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On Sale: November 02, 2010
Pages: 592 | ISBN: 978-0-307-59451-8
Published by : Vintage Knopf
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With the Great Sioux War as background and context, and drawing on many new materials, Thomas Powers establishes what really happened in the dramatic final months and days of Crazy Horse’s life.
He was the greatest Indian warrior of the nineteenth century, whose victory over General Custer at the battle of Little Bighorn in 1876 was the worst defeat ever inflicted on the frontier army. But after surrendering to federal troops, Crazy Horse was killed in custody for reasons which have been fiercely debated for more than a century. The Killing of Crazy Horse pieces together the story behind this official killing.



"When we were young,

all we thought about was going to war.

it was nearing midday on the shortest day of the year in 1866 when Indians attacked a detachment of soldiers sent out from Fort Phil Kearny in northern Wyoming to cut firewood for the post. The weather was mild and clear. A light powdering of recent snow lingered in the shadows of the hills. The Indians could not be seen from the fort itself, but a soldier stationed on a nearby hill signaled the opening of the attack. Through the gates of the fort emerged a relief party of eighty men, cavalry in the lead, infantry hurrying behind. They circled north around some low hills, passing out of sight of the fort. Ahead of the soldiers, retreating back up the slope of a ridge, were ten Sioux and Cheyenne warriors, all practicing the oldest ruse of warfare on the plains. Each man in his own way was hurrying without hurrying, like a quail skittering through the brush away from her nest, trailing a wing, showing herself to hungry fox or coyote. It was the custom of decoys to lure and tantalize-to taunt the soldiers with shouted insults, to show their buttocks, to dismount and check their horses' feet as if they were lame. The decoys would linger back, just at the edge of rifle shot, almost within reach.

This moment had a long history. Fort Phil Kearny was the first of three posts established in the early summer of 1866 to protect whites traveling north to the Montana goldfields along a new road named after the man who had mapped it out a year earlier, John Bozeman. For twenty- five years the Sioux Indians had traded peacefully with whites at Fort Laramie two hundred miles to the south and east, but the Bozeman Road threatened their last and best hunting country. The chiefs spoke plainly; the whites must give up the road or face war. In June, they had been invited to gather at Fort Laramie, where white officials hoped to patch together some kind of agreement for use of the road. A friendly chief of the Brulé Sioux warned an Army officer that talk was futile. "There is a treaty being made at Laramie with the Sioux that are in the country where you are going," Standing Elk told an officer heading north. "The fighting men in that country have not come to Laramie, and you will have to fight them. They will not give you the road unless you whip them."

All that summer Fort Phil Kearny was under virtual siege by the Indians. They prowled the country daily, watching or signaling from the ridges. They often attacked soldiers sent out to cut wood or hay and they killed numerous travelers-thirty-three by the end of August, according to the commander of the fort. At every chance the Indians ran off horses and cattle, threatening the fort with hunger. When the fall buffalo hunting was over, thousands of Sioux and Cheyenne converged on the isolated fort, but they hid themselves, taking care that the soldiers never saw more than a few at a time. During one midday raid on the fort's dwindling cattle herd in November, soldiers on horseback suddenly charged out of the fort in angry disorder, infuriated by the endless attacks. This set the Indians to thinking.

In early December the decoy trick almost succeeded in luring reckless soldiers into an ambush. On December 19, the Indians tried again, but the decoys were too clumsy, or the soldiers too cautious; they turned back when the Indians passed up over the ridge north of the fort. But two days later, encouraged by a promise of success from a "two-souled person" or winkte, the Indians organized a second effort on a still larger scale and this time everything was done right. The great mass of warriors hid themselves in the grass and brush on the far side of the long ridge as it sloped down and away from the fort. No overexcited young men dashed out ahead of the others. The horses were held back out of the way. The decoys were convincing. The eighty soldiers never slacked their rush up the ridge after the men they feared were getting away.

In that group of ten warriors retreating back up the ridge, but not too quickly, nor lingering too obviously, were some of the leading men of the Oglala Sioux-Man That Owns a Sword, American Horse, and Crazy Horse. All were respected warriors, men in their late twenties, known for courage in battle. Among that group Crazy Horse did not impress at a casual glance. He was a slender man of middle height. He dressed simply. He wore his hair loose with a few feathers or sometimes the dried skin of a sparrow hawk fixed in his hair. For battle he painted himself with white hail spots. A zigzag line of paint down his horse's shoulder and leg gave it the power of lightning. He had dusted his horse with the powdery earth from a prairie dog mound to protect it from bullets. His usual weapons were a stone war club and a gun. If he ever fired an arrow at a white man it was not recorded.

