NEWSPAPER CORRESPONDENTS WERE quick to make their way to northwest Nebraska to describe the surrender of the Indian who had killed Custer. The Union Pacific Railroad made the first leg of the journey an easy matter of a day or two; the last leg from Cheyenne, Wyoming, or Sidney, Nebraska, was a grueling, daylong ride on horseback or in a jolting stagecoach to Camp Robinson and the agency. Among the early arrivals were “Alter Ego”—Robert Strahorn of the Chicago Tribune and Denver’s Rocky Mountain News;John W. Ford, the longtime telegraph operator at Fort Laramie who had been recruited by the Chicago Times to cover the story; and George P. Wallihan, a lively young reporter for the Cheyenne Leader. Strahorn had spent the winter in Cheyenne finishing up a book with which he hoped to make a fortune, a guide to the already-booming gold towns in the Black Hills. Reporters were meagerly paid and Strahorn was engaged to be married, so he needed the money. But he interrupted his writing to make his way to Camp Robinson to cover the story of the day.
Strahorn, who had traveled with General Crook all the previous season, was first on the ground at the Red Cloud Agency, present for a big feast held by Little Wound less than a week after the making of peace. Crook had not yet returned from Washington, but Strahorn joined Lieutenant Clark on a red blanket placed on the ground in front of a hundred men gathered at Little Wound’s invitation, including Crazy Horse. Two large tipis had been joined to make a single immense structure, and within it the Indians arranged themselves in four concentric circles. At one point, Strahorn wrote, “an old Indian, ragged, wrinkled and fairly tottering in his weakness,” was led into the circle by a young warrior who said the man should be clothed and fed. Little Wound immediately pulled off his own blanket and handed it to the mendicant. Crazy Horse, “stolid and relentless,” as described by Strahorn, bettered the single blanket with clothes and a pony.
But what really held Strahorn’s attention was the preparation for the feast, and it appears Clark shared his attitude. While the chiefs discussed large matters of policy—“a carnival of oratory,” in Strahorn’s phrase—candidates for the cooking pot were dispatched by two Indians with a rawhide lariat. Crazy Horse’s village was short of dogs; Little Wound had plenty. The lariat was looped around a dog’s neck—chubby, half-grown puppies were favored for eating—and then pulled taut, back and forth, strangling the victim. Butchering followed. Strahorn and Clark watched carefully.
About a dozen of the largest of their pets were slaughtered [Strahorn wrote]. A large number of pots were on hand … All the heads were thrown in one, all the legs in another, the tails in another, and so on. These were placed upon the fire in the midst of the circles of debaters now assembled.
A moment of truth now approached. One of the rites of passage for whites on the plains was the first encounter with dog meat. Everyone knew it was a favorite of the Indians, and everybody who spent time with Indians was sooner or later invited to sample dog stew. Eventually the oratory ended, and a “prayer heralded the feast.” Strahorn and Clark were seated in the center, the only whites in the group, all eyes upon them as the main course was handed out. Clark was planning to sign up Crazy Horse and twenty of his leading men as scouts the following day, and could not hesitate now. Strahorn confessed that he, too, was “forced to eat with the savages.” But he elected to describe his experience in the third person:
The latter gentleman [meaning himself] says he narrowly escaped being handed a tail by turning his head at the right moment. Dog’s ribs, however, he sampled thoroughly and pronounces them … [not] quite as good as mule meat, but somewhat superior in flavor to that of wild cats.1
This was an informed comparison. For weeks with General Crook the previous fall Strahorn had joined the rest of the expedition in eating so much horse- and muleflesh during the long trek from the Tongue that soldiers began calling it “the horsemeat march.” Strahorn did not linger at Red Cloud after the feast. Three days later he was back in Cheyenne, writing up his recent adventure. What is striking is the tone of the piece—good-humored, warmed by the bonhomie of palling around with Army officers surrounded by wild Indians, a little skittish about acknowledging his fascination with the strangeness of “the savages.” His colleague John Finerty had confessed he “detested the race.” Not Strahorn. He had watched a hundred leading men of the Sioux debate peace with the whites. He had shared a meal of dog with Crazy Horse and had even discussed with him the great battles of the previous summer. It was the whites who got whipped in those battles, not the Indians. White readers across the country were hungry for every word about the warriors who killed Custer. But no correspondent of the time would say flatly that he admired or respected Indians. Strahorn remained on the safe side of the racial divide by making gentle fun of the whole show, writing to amuse. With other writers the edge was sharper, the stance less conflicted.
