Crazy Horse (1996)




Director:     John Irvin.

Starring:    Michael Greyeyes (Crazy Horse), Victor Aaron (Touch the Clouds),  Nathaniel Arcand (Little Hawk),  Frankie Avina (Grabber),  Ned Beatty (Dr. McGillicuddy),  Irene Bedard (Black Buffalo Woman),  Marshall Bell,  Terry Big Charles (Young Curly),  Craig Branham (Captain Fetterman),  Lorne Cardinal (Young Man Afraid),  Buffalo Child,  John Finn (General Crook),  Sheri Foster,  Robert Pike Glymph (Mormon Man),  James Hatzell (Reporter).

Made-for-cable movie (Turner Pictures, TNT series). Filmed on location in South Dakota

The truer-story of Chief Crazy Horse.



Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire film. 

"In 1865, the Civil War ended.  As the flow of settlers heading westward increased, so did the disputes between the government, the settlers, and the Indians.  Conflict was inevitable . . . "

May 6, 1877.  Crazy Horse and his small group of supporters comes into the Red Cloud Agency to surrender to General Cook.  Red Cloud watches him come in.  The narrator says he will tell the story of Crazy Horse and how he became the most feared of all the Lakota (Sioux) warriors. 

Flashback.  1854.  Twenty years earlier.  As a young warrior, twelve-year-old Curly's life was changed forever by a runaway cow.  The cow wandered over toward the Sioux camp and a warrior shot and killed it with an arrow.  The owner tells the soldiers that the Sioux stole the cow.  So the army sends a small group of soldiers and a cannon to teach the Sioux a lesson.  Some of the leaders of the tribe come out to talk to the soldiers.  The soldiers want the warrior that stole the cow, but the chief says he cannot order the brave to do anything since he is not of the chief's band.  So Lt. Grattan lines up the soldiers and the cannon is prepared to be fired.  When the soldiers are ready, the order to fire is given.  All the tribal leaders are killed or wounded.  In response to the action of the army, the braves attack the soldiers and kill them.  (This incident of August 19, 1854 in today's Wyoming came to be known as the Grattan Massacre, in which Lt. Grattan and 48 soldiers were killed.)

Curly watches all of this from the nearby bluff.  He hurries down to the camp.  He is there when Chief Conquering Bear dies.  Curly is very upset and he jumps on his horse and rides away from the camp. He goes up into the hills and lays down on a rock.  He asks God why has He given the whites so much power over his people?  Curly has a vision in which it is said that he will become a great warrior, but he must be cautious because his oen people will tear him down.  In battle, Curly is not to take anything for himself, including scalps.  If he does this, Curly will be unbeatable. 

Curly tell his vision to a medicine man and his father.  The medicine man takes Curly to a place where lies the dirt that Curly must use to paint his body.  He sends Curly out naked to take a walk.  Curly has another vision.

Shoshone Territory, Summer, 1858.  The Shoshone were traditional enemies of the Lakota people.  Crazy Horse runs into a group of Shoshone warriors and counts coup on them.  He then rides back to his group of warriors.  The Shoshone attack them and a small battle ensues.  Curly kills a couple of Shoshone and starts to take a scalp, but is reminded of his vision that told him to take nothing for himself.  As he hesitates to think about his vision, a Shoshone hits him with an arrow in his right leg. 

Back in the village his father announces to all the people that because of his brave deeds in battle, he gives the traditional family name Crazy Horse to Curly.  Crazy Horse goes over to speak with Black Buffalo Woman.  Red Cloud's nephew tells Crazy Horse that Black Buffalo Woman is not for him, because Red Cloud has other plans for her.  For the moment, Crazy Horse walks away.  The mother of Black Buffalo Woman wants her daughter to become the wife of another warrior.  So Crazy Horse has to see the woman he likes on the sly.  He tells her that she makes him feel like he is soaring.  Black Buffalo Woman asks why didn he wait so long to tell her this?  Crazy Horse asks if it already too late? 

Red Cloud and his nephew come upon the couple and Red Cloud tells Crazy Horse that he hopes he will have enough energy left to fight the Crow.    The chief then says to Little Hawk, the brother of Crazy Horse, that he makes a lousy lookout man. 

At home mother criticizes her daughter for not wanting to marry the warrior who comes from an influential family.  Black Buffalo Woman tells mom that she loves Crazy Horse. 

