William J. Bordeaux's Story
CRAZY HORSE ON THE POWDER RIVER
WHEN THEY had rested sufficiently from their recent adventure Crazy Horse and his band again started out, this time in unusually large numbers and on a buffalo foray. Following a chain of ridges that led them in the direction of the forks of the Powder River they came out upon that part of the country that begins to expand into a broad stretch of continuing prairie. Advance scouts were sent out to scan the surrounding territory for signs of a drove but instead of locating the object of their search, they discovered a column of troops emerging from a gap in some hillocks to the South. Hurrying back at a rousing pace they reported the news to the oncoming hunters. "Crazy Horse as usual" remarked one of my informants "received the news with no sign of emotion nor was he hasty in forming his conclustions as to our next move, but looking over the group as though to compute its strength he remarked `Toktukahunwo' --- how about it?" In reply to his query several braves suggested that they meet and engage the soldiers. Consenting to their plan of attack Crazy Horse led the way for the encounter. As he had on a previous occasion, Crazy Horse suddenly exhibited the most amazing bravery and riding out ahead of his advancing braves he killed two of the soldiers with his tomahawk before being forced to give way. Unable to continue any further he turned around and weaving his way back and forth through a cordon of exasperated troopers most astondingly, flitting before their successively lifted carbines like a ghost, he still managed to reach his own lines again in safety. The superstitious belief among the Sioux that he was bullet proof originated from the spectatcular immunity he enjoyed in this particular encounter with Major Reynolds.
Upon their return to the village, the news of the encounter with the troops and of Crazy Horse's daring achievement in dismounting two of the troopers with his tomahawk, caused vivacious gossip to spread around the glitering camp-fires; but Crazy Horse himself remained quiet and did not seem affected by the enthusiasm of the others.
His next encounter was with Lieut. Adair at Prior Forks, Montana. The event is recorded in our Sioux wintercount as the year in which soldiers were forced to take refuge behind the walls of a canyon. Old Indians, who were present at this occasion, recall, that chance alone saved the soldiers from death, and that they were only able to escape by suddenly finding refuge behind the ledges of a canyon wall. In this instance Crazy Horse, who was often recklessly bold, proved that he could also be cautious for instead of attempting to pursue the soldiers further, he deemed withdrawal the best course and did not try to dislodge them from their natural barricade.
When the hunting party returned to the village they were extremely pleased with the days events. Although no game had been bagged or enemy scalps taken, their discovery of the enemy, at so short a distance from campy indicated to them that they had surprised plans that might have been effected. As it was late by the time they returned, Crazy Horse, after he had eaten his evening meal, reposed in his own lodge reflecting on the days events. As he was meditating in this manner several Brules and Ogalalas entered. After the usual formal greetings had been exchanged, Crazy Horse invited his guests to a seat along the wall of the tent. When they were all seated he noticed that his visitors were from the South Country. Little Wound opened up the conversation by referring to some of the recent happenings at the Red Cloud Agency and especially dwelt upon the fact that the Soldier-post had been reinforced and that many of the Indians were enlisting as scouts. Coffee, a cousin of Crazy Horse, remarked that the same conditions prevailed at the Spotted Tails Agency, and added that Mixed Bloods had told them that there were rumors that the Lakotas would soon be ousted by the Government from the Black Hills because of the gold that was interred there and that paleface prospectors had already erected towns in some localities. "These recent developments", joined in Young-Man-Afraid, "have had us worried concerning you and your band. Why not come south and seek protection under one of the two of our villages where peace and amity now reign?" "I hope" said White Thunder "that you do not suspect
that our only purpose in coming here was to influence you to give up your present location where you can still hunt unmolested."
As they talked Crazy Horse sat and listened mostly in deep meditation and only looked up occasionally as he eyed the speaker. When they had finished one of his visitors proceeded to fill his peace pipe for the customary tribal smoke and Crazy Horse placing himself in a more erect posture replied "It is a pleasure indeed to sit here and listen to talk by men of high standing in our tribe, men whom I respect as leaders, and it is gratifying and interesting to me that you have brought news from the south where you say there is now plenty to eat issued by the Great White Father in Washington, and all this, I have no doubt, has created a stir of happiness and relief. And friends what you have said sounds well. But I would, if I were you, consider also the events that are to follow. For just now you are enjoying a life of bliss and contentment, but for how long I am not able to say. This much I know, when the time is ripe, they, the man from Washington who signed the peace papers with you, will disregard their agreements. In fact, they have already violated some of the conditions of the contract. In due time they will shut their eyes to the whole affair and all of you peace signers will find yourselves at the mercy of the Paleface!"
"My rights, and yours, to venture out and obtain for ourselves the necessaries of life have been frustrated ever since you signed those papers. Now you tell me that more soldiers have come. For what purpose? Only to protect the Whites who are over-runing our country. I, for one, intend to try to defend, what is left of our hunting grounds so that our children and their children after them will be able to trace back to my tenure here on earth something worthy that has been accomplished in their behalf."
"Our forefathers did not raise us to accept alms, nor did they intend for us to cower under sovereign rule. You and I were taught to strive for our livelihood and not to be subservient to a series of changing rules created by the White Man. Hence my stand to reserve my decision for the time being."
So this first attempt to persuade the noted War Chief to discard his war-paint failed. In fact, as one old Indian who was present remarked after listening to the brief but impressive talk of Crazy Horse, the bearers of peace and goodwill promised to join him with their bands and to hunt with him in the North Country.
Custer's Conqueror by William J. Bordeaux, Smith & Company 1944 p 53 - 59
Born in 1884, William J. Bordeaux was the son of a white trader and a Brule Sioux mother, and a registered member of the Brule band of the Teton Sioux. He was not an eye-witness to the events he writes about, but like 100 Voices' other Indian chroniclers (Ohiyesa, John Stands In Timber, Bird Horse and Pretty Shield), Bordeaux had fluent, native access to some important participants whose information is not avialble elsewhere.
Bordeaux's writing is extremely frustrating to many students of the American wars with the Sioux and Cheyenne, for while his narrative is frequently garbled, he is also the only source for Sioux warriors Elk Head and Foolish Elk's important eye-witness account of the Battle of the Little Bighorn.
Furthermore, Bordeaux interviewed Crazy Horse's sister, Julia Iron Cedar or Mrs. Amos Clown, which makes his comments on Crazy Horse particularly important. For instance, Bordeaux records Crazy Horse's prediction that the Americans were lying and wouldn't honor the commitments they made to the Sioux in the treaty of 1868, which was true as it turned out.
Improbably, William J. Bordeaux was also one of the most astute Indian observers of Crazy Horse's military innovations, describing how Crazy Horse very cleverly attacked a line of Custer's men head on and "slashed at them from both sides" at the Little Bighorn, thereby minimizing the Bluecoats' defensive firepower, and how at the Rosebud, he attacked Crook in encircling waves, a technique Crazy Horse developed to isolate and destroy portions of the American force piecemeal. See Sioux & Cheyenne Military Tactics during the American Wars of Imperial Conquest on the High Plains for more info.
Similarly, Bordeaux's tantilizingly brief picture of Crazy Horse in action on the Powder River -- where he tersely yet wryly asks his sub-commanders, "how about it?" -- provides an almost Socratic picture of Crazy Horse in the commander's role. It isn't hard to imagine his eager young accolytes like Good Weasel and Kicking Bear and Little Big Man vying to provide the smartest -- effectively lethal -- answer to their mentor.
-- Bruce Brown
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