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The Killing of Crazy Horse by Thomas Powers

The Killing of Crazy Horse

by Thomas Powers

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Five hundred and ninety-two pages might seem like a long autopsy report on the killing of Crazy Horse. But as any good inquest, the author realizes context is all-important. Thomas Powers devotes a good three-quarters of the book to the Plains Indian wars out of which Crazy Horse rose to become the leader he was. When it comes to the final quarter of the book, the narrative telescopes down to greater and greater detail that led to the murder of Crazy Horse--from day to day, to hour by hour, to minute by minute, to almost second by second.

Who carries the guilt for the death of Crazy Horse. Those who only know the story in its simplest terms come to the simplest of conclusions. But--as is true in any real-life story--the reality is quite complicated. There were of course members of the US military who held ill-will against Crazy Horse. But there were fellow chiefs of Crazy Horse who also did. Conversely, there were military officers who wept upon hearing of Crazy Horse's death, sharing the grief of many of his people. In the end, a lot of confusion characterized the actual event. The death likely came about as unplanned action under very tense circumstances.

No biographer has ever been able to get a good handle on the mysteriously charismatic leader who was Crazy Horse. And that's true here, too. In the book's opening sections about the Plains wars, Crazy Horse disappears for chapters at a time. Crazy Horse will probably always remain an enigma. But if the literature on Crazy Horse is destined ever to suffer a certain incompleteness, this book at least does a worthy job of filling in a good part of the gap. ( )
  kvrfan | Apr 25, 2015 |
Although the title seems to limit the scope of this book, it actually ranges much more widely. It describes many of the conflicts between the Sioux and the white settlers and the various personalities involved. Although the structure of the book seemed a little disorganized at times, I especially enjoyed learning about Indian scouts and translators who played such an important role in these events but are often overlooked. ( )
  proflinton | Sep 11, 2014 |
"The Killling of Crazy Horse" is a thoughtful, meticulously researched account of one of the most shameful moments in U.S. history. Power's account is all the more powerful for giving a nuanced portrait of the major players involved (General Crook, William Garnett, Sitting Bull) and life on the Plains in the 1870's. ( )
  HenryKrinkle | Jul 23, 2014 |
If I have one hero among all the characters that have been a part of my country's history, it’s Crazy Horse. I know, he was on the other “side”. But he was on the side of right, of self-defense, and of justice. Although not a genre of literature I generally read, I’ve read more “biographies” of him than any other person. That includes the classic and romanticized one by Mari Sandoz, and the books by Kingsley Bray and Winfred Blevins. I use quotes on the word biography because so much of what is written is speculation, misinterpretation, outright falsehood and cover-up, or just plain conflicting memories. Even by the time of Sandoz’ book in 1942, the number of people that actually knew Crazy Horse, or knew people that knew him, and would talk about him were few.

Thomas Powers tries to establish what actually happened when Crazy Horse was killed as well as the events that led up to the tragic event. He does not assign blame and tries to share the multiple recollections of the events along with as much background as possible to understand bias and motive in those recollections. To do this he used all the materials he could get his hands on, including much new material that wasn’t available or used by the previous authors. From that point of view, this is a meticulous retelling of the killing. Fortunately, he is also able to keep it from reading like a research paper. The history flows along with events and narrative but is backed up by copious notes at the end of the book. At this point, I think he may have closed the book on the life of Crazy Horse. With the Lakota, there is not going to be any discovery of any significant new sources. No letters in the attic, memoirs, or diaries on the Lakota side. The Killing of Crazy Horse is as factual as we are going to get, this is the definitive account of the end of a great man.

On a personal level, while I can never resist another book on Crazy Horse, it was hard to read. On the one hand, I can never get enough of Lakota life in general and of Crazy Horse himself. But on the other hand, there is no way to spin a happy ending for him and his people. No matter how many times you read of his bravery and brilliance in battle, you know he is going to be bayoneted while being held by his “friends”. It’s depressing knowing your hero is going to get it in the end. And you even know how his people fare for the next hundred years. But at the end of the day, he wasn’t “whipped”, he inflicted the worst defeat to date on the U.S. Army, and he never surrendered. He simply came in when his people did not want to fight anymore. He “came in for peace” and was unwilling to go out to fight the Nez Perce that were fleeing for Canada. In the end, he believed the assurances of the officer(s) dealing with him, and was literally stabbed in the back. Heroic stuff. Might is not Right. ( )
  jveezer | May 25, 2013 |
Powers offers a lot of information in his book, but I thought so much of it deviated from the main subject - Crazy Horse. In fact, I learned much more about the American soldiers and commanders involved and about the Indians involved than I did about Crazy Horse. Maybe there's already plenty of definitive books about Crazy Horse? Even so, the info on the actual event took up very little of the book and there was quite a bit that seemed to have little to do with Crazy Horse at all. Overall, kind of interesting, but way too long for the little bit of info it provided on what I thought would be the main subject matter. ( )
  Sean191 | May 13, 2013 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0375414460, Hardcover)

He was the greatest Indian warrior of the nineteenth century. His victory over General Custer at the battle of Little Bighorn in 1876 was the worst defeat inflicted on the frontier Army. And the death of Crazy Horse in federal custody has remained a controversy for more than a century.

The Killing of Crazy Horse pieces together the many sources of fear and misunderstanding that resulted in an official killing hard to distinguish from a crime. A rich cast of characters, whites and Indians alike, passes through this story, including Red Cloud, the chief who dominated Oglala history for fifty years but saw in Crazy Horse a dangerous rival; No Water and Woman Dress, both of whom hated Crazy Horse and schemed against him; the young interpreter Billy Garnett, son of a fifteen-year-old Oglala woman and a Confederate general killed at Gettysburg; General George Crook, who bitterly resented newspaper reports that he had been whipped by Crazy Horse in battle; Little Big Man, who betrayed Crazy Horse; Lieutenant William Philo Clark, the smart West Point graduate who thought he could “work” Indians to do the Army’s bidding; and Fast Thunder, who called Crazy Horse cousin, held him the moment he was stabbed, and then told his grandson thirty years later, “They tricked me! They tricked me!”

At the center of the story is Crazy Horse himself, the warrior of few words whom the Crow said they knew best among the Sioux, because he always came closest to them in battle. No photograph of him exists today.

The death of Crazy Horse was a traumatic event not only in Sioux but also in American history. With the Great Sioux War as background and context, drawing on many new materials as well as documents in libraries and archives, Thomas Powers recounts the final months and days of Crazy Horse’s life not to lay blame but to establish what happened.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 14:00:51 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

Investigates the enigmatic Native American figure, assessing critical battles attributed to his leadership within the context of the Great Sioux Wars, exploring the relationships between the Lakota Sioux and other tribes, and analyzing the subjugation of North Plains Native Americans.… (more)

» see all 2 descriptions

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