All the people here are in rags.

SOME OGLALA WITH FIELD glasses were first to spot the approaching Cheyenne. The whole village turned out to meet the travelers, and with a glance realized these people had lost everything. The Cheyenne told a story of hardship and suffering. When the fight had ended and dark fell it began to snow and turned bitterly cold, they related. Most of the people were on foot; few had blankets or buffalo robes. That first night eleven small children froze to death. Three more died the following night. Many other members of the band had been killed in the battle itself. The keeper of the Sacred Buffalo Hat, who had waved it during the battle to protect the people, had managed to escape with this important item, but most of the people got away with little more than the clothes on their bodies and the weapons in their hands. Few lodges had been saved and most of the horses were gone. Only the very young and the very old traveled on horseback, while the rest walked on ragged moccasins or no moccasins at all, using scraps of hide to bind their feet.

Their journey north in search of the village of Crazy Horse took as long as two weeks over rough country with no game. For the first ten days they ate only meat from butchered ponies. At last, early in the second week of December, the Cheyenne met a party of their own people, returning from a horse-stealing raid. These men had been traveling with the band of Crazy Horse since the fight on the Little Bighorn, and now they led the Cheyenne refugees across country to the place where Crazy Horse was camped on Beaver Creek east of the Tongue.

The Cheyenne had been attacked and their village burned twice in a single year. This time the whole of the northern Cheyenne people had been reduced to complete poverty. The Oglala shared what they had. “We helped the Cheyennes the best we could,” said Short Bull, brother of He Dog. “We hadn’t much ourselves.”1

The Cheyenne also told of a troubling new change in the war. While the people were traveling north after the fight a small band of warriors went back to see if they might recover some of their horses. In fact they found quite a few—about eighty. These were the horses the old people rode. But while they were nosing about several warriors one night slipped up close to the soldiers’ camp, making their way through the bushes to the very edge of the firelight where they could hear the soldiers and the scouts talking. They were shocked to hear people talking Cheyenne there—not just William Rowland, the interpreter, but some of their own kinsmen. They had hired on as scouts to help bring in the northern Indians, and they were sitting by the fire with the soldiers.2

For several months after the arrival of the Cheyenne, Crazy Horse was in a quandary what to do. His pride and warrior instinct pulled him one way, but realism suggested another. Meat was not the problem. There were plenty of buffalo in the Tongue country; Crazy Horse’s camp made two big surrounds in January, enough to load down horses with meat and hides. General Crook—Three Stars—was no threat for the moment; he had marched his men back to the forts in the south, and sent all the scouts back to their agencies on the White River. But Crook might return and General Nelson Miles with another army was close by, camped for the winter in hastily built barracks near the place where the Tongue flowed into the Yellowstone. No man was bolder than Crazy Horse when fighting was the thing to do, but now, in the winter after the fight called Pehin Hanska Kasota, it was increasingly apparent that the people did not want to fight anymore.

Crazy Horse was not the only chief camped for the winter along the creeks east of the Tongue. Among the scattered villages was the camp of his friends Lame Deer and Spotted Elk, chiefs of the Miniconjou. Living in Lame Deer’s camp was his brother Touch the Clouds (Mahpiya Iyapato), a noted Miniconjou warrior who left his agency in September when the soldiers began seizing the guns and the horses of the Indians. Even among the Sioux, a tall people, Touch the Clouds was distinguished for his height. Some whites guessed he was as much as six feet seven inches tall.3 He was related to Crazy Horse, whose mother, Rattle Blanket Woman, is said to have been a sister of Lone Horn, father of Touch the Clouds. But he did not want to fight the whites, and many of the people felt the way he did. Crazy Horse was not ready to give up the fight, but his people were tired. He did not know what to do, and this indecision, which he described to a friend as a kind of weakness of spirit, would deepen over the course of many months as Crazy Horse would try to find a different way to lead his people.

