Russell Freedman’s LIFE AND DEATH OF CRAZY HORSE is a true account of the life of arguably the most famous American
Indian. This is the fourth book he has written about Native Americans. Two of his biographies, THE WRIGHT BROTHERS: HOW THEY
INVENTED THE AIRPLANE and ELEANOR ROOSEVELT: A LIFE OF DISCOVERY, were Newbery Honor books. His LINCOLN: A PHOTOBIOGRAPHY was a
Newbery Medal winner.
This book is very logically ordered, with a list of the main characters at the front and how they are related to
the story (a good thing, as the Indian names can get rather confusing). The chronology of Crazy Horse’s life is divided
into fifteen chapters. The end matter includes a very interesting note about the drawings in the book, a chronology of the
highlights of the book, a bibliography, acknowledgements, and an extensive index.
The typeset is traditional; the page numbers have double arrows pointing inward, giving a very Native American
feel. The black-and-white illustrations in the book are actual Indian pictographs drawn by the Teton Sioux historian. Record-keeping
was highly important to the tribe and was done with pictographs on animal skins, cloth, paper, or in ledger books. The illustrations
in this book were drawn by Crazy Horse’s cousin, Amos Bad Heart Bull. Bull died in 1913. His ledger went to his sister,
who died in 1947; the ledger was buried with her. Fortunately, prior to her death, photographs of the drawings were made.
Freedman gives this great warrior a human side. Children, especially, will enjoy learning that Crazy Horse’s
childhood name was “Curly.” Knowing their reputation as ruthless warriors, American children will also be amazed
to learn that “He was never touched by a punishing adult hand. The Sioux did not believe in spanking or whipping a child.
‘We never struck our children, for we loved them,’ a Sioux woman recalled. ‘Rather we talked to them, gently,
but never harshly. If they were doing something wrong, we asked them to stop.’”
When he was a young teenager, Crazy Horse had a vision of himself as a warrior. Because of that vision, whenever
he prepared for battle, he did “just as he had been instructed in his vision. He tied a small brown stone behind his
ear, fastened a hawk’s feather in his hair, and threw a handful of dust over his pony and himself.” He never took
a scalp or bragged about his deeds.
Crazy Horse was born around 1841, the same time that the first wagon train left Missouri for the Pacific coast. He emerged as a leader of his tribe during a time of great turmoil and change. This account
of his life, and his tragic death, will surely captivate readers of all ages.
Russell. 1996. THE LIFE AND DEATH OF CRAZY HORSE. Drawings by Amos Bad Heart Bull. New York: Holiday House. ISBN: 0823412199.