September 5, 1877 – Crazy Horse is Killed by A Prison Guard

On this day in history, the famous Oglala Sioux chief Crazy Horse was fatally wounded by a bayonet-wielding guard, allegedly while resisting imprisonment at Camp Robinson in present day Nebraska.

In June, 1876, Crazy Horse led a combined group of approximately 1,500 Lakota and Cheyenne in a surprise attack against George Crook’s U.S. Army force of cavalry and infantry (aided by its Crow and Shoshoni allies) in the Montana Territory. The battle delayed Crook’s joining up with the 7th Cavalry under George A. Custer and therefore was thought to have contributed to Custer’s subsequent defeat at the Battle of the Little Bighorn.

General George Crook

General George Crook

Crazy Horse and other northern Oglala leaders arrived at the Red Cloud Agency, located near Fort Robinson, Nebraska, on May 5, 1877 to make a formal surrender to First Lieutenant William P. Clark. The Red Cloud Agency was an Indian agency (forerunner to the modern Indian reservation) for the Oglala Lakota as well as the Northern Cheyenne and Arapaho. It was established in 1873 to issue rations and annuities to approximately 13,000 Sioux, Cheyenne, and Arapahoe Indians camped around the agency. It also served as a focal point for Indian grievances about the encroaching white men. It was named after Chief Red Cloud, one of the most important chiefs of both the Sioux and Cheyenne.

Red Cloud, Red Hawk, Standing Bear, William S. Hart, Crow Absorkee Apsaalooka, Crow Agency, Montana

Red Cloud, Red Hawk, Standing Bear, William S. Hart, Crow Absorkee Apsaalooka, Crow Agency, Montana

For the next four months, Crazy Horse resided in his village near the Red Cloud Agency.

In August, he was asked to help Lieutenant Clark defeat the Nez Perce, and there is controversy to this day over his reply, because of differing interpretations by translators. Some said he agreed, and some said he asserted he would fight all the white men instead.

General George Crook called for a council of the Oglala leadership, and Crook was was incorrectly informed that Crazy Horse had said he intended to kill the general during the proceedings. Crook ordered Crazy Horse’s arrest and then departed.

On the morning of September 4, 1877, two columns moved against Crazy Horse’s village, but it had dispersed. Crazy Horse had fled to the nearby Spotted Tail Agency. After a meeting, he agreed to return to Fort Robinson with the Indian agent at Spotted Tail. Arriving the next evening, once again there was confusion about what was to be done with him, and miscommunications among the military.

Crazy Horse was then fatally wounded in the back by a guard, who claimed Crazy Horse was resisting imprisonment. But like all other aspects of his last days, there are varying accounts of the death and what caused it.

Crazy Horse Monument

Crazy Horse Monument

Today, Crazy Horse is commemorated by the ongoing construction of a Crazy Horse Memorial in the Black Hills of South Dakota. The sculpture was begun by Korczak Ziolkowski in 1948. Ziokowski arrived in the Black Hills on May 3, 1947. He worked on the project until his death on October 20, 1982, at age 74. The Memorial’s mission is to honor the culture, tradition and living heritage of North American Indians.

You can read more about the Memorial here.


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