I am Crazy Horse! Don’t touch me!

IT WAS THE ARREST not the killing of Crazy Horse that Colonel Bradley had in mind when he dispatched his men to seize the chief on the morning of Tuesday, the 4th of September, 1877. But arrest only did not mean half measures; Bradley sent two groups strong enough for war—eight troops of cavalry and infantry under Colonel Julius Mason and four hundred friendly Indian scouts under Lieutenant Clark. The entire force numbered seven or eight hundred men. In Clark’s view the roster of chiefs supporting the soldiers proved the increasing isolation of Crazy Horse, whose village had dwindled in the first few days of September to about seventy lodges. More than twice that number had surrendered with him in May. Red Cloud, Little Wound, American Horse, and Young Man Afraid of His Horses all rode under Clark’s command. But that was not all. Clark had been working the Indians all summer, and among the scouts setting out to arrest the chief were some of Crazy Horse’s oldest friends, not only Little Big Man but others who had been by his side in the north for years like Jumping Shield, Big Road, and He Dog. Even one of Crazy Horse’s uncles, Bull Head, was among the scouts riding toward the chief’s village near the mouth of Little White Clay Creek.1

The two groups had been slow to assemble and it was nine o’clock before they departed, the cavalry and two companies of infantry following down one bank of the White River in the direction of Crazy Horse’s village, while the Indians with fresh issue of guns and ammunition rode down the other. The whole post was on hand to watch them set out. Luke Voorhees, a manager of the stage company that connected the military posts along the White River to Fort Laramie and Cheyenne, reported in the Cheyenne Leaderthat the soldiers brought with them heavy weapons. Included were two Gatling guns. It was widely known that Custer had refused to take a Gatling gun with him on the way to the Little Bighorn, protesting that it would slow him down. The Army did not intend to allow that mistake again. Further firepower was promised by a field gun, “an old brass affair drawn by six mules,” according to Sergeant Kelly of the 14th Infantry. Voorhees recognized the figure of Little Big Man, stripped to his breechcloth after his custom, riding at the head of “the red cavalry.”

The Indians on their ponies were all painted and dressed for war. Their rapid progress down the creek alarmed the Indians camped in small clusters along the way. Many simply grabbed their children and horses and stampeded back to the Red Cloud Agency for protection. Others chanced the few minutes it took Indian women to strike a lodge and pack a travois for flight. Voorhees calculated that within an hour as many as five thousand Indians were milling about the agency stockade. He did not notice the many others who fled into the hills and surrounding prairie.2

Lucy Lee planted herself on the wide wraparound porch of her friends Thomas and Ellen Burrowes. Others joined them to wait for the inevitable couriers bringing news. Men came and went across the parade ground, and at the far side the guard at Post Number 1 marched back and forth between the line of field guns and the guardhouse. For a time after the departure of the arresting party all was quiet. Then came the first hint of the course of events: the sound of shooting from several miles down Little White Clay, ten or fifteen shots in a sudden, rapid volley. The rattle of gunfire convinced many at the post, Lieutenant Lemly wrote later, that “the ball had opened in earnest.” After awhile a courier arrived and the news quickly spread that Crazy Horse had been killed. “This was considered good news,” Lucy Lee wrote in one of her regular letters to the Greencastle Star back home in Indiana a few days later.

“Presently a second report came that Crazy Horse had not been killed, but the village was entirely surrounded and captured. This was not quite so good news as the first,” she wrote.

“Then came word that Crazy Horse had gotten away.”3

In his village on the south bank of the White River near the mouth of Little White Clay Creek, Crazy Horse had been keeping track of events. He had come for peace, but the soldiers had been treating him as an enemy. For several days, he seems to have done nothing but listen. He brooded about the words of the Army officers who visited him on the afternoon of September 2. He did not go out to attend the council with Crook on the morning of the 3rd but soon learned that it had been canceled. Later, he was told about the claim that he had planned to kill the general. As events progressed through Monday night and early Tuesday morning, Indians hurried with news from the agency and the military post to Crazy Horse’s village and back again. Crazy Horse was told when ammunition was issued to the men who had been charged with killing him. He was told that the plans were changed during the hours of darkness, that an arrest was planned, that the arresting party was assembling at Camp Robinson, that the party had started on its way.