None of the whites would have recognized Crazy Horse on December 21, 1866. Only a few had met him or knew his name. But Crazy Horse and the others were about to lure eighty soldiers into an ambush where all would die in the second of the three humiliating defeats inflicted on the U.S. Army by the Sioux Indians and their Cheyenne allies. Ten years later Crazy Horse would do it again. But no trickery would be involved in that third and greatest of Indian victories. His friend He Dog, who was in both fights, said Crazy Horse won the battle of the Little Bighorn with a sudden rush in the right spot at the right moment, splitting the enemy force in two-the kind of masterstroke explained only by native genius, in answer to a prayer.

The Sioux Indians of the northern plains had a phrase for the leading men of the band-wicasa yatapika, "men that are talked about." From earliest times, whites had called the leader of any Indian community the "chief," and the word matched the reality: in any band, one man was generally respected, listened to, and followed more than any other. But among the Sioux no chief ruled as an autocrat for long; wise chiefs consulted others and were supported in turn by various camp officials, men with authority over decisions about war, hunting, the movements of the band, and the enforcement of decisions and tribal law. For each office the Sioux language provided a distinct term, but all might be called chiefs without doing violence to the meaning, and all were drawn from the wicasa yatapika. The talk about those men generally started with some notable deed, and the deed was most often performed in battle.

From an early age the man who would be remembered as Crazy Horse attracted attention, first for his skill as a hunter, then for his courage in war. Many stories are told about the early life of Crazy Horse but few are completely firm. His friend and religious mentor Horn Chips said he was born in the fall on a creek near a sacred hill known as Bear Butte in what is now South Dakota; his friend He Dog said that Crazy Horse and He Dog were born "in the same year and at the same season of the year"-probably 1838, but possibly 1840. The name Crazy Horse belonged to his father before him, an Oglala of the band led by Smoke; when the band split after a killing in 1841 the father remained in the north with Smoke's people. The mother of Crazy Horse was a Miniconjou named Rattle Blanket Woman who "took a rope and hung herself to a tree" when the boy was about four years old. The reason is unclear; she may have been grieving over the death of a brother of her husband. In 1844-45, the elder Crazy Horse led a war party against the Shoshone Indians to the west, probably seeking revenge for the killing of this brother, whose name may have been He Crow, who may have been a lover of Rattle Blanket Woman, and whose death may have led to her suicide. It is impossible after so many years to be certain about any of it. To a boy of four all of this would have been frightening and vague.

Some facts are a little firmer. The elder Crazy Horse took a second wife said to be a relative of the Brulé chief Spotted Tail, possibly even the chief's sister. All witnesses agree that the boy was called Curly Hair until he was about ten years old, and some say that for a few years afterward he was known as His Horse in Sight.

Of his earliest life we know only what his friend He Dog said: "We grew up together in the same band, played together, courted the girls together, and fought together." Childhood ended early among the Oglala and by the time Crazy Horse was fifteen or sixteen in the mid-1850s his life was increasingly absorbed by episodes of war and violence. The stories that survive follow a familiar pattern: despite great danger horses were stolen, an enemy was killed, or a friend was rescued. On one early raid against the Pawnee when he "was just a very young boy," according to Eagle Elk, Crazy Horse was shot through the arm while rushing an enemy to count coup-that is, to touch him with his hand or a weapon. "From that time he was talked about," said Eagle Elk. Many accounts of Crazy Horse's early fights and raids end with a similar remark-that he was first into the fray, that his name was known, that people talked about him.

"When we were young," said his friend and mentor Horn Chips, "all we thought about was going to war." It was fame they sought; to be talked about brought respect and position. "Crazy Horse wanted to get to the highest station."

When Crazy Horse was about eighteen he lived for a year with the Brulé Sioux, probably with relatives of his father's second wife. The Brulé were bloodily attacked about that time by the American Army, but Crazy Horse's friends in later life did not remark on that. It was his abrupt return to the Oglala which excited curiosity. His friend He Dog asked around to learn what had happened. "I was told he had to come back because he had killed a Winnebago woman," said He Dog.6 Where

the transgression lay is not clear; women were often killed in battle, and He Dog himself later killed a Crow woman, sometime around 1870, although telling about it made him uneasy, as if he were ashamed.