George P. Wallihan, still in his mid-twenties, had already been chased out of one town (Denver) and had enemies in plenty in another (Cheyenne) when he headed for the Red Cloud Agency in the middle of May 1877. His career to date had been typical for the times. With his father and ten brothers and sisters he had come west to Denver from the small town of Footville, Wisconsin, about 1870. George’s father, Samuel, a medical doctor, found a position as a small-town postmaster but also did some doctoring at Indian agencies. George was soon hanging around the offices of the Rocky Mountain News in Denver, aspiring to become a newspaperman. He didn’t have a job, exactly, but the editors gave him odd small tasks including the fetching of the daily mail. Eager to see his work in print, and needing money, Wallihan in February 1873 wrote for the Chicago Times an anonymous and “sensational” account of scandal and malfeasance which the Times published under the one-line head “Denver Deviltries.” Outraged citizens wrote angrily to Chicago demanding to know who had written this work of “venom and maliciousness.” The young Wallihan was soon suspected. “George has been a little too reckless with the pen,” a newspaper remarked, adding that the youthful reporter had been “kindly advised to leave for ‘greener fields and pastures new.’ ” Wallihan escaped to the Cheyenne Leader, where he never passed up an opportunity to abuse rival newspapermen, or make fun of the “Crazy Horstiles,” or warn readers against the hardship and dangers of the road to the Black Hills which began in Sidney, Nebraska.2
Wallihan’s style was to take nothing too seriously. He signed his pieces for the Leader as “Rapherty” and was generally making fun of somebody, often himself. In late April 1876, when General Custer was preparing for his march west to the Little Bighorn, the Cheyenne Leader reported, “Rapherty finds that his meager salary ($20 per hour) will not support a dog and cane, and therefore offers for sale cheap a broken-legged rat-and-tan. Josephus must speak quick if he wants that dorg.” On the 5th of July, one day before the nation learned of Custer’s disastrous fight, the readers in “the magic city” (Cheyenne) were informed that “a national salute was fired by the Rapherty boy at sunrise on the fourth, said boy sitting up all night in order to awake at the proper hour.”
The following spring, with the Indians on the run, traffic north to the booming gold towns of the Black Hills doubled and redoubled. The Leader sent Wallihan to cover the story, and on April 16, he departed on the newly established Cheyenne and Black Hills Stage Line with eight companions, including J. M. Studebaker, a principal of the wagon-making firm of Studebaker Brothers. In his first dispatch Wallihan wrote that “John Featherstun … [who] joined us at Fort Laramie, and your correspondent, both armed to the teeth, ride ‘on top’ and keep vigilant watch over the outfit.”3 On the 24th Wallihan and company passed the Hat Creek station, five or six days before the stage route was crossed by Crazy Horse and his people on their way to surrender at Camp Robinson.
The Black Hills frenzy had reached new intensity after discovery of gold along Whitewood Creek—forty cents’ worth of gold to the pan, was the early report. In a shantytown at the headwaters of the creek there were fifty miners by January 1876 making an average of ten dollars a day—a royal sum for a working man in the wake of the Panic of 1873. When Wallihan arrived in Deadwood on April 27, 1877, the population had boomed to five thousand and the city fathers were arguing bitterly whether they were in Wyoming or Dakota territory. The city editor of the Cheyenne Leader promptly sided with Wyoming in the dispute, dashing off an assault on “the gassy carcass of that king of blowhards” who dared suggest that Dakota, not Wyoming, was the home of the fabulous diggings.
