One of the most notable Indian warriors of the post-Civil War era was Crazy Horse (Tashunka Witko), a military leader of the Teton Sioux. In the aftermath of Custer’s defeat by Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull at the Little Big Horn in June 1876, U.S. troops relentlessly pursued both Indian leaders. Crazy Horse was arrested in September, taken to Fort Robinson (in what is now northwestern Nebraska), and ultimately killed by a soldier, perhaps after the Indian warrior resisted being locked in a guardhouse.
One of the many versions of Crazy Horse’s death and secret burial can be heard in this interview with George Kills in Sight, which was done by Joseph Cash of the University of South Dakota in 1967 when Kills in Sight was in his seventies. Kills in Sight’s family—his father’s mother was Crazy Horse’s cousin and learned about Crazy Horse from his grandfather, Big Crow—taught him to revere Crazy Horse as a heroic figure. Kills in Sight concludes by describing how his grandfather and others took the body and secretly buried it.
George Kills in Sight: Crazy Horse is sort of related to my grandmother on my father’s side. My father’s mother is cousin to Crazy Horse. Of course now everybody seems to claim relation to Crazy Horse, but it used to be the fact that my grandmother is cousin to Crazy Horse. And my grandfather was along in northern part of the state where, now known as the Cheyenne River Reservation. Him and others were up on the hunt scouting around when they come back they were told. In the meantime Pine Ridge, members of the Pine Ridge Indians, went up there and told Crazy Horse that he’s wanted down to . . .
Joseph Cash: Fort Robinson?
Kills in Sight: Someplace where, yeah, Fort Robertson. So ah . . . he kind of hesitated but finally they talked him into it, so they left. When that hunting party—my grandfather’s Big Crow—when they come back they were told. So right away they didn’t waste no time, they, they followed them—which is about almost a day ahead of them. But they traveled during nights too, and just as the, the party got to Fort Robertson, they caught up to them. They caught up to them and ah, my grandfather, Big Crow, he had a six-shooter with a holster along with cartridges. He told him, he said, “Brother-in law,” he said, “put this on,” he said. “You might need it 'cause something is going to be happening.” So he put it on his waist and then they, they didn’t go in with him, but they stand so far and the guards stopped them, and they turn over to the . . . those Pine Ridge members that went after him escorted him to, to the . . . instead of taking him to the Army officer, they take him to . . . right straight to the jail. So there’s two guards on each side of the gate. And this Pine Ridge, members of the Pine Ridge, that escorted him, they told him that was a jail—in Indian. So he turned around, and this guard—he was a white soldier—just run his bayonet through, through the guts. He didn’t shoot him or anything, just . . .
Cash: Bayoneted him?
Kills in Sight: Killed him there. They just let him lay there, and of course he was dead. So, my grandfather and his bunch, they was from Cheyenne. They went up there and they claimed the body. He . . . the mistake that the Army did was they should be turned over and taken to the Army officer . . . and then later he probably could be thrown in jail maybe. But still . . . just taken back to the jail, without proving no questions about why he was wanted.
Cash: Yeah. And what happened to the body then?
Kills in Sight: My grandfather and his, his bunch claimed the body and they took it. They told them to just to take it out so . . . They made a travois and brought it, brought him home. And they brought him home to the, to the camp where the Northern Cheyenne Siouxs are and his father and mother took it over. And then they bound him up in, in buffalo robe—tied with rawhide rope—and wherever they go. . . they took him along. They didn’t bury him. And the way they told . . . they had him almost a month. I don’t know how they could tell but the change of the moon or they . . . he kept. But he wasn’t spoiled; the body was preserved.
So finally the leaders got together and on the Pine Ridge Reservation—now known as, as Medicine—right around in that pines, in the breaks or someplace, they camped. And they asked the father of Crazy Horse to bury his son. So he agreed to it, that he’s going bury his son but under one condition: he has to fill his pipe, and those that would not tell—ever tell where he was going to be buried—will smoke the pipe with him. Just like that: they pledged themselves not to tell the place he was to go and be buried. So ah, but those that’s gonna tell, they might as well leave because he’s not gonna bury him. So those big crowd thin out, just a few stayed and smoked the pipe.
So they dug a hole in a kind of washout, like a ravine, close up to a ridge. They dug that under there, a kind of stone. So they dug way under there and they left the body in there. They laid the body in there, and then put rocks just tight, you know, and put dirt on there, and fixed it so that nobody ever think there was a grave there. So, that’s why when they fixed that monument they wanted to know where he was buried but nobody will tell. Those that were present at the time will never tell.
Source: Oral history courtesy of Institute of American Indian Studies, South Dakota Oral History Center, University of South Dakota.