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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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The Killing of Crazy Horse
By Thomas Powers
Knopf
592 pp., $30

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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.)

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.

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