Crazy Horse Ride 2011
2011 Crazy Horse Ride and Highway Dedication
By: Bamm Brewer
If you did not make it to the 2011 Crazy Horse Memorial Highway dedication, you missed a very special event. As the riders began arriving at Ft. Robinson State Park, Sunday, June 5th, 2011, it also shaped into another big year for the 14th annual Crazy Horse Ride.
We started counting horses in the holding pasture and there were over 150, with horse trailers still coming in throughout the evening. By the edge of dark it appeared the Monday morning highway dedication would host a big number of riders. Our camp got together with the mission to get things rolling early since the highway dedication was set for 8 a.m. Could it be done?
This was not just any dedication. It was a historical event. The State of Nebraska Highway Commission, the Cities of Chadron and Crawford and the Oglala and Rosebud Lakota Tribes were set to dedicate a part of Highway 20 the “Crazy Horse Memorial Highway.”
To get up early enough for a 5:30 a.m. breakfast, then catch and saddle over 150 horses in order to get everyone mounted up might have been a challenge anywhere else. But these were the descendants of Crazy Horse; when the Lakota hear that name to this day - things get done.
All the riders arrived at the parade grounds. As usual, a green horse spooked, sending a rider flying to the ground. The parade grounds were where Crazy Horse was stabbed in the back and killed many years ago. This is where the ride starts every year, and this was the location of the historical Highway Dedication. It is a normal scene for our young horses to get spooked in this spot as there is something about the area. We could feel it. The horses could feel it. It is sacred ground.
The Highway dedication went great. The Governor of Nebraska, Dave Heineman, was present, along with the ride spiritual leader, Wilmer Mestith. Representing the Rosebud Sioux Tribe was Keith Horse Looking. Governor Heineman said, “There’s no better way to dedicate a highway to Crazy Horse then to have this many Lakota riders riding alongside it today.”
Keith Horse Looking sang a Rosebud Crazy Horse song that had never been heard on the ride before. That was really special. Wilmer Mestith spoke on behalf of the riders and OST Leadership who were unable to attend. Wilmer then sang a Crazy Horse song that is said to be the original song sung after the Battle of the Little Big Horn. The Descendant's Organization was also present with Doug Bissonett and Marvin Goings having a chance to speak. The new signs were then unveiled. One Crazy Horse Memorial Highway sign was placed west of Hay Springs, and the other was set west of Ft. Robinson State Park.
With a blessing, the riders were set for a long day in the hot sun where temperatures were expected to be in the 90’s. It was one hot day, probably one of the hottest first days ever in the history of the ride. Some people said it got up to 97 degrees. The riders arrived in Chadron to a great welcome as always. The city of Chadron has truly developed a friendship with the people. It can be said that Chadron is the friendliest city bordering the Reservation.
Tasunke Witko Warrior Society
This year was the third year we rode with the Spirit Horse. In the Lakota Way, we do things by four.
The Spirit horse has been a very powerful part of the ride. It has added a whole new dimension. We are thankful and respect the ways of our people. We went to the ceremony to pray for a good ride and ask for guidance. Our Spiritual leader had a good message for the year’s ride. We were given a responsibility: when we could see the Black Hills we were to tell the youth what Tasunke Witko - Crazy Horse - stood for our way of life. We were also asked to sing the Crazy Horse song for the youth to learn it. We went a step further, putting the song on the back of the year’s T-shirts.
More was conveyed to the riders during the ceremony. The Warrior Society that Crazy Horse ran with consisted of the youngest sons, 40 altogether. We were told that they would ride with us. It was a very special week. Before the ride even started, I felt really at ease because I knew everything was going to be good for the Oyate, the People. We were protected by the Warrior Society, and Tasunke Witko would ride with us again.
When the Thunder Beings came we were told not to worry because they would stay off in the distance to protect us also. The Spirit Horse, blessed and painted, brought tears to my eyes. It stayed in the front of the ride the entire way, even through town. It was a wild horse that no one rode. It could run fast as the wind. The horse had two special black patched eyes and a black spot on its back. It really had no name for it was felt that we did not choose the horse, Tasunke Witko chose it.