From the hills above the Sioux camps near the Tongue it was possible to see the Army post beside the Yellowstone in the far distance. The soldiers were so conveniently close—not thirty miles away—and the Army herds were so poorly guarded, that the Indians ran off the big American horses with ease. But after the fourth time some of the chiefs decided this was a mistake; they did not want to fight the soldiers anymore and thought relations could be improved if they took the horses back. So a group of fifteen leading men made arrangement to ride down to the Army post with the stolen horses to give them back.

It is clear that peacemaking was the goal behind this friendly gesture. Talk was general in the camps that some of the chiefs were “going in”—a phrase used to indicate a pacific mood, a readiness to talk.4 It was said later that Crazy Horse, He Dog, and others favored talking to General Miles to discuss ending the war. The chiefs wanted to know if their horses and guns would be taken? Would they have an agency in their own country? Would those who had killed Long Hair be hanged or imprisoned? All these questions remained open. But there were practical motives as well. One of those making the trip was Sitting Bull. He had recovered the fancy rifle given to him in Washington and stayed on with the northern Indians to argue for ending the war. He told the Indians he could perhaps talk General Miles into giving them some food. Another chief in the group was Spotted Elk, who arranged to pack the stolen horses with robes and furs. “We thought it would be a good opportunity to trade,” he said.5

On Saturday, December 16, the group started down from the hills—perhaps fifteen or twenty men leading the stolen horses loaded down with hides. Some went ahead and some held back, waiting to see how things went. Riding in front were Sitting Bull and four or five other men.6 Two of the men had attached white flags to their lances. Sitting Bull had left his fancy rifle with one of the men who lingered to the rear. On their way down the west bank of the Tongue the Indians met a group of soldiers out cutting wood; they explained their mission and continued downriver. As they approached the soldiers’ camp they passed the lodges of some Crow scouts who had arrived three weeks earlier. But the Sioux did not hesitate as a dozen of these traditional enemies approached; the meaning of a white flag was recognized on the plains as everywhere else.

Many excuses were offered for what happened next. Sometime earlier that fall Crazy Horse had been on a raid into the Crow country. Horses were taken and people killed. It was said that the killer of a Crow woman on this raid had been Crazy Horse himself, and that one of the Miniconjou, Gets Fat with Beef, was riding this woman’s horse; and it was said that the husband of this woman, riding out to meet the peace talkers, recognized his wife’s horse and, overcome with anger, shot and killed Gets Fat with Beef. Whatever the reason, the Crow set upon the peace talkers and killed some right there, pulling them from their horses, and some after chasing them down a mile or two. Spotted Elk and the party that had lingered behind with the stolen horses turned and fled. The man who had been holding the fancy rifle dropped it when he was shot and a Crow seized it. For perhaps a day the Crow had possession of both of the fancy rifles given to the Oglala in Washington in June 1875—the gun of Sitting Bull the Good, and the gun of Red Cloud taken from the hands of the chief’s sixteen-year-old son at the Rosebud.

But the Crow didn’t hold on to that second gun for long. It was promptly confiscated by Miles. The general had been hoping to end the Great Sioux War right there on the Tongue by convincing not only the Miniconjou but the Oglala with Crazy Horse to stop the fighting. He was furious at the treachery of the Crow, threatened them with hanging, and took their horses and weapons. Two days later the whole contingent of Crow scouts fled across the Yellowstone and went back to their own country—“frightened as well as shamed,” according to their white interpreter, Thomas Leforge. Miles sent a gift to the Sioux of twelve Crow horses with a written explanation and apology “for such brutal and cowardly acts,” but the anger was too great to brush aside. “Crazy Horse thought the soldiers had helped the Crow to do this,” said Black Elk later, “so they were mighty sore over this.”7

