Editorial: Crazy Horse made everyone brave on Bighorn battlefield

The following is the opinion of the Native Sun News Editorial Board. All content © Native Sun News.

Participants in the Real Bird's Little Bighorn & Custer Battle Reenactment. Photo from Facebook

Crazy Horse made everyone brave
By Native Sun News Editorial Board

The Indians often speak of the occasion when Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer held a peace council with Cheyenne Chief Medicine Arrow. Medicine Arrow who held the pipe as Custer smoked said, “If you are acting treacherously toward my people, you and your whole command will be killed.”

Medicine Arrow then broke up the tobacco and sprinkled the ashes on Custer’s boots and according to the Cheyenne view, this made Custer’s vow not to attack the Cheyenne villages sacred and binding.

Magpie, another Cheyenne Chief, related that the sprinkling of the ashes, “made the peace pipe stronger … it meant that if he went contrary to the pipe again he would be destroyed like the ashes.”

But it wouldn’t take long for Custer to break his promise. In 1868, the U.S. had signed a peace treaty with Lakota and Northern Cheyenne leaders at Fort Laramie, Wyo., which set aside the western portion of South Dakota, including the Black Hills region, for their exclusive use.

In that same year, led into the Black Hills by a Yanktonai scout named Goose, who had been exiled from his band, Custer’s expedition discovered gold.

Peace had been the policy of President Ulysses S. Grant until that discovery of gold caused the Black Hills to be infiltrated by hundreds of gold prospectors. The Army tried to defend Lakota ownership of the Black Hills, as the government was busily negotiating a purchase or lease agreement with tribal leaders. When negotiations failed, U.S. troops vacated the Hills and left them open for miners.

Instead a plan to militarily subjugate the Lakota and their allies and confine them to reservations was devised. The Bureau of Indian Affairs gave Indians an ultimatum: stay within the boundaries of the reservation or be forced there by military action. It is believed that the ultimatum was a ploy to lure them into war so that they would be forced to cede the Black Hills once they were defeated on the battlefield.

Lt. G.K. Warren gives us an idea of the tactics they planned to use. “I consider the greatest fruits of the exploration I have conducted to be the knowledge of the proper routes by which to invade their country and conquer them. The Black Hills is a great point in their territory in which to strike the Teton Dakotas, here they will assemble their largest force and here I believe they will make a stand.”

However, the U.S. military was not prepared for what would hit them on June 25, 1876.

When Custer initiated a 911-like terrorist attack on the Lakota and their allies, the Cheyenne and Arapaho who were camped along the banks of the Greasy Grass, he thought he had the element of surprise and the upper hand and said, “Come on, boys, we caught them napping.”

However, the Lakota and their allies were defending their way of life, their women, their children and their precious homeland that had been guaranteed by treaty.

Among them was Crazy Horse who had distinguished himself in both phases of the Little Bighorn, killing soldiers during Major Reno’s retreat back across the river and later when he led the charge that split Custer’s forces.

Crazy Horse went into battle with a Wotawe, prepared for him by his friend and mentor Horn Chips, which hid him from bullets. When Crazy Horse rode onto the battlefield it was said by his comrades that he could turn a battle by himself because “he made everybody brave.”

Custer and all the soldiers of the U.S. Army’s 7th Cavalry were killed that day in 1876. And today, 139 years later, June 25, 2015, we still celebrate Victory Day.

(The Editorial Board of Native Sun News can be reached at editor@nsweekly.com)

Copyright permission Native Sun News

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