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Crazy Horse led his tribe through change

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With an unmatched war record at 200 coups, plus his rout of Custer at Little Bighorn, the Sioux warrior, Crazy Horse, a leader of the Lakota tribe, always found himself negotiating change, even when he didn’t want it.

A few examples:
  • He tempered his anger. Like his elder, Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse gradually found the U.S. government encroaching on his people, which violated their agreement. For more than a year, Crazy Horse resisted fighting the Black Hills’ occupation.

  • He held factions together. At a council of more than 1,000 Native Americans, Crazy Horse mediated between those on the reservation and the northern warriors. When a band of warriors plotted to massacre defecting tribes, Crazy Horse called them by name, reminded them of Lakota hospitality and warned them to stop.

  • He remained polite, judicious and moderate, deferring to any Lakotas who wanted to sign yet another treaty, even though he and the Oglalas refused. They were banking on the Black Hills as their “food pack” of fish, game, plants and water, an insurance policy they considered more reliable than the reservation.

  • He had a vision. In a dark but accurate “vision quest,” Crazy Horse quietly revealed, that he foresaw in vivid detail the buffalo herds scattering and the Lakotas reduced to poverty.

  • He grew fierce once he decided to fight. The last straw came when soldiers attacked an Indian camp at Powder River, torching lodges and burning food, heirlooms and clothes.

  • He roused friends and relatives with promises of victory. “This is it,” he declared, asserting that he had “never made war on the white man’s ground, but that he would now strike a blow that would be remembered.”

  • He kept a cool head, knowing his men would fight to the finish, or disengage and fight again, whereas the U.S. troops would panic without commanders.

    Teased for missing a skirmish before Little Bighorn, Crazy Horse laughed. Pointing north, he said, “That’s where the big fight is going to be. We won’t miss that one.”
— Adapted from Crazy Horse: A Lakota Life, Kingsley M. Bray, University of Oklahoma Press.

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