Crazy Horse

His reputation as a warrior grew and his first kill was a Shoshone raider who had murdered a Lakota woman who was washing buffalo meat in the Powder River. He went on to fight in the many skirmishes with his traditional enemies, the Crow, Shoshone, Pawnee, Blackfeet and Arickara, until 1864 when the 3rd Colorado Cavalry massacred Cheyenne and Arapaho women and children at Sand Creek. This cowardly act united many previous enemies against all US Military forces. A year later Crazy Horse fought in the Battles of Platte Bridge and Red Buttes, where because of his fighting ability he was named Ogli Tanka Un, (meaning Shirt Wearer, or War Leader) by the tribes. He also fought by the side of the Great War chief Red Cloud in the many battles to keep settlers out of Wyoming.

On December 21st 1866, Crazy Horse and a small band of six Lakota and Cheyenne decoyed a US force of 53 infantrymen and 27 cavalrymen into an ambush. The troops, commanded by Lieutenant Fetterman, had been sent out from Fort Phil Kearny to follow up on an earlier attack on a detachment that had been woodcutting and, seeing Crazy Horse and his warriors, the infantry followed them into a gulley while the cavalry scouted forward. The Cheyenne leader Little Wolf and a war party moved from a nearby ridge to cut off the foot soldier's retreat while a large band of Lakota swept over the ridge and overwhelmed them.

Hearing the gunfire, the cavalrymen raced back to help, but suffered the same fate and all were killed. The incident became known among the white population as "The Fetterman Massacre".

In August 1867, Crazy Horse was involved in what became known as "The Wagon Box Fight" when a band of some 1,500 Lakota attacked a wood cutting detail near Fort Phil Kearny. The soldiers retreated to a temporary camp of old wagons without wheels and began firing at the attackers. The Indians did not know that the troops had recently been issued with the new breech loading rifle and charged after the soldier's first volley, expecting them to be reloading their old muzzle loading weapons. The improved firepower enabled the soldiers to drive off the attackers who suffered 120 killed and many more wounded.

Later that year Crazy Horse invited Black Buffalo Woman to accompany him on a buffalo hunt. She was the wife of No Water, known for his addiction to alcohol. Lakota custom allowed for a woman to divorce her husband by simply moving into another man's lodge or by placing her husband's belongings outside the tent. This would have been acceptable if No Water was present, but he was away from the camp when they left for the hunt.

No Water tracked them to the Slim Buttes area of North Dakota and, approaching the lodge, he called Crazy Horse's name. When Crazy Horse answered, No Water pushed a pistol through the tent flap and took aim, but Crazy Horse's cousin Lone Horn was sitting inside near the entry. He tipped the pistol upward and the shot struck Crazy Horse in the upper jaw. No Water fled, pursued by friends of the wounded Crazy Horse. He ran his horse until it died and continued on foot until he reached the safety of his own tribe. The village elders ruled that No Water was to give Crazy Horse three horses in compensation for the wounding. Crazy Horse was punished for being with a married man’s wife by being stripped of his title of Shirt Wearer.

The Treaty of Fort Laramie in 1868 promised the Indians the land between the Black Hills and the Bighorn mountains, "For as long as the rain shall fall and the grass grow". As with previous treaties, the US government promised much in return, but did nothing. Once it became known that gold had been discovered in the Black Hills the area known as Pa Sapa and sacred to the Sioux saw the trickle of miners coming to the area become a flood.

In 1871, Crazy Horse married a Black Shawl, an Oglala who had been sent to help heal his wounds. The couple had a daughter named “They are afraid of her” who only lived for two years. Black Shawl outlived Crazy Horse and died in 1927 of tuberculosis.

On June 17th 1876, Crazy Horse led a combined group of 1,500 Oglala, Cheyenne, Crow and Shoshone in a surprise attack on General Crook’s 1,000 strong force of US cavalry and infantry in what was to become known as The Battle of the Rosebud. The fight, although not high in losses, did delay Crook and prevented him from joining up with General George Custer’s 7th Cavalry and contributed to Custer’s defeat at The Battle of the Little Bighorn eight days later.

At 3pm on the 25th June, despite Crook’s failure to join him, the headstrong Custer launched his attack on a large encampment of Lakota and Cheyenne along the Little Bighorn River. The Indians were prepared however and, led by Chiefs Sitting Bull and Gall of the Hunkpapa Sioux, met them head on. Crazy Horse led the flank assault that eventually surrounded and destroyed Custer’s men. Indian survivors of the battle later spoke of Crazy Horse’s bravery and Water Man, one of a handful of Arapaho who fought in the battle recalled that, “Crazy Horse was the bravest man I ever saw. He rode closest to the soldiers, yelling to his warriors. All the soldiers were shooting at him, but he was never hit”. Another warrior called Little Soldier recorded that, “The greatest fighter in the whole battle was Crazy Horse”.

Sitting Bull and Gall took their people north to Canada to evade the US soldiers now hunting them out, but Crazy Horse remained with his people in the Black Hills.

Following the battle US General Phil Sheridan ordered Generals Terry and Crook to try to round up the hostile Indians and get them back to their reservations and in late summer, the two generals set out in pursuit of the Lakota and Cheyenne. Bad weather and poor supply lines forced Terry’s group to give up the chase and return to their base. General Crook’s force continued the hunt but they too began to run short of supplies and he put his men on half rations. As things became more desperate, the men began eating the horses and mules. A detachment of 150 troopers of the 3rd Cavalry commanded by Captain Anson Mills was ordered to make their way to the mining town of Deadwood in the Black Hills to seek supplies. En route they stumbled across the Miniconjou village of Chief American Horse (his name meaning "He has White Man's Horse").

On the evening of 8th September, the soldiers surrounded the village at Slim Buttes. The next morning they attacked, killing anyone who resisted. The surprised Indians fled, leaving a mortally wounded American Horse and fifteen women and children hiding in a nearby gulley. Three of these children were killed before the fighting ended. Those who escaped spread the word to neighbouring Sans Arc, Brule and Cheyenne villages, telling Crazy Horse and other leaders that they had fought about 150 soldiers, but unknown to them, Crook’s main force had also reached the village.

Crazy Horse and over 600 warriors immediately rode the 10 miles towards American Horse’s village. From a nearby ridge they saw a much larger force than expected and began firing down at the troopers. Crook quickly formed a defensive perimeter around the horses and mules and ordered the village to be torched. He then sent forward a line of skirmishers who eventually managed to drive off the attackers.

The soldiers seized 110 ponies in the village as well as supplies of dried meat that were distributed among Crook’s ill and wounded men. They also recovered a number of items taken at the Little Bighorn battle, including a 7th cavalry guidon, guns, ammunition and the bloodstained gauntlets of the slain Captain Miles Keogh.