Legends cloud the life of Crazy Horse, a seminal figure of American history but an enigma even to his own people in his own day. Yet his story remains an encapsulation of the Native American tragedy and the death of the untamed West. Crazy Horse strips away the tall tales to reveal the essence of this brilliant, ascetic warrior-hero. Larry McMurtry's vivid, carefully considered, succinct biography will lure not only his own fans but history buffs, Western enthusiasts, students of all things Native American, and anyone concerned with the white man's atonement and restitution to native peoples. In a portrait that only he could render, Larry McMurtry captures the poignant passing of a time and offers a vibrant new understanding of the mythic Crazy Horse and what he stood for.
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February 04, 2003
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Excerpt from Crazy Horse by Larry McMurtry
CRAZY HORSE, a Sioux warrior dead more than one hundred and twenty years, buried no one knows where, is rising again over Pa Sapa, the Black Hills of South Dakota, holy to the Sioux. Today, as in life, his horse is with him. Fifty years of effort on the part of the sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski and his wife and children have just begun to nudge the man and his horse out of what was once Thunderhead Mountain. In the half-century that the Ziolkowski family has worked, millions of tons of rock have been moved, as they attempt to create what will be the world's largest sculpture; but the man that is emerging from stone and dirt is as yet only a suggestion, a shape, which those who journey to Custer, South Dakota, to see must complete in their own imaginations.
It is a nice irony that the little town Crazy Horse has come to brood over is named for his old adversary George Armstrong Custer -- Long Hair, whose hair, however, had been cut short on the day of his last battle, so that it is not certain that the Sioux or Cheyenne who killed him really recognized him until after he was dead. Crazy Horse had one good look at Custer, in a skirmish on the Yellowstone River in 1873, but Custer probably never saw Crazy Horse clearly enough to have identified him, either on the Yellowstone or at the Little Bighorn, three years later. The thousands who come to the Crazy Horse Monument each year see him as yet only vaguely; but that, too, will change. One day his arm will stretch out almost the length of a football field; statistics will accumulate around his mountain just as legends, rumors, true tales and tall tales, accumulated around the living man.
What should be stressed at the outset is that Crazy Horse was loved and valued by his people as much for his charity as for his courage. Ian Frazier, in his fine book Great Plains, reports correctly that the Crazy Horse Monument is one of the few places on the Great Plains where one will see a lot of Indians smiling. The knowledge of his charity is still a balm to his people, the Sioux people, most of whom are poor and all of whom are oppressed. Peter Matthiessen was right to call his bitterly trenchant report on the troubles the Pine Ridge Sioux had with the U.S. government in the 1970s In the Spirit of Crazy Horse, because the spirit of Crazy Horse was a spirit unbroken, though it was certainly raked raw by the difficulties of his last few months.
George E. Hyde, the great (if cranky) historian of the Oglala and the Brul ' Sioux, a man not easily swept off his feet by even the most potent myth, confessed his puzzlement with the Crazy Horse legend in words that are neither unfair nor inaccurate: "They depict Crazy Horse as a kind of being never seen on earth: a genius at war yet a lover of peace; a statesman who apparently never thought of the interest of any human being outside his own camp; a dreamer, a mystic, and a kind of Sioux Christ, who was betrayed in the end by his own disciples -- Little Big Man, Touch-the-Clouds and the rest. One is inclined to ask, what is it all about "
A Sioux Christ That touches on his charity and on his betrayal, but he was a determined warrior too, one of the great Resisters, men who do not compromise, do not negotiate, do not administer, who exist in a realm beyond the give-and-take of conventional politics and who stumble and are defeated only when hard circumstances force them to live in that realm.