Crazy Horse: A Lakota Life

by Kingsley M. Bray, University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, 2006, $34.95.

For years, the standard biography of the great Lakota warrior Crazy Horse has been Mari Sandoz’s lyrical Crazy Horse: The Strange Man of the Oglalas, first published in 1942. More recent scholars have questioned much of Sandoz’s research and narrative, but few dared to tackle the daunting task of writing a new biography of the famous warrior, who took part in such conflicts with the U.S. Army as the Fetterman Fight and the Battle of the Little Bighorn before he was killed in 1877 at Nebraska’s Fort Robinson. Instead, it was left to novelists such as Willy Henry and Win Blevins, along with scores of filmmakers, to make Crazy Horse come to life.

Thankfully that trend has changed recently with publication of books such as Crazy Horse: The Life Behind the Legend, by Mike Sajna; Crazy Horse, by Pulitzer Prize–winner Larry McMurty; and Crazy Horse: The Unconquerable, by Frank Salazar. Yet by far the most ambitious project is Crazy Horse:A Lakota Life, a 486-page biography by independent historian Kingsley M. Bray of Manchester, England.

Relying on many sources, but also interviews with several present-day Lakotas, Bray reinterprets (corrects?) many of the previous accounts about this “bewitching enigma.” Bray, who has spent some 20 years researching the Plains Indians and is working on a history of the Lakotas, has written for various magazines, but Crazy Horse is his first book.

Despite the sketchy materials about Crazy Horse, Bray provides much insight into the young warrior’s life and shows how early personal tragedies (primarily his mother’s suicide) would transform him into not a brash warrior but rather a reflective, shy and generous man who “delighted in setting up situations where youthful comrades could gain war honors.”

Later, Crazy Horse would deal with the death of his brother, and an adulterous affair with Black Buffalo Woman would result in his being shot in the face by the jealous No Water. “Although we have no medical records,” Bray writes, “the wound would have left him with recurring problems in his teeth and plagued him painfully in cold weather.” Crazy Horse even suffered burnout, Bray suggests.

Although Crazy Horse: A Lakota Life covers little new territory in following the historical career of the unconquerable leader, it certainly offers a refreshing look at the man behind the legend.

 

Originally published in the April 2007 issue of Wild West. To subscribe, click here