantonment. To the northwest and southeast of camp rose rugged hills, and about a half mile to the south was a high, cone-shaped butte that came to be called Battle Butte.
Crazy Horse and some 400 warriors arrived on the scene early on the morning of January 8, unaware of the decoy party’s attack the night before and still expecting to spring an ambush. In the falling snow, they maneuvered their way to the hills northwest of the camp. At about 7 a.m., Indians showed themselves on the northwest heights. Some of them yelled that the soldiers would ‘eat no more fat meats.’ With piercing war cries, Lakota and Northern Cheyenne warriors charged on foot down the hills toward a company-strong line of infantry under Lieutenant Carter, whom Miles had ordered to the north side of the Tongue River. The attackers were driven back by rifle fire and a few well-placed rounds of artillery. The Indians regrouped and charged again and again, but each time they were repulsed. Despite the intensity of fire, nobody was killed on either side.
While the gunfire continued in the valley west of Miles’ camp, Crazy Horse led some of his men across the river to the bluffs southeast of the camp. They provided cover for warriors under Northern Cheyenne leader Medicine Bear, who crossed the river southwest of the camp and headed to the hills south of Battle Butte. Another group of Northern Cheyennes, under medicine man Big Crow, and warriors from the decoy party came up from the south and took positions on three ridges between Crazy Horse and Medicine Bear. Seeing this threat, Miles ordered Company A, 5th Infantry, under Captain James Casey, to advance through the deep snow toward the ridges. Before long, the company took fire from Medicine Bear’s warriors, but nobody was hit. Casey proceeded to capture the first, and lowest, of the ridges. When he tried to move to the higher ridges, Indian resistance stiffened and his attack stalled.
Miles then sent Company D, under Lieutenant Robert McDonald, to help out. After crossing the valley in Company A’s tracks, McDonald’s men managed to climb up the second ridge and push the Indians back. Meanwhile, Big Crow tried to inspire his warriors by dancing along the summit of the third ridge, daring anyone to shoot him. His dancing and taunting went on for some time as bullets whizzed past him from 100 soldiers in the valley below. Finally, two soldiers from Company D, firing from the second ridge, dropped the daring Big Crow. His death discouraged some of the Northern Cheyennes, but other kinsmen fought on, as did the Lakotas.
Blowing on an eagle-bone whistle, Crazy Horse led a charge of some 300 warriors on foot from the third hill toward the commands of Casey and McDonald. They closed to within 50 yards of the soldiers, but the firing by both sides–perhaps because of the falling snow, poor visibility and intense cold–was inaccurate. Fearing the other two companies would be overrun, Miles sent a third company, Company C under Captain Edmund Butler, into the fight. Butler and his men charged up the hill at Crazy Horse, who fell back at first but then took up a strong defensive position behind rocks and fallen trees near the top of the third ridge.
Miles needed more help, so he called in the field artillery, and the shells fired from the valley forced Crazy Horse and his men to abandon their positions. They did not flee in panic, however. As they fell back, they continued to fire at the soldiers, who pursued them for nearly a mile, until the snow fell too heavily to continue. The blizzard also covered the retreat of the warriors who had remained to fight from the hills northwest of the Tongue River. The five-hour Battle of Wolf Mountains (also known as the Battle Butte Fight) was over. Amazingly enough, the soldiers had suffered only a few casualties, one dead and eight wounded. One of the wounded would die the next day. The Indians’ losses were apparently also light–three killed, including the daring Big Crow–though Miles reported seeing pools of blood on the snow where the Indians had fought. Crazy Horse obviously still had enough healthy bodies to fight on, but he had used up most of his ammunition, which could not be replaced. He led his people back up the Tongue and then over to the Little Powder.
On January 9, Miles began his march back to his post at the mouth of the Tongue River. Although the battle had been a draw, the colonel had demonstrated to the nonagency Lakotas and Cheyennes that the soldiers could find them and fight them any time, anywhere. Talk of surrender resurfaced. It didn’t help that Hunkpapa leader Sitting Bull showed up in camp and announced that he was taking his people to safety across the Canadian border. Crazy Horse declined to join him; he knew it was even colder in Canada. But further resistance did seem futile to many of Crazy Horse’s followers. Colonel Miles and General Crook sent messengers to Crazy Horse’s camp with food and tobacco and promises of fair treatment. Each commander wanted to get credit for the great Oglala warrior’s surrender.
