Part 7: Fort Robinson
Even the most basic outline of [Crazy Horse's] life shows how great he was, because he remained himself from the moment of his birth to the moment he died; because he knew exactly where he wanted to live, and never left; because he may have surrendered, but he was never defeated in battle; because, although he was killed, even the Army admitted he was never captured; because he was so free that he didn't know what a jail looked like. His dislike of the oncoming civilization was prophetic. He never met the President, never rode on a train, slept in a boarding house, or ate at a table. And, unlike many people all over the world, when he met white men he was not diminished by the encounter.
– Ian Frazier
Lakota (or Sioux) name for that area of North America also known as the Black Hills of South Dakota. Accompanying me on this journey were my friends Kathleen, Joey and Will.
(If you wish to start at the beginning of The Wild Reed's Pahá Sápa Adventure series, click here. You'll eventually get back to this post!)
previously, one of the things I particularly looked forward to on this trip was the experiencing of places and landscapes associated with the Oglala Lakota warrior and mystic Tȟašúŋke Witkó ('His-Horse-Is-Crazy' or 'His-Horse-Is-Spirited,' generally known as Crazy Horse). Accordingly, we spent time in Mako Sica, the White River Badlands, and in "the heart of everything that is," the Black Hills themselves. I also visited the massive mountain carving monument (left) being built in honor of 'the spirit of Crazy Horse' and all Native Americans.
Fort Robinson. Here there is a memorial dedicated to Crazy Horse (right), built on the spot where he was mortally wounded on the afternoon of September 5, 1877. He died later that evening.
I'm sure that part of my fascination with Crazy Horse has to do with what writer Ian Frazier says is the "magic of Crazy Horse" . . . "how unique and brave and chivalrous and unpredictable and uncaught he was."
Known by his people as "our strange man," Crazy Horse was somewhat of a loner, indifferent to tribal norms. He ignored, for instance, the sundance and, writes Larry McMurtry, "didn't bother with any of the ordeals of purification that many young Sioux men underwent." Orthodoxy was never Crazy Horse's way – yet another reason, no doubt, for my admiration and interest in his life and story. I also appreciate and resonate with author Chris Hedges' observation that Crazy Horse's "ferocity of spirit remains a guiding light for all who seek lives of defiance."
previously, my introduction to the unorthodox and defiant life of the 'strange man of the Oglalas' was through John Irvin's 1996 telemovie Crazy Horse, starring renowned actor, dancer, director and choreographer Michael Greyeyes. Filmed on location in South Dakota and Nebraska, the film has been described as a "gripping story with a fine cast" and praised for its attention to detail. In The Journey of Crazy Horse: A Lakota History, historian and author Joseph M. Marshall III is critical of movie portrayals of Crazy Horse. Yet he concedes that Irvins' film "came the closest" in credibly portraying the life and story of the 'strange man of the Oglalas.'
At the time of Crazy Horse's death, Fort Robinson was known as Camp Robinson. The buildings in the photo above are replicas of the buildings that existed in 1877. The building on the right is the guardhouse. Crazy Horse was mortally wounded by a bayonet thrust in front of this building on September 5, 1877. He was then taken to the middle building, the adjutant office, where he died later that night.
Kathleen, Joey, Will and I arrived at Fort Robinson at around 11:00 a.m., Tuesday, June 11, under the near cloudless sky of a hot day. The replicas of the three buildings of Camp Robinson are a little distance from the main part of the fort. This meant we approached them by walking across what's known as the parade ground. I had a very strong sense of things around me feeling very familiar. I think much of this stemmed from the way the climate and landscape reminded me of that part of rural Australia I grew up in.
Upon the little stone memorial were flowers, prayers ties, and bundles of sage. The spot is clearly one of pilgrimage for many. When my friends eventually joined me, we made an offering of tobacco, which in many Native American cultures is considered a sacred herb when used as a gift to the spirit world.
Above: Joey, Will and Kathleen at the Fort Robinson memorial for Crazy Horse.
Above: The door to the guardhouse.
Following is Wikipedia's account of Crazy Horse's surrender and death.
Crazy Horse and other northern Oglala leaders arrived at the Red Cloud Agency, located near Fort Robinson, Nebraska, on May 5, 1877. Together with He Dog, Little Big Man, Iron Crow and others, they met in a solemn ceremony with First Lieutenant William P. Clark as the first step in their formal surrender.
