Crazy Horse has been called the greatest Native American warrior of the nineteenth century. His victory over General Custer at the Battle of Little Bighorn in 1876 was a bitter defeat for the frontier army of the American West. Volumes have been written about that famous fight, yet the legendary chief remains a mystery. No photograph of him exists and the circumstances of his death have been mired in controversy for more than a century. Most accounts of his story have been told from a white man’s perspective. A new narrative details the Battle of Little Bighorn and Crazy Horse’s final moments through the eyes of Native Americans and soldiers alike.


  • Thomas Powers Author of "The Man Who Kept the Secrets," "Heisenberg's War," "Thinking About the Next War," "The War at Home," "Diana" and the novel "The Confirmation."


  • 11:06:55

    MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us, I'm Diane Rehm. Thomas Powers spent countless afternoons of his childhood, like many of the boys of his generation, playing cowboys and Indians. He grew up to become a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist best known for his books on the history of intelligence organizations, but the idea for his latest book came from those early boyhood memories. It's a biography of Crazy Horse told from the perspective of both soldiers and Native Americans of his day.

  • 11:07:37

    MS. DIANE REHMHis new book is titled "The Killing of Crazy Horse." Author Tom Powers joins me in the studio. We do invite you to join us as well, 800-433-8850, send us your e-mail to, join us on Facebook or send us a tweet. Good morning to you, sir, thanks for being here.

  • 11:08:05

    MR. THOMAS POWERSIt's nice to be here.

  • 11:08:09

    REHMMuch of what we know or don't know about Crazy Horse seems to be very ethereal, now, why is that and what have you done to bring him alive?

  • 11:08:24

    POWERSHe was a mythic figure for the Lakota or Sioux people from the beginning. As a very young man, he was one of those men who are talked about, one of the people who are talked about. For whites, he was always known as being the victor at the Battle of Little Bighorn, the man who more than any other, bears responsibility for killing General George Armstrong Custer, but there was a -- there is a great body of information that was collected in the last part of the 19th century, in the first part of the 20th by people who were fascinated by Indians, wanted to know how Custer had been killed and were curious about Crazy Horse.

  • 11:09:03

    POWERSBut no one has much used that material. It's not like Abraham Lincoln or General Ulysses S. Grant, everybody knows about that. But most Americans really don't know very much about Indians.

  • 11:09:15

    REHMYou know, the only education I had about Indians was the same as yours growing up, watching those cowboy and Indian westerns where the Indians were for the most part the bad guys. And the white guys were always the ones who did the brave, the heroic things. I gather Crazy Horse falls into that heroic category?

  • 11:09:50

    POWERSOh, he was definitely a hero, a man who performed extraordinary feats in battle and the victory at the Little Bighorn was very largely his doing. If you try and explain or identify the moment when Custer was defeated, Crazy Horse is sort of in charge of that moment.

  • 11:10:11

    POWERSThere are several mysteries about Crazy Horse. He was killed, really, because of that victory over Custer and without that, he probably would have lived to an old age and perhaps quite an unhappy old age.

  • 11:10:26

    REHMWhy do you say that?

  • 11:10:28

    POWERSIt aroused the anger and the fear of the military. He was killed about a year later and it was at the end of the summer of 1877 and there had been a rising tension and suspicion among white military officers often encouraged and fed by rival Lakota or Sioux chiefs. And at the heart of that was the fear that Crazy Horse would resume the war against whites. And there was no reason to believe that, but they did. And that started a chain of events unfolding which ended with his fatal stabbing by a soldier's bayonet.

  • 11:11:07

    REHMDo we know what kind of a youth he experienced?

  • 11:11:14

    POWERSWe have many stories of Crazy Horse as a young man and they typically are of people that sort of tend to emphasize the things that made him famous to his people. They emphasize hunting exploits and especially war exploits. He was a great warrior from the beginning, a canny warrior, a smart warrior, somebody who had a great natural ability almost like that of a -- an athlete. He was what some military historians call a battlefield plunger. He had great natural talent for knowing where to move on a battlefield in these rapidly changing cavalry conflicts.

  • 11:11:53

    POWERSAnd the interesting thing is that the other great battlefield plunger of that time was Custer, who was a hero of many fights during the Civil War. So how was it that Crazy Horse managed to defeat Custer? And when the white soldiers realized that Crazy Horse was the man who had done that, that aroused their apprehensions.

  • 11:12:14

    REHMExplain to me a little bit about your own sources as opposed to those we've used before to identify who Crazy Horse was?

  • 11:12:29

    POWERSWith a book of this sort, you have to come at it from all directions. There's bits and pieces of information to be discovered in numerous places, for example, old pension files. I spent an ungodly amount of time in the National Archives looking through old pension files. And those files were for Indian scouts who worked for the army in the 1870s. And for their widow to get a pension, they had to prove they were married to the soldier, as the scout was called.