It was at about this time, in the later 1850s, that Crazy Horse acquired the name he was to carry for the rest of his life. His friend Horn Chips said the new name was given to him after his horse ran around wildly-crazily-during a fight with the Shoshones. He Dog offered two stories; one said Crazy Horse got the name when his horse ran down an enemy woman who was hoeing her corn. But it is He Dog's second story that offers the most detail and makes the most sense. About 1855 or 1856 the young man, then still known as His Horse in Sight, took part in a fight with Arapahos, returning with two scalps. For most of the middle decades of the nineteenth century the Arapahos were allies of the Sioux, and of the Oglala in particular, but on one occasion the Oglala chief known as Red Cloud led an attack on a group of Arapahos who were on their way to visit the Prairie Gros Ventres, traditional enemies of the Oglala. This may also have been the occasion when Crazy Horse rescued a leading man of the Miniconjou named Hump, whose horse had been shot. In any event, the young man's feat-two scalps taken from enemies forted up on a rocky hilltop-made the father proud.

It was a custom among the Sioux to celebrate a son's achievement with a feast and the giving away of presents. When a boy killed his first buffalo his father might ask the crier to call out the news throughout the camp, then feed those who came to hear about the feat and perhaps give a horse, or even several horses, to people in need. After the fight with the Arapahos, in which His Horse in Sight twice charged the enemy hiding among the rocks, the father gave the son his own name, Crazy Horse. For the next two decades the father was known by an old nickname, Worm, for which the Lakota word is Waglula.8

The meaning of Crazy Horse's name requires some explanation. In Lakota it is Tasunka Witko, and a literal translation would read "His Horse Is Crazy." Tasunka is the word the Lakota coined for horse sometime in the early 1700s, a combination of sunka (dog) and tatanka (big). The word witko is as rich with meaning as the English word "swoon." It might be variously translated as "head in a whirl," delirious, thinking in all directions at once, possessed by a vision, in a trance. In the sign language of the plains witko was indicated by rotating the hand in a circular motion, but the word's meaning was far from simply "crazy" in the sense of the vernacular English. The meaning of the name Tasunka Witko would be something like this: his horse is imbued with a sacred power drawn from formidable spiritual sources, and specifically from the thunder beings who roil the sky in storms. The operative word is power in the classic Lakota sense-imbued with force and significance. In short, the name of Crazy Horse implied that the bearer was a person of great promise and consequence, and soon his name and his feats were the talk of the plains. Honors followed.

In the late 1860s Crazy Horse and He Dog led a war party west of the Big Horn Mountains to raid the Crow or Shoshone Indians, traditional enemies of the Oglala. On their return to the village they were met by a large group who had come out to greet them, singing praise songs and inviting them back for a feast and the bestowal of an important gift. "The whole tribe," He Dog said, honored the two warriors with a gift of lances decorated with feathers and fur. These were not weapons but emblems of membership in the Kangi Yuha-the Crow Owners society, named after the dried crow skins attached near the base of the spears. "These spears were each three or four hundred years old," said He Dog, "and were given by the older generation to those in the younger generation who had best lived the life of a warrior."9

The lances brought honor and a stern duty. Members of the Kangi Yuha accepted a "no-flight" obligation: in battle they must plant the lance in the ground and stand fast until death or a friend released them.

From the Hardcover edition.
Thomas Powers|Author Q&A

About Thomas Powers

Thomas Powers - The Killing of Crazy Horse

Photo © Bryant Urstadt

Thomas Powers is a Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist and writer best known for his books on the history of intelligence organizations. Among them are Intelligence Wars: American Secret History from Hitler to al-Qaeda; Heisenberg’s War: The Secret History of the German Bomb; and The Man Who Kept the Secrets: Richard Helms and the CIA. The Killing of Crazy Horse won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for history; the Western Writers of America Spur Award for historical nonfiction; and was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award in the biography category. For most of the last decade Powers kept a 1984 Volvo at a nephew’s house in Colorado, which he drove on frequent trips to the northern Plains. He lives in Vermont with his wife, Candace.

