141 years ago today (May 6, 1877), the Lakota leader Crazy Horse surrendered to the U.S. Army at Camp Robinson, Nebraska. With him were nearly 900 Lakota and Cheyenne people, a few thousand horses, and a very sick wife.
His friend Sitting Bull had moved to the Grandmother’s Land, Canada, a few months before. The Hunkpapa Lakota leader decided he no longer wished to fight the white man’s soldiers. Faced with a dwindling supply of warriors, and even resistance from his own people who questioned their leader’s continued defiance of the U.S. Government, Crazy Horse did what he had refused to do for some time: take his people to a white man’s reservation.
The Battle of the Little Bighorn had taken place ten months before. That day Crazy Horse and his Lakota, along with their Cheyenne allies, had defeated the U.S. Army led by George Armstrong Custer. But despite their decisive victory, Crazy Horse knew that it would be difficult to withstand the bluecoats (Lakota’s name for white soldiers) for much longer.
Red Cloud and Crazy Horse’s uncle Spotted Tail had already taken their people to a reservation. They, too, felt it was futile to continue to resist the soldiers whose goal it was to force all the Great Plains Indians onto a government-run agency (reservation). The white man had taken just about all the land that the Lakota had once called home, including their sacred Black Hills in South Dakota, and they had killed off most of the buffalo, which was the Lakota’s prime source of food.
Since the Battle of the Little Bighorn (the Lakota called it the Greasy Grass Fight), Crazy Horse had slowly been losing warriors. At one point, the Oglala Lakota leader threatened to kill those who tried to leave his camp, but his declaration only served to make more people want to leave.
After surviving a harsh winter following the battle with Custer at the Greasy Grass, Crazy Horse, with few warriors and lack of food, agreed to surrender his people when the soldier chiefs promised him a reservation of his own. It would be placed in the Powder River County where the Lakota war chief had made his home for much of his life.
The army sent out a company of soldiers to meet Crazy Horse on his way to Camp Robinson. They brought with them wagonloads of supplies and food. The soldier chiefs did not want Crazy Horse to have to stop for any length of time to hunt for food, afraid that he may change his mind about surrendering.
When the Indians with Crazy Hose drew in sight of Camp Robinson on this day in 1877, they began to sing. Imagine the sound of nearly a 1000 voices lifted up together in song. It must have been very powerful. One of the soldiers at Camp Robinson who was watching through field glasses turned to another soldier with him. “By God!” he said. “This is a triumphal march, not a surrender.”
Almost four months to the day, Crazy Horse was dead. He was stabbed with a soldier’s bayonet while resisting being put into an army guardhouse at Camp Robinson. He never received his reservation back in the Powder River Country.
David Wooten is the author of Crazy Horse: Where My Dead Lie Buried. He also conducts tours of ‘The Lands of Crazy Horse.’