Bearing one of the first reports on Monday night had been Red Feather, the brother of the chief’s wife. Before riding back to the agency, Red Feather said later, the chief gave him his gun and gun case, keeping only a knife. Early Tuesday morning, Red Feather and a friend left the military post to inform Crazy Horse that the soldiers were coming. The unarmed chief was still in his lodge. “He was waiting like that for the soldiers,” Red Feather said. When word came of the soldiers’ approach Red Feather went out to meet them.4

As the “friendly” Indians and scouts neared the site of Crazy Horse’s village, Billy Garnett rode first with one group, then with another, carrying messages from Lieutenant Clark to the different tribes and bands and returning with reports. Clark believed he had worked the bigger part of the Indians over to the white side, but Garnett did not share his confidence. He thought many of the “friendlies” in the arresting party were actually loyal to Crazy Horse and would rally to his side if it came to fighting. Crazy Horse’s onetime friend Little Big Man was much in evidence, now dashing out in front of the scouts, now hurrying back with news or instructions. Feelings were running high and nerves were tense. When a coyote suddenly appeared running alongside the stream half a dozen Indians impulsively fired at the animal; this was the volley of shots heard back at the post and nervously interpreted as the opening clash in a fight. Shortly afterward, as the scouts began to near the site of Crazy Horse’s village, they encountered Indians coming out to meet them. One of the first told Billy Garnett that Crazy Horse was catching his horse. “Crazy Horse is either going to fight or he is going to run away,” said the man from the village. Garnett immediately spurred up his horse to take this news to Clark.

Moments later as he crossed Little White Clay, Garnett was hailed by another Indian, the Miniconjou Looking Horse, who had surrendered with Crazy Horse in May. Garnett had been there when Looking Horse rode in beside the other close followers and war comrades of Crazy Horse. Garnett had been the interpreter on May 12 when Crazy Horse and twenty others, including Looking Horse, touched the pen and enlisted as scouts for Clark. But Looking Horse was angry with Clark on this day. He called out sharply to Garnett, “Where are you going? I have just scolded Clark and I am going to scold the crowd you are with”—meaning the Indian scouts Garnett had just left on the far side of the creek.

Moments later Garnett delivered his message to Clark, who agreed with Garnett that a fight looked probable, but told him, “Don’t shoot unless they start in on you.” Garnett reported that he had seen Looking Horse. “He was sassy when I met him,” said Garnett. It was Garnett who was worked up and spoiling for a fight at this point, not Clark.5

While Garnett was off talking with Clark, Looking Horse rode up to the band of Oglala scouts Garnett had left on the east bank of Little White Clay. Two of the party rode forward to meet him, Woman Dress and Bull Head. Looking Horse shouted at the scouts, abusing them for siding with the white men. “You people are all Indians,” he cried. “Why don’t you have pity on one another?”6

“I don’t allow anyone to come in front of me when I am going anywhere,” responded Bull Head. At the same moment, Bull Head or Woman Dress—accounts differ—shot Looking Horse’s pony from under him. Bull Head, using the butt of his gun, and several others then “pounded up” Looking Horse and took his gun and pistol. They left him unconscious beside his dead horse in the trail. He Dog watched it all; he said a brother of Looking Horse known as White Cow Killer dragged the man’s body out of the way and left it in the shade of a tree before catching up with the others.7

Feelings were now approaching a dangerous level. Only five or six hundred yards short of Crazy Horse’s village, Garnett’s group of scouts came in sight of an organized band of Crazy Horse’s fighters collected on a knoll. The seventy men were outnumbered but defiant. At that moment, Little Big Man returned from one of his dashes out in front. “It looks like Crazy Horse is going to show a fight,” he reported.

A boy of fifteen or sixteen armed with a revolver dashed down the hill toward the scouts, who opened a way for him. Garnett worried that it was the friends of Crazy Horse who let him pass, but it is possible they only took pity on him. Everybody seemed to recognize this boy and knew he had taken part in the Custer fight. Right behind the boy came another defiant figure mounted on a paint horse and wearing a double-trail, eagle-feather warbonnet. Billy Garnett had never seen this man before, but others knew him. His name was Black Fox, one of the last two Shirt Wearers of the Oyuhpe band. Black Fox was a half brother of Kicking Bear and Flying Hawk, both war comrades of Crazy Horse, and he was married to a sister of Touch the Clouds.8

Black Fox charged up to the approaching body of scouts and called out a threat or a challenge, the ritual words of a man preparing to fight no matter the odds. He was armed and ready, carrying a Springfield carbine and a revolver. Behind him about thirty of the warriors from the village were running their ponies back and forth, ready for anything but for the moment holding their fire. Billy Garnett remembered the words of Black Fox:

I have been looking all my life to die. Ever since I have been big enough to fight I have been looking for one. I never was killed up to this time. I have seen nothing but the clouds and the ground.9

After Black Fox had said his piece, Garnett remembered, he took out his knife and clenched it between his teeth. “The biting of the knife” was a Sioux way of asserting veracity; Black Fox intended to be understood as ready to throw himself away in battle.