“Mighty sore” does not quite capture it. Not long after the killing of the peace talkers two men arrived from the Cheyenne River Agency, Fool Bear and Important Man, sent by the military officers to persuade the Miniconjou to come in. If Crazy Horse and He Dog had been thinking about peace the impulse had passed. Fool Bear and Important Man found the northern Indians angry and full of fight. They met with the chiefs in council and told them what was in store for any Indians who came in to the Cheyenne River Agency. They said the soldiers had instructed them “to tell the truth and keep nothing hid, so that they [the northern Indians] would not be disappointed should they come in.” Surrender would be required; their guns and horses would be taken from them. “The Sans Arcs and Minneconjou were disposed to listen to a little kind talk from us,” the emissaries reported back to the agency in January. “But the Cheyennes and Ogallalas would not listen, but abused us very much.” They rejected the talk of “disarming and dismounting … They declared they never would submit to it as long as they lived.”8

Fool Bear and Important Man reported a most extraordinary reason for the readiness to fight of the northern Indians. Among them was a medicine man, formerly known as Yellow Grass, who had the power to make ammunition. This man said he was the son of Wakan Tanka; he had been born in the sky, then slid down to earth on a rainbow. Recently he had taken on a new name and a new identity and was now known as Long Hair because he was “in constant communion with the spirit of General Custer.” Fool Bear, Important Man, and another Miniconjou named Eagle Shield all witnessed Long Hair make ammunition by swallowing a cartridge, then hunting about until he found a whole store of cartridges—not handfuls but wooden boxes, each holding a thousand rounds. Fool Bear and Important Man watched him make eight boxes. “We saw the ammunition with our own eyes,” they reported. “[Long Hair] told us to tell you this.” The men in Crazy Horse’s camp all had cartridge belts, Fool Bear and Important Man said; some had almost a hundred rounds, others not so many, but Long Hair said he would go on making more for another seven months.9

Thus supplied, Crazy Horse and the rest for the moment rejected talk of surrender. But Fool Bear and Important Man lingered in the northern camp to talk with the relatives of five Miniconjou who had surrendered to Miles as hostages in October. The emissaries from the Cheyenne River Agency spoke with the families of these men “to induce them to come in” as they had promised, but their arguments were interrupted by the arrival of Crazy Horse,

who said we would never be allowed to take anyone from that camp. If any left they would be followed and killed. Even after Crazy Horse had said this to us, we did not stop doing all we could to induce those people to come in here. We succeeded in fixing upon a certain night and all those who were coming in were to pack up and come with us in the dark, after the camp was all quiet.10

“Followed and killed” was a serious threat, but it was not an illegal threat. Chiefs in wartime had the power to issue orders that must be obeyed; defiance might result in the destruction of lodges, the killing of horses, and even the killing of men—the punishment called “soldiering.” Despite Crazy Horse’s warning to kill any who attempted to desert, Fool Bear and Important Man went ahead with their plan, and arranged to flee with about thirty or forty Miniconjou whose relatives had gone into the Cheyenne River Agency as hostages in October.

The Crazy Horse camp must have been alive with whispers and rumors. One of those planning to leave, the Miniconjou White Eagle, was on the verge of departure with his people when “Crazy Horse, with about a hundred of his soldiers, surrounded my camp … entered our lodges, and took our guns.”11 Angry at this treatment, White Eagle started out of camp anyway, whereupon the akicita shot two of his horses. Fool Bear and Important Man did a little better. Their group quietly slipped out on the appointed night and took off east toward the Missouri. They covered so much ground they began to think they had got away,

when all at once Crazy Horse appeared with a good many warriors, who shot all our horses, took our arms and knives, and all our plunder and then told us, if we wanted to go to the whites to go on, but the snow was so deep we could not travel without horses, and we had to return to the hostile camp.

Little Big Man was one of the group led by Crazy Horse to stop these deserters. The report of Fool Bear and Important Man is plain and direct. It leaves out the fear and drama of the moment—forty or more horses shot dead in the snow, a like number of people told to go on if they liked across the barren plains of winter, without food, blankets, or shelter. In this moment we see Crazy Horse for the only time in the remorseless role of a war leader trying to maintain discipline, ready to abandon his Miniconjou relatives to die on the prairie. But as soon as we see this harsh and resolute side it begins to ebb. The very next day in camp Fool Bear and Important Man openly called on all those who wanted to leave to gather around them. Again the akicita threatened death to any who left, but then told the two emissaries they might go. Fool Bear and Important Man rode away alone but halted about fifty miles off, then crept back to the Crazy Horse people and stole away first two lodges, then two more—eighteen people in all. The akicita did nothing.