  • 11:12:55

    POWERSSo there would be a hearing and there would be endless discussion about who he was, who he married first, who he married second, where he grew up, whether he was wounded someplace. A great many bits and pieces of information, which if you gather them together, it's that kind of thing. And then there's a body of interviews with Indians. I would say there are probably 60 or 70 substantial accounts of Indians describing the history of the dispossession that they experienced when they lost their lands in a 40 year period roughly between 1840 and 1890 and Crazy Horse was at the heart of that. And he had many friends who were asked about him, so there's -- there's a lot to go to.

  • 11:13:36

    REHMAnd a lot to sift through as opposed to, for example, separating truth from myth.

  • 11:13:45

    POWERSWell, that part's tough, but generally speaking, when you begin to find several people roughly agreeing on a single account, it's a -- it's a sort of a true thing. And there are a handful of moments that are murky and kind of hard to pin down. For example, Crazy Horse had a younger brother who was killed about 1870 and he went on -- apparently by whites. And very likely, he was killed while trying to steal their horses or something. It wasn't, you know, a crime, necessarily, but he took it hard and personally and he went out to kill whites in revenge.

  • 11:14:23

    POWERSSeveral of his friends talked about this, but very elliptically, very -- they didn't like to spell out exactly where he went or exactly who he killed, but there are a couple of newspaper accounts that allow you to put these things together so you can reconstruct roughly what happened. It's harsh. You know, there's a lot of harsh reality in the story of this man.

  • 11:14:42

    REHMAnd his name, where did that come from?

  • 11:14:44

    POWERSIt was given to him by his father and it had previously been his father's name. And in the Lakota, (word?) means his horse is crazy, but crazy in the sense of irresponsibly erratic, crazy in an exulted swooning almost religiously inspired sense. So it's like saying his horse is magically powerful.

  • 11:15:11

    REHMAnd that was the name given to him at birth or?

  • 11:15:15

    POWERSNo, no that was given to him when he was in his early teens. He had performed a notable feat in a battle with some Indians on a hilltop where he charged some Indians who were hidden behind rocks. I mean, a very brave thing to do and successfully either counted coo on them or killed them and his father held a naming ceremony and gave him his own name. And after Crazy Horse was killed by the army, then his father took back his own name and kept it for the last two years of his life.

  • 11:15:42

    REHMThomas Powers, he is the author of the new booked titled, "The Killing of Crazy Horse." He's a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist. He author of "Intelligence Wars" and "American Secret History from Hitler to Al-Qaeda." Do join us, 800-433-8850, send us your e-mail to, feel free to join us on Facebook or send us a tweet. Put for us the 19th century American West. Put -- paint that picture for us.

  • 11:16:34

    POWERSIt was filled with Indians and not many whites. There were a couple of roads across it. The Oregon and California Trail, which ran up the Platte River Valley, was the main route from east to west and before the Civil War, there were very few whites there. But when the Civil War came to an end, there was a sudden flood of people heading into the west. And very quickly, there began to be real conflict between the Indians and the Whites and at that time, the federal government conceived a policy of putting them on reservations and -- which they -- the Indians did not particularly want to do.

  • 11:17:14

    POWERSAnd then in 1874, gold was discovered in the Black Hills, which is right in the middle of the Sioux reservation and the Sioux refused to sell the Black Hills and so the government basically sent out a military expedition...

  • 11:17:26

    REHMTo take it.

  • 11:17:27 take it, yes, essentially to force the Indians off the reservation and to force them to sign some kind of a somewhat legal agreement giving up the Black Hills among other territories. And that was the approximate cause of the actual fighting in 1876 which ended with Custer's defeat.

  • 11:17:44

    REHMWhen did the federal government introduce blankets infected with smallpox?

  • 11:17:52

    POWERSThat was done in New England and it was done by British authorities and the U.S. federal government did not actually ever follow a policy of that kind with Indians. In fact, the federal government, with regard to Indians, was very much the way the federal government was with regard to African-Americans starting in the 1950s with the school desegregation crisis. The south, they don't want to desegregate, the north, they insist it has to be done. The federal government is torn by both. It has to listen to both and it was the same way with Indians. At the end of the Civil War, all those abolitionists who had fought against slavery took an interest in Indians and the federal government was in the middle between those people and the westerners.

  • 11:18:38

    REHMThomas Powers and his new book is titled, "The Killing of Crazy Horse." We'll talk more, take your calls, your e-mail. Stay with us.

  • 11:20:03

    MS.DIANE REHMAnd we've just had an e-mail from Paul in Grand Rapids, Mich. referring to what he called a fascinating article in last month's edition of Smithsonian Magazine about the Battle of Little Bighorn that was written by you, Tom Powers.

  • 11:20:24

    MS.DIANE REHMThat's right.