Author Q&A

Q: What is the most important difference between The Killing of Crazy Horse and previous accounts that have been written about his life?
A: The Killing of Crazy Horse differs from previous books in its focus on the event—the killing itself—not a formal biography of the chief. Many different people played a role on the fatal day—the brooding General George Crook who was determined to get Crazy Horse out of the way; the great Oglala Sioux chief Red Cloud, who was the only American Indian ever to win a war against the government of the United States; the young West Point graduate, Lieutenant William Philo Clark, who thought he could “work” Indians to do the bidding of the Army; the mixed-blood scouts William Garnett (half Oglala) and Frank Grouard (half South Sea Islander); the war comrades of Crazy Horse, He Dog and Little Big Man. Crazy Horse stirred all these men to action, some to defend him, some to get him out of the way. The question at the heart of the book is why was he killed? I found the answer in what a dozen different men thought, felt, intended and did. Seeing the event whole, from all sides, is a good way—in my view, perhaps the best way—to understand what the Sioux and other Plains tribes suffered when they were confined to reservations. 
Q: You are perhaps best known for your work on the CIA (although you have written about a wide variety of topics). What made you want to tell the story of Crazy Horse?
A: My writing life has been spent largely trying to uncover things that were hidden, not writing about the CIA as a professional intelligence service. What the CIA was like—its operational style, the tensions between analysts and case officers, the personal histories of the agency’s early leaders—wasn’t classified and it wasn’t even secret in the usual sense when I began, but it was hidden, and it required a lot of patient asking of questions to coax up to the surface.
The first thing that caught my attention about Crazy Horse was the sorrow of his killing. Everybody involved understood almost immediately that it had been a tragic blunder. That sorrow made me wonder why historians had mainly treated the killing as a kind of afterthought. It made a deep and abiding impression on the Sioux, and over time it came to haunt the country as a whole—a painful but perfect example of the way the United States treated its native population. I wanted to know what happened and why it happened. Bringing the whole episode back to life after more than a century seemed almost impossible, but I thought that perhaps it could be done.
Q: In remarks at the end of the book you refer to it as a “true narrative”—what do you mean by that?
A: I’ve started to use the term to describe a certain kind of writing that up until now has been generally identified as “non-fiction.” Any big narrative, whether novel or non-fiction, tells a story which reveals its meaning through events and the interaction of characters. A true narrative tells a story which is not only based on fact, but deliberately avoids all the usual tools of conventional history, such as explanation, analysis, argument. The point is to allow the reader to experience the story, and to register its emotional impact without intrusive nudging or outright hectoring by the author. Think of the way a child experiences a funny story or a sad story. You don’t have to explain it. The humor or the sadness is in the story. The challenge is to put that feeling in, so it is unmistakably there.
Q: Okay, I get the narrative part. But the true part seems a little iffyhow can you prove that a fact is true?
A: You’re right—that’s not easy. But you’re trying to tell a story based in reality—that’s the main source of its impact. Let’s put it this way—you build the story with factual claims you believe are true, and use none that are demonstrably false. The Killing of Crazy Horse is as true as I could make it, but the book is built out of a zillion factual details—odds are that some readers will point out things I got wrong. But not big things—I’m ready to go to the mat for those.
Q: A key figure in The Killing of Crazy Horse is the interpreter Billy Garnett, who was half white and half Indian. Why did you focus so much of your research on this man?
A: Of all those involved in the killing of Crazy Horse, none left a more substantial account of what happened, or spoke about it with greater honesty, than the young mixed-blood interpreter Billy Garnett. The standard histories all give him a line or two, remarking mainly that he was the son of a Confederate general killed at Gettysburg. I found Garnett a fascinating figure from the moment I first learned of him—he was young (only twenty-two when the chief was killed), he was in the very middle of events interpreting the words of the chiefs and Army officers, and he recorded things that others tried to hide or deny. One was Crook’s agreement with the chiefs to organize a nighttime murder of Crazy Horse. In the end a different approach led to the same result, but when asked many years later, Garnett told General Hugh Scott about this murder plot without hesitation. Mixed-bloods like Garnett played an important part in the history of the Plains tribes, but their role has been very little studied.
But something else stimulated my interest in Garnett—a grandson’s story about a visit by the “Old Man” in a dream. What Garnett did in the dream of course plays no direct part in the story of Crazy Horse, but it illustrates how these long-ago events still have power to move the Oglala on the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota. For that reason I included the story in the introduction to the book, and used another at the end for the same reason. The last story concerns an object given by Crazy Horse to a man he called cousin, an object his family carefully preserved for a hundred years. In my experience such stories come when least expected, are told quietly, and stay with you.
Q: How did the actions of both the soldiers and other chiefs play a part in the killing of Crazy Horse?