But there was still fight in Crazy Horse himself. While Fool Bear and Important Man were persuading their friends to sneak off in the last days of December, some young men from Crazy Horse’s camp rode down the Tongue to the soldier fort and ran off a herd of more than a hundred beeves. As the raiders drove the animals back up the river several companies of soldiers guided by white scouts chased after them. General Miles soon followed with additional troops, and the makings of a big fight unfolded. For several days the soldiers made their way up the valley of the Tongue, crossing and recrossing the river, sometimes huddled in buffalo-hide greatcoats against temperatures that fell to twenty or more degrees below zero, then slogging through slush left by mild days of rain. Signs of Indian camps were frequent—cottonwood boughs stripped of their bark by the Indian ponies, the carcasses of oxen killed and eaten, the rough shelters of sticks, bark, and pine boughs put up by the impoverished Cheyenne when they first arrived. The hope of surprising a big Indian camp drew Miles on.

The weeklong chase ended on January 7 when the soldiers reached Hanging Woman Creek, sometimes called Suicide Creek. There the scout Luther Kelly, known as Yellowstone, captured a party of seven or eight Cheyenne, women and children, making their way up the valley after a buffalo hunt. Other Cheyenne following just behind saw the capture and hurried on with the news to the big camp. One of the Cheyenne women was a sister of Wooden Leg, who immediately joined a mixed group of Cheyenne and Oglala that raced off to attack the soldiers and attempt to free the captives. That first sustained exchange of gunfire brought the situation to a head, and the following day Miles and his four hundred men deployed across an open valley while the Sioux and Cheyenne occupied the heights around them, shouting taunts. “You have had your last breakfast!” they cried. Yellowstone Kelly shouted back, calling the Sioux women and challenging them to fight.12

A daylong battle followed of dashing thrusts and retreats that resembled the fight on the Rosebud with Crook—five hours of fire and maneuver with small result. The Indians appeared to have plenty of ammunition and kept up a steady fire, a lot of it from repeating Winchesters, but the white casualties were few: two killed outright, and a third who died of his wounds a few days later. The whites as usual claimed a big toll of Indians killed, arguing that every smear of blood in the snow was another dead warrior. Eagle Shield, a Miniconjou who took part in the fighting, said he was aware of only two Indians killed; one was a man he knew—Runs the Bear—and the other was a Cheyenne whose name he could not recall. Others identified the dead Cheyenne as Big Crow, a medicine man who deliberately attracted fire by striding in the open on top of a butte that commanded the field, pausing to shoot at the soldiers below. Eventually he fell wounded, was dragged from the field by some Sioux, and then was left to die, covered by a buffalo robe.

Shortly after Big Crow was hit Miles sent a detachment to charge up the butte and clear the top. That pretty much ended the fighting for the day. “Crazy Horse led the fight,” said Eagle Shield. Short Bull said that Crazy Horse had a horse shot from under him in the fight, and at the end of the day was one of a small group of four men who kept up a cautioning fire against the soldiers while the rest of the Indians left the field.13 In a sense Crazy Horse achieved what he had against Crook in June—sending the white soldiers back the way they had come. Miles pulled out two days later, crossing and recrossing the Tongue all the way back down the valley to his winter quarters.

