Crazy Horse, Legendary Warrior and Native American Folk Hero

Source: Indian Country Today

Source: Indian Country Today

War leader of the Oglala Lakota, Thasunke Witko fought for his people's way of life against the United States federal government. Name meaning "His-Horse-Is-Crazy" or "Crazy Horse," he is best known for his role acting as a decoy in the Battle of the Hundred in the Hand and for leading a war party against Lieutenant Colonel Custer at the Battle of the Little Bighorn.

One of the challenges historians face when retelling the tales of legendary figures is separating the facts from embellishment, exaggeration and pure fiction. We cannot be one hundred percent sure what category these details fall under, but they give us a sense of the man who became a legend for the Native American people.

1. Born Cha-O-Ha, Crazy Horse was often mistaken as a white child by settlers. He had fine, sandy brown hair and a light complexion. His nicknames included "Curly" and "Light Hair."

2. Allegedly, he got the name Crazy Horse during a vision he had as a teenager, but he may have also gotten it for demonstrating bravery in battle. Regardless, he was the third in the male line to bear the name. 

3. Although he inspired awe, excitement, and fear on the battlefield, the renowned warrior was quiet and shy off of it. He kept to himself, never speaking in council or joining in popular Lakota activities like dancing or singing.

4. When game was scarce and his people were hungry, Crazy Horse would not eat at all.

5. Considering that Crazy Horse did not marry until he was thirty-one, after the death of his mentor High Backbone, it is speculated that he had a sexual relationship with the older warrior. At the time, same-sex relationships were generally respected by the Lakota people.

6. What we know about Crazy Horse's famous vision comes down to us from a white trader and interpreter who claimed he heard it from the legendary warrior himself. It's doubtful the trader would have been privy to the whole vision, if Crazy Horse had indeed told him anything at all. Furthermore, the description of the vision was not recorded until decades after Crazy Horse's death.

7. Crazy Horse never wore a war bonnet, but this was not atypical for a Lakota war leader. Cumbersome during battle, when speed and agility often determined life or death, war bonnets were usually only worn ceremonially.

8. For his fighting ability and generosity, in 1865 the Oglala Lakota honored Crazy Horse with the title Ogle Tanka Un, which means "Shirt Wearer" or war leader. He was approximately twenty-three years old.

9. At the Battle of the Little Bighorn, Crazy Horse was a major participant, but extant accounts are ambiguous about his tactical and leadership roles. Allegedly, he came out of that battle without being shot by any of Lieutenant Colonel Custer's soldiers.

10. When the Oglala Lakota were weakened by a difficult winter in 1877, Crazy Horse and his band surrendered to the U.S. military at Fort Robinson to save and protect them.

But that's not all. To learn more about the legendary Thasunke Witko and what happens next, check out Remarkable Lives. Tragic Deaths, a Parcast Network podcast series.

Remarkable Lives. Tragic Deaths examines the lives and tragic deaths of people who changed history and influenced pop culture.