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Custer Battlefield Museum

Where the Battle of the Little Big Horn began . . . Garryowen, Montana

Portrait of Chief Crazy Horse
The Strange Man of the Oglala

"I thought of things that had happened the last days, seasons and summers.  I began to see that all things were strung together like beads of a necklace, one after another, from this day back and this day forward they went on forever, the hunt, the warpath, the teaching by Hump and my father and the wounding of Conquering Bear.

I thought of other beads:  The songs of my mother as we laughed together when I was a child, the songs I sang to Little Mouse as I brushed away the mosquitoes and gnats from her face as she lay in her cradleboard.  And how I told her stories until she fell to sleep.  I saw the face of Little Mouse as she is now, with her long eyelashes flickering up and down over her smiling, bright black eyes.  It was as if I had returned to mother earth from another world and she wanted to hold me to her bosom and whisper in my ear."

                                                                                            -Crazy Horse-

"There was never a photograph taken or a likeness made from first hand witness of Crazy Horse," so said Mari Sandoz in the biography, Crazy Horse, the Strange Man of the Oglala.


Her book was published in 1942.  At the time there was little reason to doubt her words.  From eyewitness descriptions, we know that Crazy Horse was five feet, eight inches tall, lithe and sinewy, with a lean face and a thin, sharp nose.  His countenance was of quiet dignity, but morose, dogged, tenacious and melancholy.  It was said that he always wore a white buckskin shirt and dark blue leggins, with two feathers hanging loose in his hair and his long braids wrapped in beaver fur almost the color of his hair.


He was known throughout his life as "the light-skinned warrior,"  In his youth he was called "Curly" for his light, loose hair, the "color of a young prairie chick."  In The Killing of Chief Crazy Horse (1976, A.H. Clark Co. of Glendale, California) is a reproduction of an alleged portrait of Crazy Horse.  The book was a collaborative effort of Robert A. Clark of Spokane, Washington, and Carroll Friswold.  The portrait was first published by J.W. Vaughn in With Crook at the Rosebud (Stackpole, 1956).


There is a striking correlation between the eyewitness description of Crazy Horse and the man in the portrait.  The original portrait is a quarter tintype, 2.5 x 3.5 inches (one of four images on a tintype plate) taken in the summer of 1877 at Fort Robinson in Crazy Horse's 35th, and last, year.  Its first owner was  Baptiste (Little Bat) Garnier.  When Little Bat was murdered in 1900, the tintype went to his wife, a cousin of Crazy Horse.  After her death, it went to her daughter, Ellen Howard, from whom Fred Hackett acquired it.  Hackett and Vaught published it in 1956.  Later, Friswold obtained the tintype from Hackett with a letter from Ellen Howard attesting to the authenticity of the tintype.


The image shown here was taken directly from the tintype, which was scanned at high resolution and retouched to remove chips and scratches without changing content by Scott Burgan or Sheridan, Wyoming.



Tintypes are positive prints and are laterally reversed when viewed directly (as one sees oneself in a mirror). In the linked enlargement the image has been laterally flipped to present it in the more familiar orientation.

The Face Wound
There are those that claim this tintype is not of Crazy Horse on the basis that there is no obvious scar on the face of the subject. It is known that No Water shot Crazy Horse in the face because his wife, Black Buffalo Robe Woman, rode off with Crazy Horse.

Far too much has been made of this scar on the assumption that it disfigured the face of Crazy Horse. This is not a valid argument. In a letter to Will G. Robinson (Secretary of the South Dakota State Historical Society) on October 19, 1947; Mari Sandoz, in response his inquiry, stated that the revolver used by No Water to shoot Crazy Horse was a small caliber that could be hidden in the palm of the hand. He borrowed it from Bad Heart Bull and, unbeknownst to No Water, the powder charge was about a half load, to save precious gunpowder. It had been loaded to hunt rabbits and other small animals. The bullet made a small wound near the left nostril, traveled along the upper jawbone above the roots of the teeth and exited out the cheek.

In time this left a slight ridge and, according to eye witnesses, " that side of Crazy Horse's face a slightly haughty cast---striking, considering the mildness and gentleness of his face." Here we need to inspect the picture carefully. Consideration should be given to the age of the wound. (The picture was taken in 1877, over ten years after the shooting.) In the picture it can be seen that the left cheek is more distinct than the right with the skin whitened from an old scar from below the left nostril to the corner of the mouth. It can best be described that his face has "a slightly haughty cast," as stated in Sandoz's letter.


Noteworthy Considerations
A Pose of Peace: Photographs of Indians of the time show them in full battle dress, wearing a fierce look and holding their favorite weapon, a rifle, axe or knife. Not so in this picture, the subject is uniquely without a weapon of any sort and is holding a peace pipe and its tamp with a clutch of Red Willow branches in his left hand. To the Lakota the left hand holds spiritual values since it is closest to the heart. (When greeting a good friend they shake with the left hand.) The Lakota used the bark of the Red Willow (not tobacco) in the ceremonial smoke of a peace council.

A Chief's Blanket: He is holding a blanket over his left arm that is carefully draped for maximum presentation, the border resting on the floor. At the time of his surrender Crazy Horse's most prized possession was a red blanket, a chief's blanket. In agreeing to have his picture taken he would make sure that his blanket would be properly presented in the photograph. Mari Sandoz stated that Crazy Horse carried his red blanket folded over his arm as he walked (unwittingly) to the guardhouse, where he was bayoneted by Private Gentles.

Earrings: are common among the Lakota and each person had their own style, but most consisted of open rings or long chains, the person in the picture has short, shell earrings, consistent with those known to be worn by Crazy Horse as an outgrowth of his vision.


Little Bat was a good and trusted friend of Crazy Horse. It appears that Little Bat persuaded Crazy Horse to have his picture taken with the assurance that it would be kept secret while Crazy Horse still lived. Crazy Horse wasn't afraid of the "shadow catcher," as stated by many writers. He was fully aware of how cameras worked; he just didn't want his picture shown about. He had a lot of enemies, Indian and White, and anonymity was his best protection.


Through the dedicated efforts of Peter Abiuso, an amateur historical sleuth, the original tintype and Howard's letter were found in the effects of Carroll Friswold's estate. They were sold at auction by Butterfield Auctions of Los Angeles, California in December 2000 and later acquired by the Custer Battlefield Museum at Crow Agency, Montana where they are now available for public viewing.

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Custer Battlefield Museum  1-90 Exit 514  Town Hall, P. O. Box 200, Garryowen, MT  59031  (406) 638-1876

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