Crazy Horse. The very name seems to evoke wildness and mystery. And rightly so. In spite of numerous biographies by luminaries such as Mari Sandoz (1942), Stephen Ambrose (1975), Larry McMurtry (1999), and others, as well as multiple documentaries, (and at least one abysmal feature film starring Victor Mature) we still don’t really know this man.
For a few short years during the 1860s & 70s, the great Sioux warrior was a rallying point for Indians of the western plains in their struggle against the irresistible force of white advancement across ancestral hunting grounds. Then, in 1877, shortly after he had finally surrendered, Crazy Horse was murdered. Or was he? The exact circumstances surrounding his death continue to be a subject of controversy, and so his name and his legacy remain.
To further complicate the matter, we have only one known photograph that some claim is of Crazy Horse, but even that is the subject of hot dispute. And finally, to top the mystery off, we are not even sure where he is buried. Several probable sites have been put forward over the years, again amid fierce debate.
I find this all rather fascinating. To borrow Winston Churchill’s phrase, Crazy Horse remains “a riddle wrapped up in a mystery inside an enigma.” Personally, I don’t have any pet theories to put forth on the issue. I will suggest, however, that the best way to understand such a man might be to ride a good horse bareback across the grassy plains under an open sky, breathing the free air, just as he did. Then, even if we don’t really know the man, we might, at least, know something about what he was willing to fight and die for.
Crazy Horse: the strange man of the Oglalas; a biography by Mari Sandoz
Crazy Horse & Custer: the parallel lives of two American Warriors by Stephen Ambrose
Crazy Horse by Larry McMurtry