Last stand for Crazy Horse By Amanda...

A MEMORABLE PLACE

September 24, 2000

A MEMORABLE PLACE

Last stand for Crazy Horse

By Amanda Newell

SPECIAL TO THE SUN

It was nearly dusk when we reached Fort Robinson, Neb. We had traveled several hours from Mission, S.D., and were tired from the monotonous drive across the northern plains.

Fort Robinson sat unassuming in the maze of rolling hills and cragged buttes. Except for the historical marker, there was nothing to suggest that an important chapter in American history ended here -- certainly nothing to suggest that this was the place where the Lakota Sioux warrior Tasunke Witko -- Crazy Horse -- spent his final moments more than 100 years ago.

My own connection to Crazy Horse began hundreds of miles away, at Washington College in Chestertown. As a student there, I had researched and written about a modest collection of American Indian artifacts, including a warrior's shirt attributed to Crazy Horse.

After graduating, I continued my research and decided to travel to South Dakota to speak directly with Crazy Horse's relatives, While there, I also met Bob Gough, who represents the estate of Tasunke Witko in legal matters.

Bob and I were the only visitors at Fort Robinson. The summer tourist season had ended, and the emptiness of the place drifted over us with the cold that was settling in for the long winter ahead.

Although we could see no one that we might disturb, we were compelled to speak in whispers as we made our way to a single stone marker. Placed in front of two small, restored log-cabin guard houses, the marker spelled out plainly what had happened here: "On this spot Crazy Horse, Oglala Chief, was killed Sept. 5, 1877."

As one of the last northern Plains Indians to surrender to the U.S. government, Crazy Horse was especially feared. He was instrumental in leading a coalition of tribes to victory over General Custer's troops at the Battle of Little Bighorn in 1876. After Custer's humiliating defeat, the government stepped up its efforts to round up "hostile" Indians like Crazy Horse, who had not yet agreed to settle on reservations.

On that September day in 1877, Crazy Horse came to Fort Robinson, then known as the Red Cloud Agency, for what he believed would be a peaceful meeting with government officials. When he arrived at the agency guard house, officers proceeded to arrest him. He resisted, and in the ensuing scuffle, he was stabbed with a bayonet and died hours later.

Although more than a century separated me from Crazy Horse, I found myself standing in his place at Fort Robinson. It was a moment out of time. A gentle breeze rustled the stiff leaves, which swirled in brown circles around our feet. I turned to Bob. "If only trees could talk," I said, breaking the silence.

"They can," he replied. "You just have to listen."

Amanda Newell lives in Henderson, Md.

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