American Horse was there in the front rank of the scouts. “Brother-in-law,” he called out, “hold on, let up.” He stepped forward with a pipe, holding it out. “Think of the women and children behind you. Hold on, we have not come down for anything like that. We came down to save you.” With these soothing words, appropriate for a Shirt Wearer trying to avoid bloodshed within the tribe, American Horse stepped out closer to Black Fox, offering him the stem of the pipe. Black Fox had now removed the knife from his teeth to say, “Hau!”—a word signifying attention and assent, almost as if to say, “Oh yes! I am listening!”

Black Fox called out He Dog’s name also, and asked him to come forward. All three men now prepared to smoke sitting on the ground, perhaps fifteen or twenty feet in front of the line of scouts. He Dog had his eye on Black Fox’s knife; he worried that Black Fox might try to kill him or American Horse and he noted that American Horse was apparently worrying about the same thing. But everything had changed when American Horse offered the pipe. The three men passed the pipe and Black Fox said the people were his now; when Crazy Horse was gone he was the chief. “I come to die but you saved me,” he said. “Crazy Horse has gone with his wife,” he said, adding that he “thought he had to die today” and “I am glad to hear you are peaceable.” Then Black Fox called out to the men on their horses racing about behind him. They were giving their horses a second wind, getting ready for war.

“All over,” said Black Fox. “Stop this running—Go back.” The mounted men all turned away and headed back for the village.

Garnett was impressed by the level of control wielded by Black Fox, who explained further.

Crazy Horse is gone. He listened to too many bad talks. I told him we came in for peace, but he would listen to them. Now he is gone and the people belong to me.10

What Black Fox said was puzzling. Crazy Horse was a warrior. There were plenty of men still willing to fight by his side. What was the weakness that made him run away with only his sick wife and two friends?

At just about this moment, Lieutenant Clark joined the big body of scouts on the east bank of the creek. Little Big Man and others had told Clark that Crazy Horse had set out on horseback for the Spotted Tail Agency, some forty miles to the east, together with Black Shawl Woman and Shell Boy and Kicking Bear, a brother of Black Fox. One of the scouts had seen Crazy Horse and the others passing over a rise in the prairie to the east.

Clark was determined to capture the chief and redeem the morning’s failure. He quickly organized and dispatched three groups of scouts to chase Crazy Horse down, sending about twenty-five or thirty men in all. A first group took a northern track under Clark’s most trusted man, Three Bears, and a second followed a little to the south under He Dog and American Horse. But it was on No Water that Clark depended for success. At the council with Crook in May, No Water had sided decisively with the whites. “There is no more laughing at our great father,” No Water had said in the council. “We can’t take our great father’s word up in our hands and go off and laugh at it any more.”

No Water had personal reasons for chasing down Crazy Horse. After he had shot the chief in the face in 1870, No Water had become a chief in his own right, taking over the Tacnaitca or Badger band of the Oglala following the death of his father Black Twin, also known as Holy Bald Eagle. Now Clark promised No Water the addition of lodges from Crazy Horse’s dismembered band, along with two or three hundred dollars in cash, if he brought Crazy Horse as a captive to the lieutenant’s quarters. It was forty miles to the Spotted Tail Agency. Crazy Horse had a head start, but No Water spared no effort in the chase. He told Clark later that he rode two ponies so hard they died under him, trying to catch up.11

Some of the scouts in pursuit later complained to Billy Garnett that it was impossible to catch the chief, who had a fast horse and a trick for preserving the strength of his mount. On approaching a hill, Crazy Horse always eased to a walk and made his way to the summit slowly, but downhill and on level ground he ran his horses all the way. Thus his mounts got a chance to blow and remained fresh while the scouts, quirt as they might, managed only to come in sight of Crazy Horse and his party far ahead. They told Garnett they could make out the woman riding in the lead, with the three men behind. But they never closed within shooting distance, they said.

What Jesse Lee learned from some of the pursuing scouts at Camp Sheridan that evening was different. The scouts said that Crazy Horse was not running but “riding along quite leisurely with his sick wife.” Lee reported that the scouts drew close, called to Crazy Horse, and “asked him to go back with them” to Camp Robinson. Red Feather said the chief had given away his gun. Perhaps that is why he did not threaten but only scolded the scouts with stinging words: “I am Crazy Horse! Don’t touch me! I’m not running away.”

It was enough. The scouts dropped back. When they came in sight of Sheridan’s gates, the twin buttes which marked the final stretch of road into the military post and the Spotted Tail Agency, the scouts veered off. Crazy Horse with his wife and friends rode down to the Indian camps along the creek, where he sought out the lodge of his friend and teacher, Horn Chips. The scouts on their lathered horses went the other way, to the military post three miles up the creek, to report that the chief was coming to the agency.12

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