  • 11:20:26

    MS.DIANE REHMAnd that battle, again, you were using primarily Native American accounts.

  • 11:20:35

    POWERSThe fight at the Little Bighorn has been the subject of controversy ever since it happened. If you try and sort out what Custer did, you come across an insurmountable problem. Everybody with him was killed, so they can't tell you what orders he gave and they can't tell you what they think he had in mind to do. But if you confine yourself to just the Indian accounts, of which there are 50 or 60, then the battle becomes much simpler, much easier to understand. What they described is straight forward and it's remarkable in a number of ways. Custer, this famed Civil War General, never actually attacked the Indians. He was kind of on the run from the first moment the Indians appeared. He never found a ground to stand on and they just swarmed up over him.

  • 11:21:24

    REHMAnd did he have enough men to attack?

  • 11:21:29

    POWERSHe thought he had enough men...

  • 11:21:30


  • 11:21:30

    POWERS...because he had this tremendous inner confidence. He could, you know, ride through the whole Sioux nation with the Seventh Cavalry or all the Indians in North America. From his point of view, nobody could defeat him. He had about 210 men with him personally at the moment that he was trying to attack the Indians and a couple of thousand Indians rose up out of nowhere...

  • 11:21:51


  • 11:21:52

    POWERS...completely surprised and just overwhelmed him.

  • 11:21:54

    REHMSo numbers tell the basic story.

  • 11:21:57

    POWERSToo many Indians. That's the answer to the question.

  • 11:22:00

    REHMThere is a wonderful paragraph in your book describing what Crazy Horse looks like as he goes into battle. Would you read that for us?

  • 11:22:13

    POWERSYes. This is a statement given by a friend of his, a man he called cousin, named Eagle Elk. And no Indian would go into a battle without preparing himself spiritually and physically. And this is what Eagle Elk had to say about how Crazy Horse went about that. "He always wore a strand of braided buckskin. At the lower end was something like medicine tied up in the buckskin. He had an eagle wing whistle tied on. He had it with him all the time. Just before the start of a battle, when they were ready to go into it, he got off his pony and got a little dirt from a molehill and he put it between the ears of his horse and then on the hips of the horse.

  • 11:22:55

    POWERSAnd then he took some and he got around in front of the horse and throws it over towards the tail. And then he got behind the horse and threw some towards his head. And then he went up to the horse and brushed it off and rubbed it on. Then he rubbed a little on his hand and over his head. Then he took a spotted eagle feather and put it upside down on the back of his head instead of standing up, as most warriors did. His friend, Horn Chips, was the one who directed Crazy Horse to do these things so he would not be hurt."

  • 11:23:25

    REHMSort of a spiritual, as opposed to a physical preparation.

  • 11:23:32

    POWERSIt's partly physical, but it also is inviting power. By putting that dirt on his horse, he made his horse invisible to his enemies. And he also made himself and the weapon in his hand invisible to his enemies. I don't know if you've ever talked to Vietnam vets who fought in Vietnam. If you -- if you've had a chance to ask them if they have any little superstitious things they did, little magical things, you'll find that some people carried a stone in their pocket or they wore their shirt backwards or they carried a letter from their mother or -- there are all kinds of little superstitious things that men going into battle do. And they do it because they're afraid and they do it to give themselves courage and it does.

  • 11:24:13

    REHMNow, where did that paragraph emerge? How did you put your hands on it?

  • 11:24:20

    POWERSThat paragraph was spoken to John Neihardt who was a poet -- a very noted poet from Nebraska and a writer about Indian things. And he interviewed Eagle Elk in his great age. Eagle Elk lived into the 1940s. And it's part of Neihardt's papers at the University of Missouri and it's a long account with many, many details about Crazy Horse's life like that.

  • 11:24:48

    REHMWould Crazy Horse have been at the front of that gathering of 2,000 Indians, Native Americans, ready to attack?

  • 11:25:00

    POWERSOh, he would've been at the front, all right. The Crow Indians, who were enemies of the Sioux, said they knew Crazy Horse best because he was always the closest to them in a fight and that the Little Bighorn, Crazy Horse led a charge up over the back of a ridge, which split Custer's forces in two. And when that happened, organized resistance by the whites just came to an end. The whole body of soldiers kind of panicked and seized to fight in their effective way from that moment, so Crazy Horse really doomed Custer and he was killed a very few minutes later.

  • 11:25:33

    REHMCuster himself was killed a few minutes later. What about the other troops? How many of them were decimated?

  • 11:25:43

    POWERSWhen they came over the -- when he came over the hill, he divided Custer's forces, in effect, into two, roughly, we'll say, 100 in each half. Not many had been killed at that moment, but all of that group was then killed, every single man. There were no survivors. Custer had left another group of men a few miles away and they survived the fight.

  • 11:26:06

    REHMThey survived.