A: The father of Crazy Horse said he was killed by too much talk—the endless rumors that Crazy Horse would turn his back on peace, join Sitting Bull in Canada, attempt to murder General Crook. The friends of Crazy Horse said he had given up fighting and wanted only to be left alone, but the Army was angered by the chief’s defeat of Custer and feared he would resume the war. The other chiefs resented his popularity among the young fighting men. Three words capture it all—anger, fear and jealousy. Crazy Horse himself pushed events toward a fatal result only at the last moment—by refusing to submit when the Army tried to lock him up in a military prison.
Q: When most people hear the name Crazy Horse, they think of Custer and the Battle of Little Bighorn. Your book includes the first substantial attempt to describe the fight based almost entirely from the Indian perspective. Do these accounts reveal any major misconceptions of the battle as we know it?
A: Historians have been fascinated by Custer’s defeat at the Little Bighorn since the general was killed with all his men on June 25, 1876. Custer was one of the great cavalry commanders of the Civil War and he had plenty of experience at Indian fighting. How had he blundered so completely?
Putting the question that way confronted historians with an impossible task—trying to explain what Custer was thinking and telling his officers to do when none had survived to tell the tale. But if you set aside all the surmise about Custer’s conduct of the battle, and simply relate things as the Indians told them, the battle suddenly takes on a kind of clean simplicity. It goes roughly like this—Reno attacked and was driven away. Then the Indians still in the camp confronted Custer on his first approach, chased him up a long hill away from the river, were joined by warriors returning from the Reno fight, overwhelmed the separate groups of soldiers who tried to make a stand, and finally swept over the last panicked men around Custer near the top of the hill. After that it was a matter of killing survivors. The Indian version of the fight takes the mystery out of it—the Indians were too many and the soldiers too few. The Indians had been telling this story almost since the day of the fight, but no one wanted to listen. 
Q: The Killing of Crazy Horse is not told only from the Indian perspective but also through the eyes of soldiers who managed the agencies and led campaigns against Crazy Horse and his band. What were their impressions of the chief?
A: Crazy Horse often left an indelible impression on the people he met. It seems to have been part of his power. The soldiers may have killed him but they respected and even admired him. With Crook’s aide,  Lieutenant John Gregory Bourke for example, Crazy Horse spoke only a single word, but Bourke left a substantial record of the encounter, and after his death wrote down a long paragraph of unrestrained praise calling Crazy Horse “generous to a fault, skilful, cool in battle, ever in advance of his warriors…the only perfectly modest Indian chief I ever saw,” and there was a lot more of the same.
Another officer deeply impressed by the chief was Lieutenant Jesse Lee, whose sad duty—one he never forgot nor ceased to regret—was to escort Crazy Horse back to the military post at Camp Robinson on the fatal day. Lieutenant Henry Lemly wrote a full, fair-minded account of the killing for the New York Sun, and Lieutenant Clark, who did more to engineer the killing of Crazy Horse than any other man, still praised him as a man and leader, and went on trying to convince himself the killing was necessary until the day he died. There are few villains in this story. Perhaps Frank Grouard comes closest, but I’ll leave that for the reader to judge.
Q: No photos of Crazy Horse exist, and there is much mystery surrounding the great chief’s life and death. Was it difficult to find source material? (You obtained some important primary sources from eBay of all places!)
A: We Americans have a scribbling culture and there are lots of sources. The Army writes everything down and throws nothing away. The same goes for the Department of the Interior and the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Around 1900 the old-timers began to write down what they remembered—not just in books, but in articles for magazines and newspapers, and in talks before state and local historical societies. For many years a newspaper called Winners of the West included nothing but accounts of the Indian Wars. The old plainsman Luther North lived into the 1930s and in his final decades wrote hundreds of letters to friends and historians, often describing the same event three or four times, each time a little differently. Trust me when I say there is tons of material.
My basic approach was to look everywhere, and that included eBay. One day I ran across a letter about the Brule chief Spotted Tail, which I bought for a modest sum. The seller was a retired book dealer in Cheyenne, Wyoming named Pat Hall and after an exchange of letters I went out to see him and ended up buying a large collection of the papers of the historian George Hyde, a familiar name to anyone interested in the history of the Sioux. Hyde had been a good friend of Pat’s in Omaha in Pat’s youth. Included were a thick sheaf of letters to Hyde from old timers like John Colhoff and Philip Wells filled with detail about the Sioux of the 1870s, whom they knew well.
But that wasn’t all I found on eBay. I checked regularly for old photos and found some amazing things. The challenge was to identify the subjects—I had a lot of help on this from experts like Mike Cowdrey and Ephriam Dickson. Doing this over a period of many years—I blush to say how many—gradually deepened my knowledge of the Sioux of the 1870s, and of the Oglala in particular. To keep track of all the individuals I created a biographical dictionary, which now includes several thousand names. My guess is that at least a quarter, and maybe even a third of all the Oglala men active in the 1870s are named in the dictionary. I could talk for a long time about sources, especially the ones still waiting to be found. I went to at least thirty different archives and libraries all over the country but the shocking thing was how few people I found doing the same thing. 
