The Killing of Crazy Horse
Pulizer Prize-winning historian Thomas Powers sets the record straight once and for all about the death of the messianic Oglala chief.
Woman Dress told Billy Garnett, the half-Sioux interpreter, that Crazy Horse was planning to murder Gen. George Crook that very morning at the council meeting. Woman Dress said he had learned of the plot from Lone Bear, who had learned it from his younger brother Little Wolf, who had been eavesdropping outside Crazy Horse’s tepee. But it was a lie. (Little Wolf and Lone Bear busted Woman Dress to Billy Garnett on the Pine Ridge Reservation 10 years after the fact.)Skip to next paragraph
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Nonetheless, Billy immediately sent word to General Crook, and the council meeting was canceled. As a result, Crazy Horse’s fate was sealed. Two days later, on Sept. 5, 1877, as Crazy Horse approached a guardhouse at the far end of the Fort Robinson parade ground that he’d been instructed to enter, a dense crowd had gathered to watch him. There were hundreds of Indians loyal to Crazy Horse on one side and hundreds more loyal to other chiefs – and antagonistic toward Crazy Horse – on the other side. Meanwhile, in the mix, hundreds of white soldiers still rabid about the massacre at Little Big Horn, looked on.
All assembled knew what the enigmatic chief was walking into – all except Crazy Horse himself. Only when someone in the crowd shouted: “It’s the jail!” did Crazy Horse understand that he was a prisoner.
What happened next – whether he was stabbed in the back with a bayonet thrust by the officer on duty outside the guardhouse, or with his own knife wielded by the invidious Little Big Man or some other jealous Indian – is not what’s important. What is important, what is wakan (sacred) about the killing of Crazy Horse, is the event itself.
And as Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, historian, novelist, polymath, Thomas Powers, puts it: “Nothing quite opens up history like an event – the interplay of a large cast pushing a conflict to a moment of decision. It is the event that gives history its narrative backbone.”
Powers’s new book, The Killing of Crazy Horse, sets the record straight once and for all about the death of the messianic Oglala chief. “The Killing of Crazy Horse” is nothing short of a masterpiece. Complex and compelling, lurid and lyrical, tragic and transcendent from start to finish, “The Killing of Crazy Horse” pulses and throbs like the far-off beat of a war drum growing ever louder and faster.
Starting with the interplay of characters, Powers illuminates the major and minor players, deftly exposing their thoughts, actions, and motivations into a colorful and captivating read. There is the most magnificent cast of characters, too – greenhorn reporters, two-faced interpreters, broken-down soldiers, fork-tongued Indians. They’re all 100 percent pure Wild West described in high definition right down to their leather boots, buffalo robes, and “pungent, musty odor, something like that of combined smoke and grease.”
Interpreters, those indispensable intermediaries, are at the center of this great Western tale. First on Powers’s list is Billy Garnett, the half-Sioux, half-Virginia blueblood “perfectly reliable and thoroughly conversant with the Indian language.” Garnett always seems to be right where the action is. He was there that fateful day not 10 paces from Crazy Horse when he was stabbed, and he was present at most of the great council meetings translating back and forth for both the white and the red chiefs. There are other important interpreters, too, like Frank Grouard, a man who looked Indian but was, in fact, half-Polynesian and half white. Grouard was General Crook’s favorite scout, but in the end neither side could trust him.