The Lakota war group comes upon two Crow.  All the braves start galloping their horses to get to the Crow with Crazy Horse way out in front.  Red Cloud calls all the warriors back except for Crazy Horse because he wants to see how great is this "greatest warrior" of the Lakota.  Crazy Horse's horse falls leaving his rider to fight on the ground, but the Lakota warrior is able to  knock out both warriors without the use of any weapons.  When Crazy Horse comes over to Red Cloud, the only thing Red Cloud tells the young man is that it was too bad about his horse.  Riding back to the village, Red Cloud's nephew tells Crazy Horse that in his absence, Black Buffalo Woman married No Water. 

Back at the village Crazy Horse asks Black Buffalo Woman if it's true?  She says yes, but asks that Crazy Horse not forget her. 

To become a "shirt-wearer" is a great honor among the Lakota.  Usually the honor goes only to the sons of influential families, but Crazy Horse is selected anyway.  Young Man Afraid of His Horse is named the peace maker of the tribe.  Crazy Horse, their greatest warrior, is given the task of protecting the people. 

After the end of the Civil War, settlers started coming west in great numbers.  And, of course, this meant that there were also more soldiers in the area.  The settlers forged a road, known as the Bozeman Trail, right through the land of the Lakota.  The Lakota now start fighting the soldiers.  Crazy Horse tells Red Cloud that their warriors must learn to act together and to follow orders.  Otherwise, it will be very hard to defeat the white enemy.  Red Cloud says next time they fight, they will fight like Crazy Horse says and their bravest warrior will lead the decoys himself. 

December 21, 1866.  It's time for another fight. Crazy Horse tells the braves to attack a wood cutting party until more soldiers are sent out from the fort.  Then Crazy Horse and his decoys will lead the soldiers right over the ridge where the mass of the war party will be waiting for them.  From the top of a hill, a woodcutter waves a black flag signaling to the fort (Fort Phil Kearny)  that they are under Indian attack.  Cpt. Fetterman leads 53 infantry men and 27 cavalry men out to the rescue.  Fetterman takes the bait and follows the Indians up the hill to the ridge.  Red Cloud raises a red flag and the Lakota and Cheyenne descend on the soldiers.  With so many warriors, it doesn't take long before all the soldiers are killed.  In the fight Cpt. Fetterman and Lt. Grummond shot each other in the head on a count to three.  This incident became known as the Fetterman Massacre.

Crazy Horse and the Lakota forced the white men to abandon the Bozeman Trail and to burn Fort Phil Kearny to the ground. 

Red Cloud and President Ulysses S. Grant meet together to forge a peace.  Crazy Horse refuses to go.  His father rides out to tell Crazy Horse that he isolates himself off too much from the people.  The son says this is necessary because when others are around him, he cannot think his best thoughts.  Dad now tells his son that Red Cloud is back from Washington and the chief wants to see him. 

Crazy Horse tells Black Buffalo Woman to leave her husband and come with him.  She says she will think about it

Red Cloud tells Crazy Horse that he has decided to move his people to the reservation.  Crazy Horse is shocked and he tells the chief that he is not going to become a slave.  Red Cloud scolds him for not coming to Washington with him because he saw that there is no end to these white people.  And he also saw things that Crazy Horse has never seen.  Red Cloud says the old Indian way of life is dead.  Crazy Horse, of course, rejects this and says he will fight on as a warrior. 

Red Cloud goes to the reservation, while Crazy Horse leads his group deep into "Snake Territory" where his best friend High Hump was killed.  Crazy Horse goes back to the village.  Black Buffalo Woman is there with her child.  And this time she says she will marry Crazy Horse.  She jumps on the back of Crazy Horse's horse. 

For this No Water takes revenge by shooting Crazy Horse.  Black Buffalo Woman is forced to go back to No Water and Crazy Horse can no longer be a shirt-wearer.  His friends now give Crazy Horse the woman named Black Shawl.  She becomes his second wife.  His brother is shot dead by a white settler.  Black Shawl helps Crazy Horse withstand his heavy grief. 

Black Shawl gives birth to a girl and Crazy Horse loves her with all his heart.  Things start changing when Sitting Bull arrives. He brings news that the whites are going to settle on their land.  This makes Crazy Horse very angry. 

Gen. Custer comes into Lakota territory.  He and his soldiers are bringing in the settlers.  They also are clearing the way for the coming of the railway.  Gold has been discovered in the Black Hills.  A reporter and Custer notice the Lakota warriors up on top of the hill in the area. 

The more miners that came, the harder it was for the Lakota to find food.  Hard times came upon them.  And harder times fall on Crazy Horse when his daughter dies of a white man's disease they know as cramping.  He rides over to the burial platform.  He stays there a long time.  Black Shawl comes to him and tells  him he is a warrior.  The miners in the area foul the streams and blast the mountains in their search for gold.  Crazy Horse starts killing miners. 

