Crazy Horse was born sometime between 1838-1840 to Oglala Lakota parents. His mother’s name was Rattling Blanket Woman and his father went by Crazy Horse, but would later take the name Worm after his son took the name Crazy Horse as his own. Crazy Horse’s only sibling was his sister, born in 1838, whose name is not recorded.
From a very early age Crazy Horse earned a reputation among his people as a brave and committed warrior. At 12 years old he stole horses from neighboring Crow Indians. He led his first war party before turning twenty. As he grew into adulthood, Crazy Horse’s reputation as a courageous fighter committed to his people grew as he continued to demonstrate bravery on the battlefield.
Crazy Horse would eventually emerge as a leader in Red Cloud’s War. On December 21, 1866 he took part in the Fetterman Massacre as part of a decoy party sent out to draw US Soldiers from Fort Phil Kearny into an ambush. The entire force of 80 Soldiers was wiped out. The Massacre would remain the Army’s greatest defeat on the Great Plains until the defeat at Little Big Horn ten years later, a defeat in which Crazy Horse once again had a role.
The Great Sioux War of 1876-77 (also known as the Black Hills War) began over the encroachment of US settlers in the Black Hills, which had been ceded to the Indians at the conclusion of Red Cloud’s War by the Treaty of Fort Laramie in 1868. Lured by the rich natural resources of the area, the settlers ignored the treaty and the government was powerless to stop them. A delegation of chiefs went to Washington to meet with President Grant in the hopes of finding a peaceful solution. When the negotiations failed, Crazy Horse, along with Sitting Bull, chose to go to war.
Crazy Horse was present at the Battle of Little Big Horn; and while accounts differ, he is often credited with a vital role leading the troops that routed Major Reno’s forces and in overrunning the US forces on Calhoun Hill. Although not supported by historical evidence, legends say that Crazy Horse led the charge that wiped out Custer and his men.
After the defeat at Little Big Horn, the Army changed tactics. Crazy Horse was pursued deep into Lakota territory by General Nelson A. Miles during the winter of 1876-77. Starving and surrounded by the enemy, Crazy Horse surrendered on May 6, 1877. He took his people to the Red Cloud Agency (the predecessor of the Pine Ridge Reservation) near Camp Robinson, commanded by then Lieutenant Colonel Luther Bradley. There, Crazy Horse began the lengthy process of formalizing his surrender. But soon rumors began to circulate that he intended to escape and return to his traditional ways. Crazy Horse was escorted to camp Robinson where Bradley, acting on instructions, ordered that he be arrested. When Soldiers came to take him into custody, Crazy Horse resisted. A Soldier stabbed Crazy Horse with a bayonet. He died later that night.
Bradley recorded the incident in his journal: “September 5, 1877. ‘Crazy-Horse’ was brought here from Spotted-Tail to day, a prisoner, he was mortally wounded in trying to escape abut dark, and died about midnight. His father and ‛Touch the Cloud,’ chief of the Sans-Aras, were with him till he died. After he has ceased to breathe ‛Touch the Cloud’ placed his hand on ‛Crazy-Horse’s’ breast and said Wash-t-la, – ‛It is good. He has looked for death and it has come’.”
Crazy Horse’s remains were turned over to his elderly parents. His final resting place remains unknown.