But Wallihan saved his real passion for the raw excitement of Deadwood itself, where even the newsboys on the crowded streets selling copies of the Deadwood City Times and the Black Hills Pioneer carried gold scales to weigh out ten cents’ worth of dust for the paper. “Dust is the currency of the country,” Wallihan wrote. “The four banking houses here each buy from one to ten thousand dollars in gold dust per day.” There was hammering and sawing as long as the light held—“carpenters, all busy as bees … [are] paid from four to six dollars a day”—and the saloons were open all night.4
Soon the Cheyenne Leader felt it had printed enough on the new El Dorado; now it wanted Indian stories, and Wallihan headed south to the Red Cloud Agency. What elated Wallihan—the noise and crowds and muddy wagons jamming Deadwood’s main street, the bustle of the Grand Central Hotel, the gold dust tossed down on saloon bars to pay for whiskey—frightened the Hunkpapa Army scout Goose, who had watched the miner Horatio Nelson Ross shout himself hoarse on finding the first dime’s worth of gold in French Creek in 1874. “For a few days,” Goose remembered of Ross, “he could not be heard above a whisper.”
To Goose only three years later, Deadwood seemed tense and dangerous. Formally enlisted as a U.S. Army scout a few months after the close of Custer’s expedition, Goose was sometimes asked to carry Army dispatches from Fort Rice across the prairie to the Black Hills and Deadwood. On the plains he kept his distance from the huge wagon trains heading for the goldfields, sometimes four teams abreast. Even dressed in a scout’s regulation military uniform Goose did not feel safe. “He was an Indian,” he told Josephine Waggoner toward the end of his life, “and all Indians looked alike to the emigrants. They would just as soon shoot at a scout no matter what kind of clothes he had on.”
But at Deadwood, Goose had no choice; to deliver his dispatches he had to enter the town. Everything had changed; the hills were teeming with white men, the game had disappeared, whole mountainsides had been stripped of their trees, and mud ran down into the valleys with every rain. But one thing had not changed since 1874: when Goose returned to Deadwood he found the whites still in the grip of unrestrained gold fever. “Every man he met was tense with excitement; everybody moved with hasty strides; the noise was confusing to him. Gun shots could be heard at all times, it seemed dangerous to sleep in a town like Deadwood.”5
Crazy Horse rubbed Colonel Ranald Mackenzie the wrong way. Mackenzie was waiting to be replaced as commander at Camp Robinson, grumbling to his officers about the chief’s “proud and almost contemptuous behavior” in the camp. The colonel considered Crazy Horse the most culpable of “Custer’s brutal butchers” and made no secret of the fact that he would like to bring the chief down a peg or two—quickly accomplished, in his view, with “a dose of the Camp Robinson guard house, and the exercise afforded by attending upon the post water wagon.”6Mackenzie’s desire, thinly veiled, was to break and crush the chief.
“Stolid” and “silent” were words often used about Crazy Horse, but no one else called him contemptuous. That suggests Mackenzie felt personally slighted. The cause may have been a small incident not long after the chief’s arrival, when Mackenzie summoned the leading men at the agency to a council. Crazy Horse sent word that he was ill and could not attend. To his brother-in-law Red Feather, the chief described the illness as “his tiredness.” The word suggests sorrow or depression, not illness. But his absence irritated the colonel, who wanted to squeeze the Indians one more time for any rifles or pistols still held back. Mackenzie sent the chiefs away with an angry command to “go out and find those guns at once.”
