Crazy Horse Was Chief of the Lakota, a Warrior and a Holy Man
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I'm Phoebe Zimmermann. And I'm Steve Ember with the VOA Special English program PEOPLE IN AMERICA. Today, we tell the story of a Native American, Crazy Horse. He was a leader of the Lakota Indians. Some people call his tribe the Oglala Sioux.
Crazy Horse's people belonged to one of seven great families who called themselves Lakota. The word Lakota means friends or allies.
The Lakota people were hunters. They moved with the seasons. They moved through the great flat lands and the great mountains of the north-central United States. The Lakota depended on wild animals for food and clothing, and for the materials to make their tools and homes. They depended especially on the buffalo, the great hairy ox-like creature. Huge groups of buffalo ran free across their lands.
Great changes came to the Indian territories during the middle eighteen hundreds. The population of the United States was growing. Settlers left the cities of the East for the wide open spaces of the West. The settlers followed the railroads extending across the continent. More settlers moved west when gold was discovered in California in eighteen forty-nine.
The ways of the settlers were not the ways of the Indians. The culture of the white people clashed with the culture of the red people -- often in violence.
The United States army was sent to move the Indians and protect the settlers. Many Indian tribes refused to move. Their lands, they said, contained the bones of their fathers and mothers. It was holy ground. They fought the soldiers.
Crazy Horse's tribe, the Lakota, had many powerful leaders and skilled warriors. Crazy Horse, himself, was greatly feared. The soldiers could not defeat him in battle. Most white people did not understand why the Lakota fought so hard. They knew little of the Indians' way of life. They did not know Crazy Horse at all.
Much of what we have learned about Crazy Horse came from his own people. Even today, they still talk about him. To the Lakota, he was both a warrior and a holy man.
No one knows for sure when Crazy Horse was born. Perhaps around the year eighteen forty. But we do know when he died. In eighteen seventy-seven, when he was in his middle thirties.
There are no photographs of Crazy Horse. But it is said that he was not very tall. And his skin was lighter than most of the Lakota people.
As a boy, Crazy Horse loved to listen to the teachings of the Lakota religion. His father was a holy man of the tribe -- a medicine man. He taught the boy to honor all things, because all things had a life of their own. Not only people and animals had spirits, he said, but trees and rivers, as well. Above all was the Great Spirit.
Crazy Horse's father also told him that a man should be judged only by the goodness of his actions. So the boy tried hard to tell the truth at all times and not to speak badly of others.
Crazy Horse learned to be a hunter. He could lie quietly for hours watching wild animals. When he killed a bird or a deer, he always sang a prayer of thanks and sorrow. He always gave the meat to the poor and to the families that had no hunters. That was what Lakota chiefs did.
In time, Crazy Horse learned that the Indians were not alone in their world. He watched one day as tribesmen brought back the body of one of the chiefs, Conquering Bear. The chief had been shot many times by soldiers after a dispute over a white man's cow. Two times in the next few years, young Crazy Horse saw the burned remains of Indian villages. All the village people, including women and children, had been shot by soldiers.
All these events helped shape the personality of the young Indian. Crazy Horse became very quiet. He would go away from his village and spend days alone.
His people began to call him "the strange one." The name Crazy Horse -- in the language of the Lakota -- meant wild horse.
When it was time for him to plan his future, his father took him high into the mountains. Together, they sang a prayer to the Great Spirit, a prayer like this:
"Grandfather, Great Spirit, you have existed always, and before you there was no one. Stand close to the Earth that you may hear the voice I send. You, where the sun goes down, look at me! You, where the snow lives...you, where the day begins...you, where the summer lives ... you, in the depths of the heavens, look at me! And you, Mother Earth. Give me eyes to see and the strength to understand, that I may be like you. Only with your power can I face the winds."
Crazy Horse stayed on the mountain by himself for three days and nights. He did not eat or drink. He prayed that the Great Spirit would send him a dream to show him how to live.
Crazy Horse dreamed. He entered the world of truth and of the spirits of all things. The Lakota people called this "the real world". They believed our world was only an image of the real world.
In his dream, Crazy Horse saw a man riding a horse through clouds of darkness and battle. Bullets flew around him, but did not hit him.
The man wore a stone under one ear, and a bird feather in his hair. His body was painted with sharp white lines, like lightning. A light followed him, but it was sometimes covered by darkness.
Crazy Horse understood the dream as a sign. He knew his people were entering a time of darkness. He dressed himself like the man in the dream, so that no bullets would hurt him. He would try to save his land for his people. He would try to protect their way of living.
Crazy Horse prayed every day -- as the sun rose, at noon, and as night came. He prayed whenever he had something difficult to do. The prayer songs would carry him back to the peace of "the real world". He would know the right thing to do.
In the village, Crazy Horse did not keep things for himself. He even gave away his food. If others needed the food more, he would not eat at all. Crazy Horse spent much of his time with the children. He talked and joked with them. Yet his eyes looked through the children. He seemed to be thinking of something else.
Crazy Horse fought in more than twenty battles against the American army. He was never hit by an enemy's bullet. In battle, his mind was clear. "Be brave!" the young men would shout as they followed him into battle. "The Earth is all that lasts."
But the Earth the Indians knew did not last. The government would take most of it. The army destroyed Indian villages and captured those who would not surrender.
Almost all the buffalo were gone, killed by white hunters. The people were hungry. Many Lakota and other Indians came to Crazy Horse for protection.
The government sent a message to Crazy Horse. It said if he surrendered, his people could live and hunt on a part of the land that he chose. Crazy Horse and his people could fight no more. They accepted the government offer. They surrendered.
The government, however, did not keep its promise to let them choose where they would live. Several months later, on September fifth, eighteen seventy-seven, Crazy Horse went to the army commander to make an angry protest. Guards arrested him. He struggled to escape. A soldier stabbed him with a knife. The great Lakota Indian chief died the next day.
In nineteen thirty-nine, the tribe asked an artist to make a statue of Crazy Horse. The Indians wanted a huge statue cut into the side of a mountain. It would show Crazy Horse riding a running horse, pointing his arm to where the Earth meets the sky -- to the lands of the Lakota people. The tribe told the artist: "We would like the white man to know the red man had great heroes, too."
If you visit the mountain to see the statue, you may hear in the wind the song of an old man. He sings:
"Crazy Horse, your people depend on you. Be brave. Defend your people!"
This Special English program was written by Barbara Dash. It was produced by Mario Ritter. Our studio engineer was Sulaiman Tarawaley. I'm Steve Ember. And I'm Phoebe Zimmermann. Join us again next week for another PEOPLE IN AMERICA program on the Voice of America.