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  • Matthew Kerns

His Horse Is Crazy


Though some claim this image to be Crazy Horse, it has never been confirmed and seems unlikely. When his friend Dr. McGillycuddy asked to take his picture, Crazy Horse reportedly replied: "My friend, why should you wish to shorten my life by taking from me my shadow?"

On September 5th, 1877, Tȟašúŋke Witkó was killed at Fort Robinson, Nebraska, where he had turned himself in to Army officials mere hours earlier. Crazy Horse was stabbed with a soldier's bayonet, confirming for his allies that he could not be harmed by bullets after receiving a black stone from medicine man Woptura that ensured neither Crazy Horse nor his black and white pinto Inyan could be wounded in battle.



Red Cloud

Crazy Horse had arrived at Fort Robinson on May 5th, exactly four months before the day of his death, surrendering to the Army and setting up his village on the Red Cloud Agency in northwest Nebraska. Rumors soon spread that he was restless and sought to slip away from the confines of the Agency, perhaps spread by Red Cloud and Spotted Tail, two chiefs who came to the Agency before the Great Sioux War and the Battle of the Little Bighorn, and who some said had adopted the white ways and resented the fame and attention garnered by new arrival Crazy Horse.



Spotted Tail


If the Army officers at Fort Robinson were concerned that Crazy Horse would slip away from the Agency and disappear, they were even more afraid that this renowned warrior would again take up arms against them. The Nez Perce, lead by Chief Joseph, had just left their Idaho reservation and crossed Yellowstone Park—where they had shot several tourists as they attempted to escape pursuing Army soldiers—before heading through Montana in an attempt to reach Canada. The Army asked Crazy Horse to help them pursue the Nez Perce, but Crazy Horse replied that he had come to the Agency for peace. As the Army officials insisted that they needed Crazy Horse's help, he finally agreed, exclaiming that he would "fight until there were no Nez Perce left." The translator told the Army officer that the great warrior had just threatened to "go north and fight until not a white man is left." Another translator was brought in and attempted to explain the mistake, but tensions were left incredibly high.


General George Crook arrived at Fort Robinson amid the growing tension, where he was mistakenly informed that Crazy Horse had had not only said that he would "go north and fight until not a white man is left," but that he intended to kill the General himself during a council meeting that was then called off. Before leaving the Fort, Crook ordered the post commander to arrest Crazy Horse, and the next morning two columns of soldiers arrived at Crazy Horse's village to find it empty, the warrior and his family having left during the night. Crazy Horse was headed to the Spotted Tail Agency, seeking care for his wife, Black Shawl, who had fallen ill with tuberculosis. Officials at Fort Sherman, near the Spotted Tail Agency, convinced Crazy Horse to return to Fort Robinson, which he did on September 5th.

Black Shawl, the wife of Crazy Horse

Perhaps the rumors that the Army was planning on placing Crazy Horse under armed guard and tranporting him to the Dry Tortugas off the coast of Florida were true, and perhaps this is why Crazy Horse struggled to escape Little Big Man and the guards who brought him to the fort's command post. Perhaps it was the stench of prisoners held in chains in the room, never allowed to leave, that told Crazy Horse that he would be made a prisoner as well, confined to a small room here or far away. Little Big Man later claimed that Crazy Horse suddenly produced two knives, and that in attempted to escape Little Big Man's hold, the warrior had somehow stabbed himself in the back with his own knife. The other sixteen eye witness accounts, both Sioux and Army, disagree. They say that Crazy Horse was stabbed in the back by an Army guard with a bayonet. He died hours later with his friend Touch the Clouds by his side, Army surgeon Valentine McGillycuddy unable to save his life.

Little Big Man

Crazy Horse's parents placed his body on a burial scaffold near Fort Sheridan, and then moved it to an undisclosed location. Crazy Horse was never photographed. His only daughter, They Are Afraid of Her, died at the age of three. Ian Frazier wrote that "Even the most basic outline of his life shows how great he was, because he remained himself from the moment of his birth to the moment he died; because though he may have surrendered ... he was never defeated in battle; because, although he was killed, even the Army admitted he was never captured. His dislike of the oncoming civilization was prophetic. Unlike many people all over the world, when he met white men he was not diminished by the encounter."

Valentine McGillycuddy

Valentine McGillycuddy, the surgeon who was unable to save Crazy Horse's life, left Fort Robinson soon after to travel to Washington. D.C., where he lobbied the government for better treatment for the Sioux at the Agency. He became an Indian Agent at the Pine Ridge Agency, ensuring that Sioux children received an education and establishing an Indian police force. When he died in 1939, his ashes were entombed on Black Elk Peak, the highest point in South Dakota, with a plaque that reads "Valentine T. McGillycuddy, ′Wasicu Wakan′, 1849–1939.″ In Lakota, Wasicu Wakan means ″Holy White Man."

Touch the Clouds

Touch the Clouds, the Minniconjou chief and cousin of Crazy Horse who was with him when he died, spoke to the Sioux gathered at the place where their greatest warrior lay dying, Just before they departed silently into the darkness, he told them "It is good: he has looked for death, and it has come."

The sometimes controversial unfinished memorial to Crazy Horse.


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