But Crook’s withdrawal in June had contributed to an event of consequence: the defeat of Custer a week later. The battle named after Wolf Mountain was followed only by winter and more winter. The day of heavy fighting exhausted the Indians’ half-starved horses. The ammunition they shot up could not be easily replaced. Their own journey further up the Tongue took them away from the buffalo herds that had been feeding them all winter. “About this time there was a bad famine,” remembered Black Elk, who had watched the fight with other boys. “Finally we got to the mouth of Rosebud Creek.”14

In mid-January, only a week after the fight at Wolf Mountain, the chiefs in the northern camp decided to send couriers south to the camp of Spotted Tail to ask for tobacco—testing the ground for peace. Crazy Horse did not oppose this effort; he did not know what else to do. The message the chiefs gave to Charging Horse and Makes Them Stand Up was simple and direct: “They all desire to make peace and the best terms obtainable.”15

General Nelson Miles had failed in his attempt to end the war with Crazy Horse. Now it was General Crook’s turn. In early February, Sheridan instructed Crook to prepare a new campaign to deliver yet heavier blows. “The hostiles now out must be whipped until they surrender unconditionally and we must go at it again as soon as the weather will permit.”16

One part of Crook’s mind embraced this approach. He hated “the tone” of Indians who stood their ground against whites; it angered him to find the Sioux “sore, sullen and extremely insubordinate.”17 But in December his Indian scouts had convinced him to abandon his midwinter campaign and let the Indians seek out Crazy Horse in the wilderness and convince him to surrender. Crook pressed ahead with this plan, giving the job to his aide, Lieutenant Clark. Beginning in February, Clark organized three separate groups of Sioux peace talkers to go north with Crook’s message, assuring Crazy Horse that surrender did not mean death or prison. First to set out was a group of fifteen Oglala led by the younger brother of the Shirt Wearer Man That Owns a Sword, the Oglala known as Hunts the Enemy.18 With them they carried packages of tobacco, some wrapped in blue cloth and some in red, one package for each of the chiefs in Crazy Horse’s band. A gift of tobacco was the traditional way of proposing peace. If the chiefs opened the packages and shared the tobacco with their leading men there would be peace; and if the tobacco were rejected, fighting would continue.

Travel was hard and game was scarce. About four nights out the group ran into Charging Horse and Makes Them Stand Up, the two men who had been dispatched by the northern camp to learn the state of affairs at the agency.19 The two parties exchanged news and separated, the smaller going south, the larger north. A few nights later, while Hunts the Enemy and the others were sleeping, some Indians ran off with all their horses. Four of the group chased the thieves, learned they were Cheyenne, and managed to recover some of the stolen horses, but not all. Many in the party felt luck was against them and they should turn back, but Hunts the Enemy persuaded them to go on. When they reached the Powder River doubts flared again, and this time the majority said enough. Only four—Running Hawk, Crow Fire, Long Whirlwind, and Hunts the Enemy—refused to give up. Their food ran out, they found no game, and for three days they had nothing to eat. Again some wanted to turn back but Hunts the Enemy urged them to press on. After ten or twelve days of hard travel the four travelers came at last to one of the streams that fed the Tongue, east of the Big Horn Mountains, which the Oglala called the Rocky Mountains. By this stream, called Otter Creek, the people with Crazy Horse were camped.

So Hunts the Enemy and his three friends approached, and all the people stopped to gaze at them coming, and then an uproar went up, and the men jumped on their mounts and rushed over to surround them, with weapons standing out, but they did not do any violence to them. They took them to their camp, and on the second day, the great mass of wild Dakotas and the Cheyennes swelling their number, all gathered in a great council, and Hunts the Enemy and Running Hawk attended. The other two did not join, being frightened. So an Indian warrior from the great council stood forth saying, “Now, then, Hunts the Enemy, speak then, whatever you came hither for.” So Hunts the Enemy spoke.20