Q: Another major source for you were pension files for Oglala and Brule scouts that had previously been untouched. What new information did these files reveal?
A: It would be hard to exaggerate the richness of pension files as a source of personal information about the Cheyenne and Sioux scouts hired by General Crook in 1876-1877. Survivors or their widows became eligible for pensions after the First World War. The trick was to prove service—hard for most Indians who had misplaced their enlistment and discharge papers over the years. The Pension Bureau regularly sent officials to the reservations where hearings were held to determine if the applicant had really served. Testimony was recorded and a typical file might include twenty or thirty pages of information from numerous witnesses—old war comrades, children, former wives, lawyers, reservation officials and the like. Widows had to prove their eligibility, which required a lengthy exploration of the marriages of both herself and the soldier. Billy Garnett was the interpreter at many of these hearings and he often contributed a few words—sometimes a lot of words—to the account of events. Applicants sometimes gave lengthy descriptions of their service—not just dates and units but accounts of battles and expeditions. In one hearing, for example, Short Bull, brother of He Dog, described the wound he had received at the Little Bighorn.
Tracking down these pension files was far from easy, and going through them was time consuming. Some files were hundreds of pages long and touched on every aspect of an applicant’s life. Most of the files had been closed in the 1920s and 1930s, a few in the 1940s. The ones I examined were almost all pristine. No one had looked at them for sixty years or more. A few were thin—application denied at the outset. But most were astonishingly rich in detailed information about the personal, military and medical histories of Indians who had served as scouts in the 1870s. By the time I quit I had copied and made abstracts of about 200 files; dozens made specific mention of details or individuals involved in the arrest and killing of Crazy Horse. It was in a pension file, for example, that I found Little Bull’s description of Crazy Horse’s refusal to ride in an Army ambulance on his return to Camp Robinson on the fatal day.
Q: Your book includes all sorts of words that people may find offensivehalf-breed, squaw, buck, chief, even Indian. Do you worry reviewers might give you hell for this?
A: I do worry about it, but I don’t think writers should hide, muffle or apologize for the past. Any story about Indian-white relations in the 1800s is a going to be story with a strong racist undercurrent. Whites of the period were obsessed with race and they continually asserted their own racial superiority, often in deeply offensive terms. Their use of dismissive words like squaw, buck and half-breed doesn’t begin to cover it. I have not tried to soften or conceal this. I often quote those words, but never use them myself.
But use of the word Indian is a different matter. I used the phrase “Native American” once in the book to prove I know it, but otherwise depended on the traditional term “Indian” for three reasons—because that is the word universally used at the time of the story, because the word is commonly used without apology or hesitation by Indians today, and because use of “Native American” would violate the flow of the narrative. Just to give one example—all the early analysts of the battle of the Little Bighorn came up with the same explanation for Custer’s defeat—too many Indians. So that’s what I said. How could a writer who cares about words use “Native Americans” in that sentence? But you’re probably right. I’ll probably catch hell, but what’s a fellow to do?
Q: What’s next for you? Are you working on a new project?
A: I do have a new project—still in its very early stages. It’s about a trip my father took down the Mississippi River in a rowboat with his brother in 1906, when he was fourteen years old and his brother Al was nine. The family was moving to Memphis and there were no buyers for the rowboat so they had to leave it behind or take it downriver themselves—five hundred miles. What amazed me when he first told this story, and amazes me still, is the fact that their mother…let them go!
My father used to say that he was the most American person he had ever met. For many years I’ve wondered exactly what he meant by that. Part of it was his all-American childhood, which involved not only hardship and frequent moves but the sort of things that stirred American boys at the time. There’s even an Indian in the story—Joe Creeping Bear, who stayed behind in Memphis one year when Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West Show ended its season there. My father got to know Joe quite well during a year he spent in prison on a murder charge. Throughout his youth my father had interesting encounters all through the south and west—in Texas, where his father had gone to sell towns by the “Dutch Lottery system,” and in California, where his mother got a job as secretary for a brilliant military thinker who helped organize the Chinese revolution.
But a principal thread running through my father’s life was that trip down the Mississippi. He never stopped thinking about it, and he wrote a pretty substantial account in the 1960s. He talked about it too, and from the time I was ten till I was nearly fifty I listened to those stories and in the latter years I had the wit to take notes. When I’m working on a book I like to walk the ground, and I’m looking forward to some interesting trips. The one I’m looking forward to most will be one down the Mississippi with a nephew in a small boat. But probably not a rowboat.