“Sick as he was,” wrote a correspondent of the Denver Daily Tribune, probably one of Mackenzie’s officers, “Crazy Horse went from tipi to tipi, consuming nearly the entire night, coaxing and commanding by turns, that if any guns could be found they must be turned in before daylight.”7
News that the chief was sick spread through the agency. It was one of the first things George Wallihan learned after his arrival on May 15. Some said the chief had hovered for a time near death. Wallihan was unimpressed. The doctor’s son made an instant diagnosis: “His illness was caused by over-eating and the sudden change from buffalo straight, and but little of that, to wheat bread, coffee, sugar, and strawberries and cream, which are furnished at this place of plenty, and it nearly killed him.”8
Sick in body or spirit, Crazy Horse for the moment was the principal tourist attraction in northwest Nebraska, and the Leader wanted a Crazy Horse story. Wallihan had little interest in Indians. His father that summer took the trouble to write to Secretary of the Interior Carl Schurz to complain of the “bad faith and outright dishonesty … the swindling and robbery” of the Indian agents in charge of the Ute, but the doctor’s son was unmoved by their plight. He did not like Indians. On first arriving at Red Cloud he wrote with disgust of the “wrinkled and frightful looking squaws” and their daughters, “the buxom Sioux lasses [who] lead a life of shame with young bucks and degraded white men,” and of the “lazy bucks who follow one about begging for candy, canned fruit and crackers.” Wallihan declared openly, “The more I see of Indians and Indian customs, the more I despise and detest the original inhabitants of this great continent.”9
But Crazy Horse was the story of the day, and Wallihan soon arranged with the post trader, J. W. Dear, and Crook’s chief scout, Frank Grouard, to pay a visit to the leading Oglala “in their various suburban residences located near the agency.” Wallihan’s party included two women—one of whom, “by the way, is unmarried.” Her name was Ella. Wallihan noted that the chief was “still suffering” from his illness and left others to carry the burden of the conversation. Grouard introduced the party, and one by one, women with the rest, they shook hands with their hosts: “Maniacal Equine” and “Little Big Man, the blowhard, and several other chiefs of lesser note.”10 Introductions over, “all sat down to smoke,” reported Wallihan. “The pipe was handed from mouth to mouth, the ladies taking their puff in order.” The chief, noted for “keeping his mouth shut,” was described by Wallihan as “quite ungracious” and “sullen.” It was already common belief on the plains that Crazy Horse was the war leader who had defeated Custer, but it appears Wallihan asked nothing about that. He reserved his pen for describing the next visit on the agenda.
Red Cloud may have been deposed by General Crook seven months earlier, but Wallihan noted that he was “still acknowledged leader of all the reds.” When the party of whites entered Red Cloud’s lodge a favorite daughter was seated by his side. Wallihan’s friend Ella asked the chief if she might take the place of honor, at which, Wallihan reports, “I saw a blush suffuse the bashful old fellow’s phiz.” At a word the daughter moved aside. While the pipe was passed and during the conversation that followed the chief flirted with “the fair white stranger … He smiled and joked with her, poked her in the ribs.” This was the era of Daisy Miller, Henry James’s novel about a new type of brash American girl who ignored convention, horrified their mothers, and dazzled men. It was evidently a Daisy Miller who smoked and joked with the chief. “She enjoyed the affair hugely,” Wallihan reports, “until late in the evening.” When she began to fidget, fuss, and scratch, Wallihan gently told her that she “might have ‘taken on a small cargo of live insects’ ”—lice or fleas—while sitting with the chiefs.
This is Wallihan’s sort of story: he satisfies the reader’s curiosity about the wild Indians who had achieved the inconceivable—wiping out to the last man a strong force under the dashing Custer, a national hero of the late war. But Wallihan shaped his whole account to the sly conclusion that the Indians were lousy. The chief’s real character and achievement Wallihan seems to have ignored. He called Crazy Horse ungracious but failed to mention two gifts presented by the chief to his guests. To Ella, whom Wallihan married soon afterward, the chief gave the pipe which had passed around the circle, and to the young reporter he presented a ledger book containing eighteen drawings.11
The book is small—about three and a half by eight inches, the sort of book commonly used at military and trading posts for keeping accounts or taking inventory. Beginning in the 1860s, Plains Indians coveted these books as a source of drawing paper, using the blank pages to depict their war and hunting exploits, and sometimes drawing right over a page of sums or the names listed in a company roster. The cover of the Wallihan ledger book is marbleized board. A number of pages have been cut out, probably pages with writing on them. On the remaining pages are ten drawings of Plains Indians carrying weapons, stealing horses, charging enemies. Two depict battles with the Pawnee. In one a Sioux kills a Pawnee woman with a lance. A second shows a warrior charging with a cavalry saber in his left hand. Perhaps this was Man That Owns a Sword, appointed as one of the last Shirt Wearers of the Oglala at the side of Crazy Horse in 1868.