In early February 1877, Crook persuaded Spotted Tail, an uncle of Crazy Horse’s and the designated (by Crook) chief of all agency Lakotas, to march for peace. He was to go to Crazy Horse with 250 Bruls and a pack train of gifts and promise him his own agency in the Powder River country if he would surrender to Crook. Spotted Tail left his agency near Camp Sheridan in western Nebraska on February 13 and eventually found Crazy Horse’s camp on the Powder River. Crazy Horse was out on a solo hunt, but Spotted Tail told those present that unless they surrendered, Crook would attack them with the help of not only Crow and Shoshone scouts but also other Lakotas and Cheyennes. Negotiations began without Crazy Horse participating. The elusive Oglala did send word through his father, Worm, that he would soon bring his camp of Oglalas and Northern Cheyennes, about 400 lodges, to the Red Cloud Agency. Red Cloud had once been chief of all the agency Lakotas, but Crook had stripped him of the title and given it to Spotted Tail.On April 5 at Camp Sheridan, Spotted Tail reported the news of Crazy Horse’s imminent surrender, and the general naturally was delighted. Still smarting from his failure to defeat Crazy Horse at the Rosebud and jealous of Colonel Miles, Crook agreed when Red Cloud volunteered to go out and hurry the Oglala leader along. Red Cloud was allowed to take cattle and other provisions so that Crazy Horse and his followers would not have to stop to hunt on their way to the agency in western Nebraska.
Red Cloud found Crazy Horse on the trail to the Red Cloud Agency on April 27. ‘All is well, have no fear,’ Red Cloud told him. ‘Come on in.’ Without hesitation, Crazy Horse laid out his blanket for Red Cloud to sit on and gave the older man his shirt as a symbol of surrender to him. Turning himself in, though, must have been agonizingly difficult for Crazy Horse, who had always lived as a free man in the traditional Lakota manner. Now, he would have to take handouts and obey the white man. But he was determined to do what was best for his people.
On May 6, 1877, Crazy Horse and 889 other Oglalas appeared outside Camp Robinson, near the Red Cloud Agency. They were the last major group of Lakota holdouts on American soil to surrender. The Great Sioux War was finally over, and Crazy Horse told his escort, Lieutenant William Philo Clark of the 2nd Infantry: ‘Friend, I shake with this hand, because my heart is on this side….I want this peace to last forever.’ As a token of surrender, Crazy Horse’s longtime friend He Dog gave Clark his war bonnet and shirt. Crazy Horse gave nothing, saying, ‘I have given all I have to Red Cloud.’
Crazy Horse carried a Winchester rifle across his saddle as he rode to the fort. He wore a single hawk’s feather in his hair. His braids, wrapped in fur, fell across his buckskin shirt. He Dog and another old friend, Little Big Man, rode on either side of him. The procession stretched for two miles. Crazy Horse’s loyal followers and the agency Indians alike began singing and cheering for Crazy Horse. ‘By God,’ said an Army officer who witnessed the event, ‘this is a triumphal march, not a surrender.’ The reception was a clear sign that Crazy Horse was a hero, even among many agency Indians who had not spent time with him in years.
Lieutenant Clark informed Crazy Horse that he could be chief of all the Lakotas if he visited President Rutherford B. Hayes in Washington, D.C. But Crazy Horse wasn’t interested, even after Clark made him a noncommissioned officer in the U.S. Indian Scouts on May 15. Crazy Horse did say he wanted the agency that had been promised him. He wanted it to be at a grassy spot on Beaver Creek where he had camped many times (in what is now northeast Wyoming). Clark and Crazy Horse soon came to an impasse. Crazy Horse wouldn’t be going to Washington, but he wouldn’t be getting his own agency (or become the big chief), either. Crazy Horse was also worried that the U.S. government would relocate all the Lakotas along the Missouri River. Just as Crazy Horse was suspicious of the Army and government, Clark and many others were suspicious of the popular new prisoner. Clark later described the Oglala as ‘remarkably brave, generous and reticent, a pillar of strength for good or evil.’
Crazy Horse was apparently not suspicious of scout-interpreter Frank Grouard, but he should have been. Grouard had lived with the Lakotas for a time, and Crazy Horse regarded him as a friend. Back in March 1876, however, Grouard had guided Colonel Joseph Reynolds when Reynolds attacked a Cheyenne village that Grouard believed was Crazy Horse’s camp. Grouard greeted Crazy Horse at Camp Robinson like a long-lost buddy, but he no doubt feared that the Oglala would learn the truth. As interpreter Louis Bordeaux later noted, Grouard had reason for wanting to get rid of Crazy Horse.
