Thursday, June 15, 2006
Celebrating Chief Crazy Horse & the Indigenous Victory at Little Big Horn
Patrice Lumumba Coalition
June 25, 2006 will mark the 130th anniversary of the annihilation of Custer and a large portion of the U.S. Seventh Cavalry at the Little Big Horn, in 1876. The net result was 210 bluecoats wiped out in 20 minutes time, with 60 Indigenous fatalities. Lieutenant Colonel Custer's resounding defeat by Sioux and Cheyenne warriors under the command of legendary chiefs Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull, symbolically represents perhaps the most remarkable battle out of 1,642 genocidal military campaigns waged against Native peoples by the U.S. government. Fortunately, news of Custer's defeat dampened Washington's enthusiasm for its 4th of July celebration, set to mark the 100 year anniversary of the White man's nation on Indigenous people's land.
The Battle at the Little Bighorn has survived as the most memorable military confrontation between the U.S. Cavalry and this country's Indigenous owners. For those who pay attention to history, June 25th is a time when such individuals are overcome either with pride and happiness or anger and sadness. Ironically, in the 1870's, the girlfriends and wives of cavalrymen engaged in relentless assaults against Indigenous populations, initiated the practice of displaying yellow ribbons, as a show of support for their loved ones posted in "Indian Territory". Thus the morbid U.S. tradition of displaying yellow ribbons with every military campaign, was established. The glorification of the U.S. Cavalry and yellow ribbon frenzy peaked with the 1949 Hollyweird release of "She Wore A Yellow Ribbon", starring John Wayne. The song goes, "Round her neck, she wore a yellow ribbon... She wore it in the winter and the merry month of May". "When I asked, but why a yellow ribbon... she said its for my lover in the U.S. Cavalry".
There will be those who will wonder why a pan-African internationalist would make it his business to memorialize Indigenous victors at the Battle of the Little Bighorn. My explanation is quite simple. Indigenous nations have been Black people's primary and most dependable allies, since the enslavement and forced relocation of our great African ancestors into the western hemisphere. Our common suffering at the hands of White oppressors served to strengthen the ties that bind Red and Black people together. Unified efforts were necessary for the security, liberation and survival of both groups. Our destinies are as intertwined as is our shared past. It is essential that each of us appreciates that battlefield gains or losses for either group, Indigenous or Black, affects the fate of the other. This concrete expression of solidarity on paper with Red and Brown comrades arises from my sense of duty, and not out of some abstract longing for faded alliances from a bygone era. Moreover, the desperate plight of many Black people presently, i.e. poverty, disease, mis-education, poor housing, incarceration, high suicide rates, substance abuse and premature death; mirrors precisely the real-life situation of our Indigenous counterparts.
There are additional reasons for my interest in this particular battle. First, is my admiration for the remarkable courage and fighting ability of the legendary Chief Crazy Horse. All honest accounts of this historic engagement, have singled out Chief Crazy Horse as the warrior who distinguished himself over all others. "Born to a family of holy men", the youth who was to become Chief Crazy Horse, was a visionary, quiet and compassionate human being. At age 12 he witnessed the murder of an elder at the hands of a drunken U.S. army officer. Chief Crazy Horse developed a record of exceptional hunting and fighting skills, and grew up as leader of the Hoksi Hakakta or "Last Child Society", which numbered forty members, and who were the last born males of specially chosen families. At the Battle of the Little Big Horn, Chief Crazy Horse repeatedly charged into Custer's troopers, splitting them in half, causing them to waste rifle fire, panic and become vulnerable. His daring manouvres enabled Indigenous warriors, some without firearms, to quickly attack and overcome soldiers, who had already fired their one-shot carbines. After Custer's defeat, Chief Crazy Horse was held in high esteem by the Lakota Sioux and spoken of as "Our Brave Man". The Cheyenne praised him in similar fashion and regarded him as the bravest warrior of the battle. Oddly enough, a horse, was the U.S. military’s only live survivor, when the battle ended.