The drawings were made almost entirely with black and colored pencils; only a few strokes were done with pen and ink. Crazy Horse gave the book to Wallihan the day he visited the chiefs at the Red Cloud Agency in their “various suburban residences.” With the help of Frank Grouard as interpreter, Crazy Horse explained his gift to the young reporter; the chief said that “it pictured the life of a famous warrior, but would not say that it was himself.” If Wallihan thanked the chief he did not record the fact. Later, examining the book after the visit, Wallihan wrinkled his nose and noted that its pages gave off a strong whiff of “Indian odor.” He tried to remove the smell but found that it “does not yield to fumigation.” Forty years later, as he typed up a brief account of the gift, Wallihan drew the book to his nose and sniffed again. To Wallihan the odor was unmistakable: the smell of Indian.12
Wallihan met and talked with Crazy Horse only once, but he saw him a second time a few days later at a grand council called by General Crook, freshly arrived from Fort Laramie with two aides-de-camp and the telegraph operator turned reporter, John W. Ford of the Chicago Times. Crook had come to settle outstanding matters with the Indians. Chief among these was the location of their new agency. Most of the Cheyenne would be leaving in a few days for the Indian Territory, but the Sioux had flatly rejected that proposal, and were no keener on moving east to the Missouri. Nevertheless, Crook was confident he would sort things out with the Sioux. “I have made a thorough study of their character and proclivities,” he told Wallihan in an interview before the council.
The Sioux are by far the most tractable Indians I have ever dealt with … I find them easy to manage when the proper method is pursued, and I anticipate no further trouble with them. They must be talked to frequently, as they are like children, and need constant care and guidance.13
Crook enjoyed his big councils with the leading chiefs of the Oglala and the Brulé, and a huge crowd gathered on Friday, May 25, 1877, for the grand council on a flat near the Red Cloud Agency. “Old Spot,” as Wallihan called the chief of the Brulé, had arrived the previous evening with his leading men. They spent the night in the village of Crazy Horse, then rode in all together the following morning. About midday Lieutenant Clark paraded his three companies of mounted scouts, led by their sergeants, Crazy Horse, Red Cloud, and White Thunder. Later the sergeants and other chiefs on their horses approached Crook, dismounted, and stepped forward. Conspicuous among them was Little Big Man, who liked to appear on grand occasions dressed only in moccasins and breechcloth, with his battle scars marked in red paint.
Before the talking came handshaking. The chiefs were received by General Crook and Colonel Mackenzie.14 When Crazy Horse came forward to take the general’s hand he did something remarkable and unusual: he knelt before him on the ground. Why he did this is unknown. When Sioux scouts came in to report on important matters like the location of enemies or buffalo they promised to speak the truth and sometimes knelt; perhaps it was in this spirit that Crazy Horse knelt before Crook.
“His example was followed by most of the others,” Wallihan reported at the time. Four months later, describing this moment again, Wallihan tacked on a new detail: after the handshake Crazy Horse “rose and slunk away like a whipped cur.” The reporter’s intent to insult and diminish is so clear that we might dismiss the claim outright if it were not confirmed by Colonel Luther P. Bradley, who told his mother in a letter that Crazy Horse “kneeled at Gen. Crook’s feet in token of submission.” John Ford reported no kneeling, remarking only that “[a]ll the Indians, in speaking today, squatted on the ground in their peculiar Indian fashion.”15
The council was an all-afternoon affair of numerous speeches with the long preambles and frequent oratorical flourishes favored by the Sioux. No one surpassed Red Cloud’s mastery of the Sioux high style. “Three Stars, listen!” he boomed out. “I am going to talk to you … Look at me! I have been a white man the last six months. Look at all the men standing around! They have all got children … My friend, help me! I want your help!”
