American Horse
American Horse Leader
American Horse was one of a select group of "shirtwearers," who assisted the Oglala chiefs with their duties. Billy Garnett, a white trader, watched the ceremony at which American Horse, Crazy Horse, Young-Man-Afraid and Sword were made "shirt-wearers" in 1865.

After a feast, one of the wise and knowledgeable elders would describe the duties of a "shirt-wearer." Such warriors were duty-bound to lead warriors in peace and in war, keeping the peace and respecting the rights of the weak.

"They must be wise and kind and firm in all things, counseling, advising, and then commanding. If their words were not heard, they could use blows to enforce their orders; in extreme cases, they even had the right to kill. But they must never take up arms against their own people without thought and counsel and must always act with caution and justice."

Custer's Last Stand

In 1874, George Custer made a discovery during a reconnaissance mission in the Black Hills that eventually led to his death. Gold was discovered in the Black Hills and drew a new wave of miners and speculators to Indian lands. Although the government broke its treaty with the Indians by allowing whites into the Black Hills, it was decided to send a new delegation to the Lakota to negotiate the purchase of the sacred land. Some seven thousand Lakota came to the council with the government in September 1875.

Because the Black Hills were (and are today) important to the Lakota religion, the Indians were in no mood to sell. Red Cloud said he would not take less than seventy million dollars as well as beef herds to last seven generations. Others just called for war. No agreement was reached and the miners continued to swarm into the Black Hills. By the New Year, "there were eleven thousand whites in Custer City alone," according to Schmitt and Brown.

Depending upon who tells the story, either Custer surprised Sitting Bull's camp or Sitting Bull cleverly ambushed the Seventh Calvary. Whichever version actually occurred, one-hundred and eighty-nine enlisted soldiers, thirteen officers and four civilians died on June 25, 1876 at the Little Big Horn, according to official military records. Others have indicated two hundred sixty-six soldiers were killed with another fifty-four wounded. Historians do not specifically mention American Horse at the battle with Custer, but evidence discovered a few months later indicates he and his band of Lakota probably were participants in the massacre.

After the celebration of their victory, the Lakota broke up into smaller bands and began their usual summer hunting for buffalo. In the fall, many started moving toward the Agencies. American Horse and his band travelled with the Miniconjous leader Roman Nose.

In all, there were some two hundred warriors in their camp along with many women and children. They had good conduct certificates identifying them as part of the Spotted Tail Agency and planned to go there for the winter.