Hunts the Enemy was well known to the people in Crazy Horse’s camp. He had fought in the Bozeman War and had led many war parties against Indian enemies as a blota hunka. He once showed a white man the four scars he had received in battle—three from the Crow, one from the whites. He had been a bear dreamer and a wicasa pejuta—a healer with the use of herbs. He had also been a wakiconze, one of the village officers who decided when and where to camp. In later life he said, “The scars on my body show that I have danced the Sun Dance, and no Lakota will dispute my word.”21 But Hunts the Enemy was falling away from Lakota ways; by his own later account he came to believe that Wakan Tanka was not as powerful as the white man’s god. He had been impressed by the words of General Crook at the big council with all the scouts in November before the attack on the Cheyenne at the Red Fork. To the assembly of Crazy Horse’s people he said,

I was sent by a soldier named Three Stars, who said, “The Great Father wants no more wars in this day and age, and all fighting is to cease throughout the land, and no matter who they are, all shall be in peace. So all my friends there will now come together to dwell in peace, and they, like the peaceful Indians here, shall abide in friendship.” And he said, “When my friends return, there shall be nothing untoward done to them,” he said.22

That was the heart of Crook’s offer: if you surrender, the fighting will end and no man will be punished. Hunts the Enemy told the northern Indians that the whites wanted to move the Oglala agency away from the White River to the Indian Territory or the Missouri. At the agencies the leading men were all arguing for a new site in their own country. In the spring, it was said, the chiefs would go to Washington to make their case; Hunts the Enemy told Crazy Horse that he would be invited to make the trip as well. Crazy Horse thus well understood that giving up horses and guns would be only the first step, to be followed by a trip to Washington and a campaign to secure an agency in the Indians’ own country.23

The man chosen to reply to Hunts the Enemy for the Oglala in the north was Iron Hawk, a noted warrior who had been in the fighting at the Rosebud and at the Little Bighorn. In the Custer fight, although badly wounded himself, he killed a soldier running up a dry creek bed.24 Iron Hawk was in his forties—an “old man” in the view of Red Feather, Crazy Horse’s brother-in-law. In 1875 Iron Hawk had been “way up north in Montana” when word arrived from the agencies that the whites wanted to buy the Black Hills. He was against it then and he was against it now; he would not listen to any proposal for selling the hills. So it was a longtime opponent of giving in to the whites whom the Oglala asked to reply to Hunts the Enemy, but they cautioned Iron Hawk first. “Speak as we said to speak only,” they said.25

The words used by Iron Hawk had already been the subject of much debate in Crazy Horse’s band. There was nothing unusual in asking Iron Hawk to make the reply. Red Cloud often let another man speak for him, and Crazy Horse almost always kept silent himself. But Crazy Horse was the leading man of the two thousand northern Indians who had been wintering in the Tongue and Powder river country. What Iron Hawk said was what Crazy Horse and the rest had decided.

The message which Hunts the Enemy brought from Crook was what the northern Indians had wanted to hear. The answer delivered by Iron Hawk was what “we said to speak only”—the collective decision of all the leading men. This speech, which signaled the end of the Great Sioux War, is preserved in two versions. Hunts the Enemy recorded the fuller of the two:

Now then, Hunts the Enemy, carefully harken as you sit. This land is mine. The great spirit raised me like this, and I live in accordance with it. But Friend, the white man from the sunrise advances, stealing my land as he comes, and by now the land is small, therefore I do not permit him on my territory but he works himself in, and when he sees me he shoots at me, so I shoot back, and I kill some of them. And when I contemplate what I have done I am sad. Alas, I am whipping the relatives of these men, I think, and I bring sorrow on myself.

And now you say someone who is said to be a leader thinks he wants peace. Very well, he shall have it. There shall be a great big peace! I am the very one who, when someone tries to outdo me in being agreeable, always win. So I shall move camp and approach. But I am burdened down with much meat. I am heavy. There is much snow. All the rivers lie across the road, and they are deep. I must travel slowly. So, Hunts the Enemy, before I arrive, you shall come to me again, or else send your men to me.26

Red Feather, the brother of the wife of Crazy Horse, was also present on this occasion, and in 1930 he summarized the words of Iron Hawk: “You see all the people here are in rags, they all need clothing, we might as well go in.”27

In the end talking did what fighting could not—convinced the Indians the whites were too many. Crazy Horse did not drive this decision to end the war, but he also did not resist it. Between mid-February and the first week in May a swelling number of Indians came in to the agencies from the northern country, all bearing news. From their numerous and by no means consistent reports emerges a rough history of Crazy Horse’s last weeks as a traditional Lakota free to roam as he liked.