  • 11:26:07

    POWERSThe ones who were left a few miles away under Major Reno, they survived the fight.

  • 11:26:11

    REHMYes. Tell us about Major Reno and his involvement in this story.

  • 11:26:18

    POWERSWhen Custer wanted to attack the village, he divided his forces at the beginning of the day. And he sent Reno across the Little Bighorn River down into the flat meadow lands along the western bank to attack the village from its southern end. And he was going to ride along the western -- or the eastern bank of the Little Bighorn River on the bluffs and attack the village from the northern end, but he didn't really know where the village was and he didn't know the lay of the land at all. And he didn't listen to any of the scouts who would've told him how many Indians there were or what the land was like. And as a result, he discovered there was no way to get down to the river. There was no way to actually approach the Indians.

  • 11:26:57

    POWERSAnd by the time he got far enough, which was four miles down -- up -- downriver towards the north, finally, he got far enough to attack them, they were there and waiting for them and fully prepared and he never did attack them. He just was on the run from that moment 'til the end.

  • 11:27:13

    REHMAnd how could Custer had so miscalculated what he was about to encounter?

  • 11:27:22

    POWERSArrogance, hubris, overconfidence. The whites did it three times with the Sioux. In 1954, when a young Lieutenant attacked a bunch of Sioux and was wiped out with everybody...

  • 11:27:36

    REHMYou mean in 1854.

  • 11:27:37

    POWERSI do mean 1854.

  • 11:27:38

    REHMYes, yes.

  • 11:27:39

    POWERSYou're right, of course. 1954, I was reenacting that battle myself in the backyards of Pelham, New York.

  • 11:27:45


  • 11:27:46

    POWERSAnd then 1866, Captain William J. Fetterman, with 80 men, thought he could ride through the whole Sioux Nation and then Custer did it in 1876. Three times.

  • 11:27:59

    REHMSo Crazy Horse gains this reputation as the killer of General Custer, the leader of Native Americans, who wipe out General Custer's forces. How does he fare in that time period following?

  • 11:28:25

    POWERSNot well. It was very difficult. He's a warrior and he was now faced with essentially a deep policy question. Do we go on fighting these whites? Lots of Indians, you know, had been to the east. His great rival Red Cloud had been to Washington on several occasions and shaken hands with the president. Red Cloud delivered a speech at Cooper Union in New York City in 1870. And when he came back, he could tell the rest of the Lakota Nation, in effect, there are a lot of people out there. There's a great civilization out there. I mean, everybody knew that they couldn't actually defeat these people, so Crazy Horse over that winter of '76 and '77 essentially decided to do the wise thing and the thing that he knew his people wanted to do, which was to surrender.

  • 11:29:13


  • 11:29:15

    POWERSHe didn't call it a surrender. He orchestrated it very carefully as making peace, but essentially, he came in and he gave up his horses and he gave up his guns and...

  • 11:29:24

    REHMTo whom?

  • 11:29:26

    POWERSHe gave them up to General George Crook and the people immediately under George Crook's command. And he promised to live in peace on the Red Cloud Agency or with the other Indians on the reservation from that time forward and that's a promise -- that's a promise he kept. One of the mysteries about Crazy Horse's death is why did the Army want to kill him and why did Crazy Horse let them do it?

  • 11:29:51

    REHMYou're saying that even though he had surrendered, he had given up horses, he had said, we will be at peace, nevertheless, the Army wanted to get rid of him?

  • 11:30:08

    POWERSThey developed a deep apprehension about what his motives were, largely because other rival chiefs were coming to them and whispering little warnings and stories about what Crazy Horse might do.

  • 11:30:18

    REHMLike what?

  • 11:30:20

    POWERSWell, they said he was gonna leave the reservation and join Sitting Bull in Canada or they said he was going to -- one of them was a story that Crazy Horse planned to meet General Crook in counsel and murder him. That was taken seriously by Lieutenant William Philo Clark, who was the young army officer assigned to kind of control the Indians. So there were a lot of stories there swirling about. And the hostility of the army was completely clear. Anybody standing aside would say, whoa, this is heading in a bad direction. Something terrible's going to happen here, but Crazy Horse, who was a warrior down to his toes, never resisted, never took a war like act, never issued a threat.

  • 11:31:06

    POWERSAnd on the fatal day, he actually went to Fort Robinson and surrendered himself to the army and he didn't begin to resist until he was led into the guardhouse and he saw the bars in the guardhouse door. And at that moment, surrounded by hundreds of hostile people, he tried to break free and escape and that's when he was stabbed in the back by a bayonet.

  • 11:31:29

    REHMWow, what a story. Thomas Powers and the book is titled "The Killing of Crazy Horse." If you'd like to join us, 800-433-8850. Send us your e-mail to, feel free to join us on Facebook or send us a tweet. Let's go first, as we open the phones, to Gene in Phoenix, Ariz. Good morning, you're on the air.