For the next four months, Crazy Horse resided in his village near the Red Cloud Agency. The attention that Crazy Horse received from the Army drew the jealousy of Red Cloud and Spotted Tail, two Lakota who had long before come to the agencies and adopted the white ways. Rumors of Crazy Horse's desire to slip away and return to the old ways of life started to spread at the Red Cloud and Spotted Tail agencies. In August 1877, officers at Camp Robinson received word that the Nez Perce of Chief Joseph had broken out of their reservation in Idaho and were fleeing north through Montana toward Canada. When asked by Lieutenant Clark to join the Army against the Nez Perce, Crazy Horse and the Miniconjou leader Touch the Clouds objected, saying that they had promised to remain at peace when they surrendered. According to one version of events, Crazy Horse finally agreed, saying that he would fight "till all the Nez Perce were killed". But his words were apparently misinterpreted by a half-Tahitian scout, Frank Grouard (not be confused with Fred Gerard, another U.S. Cavalry scout during the summer of 1876), who reported that Crazy Horse had said that he would "go north and fight until not a white man is left". When he was challenged over his interpretation, Grouard left the council. Another interpreter, William Garnett, was brought in but quickly noted the growing tension.
With the growing trouble at the Red Cloud Agency, General George Crook was ordered to stop at Fort Robinson. A council of the Oglala leadership was called, then canceled, when Crook was incorrectly informed that Crazy Horse had said the previous evening that he intended to kill the general during the proceedings. Crook ordered Crazy Horse's arrest and then departed, leaving the military action to the post commander at Fort Robinson, Lieutenant Colonel Luther P. Bradley. Additional troops were brought in from Fort Laramie. On the morning of September 4, 1877, two columns moved against Crazy Horse's village, only to find that it had scattered during the night. Crazy Horse fled to the nearby Spotted Tail Agency with his sick wife (who had become ill with tuberculosis). After meeting with military officials at the adjacent military post of Camp Sheridan, Crazy Horse agreed to return to Fort Robinson with Lieutenant Jesse M. Lee, the Indian agent at Spotted Tail.
[Right: Crazy Horse's arrival at Fort Robinson as depicted in John Irvin's 1996 telemovie Crazy Horse.]
On the morning of September 5, 1877, Crazy Horse and Lieutenant Lee, accompanied by Touch the Clouds as well as a number of Indian scouts, departed for Fort Robinson. Arriving that evening outside the adjutant's office, Lieutenant Lee was informed that he was to turn Crazy Horse over to the Officer of the Day. Lee protested and hurried to Bradley's quarters to debate the issue, but without success. Bradley had received orders that Crazy Horse was to be arrested and taken under the cover of darkness to Division Headquarters. Lee turned the Oglala war chief over to Captain James Kennington, in charge of the post guard, who accompanied Crazy Horse to the post guardhouse. Once inside, Crazy Horse struggled with the guard and Little Big Man and attempted to escape. Just outside the door, Crazy Horse was stabbed with a bayonet by one of the members of the guard. He was taken to the adjutant's office, where he was tended by the assistant post surgeon at the post, Dr. Valentine McGillycuddy, and died late that night.
Right and below: Moments before his fatal stabbing, Crazy Horse, in John Irvin's 1996 film, looks up to a hawk flying overhead. The cry of the hawk reminds him of his vision and, in particular, its warning that his own people would turn against him. Within minutes he realizes he is being led into a trap and attempts to escape. Little Big Man, walking beside him, quickly moves to stop him.
Above: Crazy Horse’s stabbing, recorded by the Oglala artist Amos Bad Heart Bull. According to Thomas Powers in The Killing of Crazy Horse (2010), "One fact was remembered with special clarity by almost every witness – Little Big Man’s effort to hold Crazy Horse as he struggled to escape."
Power's The Killing of Crazy Horse is the most extensively researched book available on the death of Crazy Horse. Following are excerpts from Susan Salter Reynolds' Los Angeles Times review of Power's book.
History and story, myth and legend, primary and secondary sources form a thicket around Crazy Horse's death. He was certainly a threat to the U.S. Army. For 20 of his approximately 33 years, he fought U.S. government efforts to encroach on native land, particularly in the gold-rich Black Hills of South Dakota. He was a significant leader in the Battle of the Little Bighorn in 1876 and has been credited by many with the Native American victory in that engagement and the death of Gen. George Armstrong Custer. This was only one of the many battles in Crazy Horse's life. Stories of his bravery, told in other tribes and reported in various newspapers, took on a mystical, legendary quality even in his lifetime. These stories have grown even more vivid with time — for many, Crazy Horse has been the human embodiment of the last stand in the Native American way of life. Treaties came and went, but Crazy Horse represented something different: Native American power.
. . . The death of Crazy Horse seems a hollow, pointless betrayal, premeditated by U.S. officials. Although many accounts recorded by soldiers claim that Crazy Horse backed into the bayonet of a soldier ushering him toward the jailhouse, there can be no doubt after Powers' telling that he was murdered and that the murder was planned.
Above: Replica of the room in the adjutant's office in which Crazy Horse died.