Not all the Lakotas supported Crazy Horse, either. Red Cloud and Spotted Tail, whose agencies were about 40 miles apart, were jealous of the young hero. They and their cohorts began spreading rumors that Crazy Horse intended to break out and renew his fight against the whites. Eventually, Crazy Horse softened his stance on the Washington trip. In July, he decided he would go. At a council on July 27, Lieutenant Clark read a message from Crook that said 18 of the best and strongest Lakotas, including Crazy Horse, would make the trip to the nation’s capital. The general also promised that the Lakotas could go on a buffalo hunt. Crazy Horse was all for it, but Red Cloud was not, fearing that such a hunt would add to Crazy Horse’s stature. At the close of the council, Young Man Afraid of His Horses suggested that the customary council feast be held at Crazy Horse’s camp. Red Cloud and his followers promptly left the council in protest, and that night warned Indian agents Benjamin Shopp and James Irwin that Crazy Horse could not be trusted. To Crazy Horse’s chagrin, the sale of ammunition to the Lakotas was halted on August 4, and the next day the buffalo hunt was postponed. Furthermore, Red Cloud had his friends tell Crazy Horse that the trip to Washington was a ruse, and that if he went along he would be shipped off to prison in the Dry Tortugas, off the coast of Florida, where the worst Indians were put. Crazy Horse listened to the talk and, over the objections of He Dog, told the Army authorities he would not be going to Washington after all.
When Chief Joseph and other Nez Perces left their reservation in Idaho Territory and fled into Montana Territory in August 1877, Crook wanted to use Lakota warriors to subdue them. Crazy Horse refused, even though Clark offered him a horse, a uniform and a new repeating rifle. ‘I came here in peace,’ Crazy Horse told the lieutenant. ‘No matter if my own relatives pointed a gun at my head and ordered me to change that word, I would not change it.’
Clark persisted. On August 30, Crazy Horse said, with exasperation, that despite his promise to the Great Spirit to fight no more, he would go north with the soldiers and fight until there wasn’t a Nez Perce left. Interpreter Grouard, seizing the moment, translated it as ‘go north and fight until not a white man is left.’ Bordeaux caught the willful misinterpretation, and the Minneconjou leader Touch the Clouds later accused Grouard of lying. But many white authorities at Camp Robinson and elsewhere seemed to want to believe Grouard’s lie. Crook was fast losing faith in Crazy Horse, but he didn’t want to make a mistake on the matter. On September 2, he left the Red Cloud Agency for a council on White Clay Creek with Crazy Horse and other Lakota leaders; he planned to discuss the fight with the Nez Perces. On the trail to the council, Crook’s party was met by Woman’s Dress, a nephew of Red Cloud, who told Crook that Crazy Horse intended to kill him at the council. Crook took the rumor seriously and turned back, sending orders for the agency chiefs to report to him at Camp Robinson.
On September 3, the friendly Lakota leaders all came, including Red Cloud, Spotted Tail and No Water, who had once shot Crazy Horse in a dispute over Black Buffalo Woman. Crook told them that he wanted Crazy Horse arrested. Red Cloud and the others said that Crazy Horse was a desperate man and would fight if anyone tried to arrest him. It would be better, they said, to kill him. Crook said he could not condone murder, but he wanted Crazy Horse arrested and would provide cavalry to assist their warriors. After the Lakota leaders left, Crook gave orders to Colonel Luther Bradley, commander of Camp Robinson, to arrest Crazy Horse and put him on a train to Omaha. From there he would be taken to Fort Jefferson in the Dry Tortugas.
The next morning, September 4, the chiefs rode out of Camp Robinson with 400 agency warriors and eight companies of the 3rd Cavalry to arrest Crazy Horse. When they reached his camp, about six miles away, they found he had fled, along with his wife Black Shawl, who was suffering from tuberculosis, to the Spotted Tail Agency in the hopes of finding a more peaceful existence. At the Spotted Tail Agency, he was met by Touch the Clouds and other friendly warriors. They escorted him to Camp Sheridan, where he intended to tell the authorities about his move. Spotted Tail appeared with a crowd of his warriors and told Crazy Horse that he must listen to and obey him. Crazy Horse, Spotted Tail and Touch the Clouds then all went to the office of Captain Daniel Burke, commander of Camp Sheridan. According to Lieutenant Jesse M. Lee, acting Indian agent at the Spotted Tail Agency, Crazy Horse looked like a frightened animal as he explained that he never intended to go north and kill whites or to murder Crook. He had come to the Spotted Tail Agency, he said, because of all the bad talk at the Red Cloud Agency. He asked Lee to go to Camp Robinson with him to help explain the situation. Burke and Lee promised Crazy Horse that the Army did not wish to harm him and would listen to his side of the story.