The first substantial group to arrive, about forty people in all, reached Camp Robinson in late February led by the Cheyenne chief Little Wolf. His appearance must have startled Billy Garnett and Frank Grouard; both thought they had shot and killed him in the fight on the Red Fork. Little Wolf explained that they had indeed shot him—at least five or six times!—but the wounds were all superficial.28 Little Wolf’s Cheyenne, who had started south sometime in January, were the last of the northern Indians to report threats by the akicita in the village of Crazy Horse.29 Little Wolf told the soldiers that the northern Indians “want more fighting,” but that was not the message brought by Charging Horse and Makes Them Stand Up, who arrived at Camp Sheridan and the Spotted Tail Agency on February 9 seeking news of the terms of surrender. At about the same time Red Sack, married to the sister of Crazy Horse, arrived at Camp Robinson to say the northern chiefs had “sent him in to the agency to ascertain how matters were and to return and let them know as soon as possible.”30 Red Sack was followed by members of the group that went out with Hunts the Enemy—Few Tails, Running Hawk, and Tall Man. A Brulé Sioux named Good Breast arrived at the Spotted Tail Agency on March 9 bearing a note from Spotted Tail’s son-in-law, the trader François Boucher, reporting, “We getting all the Sioux to come in … slow and sure.”31

But it was Crazy Horse himself the generals wanted safely under control. In a letter to his father from Camp Sheridan, Lieutenant Fred Schwatka remarked in February that Crazy Horse “is the only chief of importance.”32 As the northern Sioux came in—the Oglala to the Red Cloud Agency, the Miniconjou and Sans Arcs to Spotted Tail—they mostly said Crazy Horse was coming along behind them with his village. But some said not. It seems clear there had been at least two large councils in the north, the first when Hunts the Enemy met with Iron Hawk in mid-February, the second when a group under Spotted Tail met with about a hundred lodges of Miniconjou and Sans Arcs near the mouth of the Little Powder River in mid-March. After this second council Boucher penned another note to Major Horace Neide at the Spotted Tail Agency and sent it south by courier.

We on our way back home from the mouth of Little Powder River, we could not go any further on account of deep snow and deep water, also no grub. We sent courier all over the country with tobacco … the Oglala moving to Bear Lodge Butte with the calculation of stopping there and all the men going to our agency to trade their robes and furs, they heavy load with meat and robe. Crazy Horse send news that Sitting Bull came over last winter try to get the Oglala to move across the Missouri he did not succes he went cross the Missouri himself with his Band. We sent a courier to notify Crazy Horse to move right straight to the agency not stop at Bear Butte Lodge. We moving back with very near 200 lodges Mineconou different bands. We got a big camp no grub and starving … No game horses very poor.33

In their meeting with Spotted Tail the chiefs in the Miniconjou and Sans Arc camp—Touch the Clouds, Roman Nose, Red Bear, and Fast Bull—promised to follow the Brulé south to the agency. The father of Crazy Horse was also there and told Spotted Tail “that Crazy Horse, though not here, makes peace the same as if he were here, and shakes hands through his father the same as if he himself did it.”34 As a gesture of peace the elder man gave a horse to Joseph Merrivale, an old plainsman married to a Brulé woman of Spotted Tail’s band.

