The legendary Lakota leader receives due honor in this searching biography.
“Crazy Horse has been my hero since I was a boy,” writes Lakota author Marshall (The Lakota Way, 2001). He is not alone; as the author observes, Crazy Horse’s very “name floats in the consciousness of most Americans, along with the names of indigenous leaders and heroes from other tribes.” By Marshall’s account, Crazy Horse might have been surprised at his renown, which he seems never to have courted; he was of average height, perhaps average strength, and he did not participate in ritual bragging about his accomplishments. “As a matter of fact,” Marshall adds, “Crazy Horse barely talked about his exploits to his immediate family.” Yet Crazy Horse was always the right man at the right time, providing leadership and courage, appearing on the battlefield just when he was needed most. And he was often wanted; as Marshall writes, in one of the most effective stretches from the 19th century to the collapse of the Twin Towers, Crazy Horse’s nation was most certainly under attack, and “we are not immune to attack no matter how strong or invincible we think we are. Within the shadows of that lesson is one equally important: we must be prepared to defend ourselves.” Readers seeking war whoops may be a little disappointed by Marshall’s reticent treatment of the many battles in which Crazy Horse fought, especially the one that secured his fame, the Little Bighorn. But those seeking a circumstantial, from-the-native’s-viewpoint account of Crazy Horse’s life and death will be intrigued by Marshall’s respectful use of oral history, drawn from relatives who were very old when he was very young, and who filled his imagination with stories about the great warrior. As myths go, he hints, these are likely the most accurate—certainly more so than the “ ‘conqueror of Custer’ version, the purveyor of violence ready to fight at the drop of a ‘war’ bonnet,” or the many Hollywood Crazy Horses (“an eclectic bunch”), or the hagiographic Crazy Horse of Larry McMurtry and other recent biographers.
A fine and necessary work.