What followed in this and similar speeches, according to Crook’s aide Lieutenant Walter S. Schuyler, was “the usual complaining of broken promises on the part of Commissioners and the customary begging for money on account of roads through the reservation.” But the real thrust of discussion was quite different: the speakers all wanted a home in their own country, somewhere in the north along the Powder or the Tongue. Crazy Horse spoke first but briefly:
General, you sent us tobacco … From the time I received it, I kept coming in and toward the post … While coming this way, I picked out a place and put a stick in the ground for a place to live hereafter, where there is plenty of game. All of these relations of mine who are here, were with me when I picked out this place. I would like to have them go back with me and stay there with me. This is all I have to say.16
“I don’t want to move,” said Little Wound. “I almost cried when we moved before.”
“Bear Butte is a country to look ahead to,” said Young Man Afraid of His Horses. “Over there in that country there is plenty of game. We can raise our children there.”
“I want a place somewhere in my own country, north, where we can get some game, where we can run around and see my people hunt buffalo,” said High Bear. “We want a large agency so we can be free.”
“We want to move north,” said No Water.
After many similar speeches all making the same point, Red Dog, who frequently acted as spokesman for Red Cloud, interrupted. “I want you Indians to hold on,” he said. “We want the man to give an answer before anything more is said to him. Too much talk confuses white men.”
The man was General Crook.
My friends [said the general] I have had councils with your young men who first went out with me, and they had asked me for help. I told them that I would help them if they helped me … we will go to Washington and there I will help you …
You asked for a reservation in the upper country. This is taken down and will be sent to Washington. I cannot decide these things for myself. They must be decided in Washington. The commissioner promised he would let some of you go and talk to him at Washington … I will try and be in Washington myself, so I can hear both sides.17
When the talking was done, Iron Hawk of Crazy Horse’s band blessed the feast that had been prepared. By the estimate of Billy Garnett, he spoke for ten straight minutes. Then the customary delicacy was handed around: dog. This time Clark quailed; he paid an Indian a dollar to eat his portion and offered to do the same for Crook.
“I can eat anything the Indians can eat,” the general said. He proved it. “Nice,” he commented.
The Indians were watching the white officers and Garnett was watching the Indians. He noted that they were surprised to see Clark refuse what the general accepted. Next day, Schuyler cabled headquarters in Omaha to say all had gone well. “Everything was said in a very submissive manner,” he explained.18
During his first weeks at the Red Cloud Agency it was evident that Crazy Horse had determined on peace. He had one overriding goal: to secure an agency in the north. To achieve this goal he expected to go to Washington with the other chiefs. He intended to live like the whites. He enlisted as a scout in the Army and accepted the rank of sergeant. He met on several occasions with newspaper correspondents. He gave presents to his white visitors. But whites often did not know what to make of him.
Crook’s aide John Bourke was one of the first to meet Crazy Horse after his arrival, and his description of their brief exchange is filled with tension and contradiction. On the very day of the chief’s arrival Bourke went to see him in the company of Frank Grouard, who had arranged to take Crazy Horse to dinner. They found the chief sitting in front of his lodge while two women busied themselves roasting coffee and preparing food. Someone had told Bourke that Crazy Horse at the Little Bighorn had killed one of Custer’s men with a stone war club while the soldier struggled to control his horse. This fact appears to have colored the impression of the chief which formed in Bourke’s mind.
Frank is the only one whom Crazy Horse seems at all glad to see [he wrote in his diary]. To the rest of the world he is sullen and gloomy. His face is quiet, rather morose, dogged, tenacious, and resolute. His expression is rather melancholic … Crazy Horse remained seated on the ground, but when Frank called his name, Tsunka Witco, he looked up and gave me a hearty grasp of the hand. He looks quite young, not over thirty years old, is lithe and sinewy and has a wound in his face.19
Spare as Bourke’s account is, it still conveys two things about the chief: the brooding power and authority of his person, and his willingness to lean forward, reach out, speak a greeting, and shake a white man’s hand. Bourke did not come away fearing that war would soon be renewed.