One of the most interesting casualties on Custer’s side was *Isaiah Dorman, a traitorous Black man, who had previously been accepted by the Sioux as one of their own but who had underhandedly switched sides. Dorman’s linking-up with Custer, the glorified racist and mass-murderer and his ingratitude toward his Indigenous benefactors and disloyalty, cost him his life. However, it is important to note that during the era of slavery, comparatively few Black people turned against Indigenous allies. There is a lesson to be learned from Isaiah Dorman's fatal miscalculation. The lesson is that the enemy of my enemy is my friend. Indigenous peoples were more inclined to aid Black fugitives fleeing from oppression and seeking freedom. These are historical truisms that will forever bind Red, Brown and Black people together in unity, despite the inexcusable, counter-productive and embarrassing behavior of Isaiah Dorman, the **Buffalo Soldiers, the ***“Five Civilized Tribes” and others.
Black and Indigenous peoples, and all of those who champion righteousness over "divine-White-right", have a duty to pass Chief Crazy Horse's legacy on to future generations. Each one of us should be beaming with pride, whenever we think about or speak of the resolve and heroism shown by the Sioux and Cheyenne on the hot summer afternoon of June 25th, 1876. Long live the example and spirit of Chief Crazy Horse.
*It is unfortunate, though necessary, to recount the little-known and despicable role of Isaiah Dorman, the only Black combatant at the Battle of the Little Bighorn. Thought to have been a runaway slave, Isaiah Dorman's acceptance by the Sioux as early as 1850, and eventual marriage into the tribe, underscored their trust in and fondness for him. The Sioux affectionately referred to Dorman as Azinpi or "Teat", but once they learned that he had joined with Custer as a translator, he was bitterly denounced as "Custer's Black White Man". During the battle, Dorman was shot dead by a female Sioux warrior, after first being wounded and finding himself pinned under his horse. He had become so hated by the Sioux, that his lifeless body was the most horrific in appearance, of the few mutilated ones, on the field of battle. A firsthand description of Dorman's corpse by Chief Eagle Elk, who was present at the Battle of the Little Bighorn, is instructive; "After the battle, Dorman's body was found amidst a prairie dog town ... His remains bore the signs of extreme mutilation, the result of hatred shown to kindred judged to be traitors to their own kind. The skin of his legs from the knees down bore the holes caused by small pistol balls, an inch or two apart. His stomach was slashed open and the blood drained into a coffee pot and cup which Dorman carried on his person. His breast was riddled with arrows, and an iron picket pin was driven through his testicles, pinning him to the ground. His penis was cut off and stuffed into his mouth, an act regarded by the Sioux as the worst possible insult".
**The Buffalo Soldiers, or the segregated 9th and 10th Cavalry, were organized immediately after the Civil War in 1866 and commanded by White officers. For the next ten years their primary task, from the central plains to the Mexican border, was to fight, destroy and force Indigenous peoples onto reservations. For $13 a month, Buffalo Soldiers escorted and defended White settlers, miners, traders, trappers, stages, trains, track workers and mail carriers. Most of these same Whites regarded Buffalo Soldiers and Indigenous peoples alike with racist contempt. For a six year period they served as an army of occupation over reservation Kiowas, Comanches, Southern Cheyenes and Arapahoes. The name "Buffalo Soldier" is not a term of endearment or respect. Legend has it that the name Buffalo Soldier, was first shouted disparagingly, together with other insults and name-calling, by the Cheyenne in the heat of battle with the 10th Cavalry.
*** The “Five Civilized Tribes” i.e. Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek and Seminole, were Indigenous peoples who with the exception of the Seminoles, engaged in the practice of African enslavement.
Ron Wilkins is a former member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and is presently a professor in the Department of Africana Studies at California State University, Dominguez Hills. Visit his web site at http://www.politicart.net or contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org