“Even the most basic outline of his life shows how great he was, because he remained himself from the moment of his birth to the moment he died; because [though] he may have surrendered, . . . he was never defeated in battle; because, although he was killed, even the Army admitted he was never captured. His dislike of the oncoming civilization was prophetic. Unlike many people all over the world, when he met white men, he was not diminished by the encounter.”
— Ian Frazier, Great Plains
Fort Robinson straddles Route 20 in northwestern Nebraska, not far from both the Wyoming and South Dakota state lines. To the south, as you enter the grounds, is an open field bordered by several nineteenth-century replica military cabins. In front of those cabins stands a modest stone monument, perhaps waist-high, which commemorates the spot where the great Sioux warrior Crazy Horse was killed, in 1877. Crazy Horse was not killed in battle, nor was he even captured. He surrendered that spring because the women, children, and elderly under his care were too weak to continue to outrun the US Cavalry.
His death was an unnecessary tragedy fueled by jealousy and greed at both the tribal and military levels. His arrest was ordered based on unfounded rumors of his plans to flee the Indian Agency at Fort Robinson and return to his traditionally nomadic life on the plains. Crazy Horse arrived at the fort under the belief that he was to speak with the commanding officer. As he neared the guardhouse, surrounded by onlookers, both Lakota and white, Crazy Horse realized he was being jailed. He resisted, and in the confusion that followed, he was stabbed by a fellow Sioux who was serving as an agent for the US Cavalry. Crazy Horse died that evening from his wounds.
I have stood over this monument more than a dozen times, and each time I visit, I’m brought to a reflective silence.
At Hancock Lumber, my work passion is the creation of a business culture that honors the authentic voices of others, and herein lies my deep reverence for Crazy Horse. In the view of many, no nineteenth-century Sioux warrior better represents indigenous cultural resistance to white assimilation than Crazy Horse. He had no interest in becoming like the whites. All he wanted was to be left alone to pursue his traditional Lakota way of life, following the seasons and the buffalo on the northern plains.
Shortly after he surrendered, Crazy Horse was pressured by white officials to travel to Washington to meet the “Great Father” (the President), but he refused to go. He replied that he did not need to travel to see the “Great Father,” as the “Great Spirit” was within him, ever present. This understanding—that sacredness and power live within us, not beyond us—is at the heart of the case for dispersed power, and central to the traditional Sioux way of life.
In Sioux society, power among people, like the power of nature, was scattered and diffused. Every individual was sacred and holy. Everyone was expected to search for and follow their own true voice. But all that changed with the onset of the reservation era. Suddenly it was mandated by the conquering society that you could no longer be your authentic self. Culturally converting Indians into white men became the stated goal and expectation of the federal government. Crazy Horse had no interest in pursuing this transition. He was born a Sioux and he died a Sioux. He never gave up his people’s ways. For this he is revered across Sioux reservation communities to this day.
When Crazy Horse was about thirteen years old, he left his village alone to embark on a vision quest. For four days and nights he stayed alone on a hilltop before the spirits came to him. From that day forward he knew he was to be a great warrior for his people.
“Crazy Horse’s head was spinning, his stomach churning. The earth seemed to be shaking around him. He reached out to steady himself against a tree. Then, as he would later describe it, he saw his horse coming toward him from the lake, holding his head high, moving his legs freely. He was carrying a rider, a man with long brown hair hanging loosely below his waist. The horse kept changing colors. It seemed to be floating, floating above the ground, and the man sitting on the horse seemed to be floating too.”
—Luther Standing Bear
The essence of a vision quest is the search for personal identity through connectivity to the Great Spirit that dwells in all things. The concept is worthy of contemplation because it requires intention. One must seek to find. We all must search to know our own true voice and to follow its evolution across the winds of our lives. Crazy Horse is revered by many not just because he was an exceptional warrior, but because he refused to be coerced into changing his identity. Crazy Horse was Lakota through and through.
This is what causes me to pause and reflect each time I stand before the humble monument in the empty field at Fort Robinson that bears his name. Crazy Horse’s legacy carries this lesson of being your authentic self for our modern world.
There can be no peace among nations until there is peace within the souls of men. And there can be no peace within the souls of men without the inward search for one’s true voice. When you find peace within yourself, you begin to move in a sacred manner, modeling the path forward for others to do the same. This is the true warrior spirit of Crazy Horse.
“Upon suffering beyond suffering, the Red Nation shall rise again, and it shall be a blessing for a sick world. I see a time of Seven Generations when all the colors of mankind will gather under the Sacred Tree of Life and the whole earth will become one circle again. I salute the light within your eyes where the whole universe dwells. For when you are at that center within you, and I am at that place within me, we shall be one.”
—Crazy Horse of the Oglala Sioux
Thank you for considering my thoughts. In return I honor yours.
Every voice matters. Nestled between our differences lies our future.