From the Hardcover edition.



National Book Critics Circle Award Finalist

Winner of the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Best History

“Nothing short of a masterpiece. Complex and compelling, lurid and lyrical, tragic and transcendent from start to finish.”
The Christian Science Monitor

“Chilling and unforgettable. . . . A portrait done in the blood of the heartland, a heart still beating after all these years. Powers has given us a great book, a great painting of that still-beating heart.”
The Washington Post

“Richly textured. . . . Carefully and elegantly wrought. . . . Powers tells us much that is revealing and moving about the Sioux in their last days as free warriors.”
The New York Times Book Review
“A story rife with intrigue, rivalry, factionalism, jealousy and betrayal. Powers works through this maze with admirable insight. . . . The Killing of Crazy Horse will stand the test of time.”
The Wall Street Journal

“Superb. . . . An epic tale. . . . Powers’s book reads like a fine historical novel, rich in important detail and fully formed minor characters, filled with felicitous summary of crucial information.”
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
“A skillfully written, meticulously researched book that covers far more than the chief’s final days and hours.”
Chicago Tribune
“Masterful. . . . A fascinating portrait of the great and mysterious Sioux war chief and of the pivotal era in hour history in which he lived and died. . . . [Powers] is not only an accomplished digger of facts but someone who understands that in matters of war and politics there are very few good—or bad—guys.”
St. Petersburg Times
“A compelling look into the politics and prejudices that shaped the era. . . . Evocative and evenhanded. . . . A rich and worthwhile read.”
The Oregonian
“Packed with hundreds of memorable characters, sharply drawn . . . an incredible mix of life that few books or movies present as well as this book does. . . . This is a masterful book, an epic read. Powers has repaid the Indians he found compelling and mysterious as a kid 60 years ago with this marvelous, well-told tale.”
The Washington Times
“Sophisticated and unsentimental. . . . [Powers] has crafted a masterful account of The Great Sioux Wars and solved a murder mystery.”
Tulsa World
“[A] landmark history. . . . A well-balanced account of the clash of cultures and civilizations. . . . Powers brings the characters to life better than any previous author. . . . What Powers has so masterfully portrayed is the political bickering within the Sioux nation and the U.S. Army’s role in one of the most shameful episodes in American history.”
Army Magazine
“There is a sustained feeling of excitement throughout the book, a sense of the historian’s hunt. . . . Powers is determined to untie the knots, to find out how Crazy Horse really died and why.”
Los Angeles Times
“Tom Powers’s masterpiece, long awaited and very worth the wait. It’s one of the finest books yet written about the American West—dense with insight, filled with fascinating characters, including a fine portrait of the enigmatic warrior Crazy Horse. Anyone interested in the settlement of the West should hurry and buy it.”
—Larry McMurtry
“Tremendous. . . . The Killing of Crazy Horse is one of the most moving and compassionate books on the Indian Wars published in some time.”
The American Scholar
“Never before has this story been told so masterfully.”
True West Magazine
“Lucid, controlled and compulsively readable. . . . A skillful synthesis of historical research and contested narrative, resonant with enduring loss.”
Kirkus Reviews
“Intricately structured and exhaustively researched, Thomas Powers’s powerful narrative thrashes its way through the thickets of the Big Horn and Yellowstone Expedition to solve the conundrum of the killing of Crazy Horse. By giving equal weight to the Indian narrative, Powers gives the story the complexity it deserves.”
—Ted Morgan, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author of Wilderness at Dawn: The Settling of the North American Continent and A Shovel of Stars: The Making of the American West

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