Nebraska Historical Marker: Fort Robinson, Camp Sheridan Pine Ridge Indian Agency Road
U.S. 385, Chadron, Dawes County, Nebraska
View this marker's location 42.813745, -103.0183
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Following the 1874 establishment of military posts near the Red Cloud and Spotted Tail agencies for the Oglala and Brule Sioux, the army laid out a forty-two-mile road to transport military and Indian supplies between the agencies and posts. Oglala leader Crazy Horse traveled the road on his final journey, when an army officer and Indian scouts escorted him from Camp Sheridan to Camp (later Fort) Robinson on September 5, 1877. Crazy Horse was killed that night while resisting imprisonment and his father returned his body to Camp Sheridan the next day. After Red Cloud Agency was relocated to Dakota Territory in 1878 and renamed Pine Ridge Agency, the road was extended there. By 1881 a telegraph line paralleled the road. With the coming of settlers in the late 1870s, civilian stagecoaches and wagons traveled the road. The government continued to use it to deliver Indian agency supplies into the 1880s. Completion of the Fremont, Elkhorn, and Missouri Valley Railroad through northwestern Nebraska in 1885-86 relegated the road to local use.
The Death of Crazy Horse
On September 5, 1877, Crazy Horse, famous leader of the Oglala Sioux, was killed at Fort Robinson.
The Great Sioux War
In 1868, the Plains Indians signed a treaty with the United States government at Fort Laramie, Wyoming. The Indians agreed to cede land to the government in return for supplies. The government promised that the Sioux could keep the Black Hills, which they considered sacred territory. When gold was discovered in the Black Hills in 1874, the government tried to buy the territory. The Lakota Sioux would not sell the Black Hills or move to reservations. In 1876, the United States Army began attacking Sioux villages. The conflict was known as the Great Sioux War, even though the Northern Cheyenne also played a major role.
The two great leaders of the Plains Indians who had not yet surrendered were Sitting Bull, a holy man of the Hunkpapa Sioux, and Crazy Horse, war chief of the Oglala Sioux. (The Oglala and Hunkpapa are sub-tribes of the Lakotas.) Crazy Horse was known for his bravery and charisma, making him an effective military leader. He adopted a hard-line stance against the government, banning any of his followers from entering Indian Agencies (reservations) and refusing to negotiate.
Early in the war, the Army suffered two surprising defeats at Rosebud and Little Bighorn (the latter memorialized as Custer’s Last Stand). These losses, however, caused the military to fight harder against the Native Americans. Crazy Horse’s coalition of Plains Indians was divided between those who were willing to negotiate with the whites and those who insisted on continuing the fight. Many of Crazy Horse’s followers left him for the safety of the Indian Agencies. Eventually, Crazy Horse realized he could not keep fighting and that his people could only survive if they accepted life on the reservations. On May 6, 1877, he surrendered at the Red Cloud Agency near Camp (now Fort) Robinson.
The Last Days of Crazy Horse
Many Sioux leaders were jealous of Crazy Horse’s prominence. General Crook, the primary adversary of the Plains Indians, contributed to the intertribal tensions by saying he planned to make Crazy Horse the chief of all the Sioux. Spotted Tail, the current chief, and Red Cloud, who felt he should be chief, both turned against Crazy Horse. After a rumor circulated that Crazy Horse planned to kill General Crook at a meeting, an Army officer offered a bounty to any Indian who would kill Crazy Horse. The plan was stopped by a superior officer, but plans were made for the arrest of Crazy Horse.
On September 4, 1877, eight cavalry and four hundred Native scouts, including some of Crazy Horse’s old friends, set out to arrest the famous warrior. Crazy Horse’s wife was sick, however, so he was already traveling to the Spotted Tail Agency at Camp Sheridan, also in Nebraska. Soldiers guaranteeing his safety brought him to Camp Robinson on September 5. He arrived at the camp late that night and was greeted by a number of Indians at the camp, some of whom were friends and some of whom were enemies. The soldiers brought him to the camp jail. When he realized that he was being arrested, he attempted to escape. Little Big Man, once a close friend of Crazy Horse, grabbed him. Crazy Horse pulled out a knife and cut Little Big Man’s wrist. The two struggled outside of the jail, where other Natives joined the scuffle. Somewhere in the struggle, Crazy Horse was stabbed twice by one of the guard’s bayonets. One account named Private William Gentles as the guard who landed the fatal blow. Eyewitness testimony differs whether the stabbing was accidental or on purpose. In any case, the wounds were fatal. He died only hours later. While he was dying, he said he blamed his fellow Indians for his death, as they betrayed him to the white man. After his death, his parents took his body and buried him at an unknown location.
The Crazy Horse Medal
The Nebraska State Historical Society Museum contains an odd artifact of the death of Crazy Horse: a medal awarded to an unknown person for “gallant services rendered to the whites at the death of Crazy Horse.” There is some circumstantial evidence that the medal was awarded to Little Big Man by President Hayes, while others suggest it might have been given to the Indians by the railroad. There is no conclusive evidence either way. Still, the medal shows that the Native Americans themselves plotted in and gained from the death of Crazy Horse- or at least thought they benefited at the time. The Sioux Wars ended in 1890 with the Wounded Knee Massacre, and the Black Hills still belong to the white man.
Powers, Thomas. The Killing of Crazy Horse. New York: Vintage Books, 2011.
See also the Spring 2014 issue of Nebraska History, which includes articles on Fort Robinson and Crazy Horse.
See Nebraska Historical Marker Program for more information.