Another peace conference is held with the whites.  Crazy Horse tries to bust up the conference by riding his horse right up to the tent and shooting a white man, but the other Lakota grab him before he can fire his rifle.  The peace conference fails, so the Lakota will be forced out of the Black Hills. The Lakota leaders blame Crazy Horse for this.

Crazy Horse still refuses to live on the reservation.  More than 10,000 people joined him along the Little Big Horn River.  The encampment stretched along the river for almost five miles.  Custer was sent out to push the Lakota back on to the reservations.  Custer sends Major Reno and his men to attack the Indian village at one end.  The village is caught by surprise, but the Indian warriors soon rally.  Crazy Horse participates in the battle.  It does not take long before Reno and his men are chased back across the little Big Horn River.

Custer waited for news from Reno and did not know that Reno already attacked and the attack failed.  By the time Custer is able to look down onto the Indian village, he only sees a quiet settlement.  He thinks he has caught the Lakota napping.  Custer and his men cross the Little Big Horn at about the middle of the encampment.  Before he can get across he is wounded.  He turns his men around to go back.  Custer's men are running away from the Indians that are chasing them.  Crazy Horse heads north, crosses the river and catches Custer between two groups of charging Indians.  His men are scattered throughout  the area, but Custer and some of his men form a defensive circle.  While fighting, Custer is shot and killed.  All the soldiers are killed. 

In retaliation, food and equipment was cut off at the Lakota reservations in the area.  And the huge hunt began to capture Crazy Horse.  The army chases Crazy Horse for six months.  In the cold, Black Shawl gets sick. 

May 5, 1877.  Crazy Horse surrenders along with 899 warriors at Camp Robinson, Nebraska to First Lieutenant William P. Clark.  He and his people settle down in Red Cloud's Agency and stay for four months.  Clark offers Crazy Horse a job as chief scout for the army's pursuit of the Nez Perce Indians.  Crazy Horse responds that he will fight until there are no Nez Perce left.  But the Indian translator Grabber says that Crazy Horse said he would fight until there are no white men left. 

Clark takes Grabber and Red Cloud's nephew over to see Gen . Crook.  The nephew tells Crook that Crazy Horse has a plan to kill Gen Crook at the next peace conference.  Crook tells Clark to get all the Indian leaders together and they can settle this once and for all.  Crook goes off to deal with the Nez Perce and leaves Clark behind to arrest Crazy Horse.  Clark offers the warrior who brings Crazy Horse in $200 dollars and Clark's fastest pony. 

Crazy Horse is told that Clark is coming to kill him.  So Crazy Horse comes to his uncle's Agency.  He says they lied when they said he wanted to kill Lt. Clark.  He just wants peace.  An officer at the Agency tells Crazy Horse to turn himself in over at Camp Robinson and he can guarantee that Crazy Horse will get a chance to speak with Gen. Crook himself.

Back to the present.  Crazy Horse turns himself in to Lt. Clark.  The receiving officer tells Lt. Lee that Gen. Crook is still chasing the Nez Perce, so Crazy Horse will have to stay in the stockade until the general's return.  Lt. Lee objects that this violates what he told Crazy Horse.  The receiving officer has his orders.  He tells Crazy Horse that he will now take him over to see Gen. Crook.  He is taken over to the stockade instead.  Crazy Horse is shocked when he sees that he will be put in the stockade.  He takes his knife out and stabs the Indian jailor and tries to escape.  The famous Lakota warrior is bayoneted by a soldier. 

The camp doctor examines Crazy Horse in his office.  Black Shawl tries to go into the doctor's office, but the soldiers stop her.  She later makes such a fuss that the doctor opens the office door, grabs Black Shawl and drags her in to see her husband. Crazy horse dies on top of the doctor's desk. 

"A few days later, despite the government's promises, the Lakota were forcibly relocated to Missouri.  Crazy Horse's body was kept at Fort Sheridan, because even in death, the army feared him.  Later, Worm took his son's body and secretly buried him in the Black Hills, somewhere near Wounded Knee Creek.  Black Elk said:  'It does not matter where his body lies; there the grass is growing. But where his spirit lies; that would be a good place to be.'"


This film is good because it is so much nearer the truth than other films dealing with Crazy Horse and Custer for that matter.  One good thing is that they don't try to demonize Custer as so many films have.  Crazy Horse is a man with good and bad faults.  He is the greatest warrior of the local Lakota, but he is also often not level-headed.  He tended to be a bit impetuous and made many of the Lakota leaders angry with him.  They blamed him for getting the Lakota kicked out of the Black Hills area. One thing for sure, Crazy Horse was involved in a lot of battles against the whites.  Michael Greyeyes (as Crazy Horse) was very good. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.




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