2009-04-02 / Front Page

Crazy Horse portrait?

The continuing search…

In 2005 Lakota columnist wrote a column with the title "What did Crazy Horse look like?" which was published in Indian Country Today, and was reprinted by several tribal newspapers. In that column he noted that there has always been controversy in historical and academic circles over whether or not there is, or ever was, a photograph of Crazy Horse. There was, at that time, a controversy on the Internet as to the authenticity of a photo that academic activist Ward Churchill claimed was an authentic picture of the great Oglala leader.

Trimble noted, however, that over the years none of the many photographs purported to be Crazy Horse had ever been authenticated. Several reasons have been given as to why the chief is supposed to have refused to allow his picture to be taken. The usual reasons are variations of the chief's fear or belief that it might endanger his life. Indian agent Valentine McGillicuddy recalled that when he urged the chief to pose for a picture: "His invariable reply to my request was 'My friend, why should you shorten my life by taking from me my shadow?'"

One historian at Fort Robinson -- the place where Crazy Horse was killed, made a strong case that with photo equipment being so bulky back in the late 1800s, and the process so time consuming, it is likely that no photo could be made of him without him posing for it. And that the main reason to believe that no photo was taken is that, for all but a short time in his life, Crazy Horse was never in the vicinity of a photographer. Right up to his death, the historian wrote, Crazy Horse could never be called a "hang around the fort" type.

Second photo Second photo Also, in the short time that Crazy Horse was in the vicinity of a photographer -- just before his death, his fame worldwide was so great that a photographer would have made a great to-do about it, and would have made much in fame and fortune. The photo itself would have been circulated around the world, especially on the death of the great leader. None of this happened.

Trimble's column carried an ink and watercolor portrait of Crazy Horse painted around 1940 by Lakota artist Andrew Standing Soldier. The artist had gained a reputation for his accurate portrayals of Lakota life in the 1930s and 1940s, as well as historic events. The painting was based on descriptions given the artist by Crazy Horse's relatives and close friends, who reportedly pronounced it an excellent likeness. (shown on A1) The original of this painting is in the Sheridan County Historical Museum in Rushville, Nebraska.

The following photos, from the files of Tom Buecker, historian and curator of the Nebraska State Historical Society at Fort Robinson. have caused the most controversy over the years, and should be studied further: This photo is of a very young man, articulately dresses and very fair in complexion and facial features, which might be like those described by people who knew Crazy Horse personally, including McGillicuddy, Little Bat Garnier, Billy Garnett, and others. This is the photo proclaimed very forcefully by Ward Churchill to be the real thing.

Others argue that the photo's subject is too small and almost too fancily dressed to be that of the very private and mystical Crazy Horse. Further, the exotic backdrop and tile floor in the photo would indicate that the photo was taken in a studio in a place larger that Fort Robinson or Crawford, Nebraska, where the chief was just prior to his death.

The third one (shown upper right) is a likeness presented in Indian Country Today in July 1996, and described as a 1872 sketch by French artist Frank Taurillo. According to that story, the sketch was given to then ICT editor-publisher Tim Giago by Ed Putnam of Gilroy, California, who died in 1992.

The fourth (shown below) is a portrait taken by famed frontier photographer Stanley J. Murrow in 1877, and is the one most widely circulated as that of Crazy Horse. The close resemblance of this photo to the one given to Giago by Putnam indicates that the above is a sketch copied from this photo.

The original glass plate of this photo is in the W. H. Over Museum at the University of South Dakota. And on the reverse side of the original print, in the photographer's own handwriting, Murrow identifies the man as "Crazy in the Lodge," a Brule sub-chief, not Crazy Horse.

fourth photo fourth photo But claims still arise in new books and periodicals that some photo or other is that of Crazy Horse. And the controversy goes on.

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