Catching Crazy Horse

Following the final days of the Ogalala hero, Crazy Horse.

(This story originally appeared in the May/June 2009 issue of Nebraska Life Magazine - Check out our exclusive video interview with Mabell Kadelcek here!)




DAVE KADLECEK maneuvers his four-wheel drive pickup over the hills and through the valleys on his property along Beaver Creek near Hay Springs with the precision of an old cowboy who knows the territory “like the back of his hand.”

While driving, he points out ragged buttes and choppy cliffs, a haggard elm tree, piles of fallen stone and the charcoal from a long-ago fire, all of which, he said, felt the touch of Crazy Horse – the great Oglala Sioux warrior best known for his participation in defeating George Armstrong Custer at the Battle of the Little Bighorn.

At this location, some Sioux believe Crazy Horse witnessed his last sun dance, took his last vision quest and ultimately, was buried after his murder in 1877. A generation later, in the 1960s, a group of descendents from those ancient warriors wanted to tell Dave’s parents, Edward and Mabell, the stories of Crazy Horse on this land.

They wanted the world to remember Crazy Horse’s bravery and his skill as a horseman, hunter and warrior. They wanted the world to know where he walked, where he took his last vision quest and where he watched his last sun dance.

Mabell Kadlecek, now 98, was born in a log cabin located just south of White Clay, Neb. She grew up on the grassy Plains at the edge of the Black Hills and eventually moved to Pine Ridge, S.D., where her father worked as a blacksmith and car repairman. In 1938, she married Edward Kadlecek, the son of Homesteaders who settled just east of Beaver Valley on a tributary of Beaver Creek, near the town of Hay Springs. Edward was the local “witka” or “egg” man, supplying the Natives with farm produce.

In the early 1960s, Edgar Red Cloud – the great-grandson of Chief Red Cloud – came to Mabell and Edward and asked them to help arrange performances for a group of Indian dancers. Edward eventually became the group’s manager and dance narrator. In time, he also became a trusted friend and was invited to tribal events, such as sun dances, council inaugurations and feasts.

Their connection to Crazy Horse became known when one of the dancers needed a new buckskin dress. Edward sought out seamstress Jessie Romero Eagle Heart. During their conversation, Jessie mentioned hearing stories about how Crazy Horse and his Oglala and Brule family camped on the Kadlecek land of Beaver Valley. A few months later, Jessie and her sister, Mary Pacer, and Thomas American Horse and his nephew, Matthew Eagle Heart, shared more information with Edward.

After listening for a while, Edward and Mabell showed the group a small red pipe they had found near a pond downstream from their house. American Horse asked to be shown exactly where it was found, and the couple took him to a flat piece of ground near an old beaver dam on Beaver Creek.

“After a long silence, he spoke in Lakota to the others,” Edward later wrote. “Then their memories crowded to the surface as they talked freely of the great leaders of the past. Most of their talk was of Crazy Horse because . . . it was here that he made his last stop.”

Mabell left Beaver Valley a few years ago and leaves care of the land to her sons, Dave and Philip. She now lives in a retirement home in Chadron. There, she talks to visitors from around the world who want to hear about Crazy Horse. She often begins by telling them that Crazy Horse – or “Tashunka Witko” as it is said in Lakota Sioux – was born between 1840 and 1845 near present-day Rapid City to an Oglala medicine man and his Brule wife.

He is believed to have been around 5 feet, 5 inches tall, with a light complexion, brown eyes and light hair – but no one knows exactly what he looked like because unlike Red Cloud, Sitting Bull and some other Indian leaders, Crazy Horse refused to have his photo taken.

Legend has it that the Oglala Sioux warrior acquired many of his skills through mystical rituals, fasting and praying. One such episode took place in the summer of 1854 when as a boy he witnessed what became known as the Grattan Massacre east of Fort Laramie in what is now Wyoming, then the Nebraska Territory. In the massacre, the boy saw Conquering Bear shot when soldiers attempted to arrest a Sioux who had supposedly stolen and slaughtered a cow from traveling Mormons. Thirty soldiers and civilians died. The incident was a significant early event in the Plains Indians Wars and led to William Harney’s Battle of Blue Water retribution against a village of Brule Sioux the following year in present-day Garden County, Neb.

After the Grattan Massacre, the young Crazy Horse received the first of many visions. He saw a rider zigzagging around flashes of lightning. When the storm faded away, a red-backed hawk flew over the rider’s head. The medicine man who interpreted the dream said it meant that Crazy Horse was destined to be a noble leader and great warrior.

(This story originally appeared in the May/June 2009 issue of Nebraska Life Magazine - Check out our exclusive video interview with Mabell Kadelcek here!)

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