Editor's note: A vision quest clarifies one boy's destiny.
Crazy Horse, they say, was always different. Many children cry when they are born, but not Crazy Horse. He studied the world with serious eyes. "Look at our son," his mother said. "How brave he is!"
"See how curly his hair is," said his father, Tashunka Witco.
"We will call him Curly," said his mother.
Seasons passed. The boy named Curly grew strong and wiry, but would never be tall. Though small, Curly was a leader. When others spoke, he was quiet. When others hesitated, he acted.
"Follow me," he would say, and the other boys would follow. A Lakota boy could go wherever he wanted and Curly wanted to go everywhere. He led his friends to swim in the river and ride far over the plains. They followed him up the highest cliffs where eagles nested.
One day a white man's cow strayed into the Lakota camp. It trampled through a tipi and knocked over cooking pots. A warrior stepped forward and killed the cow with an arrow. The settler who owned the cow demanded that the Army punish the Lakota. Chief Conquering Bear tried to avoid trouble. He offered a mule and five horses for the cow.
The white soldiers ignored the offer and fired their rifles and wagon guns at the Lakotas. Conquering Bear was mortally wounded.
Curly was there and witnessed the terrible thing that happened. Curly decided he needed a vision to guide him.
Normally a boy would need a holy man to prepare him for a vision quest. He would fast and purify himself in a sweat lodge before setting out. But Curly felt he had no time.
Then the vision came. It was a rider on the back of Curly's own pony, yet horse and man floated in the air. As the man rode closer, Curly saw that he wore blue leggings and his face was not painted. A single feather hung from his long brown hair. Behind one ear a round stone was tied. A red-backed hawk flew above the man's head. Curly heard these words which were not spoken.
Keep nothing for yourself.
Curly felt hands on his shoulders, shaking him. He opened his eyes. His father and High Backbone were bent over him, concern in their faces. Curly looked past them. His pony grazed peacefully, hobbled as it had been before his vision began. No rider was on its back. But a red-backed hawk was perched in the top of the bush near his horse.
"Why are you here?" his father demanded.
"I came to seek a vision," Curly said.
Three winters passed. Curly had become not a different person, but a better one. No young man was more generous or serious. He spoke even less than before, but when his did speak, his words were always wise and clear.
Finally, Tashunka Witco saw the time had come to speak with his son about his vision quest. Tashunka Witco sat with Curly in the sweat lodge and listened quietly as Curly described the powerful vision given to him.
"The man on that horse," Curly's father said, "is the one you will become. You will be first to defend your people, though some will try to hold you back. As long as you keep nothing for yourself, no arrow or bullet can hurt you. Because of the vision you must have a new name, so I give you my own. From now on, you will be Tashunka Witco."
The young man, whose name had been Curly, listened to his father's words. His new name fit that vision of a horse dancing through a storm. From that day on he would be known by that name. His name would always stand for the bravest of all the Lakotas, one who always defended his people. In the days to come, all the world would know that name as it was said in English. They would know Crazy Horse.
From CRAZY HORSE'S VISION. Text copyright (c) 2000 by Joseph Bruchac. Illustrations copyright (c) 2000 by S.D. Nelson. Reprinted by arrangement with LEE & LOW BOOKS INC. 95 Madison Ave., New York, NY 10016.