Above: The death of Crazy Horse as depicted in John Irvin's 1996 telemovie Crazy Horse. Pictured left to right: Sheldon Wolfchild (as Worm), Michael Greyeyes (Crazy Horse), Ned Beatty (Dr. McGillicuddy), and Victor Aaron (Touch-the-Clouds).
right in the 1996 film Crazy Horse). The following month, when the Spotted Tail Agency was moved to the Missouri River, Crazy Horse's parents moved the remains to an undisclosed location. His final resting place remains unknown.
I conclude this post (and this series) with an excerpt from Larry McMurtry's Crazy Horse: A Life.
There is a pictographic record of the stabbing [of Crazy Horse], done by Amos Bad Heart Bull. Crazy Horse's arms were held by his own people, just as his dream said they would be. Crazy Horse sank down, his blood seeping into the dust of the parade ground. Those loyal to him and those ready to kill him faced off for a few moments of almost unbearable high tension. All agree that had a single shot been fired there would have been a terrible carnage, with Indians fighting Indians and Indians fighting soldiers, without anyone quite knowing why they were shooting or even whom they were shooting at, there in the gathering dusk on the parade ground of a small fort in the west.
The high, keening tension held only until it began to be realized that Crazy Horse had been dealt a fatal blow.
Then the tension broke. No shot was fired, and Crazy Horse – a man who had lost his brother, his daughter, the woman he loved, several friends, his way of life, and even, for a time, his people – began his leaving as a man and his arrival as a myth, a man around whom stories that are like little gospels accumulate. A variorum death of Crazy Horse would consist of at least a score of versions, all contributed or recollected by people, white and red, who were in the fort that night.
These recollections, of course, diverge on many points of detail, overlap, contradict one another; probably most of them are partly true, probably none of them can be said to be completely, definitively true. . . . [T]he reader is invited to camp where he or she pleases amid the many recollections and recountings.
Crazy Horse, right after receiving the fatal wound, cried out, "Let me go, my friend – you have hurt me plenty bad!" or words to that effect. Then he sank down. Once the high tension between the two groups died, two or three people claim to have stepped forward and covered Crazy Horse with a blanket. . . . Then Dr. McGillycuddy came, looked at the wounds, saw how it was. . . . Lieutenant Clark was sound asleep, perhaps drunk – his men had to sling him around roughly to get him awake. The dying man on the parade ground was still under arrest; the orders were to put him in the guardhouse. General Bradley would not, at first, relax the order. But when the soldiers started to move the wounded Crazy Horse to the guardhouse, Touch-the-Clouds intervened. Touch-the-Clouds said that Crazy Horse was a chief. He could not be put in the guardhouse.
The Indians, now, were quiet – perhaps chastened, perhaps numbed. Many among them, some of them his old allies, realized that for reasons of politics they had killed a man who had no politics, just the conviction that he wanted to live his life in accordance with the precepts of his people, as he had been taught to live it.
There were a lot of Indians on the parade ground, and they were mainly, now, on the side of Touch-the-Clouds. Dr. McGillycuddy had to go twice to General Bradley to persuade him not to attempt to move this dying Indian to the guardhouse. The general was irritated by all this; perhaps he thought Crazy Horse was shaming. Not until Dr. McGillycuddy convinced him there would be a very big fight if such a move was attempted did the general relent and allow Crazy Horse to be taken into the adjunct's office instead.
This move the Sioux allowed, although they would rather have moved him outside the fort and let him die with the rites of Sioux traditions, as Conquering Bear had died so long before. Once in the office Crazy Horse refused a cot and was put on the floor. Exactly who was with him in his last hours is unclear. Mari Sandoz says both his parents were allowed in; others mention only his father, Worm. Touch-the-Clouds, after surrendering his weapons, was allowed to go in. Ian Frazier thinks that the fact that Crazy Horse refused the cot and died on the floor meant that he was his own man to the end.
. . . [Some] say that his father spoke to him at some point, saying, "Son, I am here," Crazy Horse then roused himself long enough to say, "Father, it is no good for the people to depend on me any longer – I am bad hurt."
. . . Some say that soldiers came and went – others say that only Dr. McGillycuddy came and went. . . . When [Touch-the-Clouds] saw that Crazy Horse was dead, he pulled the blanket over him and said: "This is the lodge of Crazy Horse." He may also have said: "This is good. He sought death and now he has found it."
If it is true that the destination the government had in mind for him was a cell dug into the coral on the Dry Tortugas, then Touch-the-Clouds was right. A man who had lived his whole life under the great western skies would not have lasted long in any prison. Sitting Bull, Spotted Tail, and Geronimo all survived the white man's prison, but the Kiowa chief Satanta did not. He found confinement so irksome that he jumped head first from a high window. Crazy Horse, daring and brave as a warrior, was in other ways not as tough a nut as Sitting Bull or Geronimo. It is hard to imagine him signing photographs for tourists at the big St. Louis Exposition, as Geronimo did – always insisting on his price, one dollar.
