Crazy Horse — a name that carries with it more than mere fame, but actual pride and a historical significance.
To unpack that historical significance will be Crazy Horse family elder Floyd Clown Sr. along with author William Matson, who together, authored, “Crazy Horse: The Lakota Warrior’s Life and Legacy.”
The book is based on the family’s oral history and Clown and Matson will discuss the work as well as sign copies from 2-4 p.m. Jan. 18 at Winterville Mounds Museum, 2415 Highway 1 N.
Crazy Horse’s legacy is one in which cannot be explained in one biographical film or text as told by a seemingly credible party.
For that reason, Clown and Matson are making their landmark 285th appearance as they have traveled across the United States and Europe.
The Crazy Horse family’s oral history had not been told outside the family for over a century because the government had been hunting their family members since Crazy Horse was assassinated in 1877.
“They had to go into hiding or rather take a vow of silence,” Matson explained.
Clown will be acting as the Crazy Horse family representative as he is the son of Edward Clown, who was a nephew to Crazy Horse and keeper of the sacred bundle and pipe as well as the stories.
The way the last name “Clown” originated is a story in and of itself.
There were several relatives of the warrior Crazy Horse who were at Wounded Knee, one of them being his first cousin, Big Foot, also known as “ Spotted Elk.”
When the Seventh Calvary got wind of the familial relationships, the Wounded Knee massacre of 1877 ensued.
There’s an “Old Man Crazy Horse” but when Crazy Horse the warrior was killed, the name Crazy Horse went back to the father who for a while was called “worm” or “waglula” in Lakota.
In 1918, one of Crazy Horse’s brothers, Peter Wolf, was assassinated in front of his wife and daughter because he announced he was the brother of Crazy Horse.
Peter Wolf is what was called his agency name.
Agency names were given to protect the identities of members of the Crazy Horse family.
Crazy Horse’s youngest sister, Iron Cedar, whose agency name was Julia Clown, had a husband called Amos, whose real name was Old Eagle.
According to Matson, when the agency asked him who he was, he said he was a heyoka — someone that heals people through laughter.
There’s no name for it in English, so the agency gave him the last name Clown.
Matson said Julia objected to a book that was put out by William Bordeaux claiming Crazy Horse was buried in Pine Ridge and it prompted the government to start searching for her.
Over time, the family learned if someone talked about Crazy Horse, it was best to listen politely and walk away.
“And if someone asked where Crazy Horse’s relatives were, even if it was one of them, they’d say, ‘Well, they went that way,’” Matson said, in an effort to get inquirers off of their trail.
“People thought the relatives were in Pine Ridge but they were actually in Cheyenne River,” he said, noting it was a reservation in between Pine Ridge and Standing Rock.
Matson explained the Crazy Horse family wanted to come out and tell their true story and tell their identity and tell it through the eyes of the family and the Lakota, their tribe, rather than through another culture’s eyes because their motivations are different.
“They didn’t have money, they don’t believe in owning the land, they believe the land owns them,” he said.
Because of that belief, Matson said some treaties reflected land to be shared between Native Americans and others is significantly disproportionate in favor of others, especially with most of the treaties being classified.
However, there was one treaty based on the Fort Peck reservation the tribe managed to keep from 1838.
The U.S. Department of the Interior inquired as to how they got the names of the mapmaker and surveyor listed on the treaty seeing as how they are classified and Matson said the tribe simply responded, “You gave them to us in 1838.”
Matson said the journey of writing and publishing the book was a tedious and somewhat emotional one.
Matson said his father served in the Seventh Calvary during World War II and remembers his father telling him the drill sergeant asked him who won the Battle of the Little Big Horn.
Matson’s father answered the drill sergeant and said the Natives did — that wasn’t the answer the drill sergeant wanted to hear and he was, in turn, punished for it.
From that point on, Matson said his father wanted to right a wrong that was done to the Natives but life got in the way and as his father’s life neared its end, he began writing something but a diagnosis of lymphoma would not allow him to finish the work.
On his death bed, Matson’s father asked him to finish what he started and he simply could not say no.
Though it wasn’t the direction he was going in becoming a filmmaker, Matson began doing the legwork.
He recalled not knowing anyone or even having a single acquaintance to aid him in the midwest but ended up getting in contact with an individual who lived on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation in Montana.
“I went out there and I asked him, ‘Do you have any stories about Little Big Horn?’” Matson said, noting the man said he did not.
And so, Matson then asked if he knew someone who did.
That question led Matson to a library, where he read nearly 300 books which ended up making very little sense to him.
“They were all theories and stuff like that, it’d be bibliography swappers, kind of what I’d call them, taken from what other people wrote and put their own spin on it,” he said. “Being a documentary filmmaker, I thought to myself, ‘I’m gonna make a movie about this. I’m gonna write a script.’”
Matson went on to explain he was working on a script but none of the books gave any indication as to what the names were of Crazy Horse’s mom.
Determined, Matson went back online and found someone on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation, called him, planed a visit, only to be stood up with three days on his hands to do whatever.
He then decided to visit the Sacred Mountain of Bear Butte in South Dakota.
Though he hadn’t read about it, always skipping over the sacred or cultural parts of the books he’d read about the Lakota, he said his experience was unforgettable and eye-opening.
The mountain was 440 feet, Matson said, “Halfway up, my dad spoke to me, and he’d been gone. He’d died three years earlier and he said, ‘Open your heart.’”
Matson said he realized he needed to know the spiritual and cultural side of the Lakota or he wouldn’t be qualified to write anything, do a documentary, or even speak about it.
“I went home and I read all the books I could find about the ceremonies and they were all different,” Matson explained.
Left amazed by what he’d read, Matson went back to Bear Butte the next year and the head park ranger, a Dakota tribe member, heard Matson’s dilemma and to his surprise, put Matson in contact with Floyd Clown.
To his disappointment, however, Clown skimmed Matson’s script and said, “This is garbage.”
Able to laugh about it now, Matson recalled how he pretended he wasn’t hurt and tried his best to disguise it.
The family told Matson they would tell him the true story if he has a good heart.
“So there I was, sitting there wondering how do I show that I have a good heart? How do I do that in a short period of time and gain their trust?” Matson said.
The family took Matson to a sweat lodge, they dined after, an uncle provided some unexpected comedic relief and from that moment, Matson and the Crazy Horse family were “tight.”
“For the next 12 years, we went to all the oral history sites because they did not have a written language. Everything was oral, so I went with my camera and took pictures and learned about it and then 12 years later, I wrote the book,” Matson said.
After six months of editing and making corrections, which at times felt never-ending, Matson said he finally could see the light at the end of tunnel and they got it finished.
“We got to that point and now we can truthfully say this is their story,” he said. “I’m just really nothing more than a messenger.”