The Oglala Lakota leader Crazy Horse helped lead The Battle of the Greasy Grass. That the tribe’s name for what non-Natives call the Battle of Little Big Horn. Crazy Horse has had many biographies written about him, but never from someone related to the leader.
Floyd Clown and William Matson have changed that.
The two have recently collaborated on a book, Crazy Horse: The Lakota Warrior’s Life and Legacy, an oral history of Crazy Horse from his direct decedents. Only recently has the family felt that it was time to tell their story.
Clown said he was inspired to write the book when Crazy Horse malt liquor brewing company used the name without consulting the decedents, resulting in an eight-year lawsuit. The family decided to sue in part because Crazy Horse had openly disagreed with Native Americans being introduced to alcohol.
But the court case ended up providing important new information to the family, allowing them to legally document their ties to Crazy Horse.
“When we got in this federal court case in 2001, at that time the federal court-appointed three administrators to determine the blood heirs of the Crazy Horse estate.”
That is Floyd Clown.
“To determine the blood heirs? They acknowledge six documents. A probate which is a death certificate, enrollment and allotments, census, ration listing and church records. So these six documents the federal law recognizes as legal documents as proving your identity so this is what my family used to make our blood trees for my grandfather.”
After that, the Clown family enlisted William Matson to help write an accurate account of Crazy Horse’s life.
Matson felt drawn to the project even though he is non-Native. Matson’s involvement in the project began with a promise to tell the Native side of the Battle of Little Big Horn.
“He always wanted to write the Native side to The Battle of Little Big Horn and he wasn’t able to. After he retired he started to write it and then he got lymphoma. And then on his deathbed, he asked me to write it. So, I went looking for some Native voices, because there is not a lot of Native voices in the history.”
The pair has been on over 140 stops around the United States and Europe telling the family’s story of Crazy Horse. Both Floyd and Matson expressed frustration with the inaccuracies of not only Crazy Horses’ story but at the lack of Native perspectives on American history in general.
But above all else, Floyd Clown wants to preserve the oral history of Crazy Horse for the next generation.
“For our children and grandchildren to know their true identity, that’s why it took 12 years to compile our oral history. Verify the truth. Whenever we verified a story we would put it in this book. We wanted to make a book for our family.”