When we were getting ready for the dedication, we were worried about being there on time. We forgot the horse tied up back at the camp. Just then we remembered, “The Spirit Horse!” There it came running to catch up. It had broken free from the rope itself to come running up front. It was really meant to be from that point on. We knew it was going to be a good day. We are not perfect. We do make mistakes. But we always listen to the advice of our people, and more importantly, our spiritual leaders.
The Crazy Horse Camp Brings Together The Horse Nation
The third night, Rest Night, was a true highlight of the ride with the Creekside drum group introducing a new staff to the ride. The special presentation was made with Tonto Black Bear doing the honors. This drum group had been with the ride since the start. Now the riders carry the Creekside staff. There is one more interesting fact about the Creek side drum group: all members of the drum group are also riders.
There was plenty of entertainment on Rest Night at the Crazy Horse Camp. If you were there, it was a great night of honoring and fun. The Chief Eagle family put on a great hoop dance demonstration. A hilarious Heyoka Horse Dancer made an unexpected camp appearance to give the riders a special blessing. On the back of the most spotted appaloosa horse he said, ”Hau Lakota Oyate.” Then the clouds darkened. People felt the awe of a Heyoka presence.
If you have ever seen our camp, there are horses standing around mingling amongst the Oyate. It’s as if they are people too. The Thunder Beings came close to look in from the south. As the skies darkened, you could tell the Oyate felt uneasy; however, the Heyoka Dancer brought Good Medicine in the form of laughter to the riders. As soon as the Heyoka Horse Dancer was done, the skies looked good again.
Crazy Horse Ride Produces Raw Courage
It is not an easy ride from Ft. Robinson, Nebraska to the Oglala Lakota Veteran’s Pow-Wow on the Pine Ridge Reservation. As a matter of a fact, it is a jaunt. It is especially challenging for those small youth riders. They show a lot of courage just coming and making the attempt.
We are thankful for everyone participating. On the 2011 ride I saw some true heart. Charlie Richards rode with four cracked ribs and a fracture in his leg. A new German friend rode with him.
Our National Geographic writer Alexandrea “Bo” Fuller was out after the 30 mile first day. She decided that her story could be better written from the car. The renowned photographer, Aaron Huey, stayed in camp and rode the second day. However, he did eat taniga with the warriors and even put some in his pocket for later that evening.
Our Vietnam Veteran, Chuck Conroy joined in on the second day. Then his horse floored him. He was a little scuffed up, but he weathered the storm to continue on. Chuck Conroy said, “It was the first time that horse was ridden in two years.”
On the last day of the ride, we had the honor of seeing Chuck Conroy carry the Red Feather Society staff. I found out that staff had been put away since the first year of the ride. Chuck Richards, a former paratrooper from the 173rd Screaming Eagles, is the Keeper of the Red Feather Society staff. It is the top warrior society staff. Only a warrior who has seen actual combat and been wounded may carry the staff. The Conroy Tiospaye have a military warrior tradition going back all the way to the Battle of the Little Big Horn. It was an honor to ride with Chuck Conroy as he carried the Red Feather Society Staff.
I have seen some great riders hit the ground hard last year. I stand amazed at the true courage they have to continue on. Nupa White Plume had his horse flip with him outside of Pine Ridge. He was beginning to come to when I got there. The horse rolled over him in a cactus patch. He just got up to dust himself off.
It is neat to see when someone does actually go down how fast someone is there to check on him. After a day, these riders become a big family. These are only some of the wipe outs and buck offs I saw. There were plenty more; however, there were no serious injuries on the ride. It’s the way of the Lakota horsemen to keep on riding even after a dirty fall. After it’s all over, the crew gets a good laugh about it. We admire anyone who gets back on.
The Importance of the Crazy Horse Ride.
Each year T-shirts are given to every rider who participates in this drug and alcohol free event. We ask of the Oyate to give congratulations to each youth rider when they see them wearing the T-shirt throughout the year. The ride has become a rite of passage for the Lakota youth. The drug and alcohol free event teaches life skills using the spiritual connection to the horse. The ride gives our youth the tools needed to prepare for a difficult life. Most importantly we remind them what Crazy Horse stood for, our Lakota way of life.
The Crazy Horse Ride is a Lakota cultural event that supports the traditional values of the Oglala Lakota Tribe. We do this for Crazy Horse, our Veterans, and the youth. It is a responsibility bestowed upon and supported by many of our people. Thank you to all. See you next year.