A few days after Bourke’s only meeting with the chief, Billy Garnett invited Crazy Horse, Little Big Man, and several others to join him for dinner in the small, three-room house where Garnett was living with his second wife, Emma Mills. By custom the Sioux in their lodges sat on the ground and ate with their fingers, sometimes aided by a knife, but in Garnett’s house Crazy Horse and the others sat in chairs at table before a setting of plate, mug, knife, and fork. The agency chiefs often ate with military officers and other whites. A journalist passing through at this time noted that Spotted Tail “understands perfectly the use of the four-pronged fork and napkin.” Crazy Horse told Garnett that he, too, “would begin to learn the use of the fork at the table.” He did not say he wanted to do it. “He said he had got to do it,” Garnett recalled.20
Crazy Horse also asked Garnett about the trip to Washington—not the purpose of it, but the practical logistics of it. How would they travel? Where did they stay when they got there? What did they eat and drink? Garnett had been to Washington two years earlier with the big delegation led by Red Cloud, so he knew the answers to these questions and could describe the boardinghouse where the Indians put up and the kind of rooms where they met with the president. Perhaps he added a few warnings against the trouble and temptations that came an Indian’s way in Washington. Whiskey was the big one.
Use of the fork was soon followed by use of the chair. Crazy Horse seemed to pick up quickly the fact that in crowded meetings the man who sat in the chair was in charge of the room. The chief clerk at the agency that summer, Charles P. Jordan, remarked that when Crazy Horse came to see the agent, James Irwin, “he was always accompanied by a bodyguard of men,” as many as six or eight in all. Crazy Horse did little talking, but he sat in a chair. The men with him sat on the floor, three or four on each side.
Crazy Horse was notoriously a man of few words; people thought of him as a warrior, not a maker of treaties or a settler of disputes. But in the early summer of 1877 he was thinking and acting in a political way, discussing agency matters with Irwin, meeting regularly with Clark, whom Crook had placed in charge of the Indians. The traveling correspondent who noted Spotted Tail’s mastery of the four-pronged fork was invited by Clark to join him in a meeting with Indians one morning in early June. Under discussion was a growing problem at the agency: the frequent theft of Indian horses and cattle by white men who drove them north for sale in the Black Hills. Whose job it was to chase down these horse thieves was unclear. The state of Nebraska would not do it, the military was not supposed to do it, and the Indians were not permitted to do it. In the event, a compromise was reached: the Army aided by Indian scouts trailed the thieves until they caught up with them, then called in the civilian or federal authorities. Dealing with horse thieves was a political, not a military, question, and the status of Crazy Horse in the discussion was plainly visible. Clark had called a large group of chiefs to his rooms at the western end of the row of officers’ quarters at Camp Robinson.
Lieutenant Clark, sitting on the rim of an office chair, with his feet on the seat, high enough to see and be seen, [was] talking with the Indians in the sign language that is universal to all Indians. Sitting near him in a chair was Crazy Horse. Squatting on the floor and passing around the pipe were Black Coal, Yellow Bear, Swift Bear, Little Wound, American Horse, Young Man Afraid of his Horses, and perhaps 25 others of lesser note.21
The man who made sure to take a chair in long meetings with Clark did not neglect the other whites who had a measure of control over his fate. The morning after the big council with Crook, Crazy Horse was on hand at nine o’clock to greet Colonel Luther Bradley when he arrived at Camp Robinson on the stage to take command of the post from Mackenzie. All the leading chiefs were present, but Bradley in a letter mentioned only one. “I had an introduction to Crazy Horse and a hand shake,” he wrote to his wife, Ione. “He is a young, slender and mild-mannered fellow but he is evidently the leader of his band.”22
Something like a policy was forming in the mind of the leader of the Hunkpatila. Crook had promised the northern Indians they could go north to hunt during the summer, and Crazy Horse was determined to do so. In mid-June, during one of his frequent meetings with Lieutenant Clark, Crazy Horse reminded him of Crook’s promise and said he wanted to go out in about a month’s time—around the second week in July. The proposed trip to Washington was also much discussed. Clark’s strategy for “working” the Indians included soft assurances that Crook had a high regard for the chief, that a successful move to the new agency would bring new authority and status to Crazy Horse, that all could be arranged with the president in Washington.
