Crazy Horse’s name will be remembered by history for ages to come, but, sadly, his face will not, as he refused to be photographed his entire life. The Oglala Lakota leader made his name famous by participating in the most legendary battles of the Plains Wars, including the Native Tribes’ greatest victory over American troops at Little Bighorn.
How he got that name in the first place is just as interesting.
The man who grew up as “Crazy Horse” was born around 1842 to two members of the Lakota Sioux tribe. His father, an Oglala Lakota who married a Miniconjou Lakota was also named “Crazy Horse.” Neither of the two would keep these names for very long.
Though his mother, Rattling Blanket Woman, died when he was just four years old, she gave him the enduring nickname of “Curly,” used because of his light, curly hair. But his actual name at birth was “In the Wilderness.” As the young man grew in age, however, neither his name or his nickname felt appropriate for the boy. By age 13, he was leading raiding parties against rival tribes of Crow Indians and stealing horses. By 18, he was leading war parties against all tribal enemies.
When it came time to test the young man’s maturity, his father would have to give up his own name. From then on, the young man would be called “Crazy Horse.” His father accepted the name, “Worm.”
Crazy Horse at Fort Laramie.
Though generally considered wise, quiet, and reserved when not in battle, the young man showed signs of craziness throughout his life. After stealing another man’s wife, he was shot in the face. While recovering from that wound, he fell in love again, this time for good. The incident left him with a scar on his face but, Crazy Horse was still not widely known outside the area of what we now know as South Dakota. Then, the U.S. Army showed up.
A lieutenant accused the Lakota of stealing a settler’s livestock. When the local elder, Chief Conquering Bear, attempted to negotiate with the Army officer, he was shot in the back. That settled Crazy Horse’s view of the White Man. They could not be trusted and must be resisted at all costs.
Crazy Horse fighting Col. William Fetterman’s men at Fort Kearny.
Crazy Horse led the Lakota against the Americans on numerous occasions, striking the U.S. Army at its most vulnerable points. He first hit Fort Kearny, a camp commanded by Col. William Fetterman, annihilating Fetterman’s force and giving the Army its worst defeat at the hands of Native tribes at the time.
Just shy of a decade later, the Army returned to try and force Lakota and Cheyenne tribespeople back onto the reservations they were given by burning their villages and killing their people. Crazy Horse retaliated by fighting with Gen. George Crook at the Battle of the Rosebud in 1876. He fought Crook to a draw but forced Crook away from his plan to link up with the U.S. 7th Cavalry, led by George Armstrong Custer.
Crazy Horse leads the fighting at Little Bighorn.
In failing to link up with Crook, Custer didn’t have the manpower needed to crush Crazy Horse at Little Bighorn and was slaughtered with his men.
Crazy Horse would successfully evade U.S. attempts to subdue him while delivering blow after blow to American forces in the area. In the end, Crazy Horse turned himself in to try to give what was left of his tribe a better life, only to be bayoneted by a prison guard.