McGillycuddy and Crazy Horse

Valentine McGillycuddy

Valentine McGillycuddy

Today—September 5—marks the day Crazy Horse was killed at Ft. Robinson by William Gentles in 1877.

Writer Larry McMurtry says that a scuffle broke out while Crazy Horse was being led through the fort, with Little Big Man restraining Crazy Horse.

(Not the Little Big Man character of the 1964 book or 1970 film.)

Crazy Horse “got one arm free and cut Little Big Man, causing him to loosen his hold.”

Then, Gentles stabbed Crazy Horse with a bayonet, a wound that would prove fatal.

He died slowly, administered by a doctor, Valentine McGillycuddy, with whom he had developed a friendship.

McGillycuddy had attended to Crazy Horse’s wife Black Shawl, who was sick with tuberculosis.

But not everyone admired McGillycuddy, particularly my relatives.

The doctor became a powerful Indian agent and two years after Crazy Horse died was appointed to oversee the denizens at Pine Ridge.

As treaties were signed that gave way to western expansion and as game dwindled, Indians in the mid and late 1800s were encouraged to camp near the white settlements, where they received provisions from Indian agents and the military.

They were nicknamed “ration Indians.”

McGillycuddy was responsible for administering rations on which Indians would become dependent for sustenance.

His mission was to “bring order and civilization to the uncivilized,” writes Irma Miller, one of my relatives, in her book, French-Indian Families in the West (1988).

McGillycuddy had a thrifty streak and withheld provisions.

In his first annual report McGillycuddy claimed to have saved the U.S. some $50,000 by “economizing on rations,” Miller writes.

When Oglala headmen Red Cloud and Little Wound (son of Bull Bear) protested that McGillycuddy was starving the Sioux, McGillycuddy appointed American Horse to take over Red Cloud’s leadership role.

Meantime, my relative Louis Benjamin Lessert, an Osage-Frenchman who married the daughter of Bear Robe (Little Wound’s sister), settled with his family—including children and grandchildren—at Pine Ridge.

Lessert assumed several jobs, including hauling supplies for the Sioux and for the Indian agent who preceded McGillycuddy.

But McGillycuddy didn’t want any employees who had worked for the last administrator, so he fired Lessert.

Rather than leave Pine Ridge, Lessert went to work for a trader and they tried to oust McGillycuddy, signing a petition that led to more than one government inspection of the doctor-turned-Indian agent.

McGillycuddy passed inspection and reported another $50,000 in savings in his 1881 report to the government.

The description of his role in Indian affairs varies according to who tells the story.

A traveler’s guide at the Black Hills Visitor website portrays McGillycuddy reverently, noting:

Despite Red Cloud’s continuing opposition, Agent McGillycuddy fought vigorously to ensure that Washington kept its promise of food and rations to those on the reservation. He organized an Indian police force, imposed the rule of law on whites and Indians alike, set up a clean, modern boarding school for the education of Indian children and, in general, maintained a peaceful, progressive agency.

The visitor’s note is written from a 20th Century lens of Western progress, and scholars report that McGillycuddy starved the Indians and appointed Indian police to split apart tribesmen.

Turns out Little Big Man, who held Crazy Horse’s arms, was a tribal policeman.

Photo of Valentine McGillycuddy from the Black Hills Visitor website at http://www.blackhillsvisitor.com

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About Cynthia Coleman Emery

Professor and researcher at Portland State University who studies science communication, particularly issues that impact American Indians. She is enrolled with the Osage tribe.
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