The rumor in the Indian camps was that Crazy Horse was to be the new head chief of the Sioux, and it is possible that Clark said as much in so many words. But more probably it was presented as an if-then proposition: if the chief went to Washington, and if he reached agreement on a new location for the Oglala agency, and if he took his people there in the fall, then, surely, General Crook would recognize him as the leading man of the Sioux. These flattering promises, intended to make the chief pliable, seem to have worried him instead. He told White Rabbit, a member of his band who had come in to the agency with the rest in May, that he knew “the talk that he was to be made chief over all was causing intense jealousy.”23
What Crazy Horse wanted was simple and clear: to take his people on a buffalo hunt in the north, and to establish an agency on Beaver Creek in the Tongue River country. After that he would go to Washington with the other chiefs. General Crook had promised the hunt and he had promised to help with the location of the agency. There seemed to be no room for misunderstanding. The chief discussed what he wanted with his friends Short Bull and He Dog. “He said to me, ‘First, I want them to place my agency on Beaver Creek west of the Black Hills,’ ” He Dog remembered, “ ‘Then I will go to Washington—for your benefit, for my benefit, and for the benefit of all of us. And that is the only reason why I will go there.’ ” But in Short Bull’s view this simple desire planted the seed of trouble.
Crazy Horse wanted to have the agency established first, and then he would go to Washington. The officers wanted him to go to Washington first. The difference of whether Crazy Horse should go to Washington before or after the site of the agency was settled upon brought on all the trouble, little by little.24
But for the moment things ran smoothly. Crazy Horse spoke often with Clark, called Wapostan Ska (White Hat) by the Indians, and twice he sent scouts from his band north to look for the last band still loose on the prairie—several hundred Miniconjou whose chief, Lame Deer, a cousin of Crazy Horse, had been killed in a scrap with General Miles in early May. The scouts found trails but no Indians, and said they might be heading east toward the agencies on the Missouri. The military officers all believed the Sioux war was over for good. Bradley, the new commander at Camp Robinson, was painting buildings and planting trees to brighten the place up. The wife of Lieutenant Jesse Lee, Lucy, was running a school for Indian children at the Spotted Tail Agency, where many northern Indians had settled, including Crazy Horse’s friend Touch the Clouds. On visits to the agency, Crazy Horse sometimes stopped in at George Jewett’s store, where one of the part-time clerks was the mixed-blood scout Charles Tackett, who had married the twenty-year-old Susan Bordeaux, a niece of the Brulé chief Swift Bear. On a visit to the store Susan’s mother-in-law, a Brulé Sioux, once pointed out Crazy Horse to the girl.
He was a very handsome man [she remembered] … He was not so dark; he had hazel eyes, nice, long light-brown hair. His braids were wrapped in fur. He was partly wrapped in a broad-cloth blanket; his leggins were also navy-blue broadcloth, his moccasins were beaded. He was above the medium height and was slender.25
In mid-June, Tackett was called away from storekeeping to go out with a military detachment looking for the killers of a mail carrier whose body had been found about twenty miles north of Camp Sheridan on the road to Deadwood. The soldiers were commanded by Lieutenant Frederick Schwatka and Tackett’s job was to interpret for the scouts, Fast Thunder, Good Voice, and the recently surrendered High Bear. It was not Indians but white horse thieves who had killed the mail carrier, a young man from New Jersey, Gilbert Fosdick, who had come west hoping to make his fortune in the goldfields. Lieutenant Schwatka delivered the killer to the authorities at Camp Sheridan, but within a day or two orders were received to release him for lack of evidence.
Some days later, Clark arrived at Camp Sheridan with Billy Garnett to sign up scouts for new ninety-day tours of duty. Along with a hundred others, High Bear, Good Voice, and Fast Thunder agreed to serve through September, and made their marks on the enlistment papers. Clark had learned to trust Fast Thunder, and he was promoted to sergeant. Schwatka, meanwhile, had been told that a big sun dance was planned for the end of the month in Crazy Horse’s village. He wanted to go, and after some palaver Spotted Tail and Swift Bear told him it had been arranged.26