Bookmarks Issue: 

A-The Killing of Crazy HorsePulitzer Prize–winning journalist Thomas Powers is the author of several nonfiction works, including The Man Who Kept the Secrets: Richard Helms and the CIA (1979) and Heisenberg's War: The Secret History of the German Bomb (1993).

The Topic: After an 1874 U.S. Army expedition discovered gold in the Sioux's sacred Black Hills, the government attempted to wrest the land from the natives, launching a military campaign that that would result in the Great Sioux War of 1876–77. Already famous for his cunning and bravery in battle, Lakota chief Crazy Horse distinguished himself in the ferocious fighting that ensued, but his popularity would be met with jealousy and distrust within his own tribe, and he would be dead--lured to an army outpost and stabbed--just one year after his epic victory at the Battle of Little Bighorn. While much of Crazy Horse's life remains a mystery, Thomas Powers draws on newly discovered sources to uncover the truth behind the legendary warrior.
Knopf. 568 pages. $30. ISBN: 9780375414466

Christian Science Monitor 4.5 of 5 Stars
"The Killing of Crazy Horse is nothing short of a masterpiece. Complex and compelling, lurid and lyrical, tragic and transcendent from start to finish, The Killing of Crazy Horse pulses and throbs like the far-off beat of a war drum growing ever louder and faster." Richard Horan

NY Times Book Review 4 of 5 Stars
"Powers's excessive recitation of the evidence diminishes the urgency of his story. He is, nonetheless, a great journalistic anthropologist. ... And Powers tells us much that is revealing and often moving about the Sioux in their last days as free warriors." Evan Thomas

Oregonian 4 of 5 Stars
"The Killing of Crazy Horse may not keep one up into the small hours of the night, and Crazy Horse remains an enigma, more myth than man. Readers who stick it out, however, will come away with a deeper understanding of and appreciation for a revered Native American leader." Makiia Lucier

Washington Post 4 of 5 Stars
"What is unique about Thomas Powers's approach to Crazy Horse is the dramatic staging of his meticulously researched and gripping account. ... More than the story of Crazy Horse or the battles between two implacable foes, Powers gives us a portrait of a place--a portrait done in the blood of the heartland, a heart still beating after all these years. Powers has given us a great book, a great painting of that still-beating heart." David Treuer

Wall Street Journal 3.5 of 5 Stars
"The author's approach is largely topical, full of digressions into marginally relevant themes that disrupt the narrative flow and scramble the chronology. ... Even though confusingly organized for many readers, The Killing of Crazy Horse will stand the test of time and take its place on [a] select shelf of excellent books on the Sioux and their wars." Robert M. Utley

Critical Summary

Less a biography than the study of a lost way of life, Powers's sprawling chronicle uses the great Lakota warrior as a springboard to examine the history and culture of the Sioux tribes. Simultaneously, Powers rectifies the biased inaccuracies of a historical record that has traditionally treated the murder of Crazy Horse as "something between a footnote and an afterthought." Drawing on extensive fieldwork and a dizzying amount of firsthand sources, Powers vividly describes the personalities, politics, and conflicts that shaped the era and defined the troubled relationship between Native Americans and the U.S. government. Some readers may be overwhelmed by Powers's exhaustive research and persistent (if fascinating) digressions, but most will find Crazy Horse "a rich and worthwhile read" (Oregonian).

Supplementary Reading

Crazy Horse A Lakota Life | Kingsley Bray (2006): Considered the "definitive" biography of Crazy Horse by the Wall Street Journal, this persuasive and literate account separates newly mined facts from widely accepted fictions, thus painting a meticulously researched and richly detailed portrait of the celebrated war chief.

Centennial Campaign The Sioux War of 1876 | John S. Gray (1976): An in-depth account of the conflict between the U.S. government and the northern Great Plains tribes, this single-volume history delves deeply into President Grant's political and economic motives, the vicious battles, and the tragic aftermath of this short but brutal and bloody war.

The Sioux Life and Customs of a Warrior Society | Royal B. Hassrick (1964): This scholarly and authoritative description of the Sioux examines their history, governing structure, and lifestyle, including their beliefs, traditions, rituals, and everyday family life.