But that is speculation. The fact is that Crazy Horse died later that night, September 5, 1877, on the floor of the adjutant's office in Fort Robinson, Nebraska.
When Touch-the-Clouds went out to bring the news of his death to the waiting Sioux, a wail and a howling went up from the parade ground and from the many, many tents, near and distant: a wailing and a howling of grief, of fear, of torment, frustration, despair. No Sioux had exceeded him in charity. The women remembered the charity – it was the women who wailed and howled into the night.
Someone mentioned that taps was played, which seems extremely unlikely. The wailing of the women of the Brulé and Oglala Sioux was the taps for Crazy Horse.
. . . [Crazy Horse's parents] wandered the fort for three days, sobbing, wailing, rending their garments, refusing all succor. When they were finally allowed to have their son's body, they put it on a burial scaffold outside the fort. Later . . . they took his body on a travois and then slipped off and buried him. Nobody knows exactly where he is buried, but legend has it that his burial spot is close to the creek called Wounded Knee. It is of course near this same creek that the Ghost Dance Massacre occurred, on the last day of 1890.
– Larry McMurtry
Crazy Horse: A Life
It does not matter where his body lies;
there the grass is growing.
But where his Spirit lies,
that would be a good place to be.
See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
• Crazy Horse: "Strange Man" of the Great Plains
• Pahá Sápa Bound
• Pahá Sápa Adventure – Part 1: The Journey Begins
• Pahá Sápa Adventure – Part 2: The Badlands
• Pahá Sápa Adventure – Part 3: Camp Life
• Pahá Sápa Adventure – Part 4: "The Heart of Everything That Is"
• Pahá Sápa Adventure – Part 5: "I Will Return to You in the Stone"
• Pahá Sápa Adventure – Part 6: Hot Springs, South Dakota
Related Off-site Link:
Time to Get Crazy – Chris Hedges (TruthDig, July 2, 2012).
The Killing of Crazy Horse – Thomas Powers (2010).
The Death of Crazy Horse: A Tragic Episode in Lakota History – Richard G. Hardorff (Bison Books, 2001).
The Journey of Crazy Horse: A Lakota History – Joseph M. Marshall III (Penguin Books, 2005).
Crazy Horse: A Life – Larry McMurtry (Penguin Books, 1999).
Crazy Horse: Strange Man of the Oglalas (Third Edition) – Mari Sandoz (Bison Books, 2008).
Crazy Horse: A Dakota Life – Kingsley M. Bray (University of Oklahoma Press, 2008).
Crazy Horse: A Photographic Biography – Bill and Jan Moeller (Mountain Press Publishing Company, 2000).
The Life and Death of Crazy Horse – Russell Freedman (Holiday House, 1996).
Crazy Horse and Custer: The Parallel Lives of Two American Warriors – Stephen E. Ambrose (Anchor, 1996).
Crazy Horse's Vision – Joseph Bruchac (Lee and Low Books, 2006).
Fort Robinson images: Michael J. Bayly.
Wow, Michael! Powerful words. Thank you so much for sharing.
Years ago I read quite a few books of Native American history and philosophy - Seven Arrows, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, and a few others, but so much of it is long forgotten. I have high regard for many of the people and the culture in those stories. I need to revisit.
I must add that Little Big Man is one of my favorite movies of all time, and yet somehow I never knew before that there was an actual person of historical significance with that name.
What an incredible journey you had this summer. Thank you so much for sharing.
Thanks, Phyllis! It definitely was a very enjoyable and meaningful journey.
Thank you very, very much!!!
What a great description of place and your experiences.
And this photo...with hand in your hand, demonstrating great respect for Crazy Horse.
Thank you once again!!!
Thank you, Anonymous!
I'm thinking you would also appreciate this Wild Reed post about Crazy Horse.
I,ve read everything what you wrote about Crazy Horse. For me he is one of the most inspirational figures in history.The man apparently known yet difficult to define even for the best researchers, dealing with his life.For me he is fascinating mainly because of his inner life. For Americans and Europeans he is foremost great warrior, for Lakhota people the most important is his spirituality.
By the way - I,m sure Crazy Horse would not be happy with the monument built for him...and this finger...I agree with you.
I started reading your blog from Crazy Horse, now I,m going to read it all. Your way of writing is very delicate, your thoughts-reflective, thought sometimes controversial for me. I also like the variety of subjects although the main idea is the same. At least I think so.
One note for Phyllis - Little Big Man from movie is a fictional character, which has nothing to do with the historical figure- Little Big Man,Oglala.
Now I,m going to read In the Garden of Spirituality...
Sorry for my languages mistakes. English isn't my native languague.
All the best to you, Michael and thank you very much.
Greetings from far Poland
Thank you, Anonymous, for sharing so honestly your thoughts and insights.
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