  • 11:32:07

    GENEGood morning. Great show.

  • 11:32:09

    REHMThank you.

  • 11:32:10

    GENESort of a different spin, I read somewhere -- or I read in The Wall Street Journal probably six months ago that the reason Custer was defeated was due to a procurement chain in the military corruption or maybe some government bureaucracy corruption because the way the military was pay was based on a census or a headcount. And when they were going through the records, there was three times as many soldiers, supposedly, under Custer than were really there. And I thought just throw it out there and hear what the -- what you had to say about that, if anything.

  • 11:32:52

    POWERSWell, there's a remarkable number of stories floating around about why Custer was defeated, but I've never actually personally heard that one before. But of course, he's a military commander, he knew how many men he had with him.

  • 11:33:04


  • 11:33:05

    POWERSDidn't make any difference what was on the roster.

  • 11:33:07

    REHMTom Powers, "The Killing of Crazy Horse," and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." What you're saying is he didn't have enough men. What our caller is saying is perhaps there was some corruption going on within the army itself, which led perhaps to the fact that he did not have enough men.

  • 11:33:36

    POWERSNo. That's not the reason why he didn't have enough men. He didn't have enough men to do what he tried to do. He didn't exactly know how big the problem was, he didn't know who he was fighting, he didn't know where they were, he didn't know how to get to them. These were the problems of overconfidence that led to his defeat, not the -- the fact that he had 210 men.

  • 11:33:54

    REHMLet's go to Nantucket, Mass. Good morning A.T., you're on the air.

  • 11:34:00

    A.T.Good morning, Diane. Great show.

  • 11:34:02

    REHMThank you.

  • 11:34:03

    A.T.I had two questions. I wanted to know what, if any relationship, Crazy Horse had to Two Moons at the Battle of Little Bighorn. And also immediately in the aftermath, did that large group of Native Americans stay together and stick together or did they go their separate ways? And I'll take my answer off the air. Thank you so much.

  • 11:34:23

    REHMThank you, sir.

  • 11:34:26

    POWERSRight after the battle, the next day, they attacked the other part of Crazy Horse's -- I mean, Custer's surviving forces, Major Reno, and that was desultory fighting that lasted about half the day. And then the Indians moved out and they were a great mass of people and it took them hours. And they were a group half a mile wide and three or four miles long as they rode away. And in following days, they gradually separated out. A big group of Indians like that could not stay together for very long on the plains because there wasn't enough grass for the horses and there wasn't enough buffalo to feed the people. They were constantly in motion. They would come together for short periods and then they would divide up again and that's what happened there.

  • 11:35:09

    REHMHe also asked about Two Moons.

  • 11:35:13

    POWERSTwo Moons. Well, Two Moons was a leader of the Cheyenne there and he became the chief -- war chief of the Cheyenne during the battle when another Cheyenne leader was killed. And he was one of the men who said -- described the physical circumstances of the fighting where he said, the dust rose like smoke and you couldn't actually see where people were. And there was this incredible closeness and intimate contact as the Indians rushed in among the whites and killed them. Two Moons lived a long time after the battle. He had a very different afterlife from Crazy Horse and he often talked with whites and described what had happened to them and people would seek him out on the reservation in Montana where he lived.

  • 11:36:01

    REHMSo you're saying he lived quite peacefully and lived a long life?

  • 11:36:07

    POWERSHe lived peacefully and a long life after a certain point. There's -- the tragedy doesn't end with the killing of Crazy Horse. The Sioux allies were Cheyennes and the Cheyennes went through some very difficult times. And the -- the whole people went down to Oklahoma and then they broke away in 1878 and they were horrifically massacred by whites along the way. They were trying to go back to their own country along the Tongue River in -- in Montana, but by 1879, those tragedies had come to an end and it was just reservation life from then on. Not a pretty picture in its own way, either, but then not much more fighting after that.

  • 11:36:46

    REHMAnd Two Moons lived on that reservation?

  • 11:36:49

    POWERSHe did, he did. Most of these people at that time stayed on reservations and in fact, they were required to have a special pass from the superintendent of the reservation if they were to leave and go anywhere. But he lived there.

  • 11:37:03

    REHMDid Crazy Horse take a wife, a spouse?

  • 11:37:09

    POWERSCrazy Horse, by Sioux custom, had three wives. The wife number one, he had for four days and they would consider that a wife. And wife number two he had from about 1870 until the end of his life in 1877. He had one child with her. She was named They Are Afraid Of Her and she died of a fever when she was three.

  • 11:37:31

    REHMAnd the third wife?

  • 11:37:33

    POWERSEllen Laravie he had for the last summer of his life, a very complicated person.

  • 11:37:39

    REHMThomas Powers, he's the author of "The Killing of Crazy Horse." Short break, we’ll be right back.

