The grandson of famed Native American warrior Crazy Horse visited El Dorado Tuesday night for a book signing at the South Arkansas Arts Center. Floyd Clown Sr. and William Matsen were here to promote a book by Matsen, “Crazy Horse: The Lakota Warrior’s Life and Legacy.”
Matsen, a documentarian, wrote the book based on an oral history given to him by Clown and his family members. He said he was inspired to learn about Crazy Horse from a Native American perspective by his father.
“My connection to the Crazy Horse family started way before I was born,” Matsen said, explaining that his father was part of the 7th Cavalry in World War II, the same regiment Lieutenant Colonel George Custer was in during the American Indian Wars. “The drill sergeant used to ask ‘Who won the Battle of Little Bighorn?’ and he said ‘The Indians did,’ and that was the wrong answer as far as the drill sergeant was concerned … He always wanted to right that wrong … He wanted to write something on the Battle of Little Bighorn from the Native side.”
Matsen said his father was never able to make a connection with someone who could tell him the Native American perspective on the battle, and, on his deathbed, asked him to take the job over. Matsen said he couldn’t say no and set to work on finding the truth.
When Matsen and Clown first met, Clown’s family was in the final stages of a legal battle with Hornell Brewing Company. The court case revealed that the administrator of Crazy Horse’s estate was not actually related to Crazy Horse. Clown’s family was able to prove their ancestry and he was appointed administrator of the estate.
“For us, for family, we have nothing to hide. It’s time for truth now,” Clown said.
Clown said in making their “blood tree,” a requirement of the United States government in asserting tribal membership and relation to other Native Americans, he discovered 3,000 other members of Crazy Horse’s family. He realized many did not know of their relation to Crazy Horse, so he wanted to share the family’s legacy with them.
“That’s when we decided to make a book for our children and grandchildren, that they would know their identity, who they are, know of their grandfathers and grandmothers,” Clown said. “We wanted to do it like how the Lakota families hand down their oral histories. When you tell a story, you tell it exactly the same as how you heard it.”
Crazy Horse is known for his heroism in battles for Native American land in the 19th century. Clown said much of what is currently known about Crazy Horse has a shaky historical background and he wanted to set the record straight.
“We could say, when we made this book for the family, everything that was written before we made this book is fiction. It’s assumption; it’s non-truth,” Clown said.
Originally, Matsen intended to make a feature film about the life of Crazy Horse. However, when Clown and his family read the script, Matsen said they thought it was garbage.
Instead, Clown showed Matsen various landmarks that corresponded to events in Crazy Horse’s life as well as the Lakota tradition. After another writer was forced to leave the project, Clown’s family asked Matsen to write the oral history that had been passed down to them about their ancestry and traditions.
It was only when the book was in its final drafts that the family decided to try for a wider publication. It has since been published in German and Norwegian as well as English.
“When our grandfather was here, he [led] by example. And that’s what we’re doing, his family. By example, we’re setting protocol for All Red Nations,” Clown said.
Tuesday’s event was Clown and Matson’s 185th book signing. Matson spent 12 years with the Clown family visiting landmarks and listening to their stories. It was another year and a half before the book headed for publication. Clown said he is glad to be able to share his family’s story from their own perspective.
“It’s time to correct the history of our people of this nation with the truth,” Clown said. “I know my grandfathers are happy that the truth is coming out.”
Ricky Turner was one reader in attendance; he said he was about halfway through the book and had already learned a lot.
“[The book] gave me an opportunity to see it from their [Native Americans’] perspective. … It just made me see more than the kind of “savage-type” that we’re taught in history,” Turner said. “[I see] how misled, misguided we’re taught. … I’ve learned more respect for their beliefs and family units.”
“Crazy Horse: The Lakota Warrior’s Life and Legacy” is available for sale.
Caitlan Butler can be reached at 870-862-6611 or firstname.lastname@example.org.