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  • Writer's pictureJonathan Shayfer

In the Spirit of Crazy Horse

So....Crazy Horse or Tashunka Witko was an Oglala Lakota (Sioux) warrior who lived to protect his people and culture at the end of their days as an independent nation.

He was paler than most of his tribesmen and often considered a maverick. He wore his hair long and loose, unbound, and didn't adorn himself with accoutrements of bravery and status. Unusually for a young Lakota, he was modest and humble, rarely boasting about his achievements. They called him The Strange Man of the Oglalas.

With the increasing presence of white settlers, trading posts and 'soldier forts', some of his people traded for goods, including alcohol, but Crazy Horse wanted nothing to do with them. He stayed as a free Indian in the forests, mountains and wide plains where nothing broke the light of the sun.

He became renowned for his courage in battle. At great risk to himself, he and a small war party skillfully enticed a unit of eighty cavalry under Captain Fetterman into a trap in which they were all killed. In 1874, Lt Colonel Custer led an expedition into He Sapa, the sacred Black Hills, in violation of the Fort Laramie Treaty. When gold was discovered, the flood gates opened and the 'was'ichus' poured in. Crazy Horse would take off on his own and the bodies of gold prospectors were frequently found struck through with the lone warrior's arrows.

The young Oglala was never a chief nor, I suspect, would he have craved the responsibility. he was a 'shirt wearer' and honoured and respected as a warrior and defender of Lakota lifeways. There is no known photograph of him and nor would have wanted to pose for one.

He has been compared to Custer but they were, in truth, diametrically opposite. Custer believed in 'progress', he was hungry for power, always trying to move faster and bring on change, his actions revolved around himself. Crazy Horse was content with his world and fought to preserve it; his actions revolved around protecting The People.

At the Battle of the Little Bighorn, Crazy Horse neatly outflanked Custer, cutting him off and he and his command were justifiably annihilated. Over the next few months, the Lakotas and their allies were mercilessly hunted down till they were killed or captured. Crazy Horse and his band surrendered and in a tragic incident he was held down and stabbed with a bayonet, dying a few hours later. Tashunka Witko was buried secretly at an unknown location by his parents. He was around 36 years old.

For several decades an enormous sculpture, supposedly an image of Crazy Horse, has been sculpted out of a mountain. It dwarfs Mt Rushmore. Many people including indigenous visitors, find much to admire in it saying it is a fine way to recognise a great man. For me, it's an abomination. The Strange Man of the Oglalas, renowned for his humility and willing to die to preserve the Black Hills surely would not look kindly on this desecration of sacred land. As he himself put it: "One does not sell the earth upon which the people walk."

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