  • 11:40:03

    REHMAnd, of course, so many e-mails saying, "Why do you insist on calling Native Americans Indians?"

  • 11:40:14

    POWERSI use that term because it was certainly the term of choice at the time and it is still the term of choice in Sioux Country or Indian Country. If you go to Pine Ridge, you will not hear anybody talking about Native Americans except under certain special circumstances where they're speaking formally to a visiting congressman or something like that. When they -- when you ask if somebody speaks Lakota, they always answer something like, well, yeah, he speaks Indian, but my cousins, they're younger, they don't speak Indian now.

  • 11:40:46


  • 11:40:46

    POWERSAnd Indian is a term that's very generally and widely accepted here. I mean, I know what Native American means and I know why it's generally used and I will certainly use it in any context that somebody particularly wanted me to, but not in talking about this. I mean, if you're suddenly say, the Native Americans swept up over Custer or they're too many Native Americans, that's why Custer was killed, it -- it kind of misses the drama of the historical moment.

  • 11:41:13

    REHMAnd to follow up on that and this sort of relates back here, "Would your guest comment on the role of army intelligence in the 1870s. It is probably exactly as Mr. Powers states, that Custer's hubris in lack of judgment led to the battle defeat, but could the state of army intelligence about the Sioux and others at Little Bighorn have led Custer to believe that he was really in a stronger position than he really was?"

  • 11:41:52

    POWERSArmy intelligence didn't exist in any of its normal formal ways at -- at that period and there was no formal estimating process, there was no effort to tell Custer in an organized serious way how many people he would be likely to be finding and so on. There was battlefield intelligence, eve of battle recognizance intelligence and things of that sort. Custer had a lot of scouts with him, Crow and (word?) scouts, who could have told him a lot about these Indians, but he didn't listen. On the day in question, they all definitely tell him, there are too many Indians. Do not...

  • 11:42:32

    REHMAre there records of their telling him exactly that?

  • 11:42:37

    POWERSOh, yes, oh, yes. This is -- that's well established and well attested to. After the battle, when Crazy Horse was living on the reservation in Nebraska, William Philo Clark, the young army lieutenant, was in charge of controlling them and he established a rather sophisticated network of informers and spies who told him everything that was going on in the Indian camps, so in that sense, it was a very familiar kind of -- kind of intelligence that goes back to Roman times. But in a formal way, no. Washington thought, maybe 500 Indians out there might be facing you, but that's it.

  • 11:43:11

    REHMI wanna hear about Crazy Horse's third wife.

  • 11:43:17

    POWERSCrazy Horse surrendered with one wife who was ill at the time. Exactly what she was ill with, we don't know. A white doctor who treated her said it was tuberculosis and thought she has died at the end of the summer, but that did not actually happen. That wife lived for many years into the 1920s. And a young woman named Nellie Laravie, who was a mixed blood -- she was half Cheyenne and half French, offered herself to him. There's one surviving photograph of her in her youth. She -- very attractive young woman, about 18 and she came to Crazy Horse's lodge and said, I know about your victories over Long Hair, but (word?), the Sioux term for Custer, and I want to offer myself to you as a -- another wife.

  • 11:44:09

    POWERSAnd she moved in with him. She was very suspicious of whites and all that summer, she warned him repeatedly, don't go to Washington the way the soldiers and General Crook want you to do. Don't trust these people, they're out to kill you. And she warned him that the other chiefs were developing plans to kill him, so he was constantly pressed by this intimate member of his household to be wary, to be cautious, to say no and to protect himself if he could.

  • 11:44:38

    REHMWhat happened to her after he died?

  • 11:44:43

    POWERSShe was one four daughters of Joe Laravie, who was a trader, and they all married in the area and all lived in the area, but Ellen was the only one who continued to live as an Indian with Indians. And she eventually married a man named Greasing Hand and he took the name of Crazy Horse and he collected rations at the reservation for the rest of his life, into the 1920s under that name and there are a number of photographs, I've found a few, of Ellen as an old woman with Greasing Hand dressed up in their finest Indian garb for public occasions. Rather a sad couple in their way.

  • 11:45:22

    REHMAnd what happened to his one son?

  • 11:45:27

    POWERSHe had one daughter...

  • 11:45:29


  • 11:45:29

    POWERS...and she died of a fever. What kind of fever is unknown, but very likely, it was one of the childhood diseases introduced by whites, like measles or mumps.

  • 11:45:39

    REHMAnd how old would she have been?

  • 11:45:41

    POWERSAbout three.

  • 11:45:42

    REHMAh. All right. Let's go back to the phones to Russell in Duncanville, Texas. Good morning to you.