On the morning of September 5, Crazy Horse took the trail toward Camp Robinson, along with Lee, Bordeaux, Touch the Clouds and other Indians–some of whom were friends of Crazy Horse and some of whom Lee found trustworthy. After traveling about 15 miles, the party was joined by a group of Spotted Tail’s warriors. At that point Crazy Horse, according to Lee’s account, realized that he was practically a prisoner. Still, he retained his spirit. Later on, he raced his horse ahead over a hill, where he met a Lakota family. When Spotted Tail’s warriors caught up with him, Crazy Horse told them he had gone ahead to water his horse. Lee, though, thought the family had given him a knife. Crazy Horse was ordered to ride at the rear of Lee’s ambulance the rest of the way.
When the party reached Camp Robinson at dusk, thousands of Lakotas were waiting to see Crazy Horse. Not all were friendly, but they parted to allow him to pass through. He Dog rode up, shook his hand and said: ‘Look out–watch your step. You are going into a dangerous place.’ Little Big Man, now an Indian policeman, came up to Crazy Horse as he dismounted and stayed close to him as his old friend walked across the parade ground. When a warrior shouted that he was a coward, Crazy Horse lunged at him, but Little Big Man held Crazy Horse back.
Lee immediately went to the office of Colonel Bradley but had little luck smoothing things over. Bradley told him that his orders could not be changed; he was shipping Crazy Horse off to prison in the morning and there was no point discussing the matter. Before leaving, Lee asked if Bradley was willing to listen to Crazy Horse in the morning. Bradley hesitated, and then replied, ‘Tell him to go with the officer of the day, and not a hair on his head should be harmed.’ Informed of what Bradley had said, Crazy Horse apparently believed he would be allowed to meet with the commander in the morning. The Oglala warrior expressed his joy and shook the hand of the officer of the day, Captain James Kennington.
Kennington, with two soldiers and Little Big Man, then took Crazy Horse to the nearby guardhouse. It was Little Big Man who stepped up and led Crazy Horse inside. Perhaps this turn of events was a surprise to Crazy Horse, and he suddenly realized he was going to be locked up. Or perhaps he knew where he was going, but the sight of the cells and the men inside wearing balls and chains set something off inside him. In any case, he moved fast, wrenching his arm free of Little Big Man, pulling a knife and springing for the door. Little Big Man reacted quickly, too, grabbing Crazy Horse’s arms. ‘Let me go, let me go; you won’t allow me to hurt anyone!’ Crazy Horse said as he dragged Little Big Man outside. Crazy Horse freed a hand just enough to slash Little Big Man’s wrist. At that point, Kennington yelled ‘Stab the son of a bitch! Stab the son of a bitch!’ or something similar. Guardhouse sentry William Gentles followed orders. He lunged with his bayonet, stabbing Crazy Horse in the back, near the left kidney. ‘He has killed me now,’ Crazy Horse announced as he fell to the ground. The wounded Little Big Man and some soldiers tried to grab his arms again, but he told them: ‘Let me go, my friends. You have got me hurt enough.’
Kennington wanted to carry the mortally wounded Crazy Horse to the guardhouse, but Touch the Clouds said, ‘He was a great chief and cannot be put in a prison.’ Other Indians on the scene agreed. Camp doctor Valentine T. McGillycuddy went to Bradley and convinced him that there would be more killing if Kennington went ahead and put Crazy Horse in a cell. Instead, Touch the Clouds carried his friend into the adjutant’s office. There, Crazy Horse refused to be put on a bed, saying he wanted to lie on the floor, closer to the earth.
Touch the Clouds was still there at just before midnight when Crazy Horse died. Also on hand was Crazy Horse’s father, Worm; Captain Kennington; Lieutenant Henry R. Lemley, officer of the guard; interpreter John Provost; and McGillycuddy. What Crazy Horse’s last words were is not known. At some point he reportedly told Worm: ‘ah, my father, I am hurt bad. Tell the people it is no use to depend on me any more.’
In the morning, Crazy Horse’s parents took his body, wrapped in a red blanket, on a travois to the Spotted Tail Agency. About half a mile from Camp Sheridan, they placed the body on a small scaffold. Eventually a coffin was built and placed on the scaffold, and a crude fence was constructed to keep the cattle out. His parents mourned there for days. Worm finally buried his son somewhere in the Pine Ridge country of Dakota territory. A cousin of Crazy Horse named Chips said in 1910 that the location was near the head of the creek called Wounded Knee, but that he himself had reburied the remains several times after that, the last time in 1883. Crazy Horse’s final resting place is not known.
This article was written by Kenneth W. Hayden and originally appeared in the December 2002 issue of Wild West.
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