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.
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If Powers isn’t fluent in Lakota, this reader will eat his hat. And his ability to keep track of each Indian – some having two and three names – and his or her blood connection is a feat of investigative prestidigitation that boggles the brain. For example: “White Thunder Woman was a sister of the Oglala chief Smoke, and of Walks as She Thinks, the mother of Red Cloud, which meant that her daughter Mary was connected by blood or marriage to half the leading men of the northern Oglala....” With an anthropologist’s eye, Powers describes in colorful detail the fascinating rituals of the Plains Indians like the smoking of the peace pipe, the making of war bundles, and the savage Sun Dance, an act that he believes, “shouted defiance, a readiness, even a longing to die.”Skip to next paragraph
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Soldiers, many recycled from the recently ended Civil War, abound. But Powers, ever the fair historian (“Heisenberg’s War,” “The Man Who Kept the Secrets,” “The War At Home,” etc.), spends the lion’s share of his printed capital on exposing the character and setting the military record straight on the commander of the Department of the Platte, Gen. George Crook.
Described as “noncommunicative, watchful, silent, contained,” Crook was nonetheless a true warrior who fought not only in the Civil War but also against the Snakes of the Pacific Northwest and the Apaches of Arizona. He had a saying: “I never start anyplace but what I like to get there,” and by book’s end the reader is fully informed of Crooks’s military exploits. (For instance, he wasn’t really victorious at the Battle of the Redbud, it was a draw; but he alone won the day for the Union side at the war-changing Battle of Cedar Creek outside Winchester, Va. Once a friend of the self-aggrandizing commanding general of the US Army, Phil Sheridan, he never forgave his old boss for failing to give him credit for his role in his official report about the 1864 battle.
In his introduction, Powers explains why he wrote “The Killing of Crazy Horse”: “[T]he seed of a book can often be traced back a long way. This one began with a childhood passion for Indians.” A few paragraphs later he describes how this seed sprouted while reading Billy Garnett’s account of the chief’s killing while lying abed in a motel room at Crow Agency, Mont., just two miles from the spot where Crazy Horse annihilated Gen. George Armstrong Custer and 200 of his cavalry soldiers on a hillside overlooking the Little Bighorn River.
This reviewer is predisposed to believe that the sprouting of that seed was the work of the Oglala warrior’s sicun (spirit), who fertilized Powers with his whispered ni (breath), selecting him to tell the world that Crazy Horse died victorious, that “too much talk killed him,” and that his war bundle (chekpa) and body have never been found.