  • 11:45:54

    LESLIEHello, Diane. Actually, this is Leslie Thunderhawk from Duncanville, Texas. I was wanting to ask questions of Thomas Powers (unintelligible) will comment. My dad was related -- directly related to Chief He Dog, who was Crazy Horse's only (word?) brother and, you know, he was there at the Battle of Bighorn and also there in the guardhouse where he died, you know. I was wanting to ask Thomas if he had uncovered any information that the reason why Crazy Horse had came in and surrendered was because it was known that the chiefs and the generals and the commissioners from Washington had a treaty and that treaty is still in the Secretary of State's office in Washington, D.C. in Hillary Rodham Clinton's office to this day.

  • 11:46:44

    LESLIEAnd, you know, they were just -- it was it's there signed by the president and Crazy Horse was going -- all (word?) was to do is put his print on there and then he would've had the reservation and the Padre River Country and I'll just hang up and listen.

  • 11:46:59

    REHMAll right, sir. Thank you.

  • 11:47:02

    POWERSWell, first, let me say I'm extremely interested to hear from a relative of He Dog and I wish we could have a further detailed conversation about that.

  • 11:47:11

    REHMRussell, are you still there?

  • 11:47:14

    LESLIEActually, my name is Leslie. Yes, I'm still here. I keep...

  • 11:47:20

    REHMOkay. Let's put you on hold and then Dorie Anisman can get your number and perhaps Thomas Powers can get back to you? Would that be all right?

  • 11:47:32


  • 11:47:33

    REHMAll right. Let's put you on hold right now.

  • 11:47:35

    LESLIESure, that's fine.

  • 11:47:36

    REHMThank you, Dorie. And we'll get back to you. Now, go on, Tom.

  • 11:47:42

    POWERSHe Dog was a very close and intimate friend of Crazy Horse and he was involved in all the circumstances leading up to the moment of his death and there's a lot in this book about He Dog. The kind of person he was, their personal history together and what happened to He Dog in afterlife and I'm sure Leslie would be interested to see some of the letters that I have that He Dog wrote to a white friend and things of that kind.

  • 11:48:11

    POWERSThat treaty, which was -- would have granted Crazy Horse a country in the North, in the Tongue River and the Powder River Country, which is what he wanted, where he wanted to go and where General Crook had said he would try and arrange for him to go, there was no treaty. They were not going to do that and Crazy Horse, if he had lived, would've been forced to ride east to the Missouri River in October of 1877 along with all the rest of the Brule and the Oglala Sioux, so that treaty is not in the office of Hillary Clinton, it was never ready to be signed and the government was never prepared to do that.

  • 11:48:49

    REHMTo Ann Arbor, Mich. Good morning, Larry.

  • 11:48:53

    LARRYHey, hi. Good morning. Tom Powers, one question. What was Crazy Horse's favorite weapon of choice for he himself personally or his warriors? And I'll hang up and listen. Thank you.

  • 11:49:09

    POWERSWell, he was a serious military man. When he surrendered, he had to give up his guns and he gave up two modern Winchester repeating rifles. That was his gun of choice. Previously, he had owned a Trapdoor Carbine made by the Springfield Arms Company, which he calls an open and shoot. There's no record that I've ever seen of Crazy Horse using a bow and arrow, although I'm sure it happened. There's no sign of him fighting in a battle with the use of bows and arrows, but he did us a club and at the Battle of the Little Bighorn, people believe that Crazy Horse killed a number of Reno's men when they were crossing the river and go up the bluffs using his club, knocking them off their horses one by one.

  • 11:49:54

    REHMThis image of these Indians holding bow and arrow just doesn't come to play, then, in this story?

  • 11:50:05

    POWERSNot Crazy Horse. He didn't use one, but a lot of Indians did have bows and arrows, perhaps a third at least or maybe as many as a half of Indians at Little Bighorn.

  • 11:50:12

    REHMAnd where did they get the guns?

  • 11:50:14

    POWERSWell, they got the guns in a lot of ways. They bought them, they stole them, they went north and traded with the Metis mixed bloods in Canada for guns and for ammunition, traders came out and sold them guns and ammunition. I mean, from the first minute the saw a gun, they knew this was a perfect weapon for killing an enemy or a buffalo.

  • 11:50:34

    REHMLet's go to Layton, Utah. Good morning, Chris.

  • 11:50:39

    CHRISGood morning, Diane. I have a -- I guess an amateur fascination with Native American history and I was on a vacation in Montana and I swung down to the battlefield, which was very, very interesting and -- but I think from the first time that I've ever heard about Custer was how he was not mutilated just pierced in the ears so that he could hear in the afterlife better, but at the battlefield, the historian there said that -- first of all, I didn't even understand why there was mutilation, it was to disable your enemy in the afterlife.

  • 11:51:17

    CHRISSo if they -- if they cut their calf or something, then they were expecting to meet them in the afterlife and they would be disabled because they mutilated them -- they mutilated the body. But he did -- say the historian said that Custer was sexually mutilated, but he wouldn't go into detail about it.

