Illustrated by S.D. Nelson
Acrylics on Wooden Panels
Text set in Amerigo
Crazy Horse is one of the most famous of all Native Americans. He is attributed with leading the Sioux in the Battle of Little Bighorn - also known as Custer's Last Stand - an event which had massive ramifications throughout the country. He was reviled, considered an enemy of the United States. The author of this book, Joseph Bruchac, makes no bones about how he feels about it:
"The irony of Custer's final defeat by Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull at Little Bighorn in June, 1876, was that the battle began when Custer make a surprise attack on yet another village that wanted to be left alone."
The story begins with Crazy Horse's infancy, being carried around the village on his mother's back, studying the world "with serious eyes." From there, we follow him through adolescence, leading his friends on adventures. Nelson has a really stunning eye. In one spectacular scene, he is leading his friends up the side of a mountain where an eagle has made its nest.
The characters are designed in what Nelson calls, "The traditional ledger book style of my ancestors." This means they have a rather flat, two-dimensional yet highly stylized look about them. Yet what is so striking is that he paints the background swirling about them with much depth and texture.
We see this effect again later on, when the Lakota come upon an army fort. The foreground characters stand two-dimensionally with their blue horses, eyes and faces rendered with sharp angles, while all around them, the fort and its settlers are spread out with realistic perspective and design and coloration. Not only have two peoples met, but two distinct artistic styles as well.
It in not until after their terrible battle that we get to the true heart of the book. As Crazy Horse stands looking at the dead and dying, he is suddenly seized with the need to have a vision. He does not go the traditional sweat lodge route - instead he rides off into the mountains.
"Wakan Tanka! Great Mystery, even though I am small and pitiful, I want to help my people."
For three days and three nights, without food or water, he remains there. He sees, "no spirit, no bird, no animal, not even an insect. All he saw was the sky above and the earth of the pit."
At last, late on the third day, [Crazy Horse] climbed out of the pit. He was barely able to stand. He staggered downhill to where his pinto grazed near a cottonwood. Reaching the tree, he could stand no longer.
"Then," the text continues, "the vision came."
Click here for other Native American tales!