Two weeks later, in mid-April, Touch the Clouds, Roman Nose, High Bear, and about a thousand northern Indians arrived at the Spotted Tail Agency and formally surrendered to General Crook, who gave the arrivals a long speech full of fatherly advice. On an impulse he promised that when all the hostiles had come in the agency Indians might be allowed to go north again with soldiers as escort for a big buffalo hunt up along the Tongue. “This announcement was loudly greeted with a chorus of enthusiastic ‘Hous!’ ” reported Lieutenant Jesse Lee, who was about to take over as acting agent for the Spotted Tail Indians.35

Coming south more slowly were the people belonging to the village of Crazy Horse. Periods of mild weather were followed by intense storms. By chance the route south taken by the Indians was paralleled by a party of whites which included the Camp Robinson contract surgeon, Valentine McGillycuddy, and his wife, Fanny, who remarked on the weather in her diary. The party set out on the eastern slope of the Black Hills on March 2, “but in about half an hour the wind came up and such a snow storm I never wish to be caught out in,” she wrote. “Oh terrible, terrible.” A month later, still on the road, “A fearful snow storm came upon us in the night and raged all day. Some of the weak horses died … a fall of 15 inches of snow—covering up all trace of the road. Some of the drifts are four and five feet deep.”36 The Indian ponies were in poor condition, heavily loaded with meat and hides from two big surrounds of buffalo in the north, slowed by the swollen, ice-clogged rivers.

But it was probably not winter alone which explained the slow progress of Crazy Horse. The reassuring words of Hunts the Enemy, Spotted Tail, Red Cloud, and others could not disguise the implications of their move south—something Crazy Horse and the others had vowed never to do. He Dog for one was not quite sure why they were going at all. “When we started in,” he said later, “I thought we were coming to visit and to see whether we would receive an annuity, not to surrender.”37

Crazy Horse was also in continuing perplexity. Lone Bear arrived to report that Crazy Horse was not with the rest of the northern Indians in March; he was out in the hills hunting with a small group. The medicine man Horn Chips, who had gone north with the Brulé from the Spotted Tail Agency, reported that Crazy Horse had returned south with him as far as the Powder River. There the chief separated from the band and went off by himself with about ten lodges, perhaps seventy or eighty people. After a time Crazy Horse left the larger group and camped with only one other lodge. Soon any companion was too many.

Sometime in March or April the family of the elder Black Elk, traveling south to the agency, came upon Crazy Horse camped on a creek with no one for company but his wife, Black Shawl Woman. Lakota often went out alone to pray for guidance and help in a time of trouble. What the solitary Crazy Horse was thinking during this period is suggested by scattered bits of evidence. After listening to arguments for surrender he told friends like He Dog and Red Feather that he did not want to go in to the agency but would do what the others wanted to do. He took none of the tobacco brought out by Hunts the Enemy but sent it around to the chiefs of the scattered bands. He told the emissaries who brought the tobacco that his people were free to “decide what they would do; that if he told them to stay they would do so, even if they were to die, but he would let them say.”38

Crazy Horse took seriously the promise he had been given of an agency in the north. Before leaving Beaver Creek east of the Tongue he planted a stake in the ground to mark the place where he wished to have his agency.39 And finally, he told the elder Black Elk, a man he called uncle, why he had gone off apart from the rest of the people as the northern Indians were all making their way south. The chief’s words were related by the elder Black Elk to the younger, who took the name Nicholas in the 1880s. Nick Black Elk in turn repeated the words of Crazy Horse to the white poet and historian John Neihardt in 1931. The words were translated from Lakota into English by Black Elk’s son, Ben, and transcribed by Neihardt’s daughters, Enid and Hilda. By this tortuous route the words of Crazy Horse have reached us. In their Delphic ambiguity they say little and much, nothing and everything. Said the younger Black Elk:

On the road to Fort Robinson we found Crazy Horse all alone on a creek with just his wife. He was a queer man. He had been queer all of this winter. Crazy Horse said to my father, “Uncle, you might have noticed me, how I act, but it is for the good of my people that I am out alone. Out there I am making plans—nothing but good plans—for the good of my people. I don’t care where the people go. They can go where they wish.” (There were things that he had to figure out and he was wanting the spirits to guide him. He would then go back to his people to tell them what he had learned.) “This country is ours, therefore I am doing this,” said Crazy Horse.40

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