  • 11:51:36

    POWERSWell, that -- that's interesting. None of the formal sources say that. It was not uncommon for sexual mutilation to take place and it was for exactly the reason you very well described, which is the Indian belief that a man went to the next world with the body he left this world in and if an arm was cut off or a foot was cut off, well, that's the way he would have to spend the rest of eternity. I have heard that kind of reference or rumors about the sexual mutilation of Custer, but I don't know of any source that says plain and simple, that happened.

  • 11:52:11

    REHMInteresting. Thanks for calling, Chris. Now to Tuscon, Ariz. Good morning, Robert.

  • 11:52:18

    ROBERTGood morning. I'm always interested in this. I'm working on a book on the Black Hills Gold Rush myself, but the cultural -- the cultural differences between the two, the Anglo and the Native American, I wish you would describe something about the physical appearance of Crazy Horse and what happened to his body after his killing.

  • 11:52:44

    POWERSCrazy Horse was a -- a slender man, perhaps a little bit under the middle height. His hair was brownish in color, not black. They called -- some Indians called it light-haired, he was light-haired. He had an expression from people who described him often of melancholy seriousness, preoccupied thoughtfulness. He was not a speaker or a talker. He -- there are no famous speeches from -- from Crazy Horse. Other Indians, you know, would talk your ear off, they were great orators. Red Cloud was an unbelievably eloquent man. Crazy Horse was -- was not like that.

  • 11:53:27

    POWERSAfter he was killed, his body was delivered to his mother and his father and it was handled, prepared for burial in the customary way and then taken to a site where it was buried above ground on a scaffold in the customary way. And when the Sioux were required to leave Northwest Nebraska for the Missouri River in October of 1877, his mother and father took Crazy Horse's body along. And somewhere during that trip between October and the following spring, that body was secretly buried and no one knows where it is and it's never been identified. There is a place called The Manderson Road and the popular belief is, the odds are good, that somewhere up among those White Clay Buttes, Crazy Horse's body's buried, but nobody knows.

  • 11:54:17

    REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." The one element of his description you omitted was his height. Do we know how tall...

  • 11:54:30

    POWERSUnder -- under middle height. As smallish man.

  • 11:54:33

    REHMI don't know what that means.

  • 11:54:33

    POWERSWell, middle height at that time might've been five-six or five-seven and he might've been a bit shorter than that. He's not a big imposing guy. And I can tell you that the Sioux very often are. I mean, they all look like football halfbacks, but Crazy Horse was not that type. He was slight, he was slender, he was quick and nimble.

  • 11:54:57

    REHMBut the authority he mustered came from something else, then?

  • 11:55:06

    POWERSI think ultimately, that authority is too mysterious to really identify. His friend He Dog said that when Crazy Horse came on the battlefield, he made everybody brave, so that means he gave them confidence. He made them feel like they could win. He made them feel like he was in charge, he wouldn't allow a disaster to occur. There was something about his ability that just inspired confidence in others and beyond that, I mean, where does somebody have that? You walk into a room and everybody turns and looks in that direction of that person. He was that kind of person.

  • 11:55:38

    REHMIf you had met him, what would you have asked him?

  • 11:55:41

    POWERSOh, my God, what a question. First of all, I would've had to have had a good interpreter there to help me get the question into Lakota. I'm a historian and a writer by nature. I would've asked him, why did you let the army kill you? Why did you put off that moment of resistance until it was hopeless and beyond hopeless? Why did you go one step at a time over a period of 36 hours without any hostile act or threat and let the army kill you? I mean, it's just -- it's puzzling. He's a warrior. Why did he do that?

  • 11:56:22

    REHMIs it somehow in your own mind that he knew the time had come?

  • 11:56:33

    POWERSPerhaps. It's hard to tell. About two weeks before he died, he had a dream in which he forsaw his death. He was walking across the prairie and he found an eagle on the ground dead and he knew it was himself, so there's a deep premonition of some kind there.

  • 11:56:51

    REHMThomas Powers, he's a Pulitzer prize-winning journalist. His newest book is titled "The Killing of Crazy Horse." Thank you so much for joining us. Fascinating conversation.

  • 11:57:07

    POWERSThank you.

  • 11:57:09

    REHMAnd thanks for listening, all. I'm Diane Rehm.

  • 11:57:11

    ANNOUNCER"The Diane Rehm Show" is produced by Sandra Pinkard, Nancy Robertson, Susan Nabors, Denise Couture and Monique Nazareth. The engineer is Erin Stamper. Dorie Anisman answers the phones. Visit for audio archives, transcripts, podcast and CD sales. Call 202-885-1200 for more information. Our e-mail address is and we're on Facebook and Twitter. This program comes to you from American University in Washington. This is NPR.

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