Crazy Horse | Chapter 16 of 26

Author: Larry McMurtry | Submitted by: Maria Garcia | 1203 Views | Add a Review

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BY THE SUMMER of 1875 the crisis over the Black Hills could no longer be postponed. Custer’s grand announcement caught the nation’s attention: after that the miners could not be held back. The government was obviously going to find a way to take back the Black Hills; but just as obviously, they were not going to be able to do so without difficulty and without criticism. The whites in the peace party were vocal; they and others of various parties thought the government ought to at least try to honor its agreements, particularly those made as solemnly and as publicly as this one. So there ensued a period of wiggling and squirming, on both the part of the government and the part of the Sioux, many of whom had become agency Indians by this time. The free life of the hunting Sioux was still just possible, but only in certain areas: the Powder River, parts of Montana, and the Dakotas, where the buffalo still existed in some numbers.

By this time most of the major Indian leaders had made a realistic assessment of the situation and drawn the obvious conclusion, which was that their old way of life was rapidly coming to an end. One way or another they were going to have to walk the white man’s road—or else fight until they were all killed. Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull were among the most determined of the hostiles; Red Cloud and Spotted Tail, rivals at this point, both had settled constituencies. They were administrators essentially, struggling to get more food and better goods out of their respective agents. As more and more Indians came in and enrollment lists swelled, this became a full-time job, and a vexing and frustrating one at that.

There were of course many Indians who tried to walk a middle road, unwilling to completely give up the old ways but recognizing that the presence of whites in what had once been their country was now a fact of life. Young Man Afraid, son of the revered Old Man Afraid, was one of the middle-of-the-roaders.

The whites at first tried pomp and circumstance, bringing the usual suspects yet again to Washington, hoping to tempt them—Red Cloud, Spotted Tail, anyone—to sell the Black Hills. They would have liked to have Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse at this grand parley, or even a moderate such as Young Man Afraid, but none of these men nor any of the principal hostiles wanted anything to do with this mini-summit. Red Cloud and Spotted Tail had no authority to sell the Black Hills, or to do anything about them at all, a fact the white authorities should have realized by this time. There were still thousands of Sioux on the northern plains who had not given their consent to anything. The mini-summit fizzled.

Red Cloud and Spotted Tail had probably long since concluded that the whites were going to take the Black Hills: When had they not taken land they wanted? The two leaders, for a time, probably hoped to get the best obtainable price rather than see their land taken for nothing, which is what eventually happened. But most Sioux had not achieved this level of realism, or cynicism, yet. They thought the Black Hills were theirs forever.

Parade diplomacy having failed in Washington, the government decided to take its roadshow west. In the early fall of 1875 they staged a big conclave at a place carefully chosen to be midway between Red Cloud’s agency and Spotted Tail’s—they knew they couldn’t afford to further inflame that rivalry. Historians who argue that either the Fort Laramie council of 1851 or the massing at the Little Bighorn was the greatest gathering of Plains Indians ever tend to forget the Black Hills council of 1875, which was at least a challenger. I don’t think anyone can present an accurate count of how many Indians came, or at least hovered in the vicinity, but all agree there were a lot. The Blackfeet came, and the Cheyennes, and at least seven or eight of the major bands of the Sioux. Sitting Bull held aloof, as did Crazy Horse, meaning that both the Hunkpapas and the Oglalas were without their most resolute resisters. Just as Red Cloud was getting ready to deliver one of his lengthy orations, a very great many warriors, by one reckoning seven thousand (here again I can’t imagine who was counting), rode out of the hills and circled the council tent. Then Little Big Man made his dramatic charge right up to the feet of the peace commissioners, threatening to shoot anyone who wanted to sell the Black Hills. Whether Little Big Man was really speaking for Crazy Horse is hard to say, but all witnesses agree that his entrance made for a touchy situation. The warriors were very stirred up; there was danger, for a time, of serious violence.

Fortunately, Young Man Afraid—he was by this time an Indian policeman—stepped forward and managed to quiet the situation. Thanks both to his valor and to his irreproachable character, he enjoyed an authority almost equal to his father’s; the warriors, much to the peace commissioner’s relief, would not go against him. The hostiles soon mostly left and the seasoned bargainers got down to business. Various sums were bruited about, but in the end nobody agreed to anything, though soon afterward, miners poured into the Black Hills so rapidly that the land that was to have been the Sioux’s forever had more whites on it than Indians; the same thing happened in Oklahoma, where the citizens of the Five Civilized Tribes were soon outnumbered three to one on their own land.

The best the government could do at this time was to establish, by fiat, a reservation system and to criminalize the Indians who didn’t feel like parking themselves within the boundaries of whichever reservation they were assigned to. In the fall of 1871, Grant ordered them to hurry on in and get themselves enrolled by January, ignoring the fact that few Indians cared to move their camps in the wintertime.

No officer in the field—and this now included the redoubtable George Crook, Three Stars to the Indians—supposed that the nonagency Sioux would simply hurry in and sign up. Crazy Horse, who was then riding with Black Twin (No Water’s brother), sent back word that it was a particularly inconvenient time to move; perhaps he would look more favorably on the proposal in the spring. The hostile Sioux didn’t take Grant’s order seriously, and neither did the military men who marched off, confidently for the most part, to whip them into submission. The Indians stayed wherever they happened to be, and the army got on the move, though in fact it didn’t fight much that winter of 1875–76. It proved no more convenient for General Crook to march on Crazy Horse than it would have for Crazy Horse to come in.

Many Indians by this time had taken to wintering in the agencies and then drifting off again once the weather improved. Thousands came in, but when spring came, many of them went out again.

Crazy Horse, meanwhile, was enjoying what was to be his last more or less unharassed winter as a free Indian. How well or how clearly he realized that his time was ending, we don’t know. Perhaps he still thought that if the people fought fiercely and didn’t relent they could beat back the whites, not all the way to the Platte perhaps, but at least out of the Powder River country. We don’t really know what he was thinking and should be cautious about making him more geopolitically attuned than he may have been. At this juncture nobody had really agreed to anything, but as the spring of 1876 approached, the army directed a number of its major players toward the northern plains. To the south, on the plains of Texas, the so-called Red River War was over. The holdouts among the Comanches and the Kiowas had been defeated and their horse herd destroyed. Ranald Mackenzie and Nelson A. Miles both distinguished themselves in the Red River War and were soon sent north to help subdue the Cheyennes and the northern Sioux. General Crook was already in the field, and Gibbon, Terry, and, of course, Custer were soon on their way.

By March of 1876 a great many Indians were moving north, toward Sitting Bull and the Hunkpapas, ready for a big hunt and possibly for a big fight with the whites, if the whites insisted on it, as in fact they did. The Little Bighorn in eastern Montana was the place chosen for this great gathering of native peoples, which swelled with more and more Indians as warmer weather came.

General Crook—Three Stars, or the Grey Fox—struck first. He located what the scout Frank Grouard assured him was Crazy Horse’s village, made a dawn attack, captured the village, destroyed the ample provender it contained (some of which his own hungry men could happily have eaten), but killed few Indians. Where Crazy Horse actually was at this time is a matter much debated, but the camp Crook destroyed seems not to have been his. It may have been He Dog’s, who was apparently on his way to the Red Cloud agency, hoping to avoid trouble. For Crook the encounter was more vexation than triumph. The Sioux regrouped that night and got back most of their horses, and the fight drove these peace-seeking Indians back north toward Sitting Bull. Crook continued to suppose that he had destroyed Crazy Horse’s village; no doubt some of his friends were there, but the man himself was elsewhere.


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Great book, nicely written and thank you BooksVooks for uploading

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