Crazy Horse, or Tashunka Witko, was born in the early 1840s (perhaps, 1840-1842), during the height of Lakota Sioux power. He was introduced to warfare against the United States at an early age. In 1854, the Grattan Massacre occurred, where U. S. soldiers, led by Lieutenant John Grattan, killed a Sioux chief named Conquering Bear. As a consequence, the soldiers were then killed in return by the dead chief’s enraged warriors. The Grattan Massacre became the primary spark that began the long wars between the Sioux people and the United States military.
Crazy Horse had a long and respectable military carrier. The earliest known major fight in which he was involved occurred along the Oregon Trail in 1865. A year later, Crazy Horse won an impressive victory against the forces of Captain William J. Fetterman in what would come to be known as the Fetterman Massacre. Later, Crazy Horse teamed up with Sitting Bull in 1876 to fight in the battles at Rosebud Creek and Little Bighorn. After the utter destruction of Lt. Colonel George Armstrong Custer’s forces at the Battle of the Little Bighorn, the United States escalated its campaign against the hostile Native American coalition. With U.S. pressure rising, many Sioux dissidents chose to flee to Canada rather than continue fighting a losing battle.
On May 6, 1877, Crazy Horse finally surrendered himself to United States authorities in Fort Robinson, Nebraska. There, he was confined until the United States assigned him to a reservation. Nevertheless, Crazy Horse would not live long enough to be resettled.
Mystery surrounds the death of Crazy Horse. By September 1877, rumors were beginning to spread that Crazy Horse was planning another great revolt against the United States. Though these rumors are now considered unfounded, the soldiers of Fort Robinson took the gossip very seriously. On September 5, 1877, Crazy Horse was arrested and apparently told that he was simply being brought to speak to the commanding officer of the fort. Yet, instead of taking Crazy Horse to the commanding officer, the soldiers began pulling him toward a nearby guardhouse. When Crazy Horse realized he was about to be locked away in a prison cell, he began to struggle against his captors—possibly with a knife. The soldiers, however, quickly overpowered the agitated Sioux chief and the brawl turned deadly. The soldiers stabbed Crazy Horse to death with their bayonets.
Written by C. Keith Hansley.
- Black Elk Speaks, narrated by Black Elk and recorded by John G. Neihardt. Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press, 2014.