In re-creating the character of Crazy Horse, Garst fulfills the original purpose of biography, which is to commemorate greatness and to examine the subject’s character. The dramatization of fictionalized events, as well as actual ones, serves to highlight the character of Crazy Horse, emphasizing the values that readers of a different culture can recognize and admire. For example, readers learn of young Crazy Horse’s courage in confronting the bully No-Water; his discipline in learning to master the skills vital to the success of a warrior; his devotion to family in his grief over the death of his child and in his endangering himself by taking his wife to a white doctor for medical care; and his commitment to preserving the freedom and self-determination of his people. In the presentation of the narrative, up to its tragic conclusion, Garst portrays Crazy Horse as a hero who lived by his convictions, faced his adversaries with courage, and died with dignity.
With her life history of Crazy Horse and her illustrative details that provide insight into the lives of the Oglala Sioux, Garst attempts to present a people that is deeply spiritual, generous to those in need, and respectful of the resources of the land. Allaying her sympathies with them, rather than with the whites, the narrator presents events from the Native American point of view. She thereby emphasizes the cultural differences between Native Americans and whites, the latter of which are represented as not only rapacious in acquiring gold and land but also insensitive to the value of human life. To illustrate, Crazy Horse recalls with outrage Chivington’s justification to his troops for killing the innocent women and children of the Sand Creek village: “Lice make nits.”
Garst evokes sympathy for the subject in her audience by representing Crazy Horse and his people as multidimensional human beings caught up in a maelstrom of events that they were ultimately too helpless to combat or to escape. In many respects, this biography can be used with similar revisionist texts to counterbalance the traditional and romanticized accounts of the settling of the American West. Such is the value of the book to young readers who may be unfamiliar with these historical events and with the personal impact of the white invasion upon the individual lives of Native American people.
In keeping with the generic features of biography, Crazy Horse chronicles both the life of the individual and the time and place in which he lived. As horizons expanded for white Americans coursing westward for opportunities, the Sioux watched with foreboding as their own parameters of freedom shrank. The story of the Old West has been glamorized in American culture, elevating to heroic status outlaws and Indian-fighters while sentimentalizing and reducing to caricature the country’s original inhabitants. Garst, while sympathetic to the crisis of the Plains tribes, avoids romanticizing—and thus dehumanizing—her subjects. She dramatizes the Sioux as they come to terms with internal dissension regarding the appropriate course of action to take in response to the invasion of their land, as represented by Spotted Tail’s and Crazy Horse’s positions on the question. This biography personalizes the struggle of Native Americans by recounting the narrative of a boy’s life. The biography, in its brutal details and tragic conclusion, depicts more than simply the life and death of one individual: It portrays a betrayed culture struggling to save itself from annihilation.