Young Man Afraid Of His Horses


G. Sam Garr

Wild West Magazine, February 2003


THE HEADLINE IN the Rapid City Daily Journal of July 16, 1893, read: “A Good Indian Gone-The Best Indian Friend to the Whites Goes to Happy Hunting Grounds.” The “good Indian”who died was Oglala Sioux Chief Tasunka Kokipapi, meaning “Man of Whose Horses They are Afraid,” but better known to history as Young Man Afraid of His Horses (obviously something was lost in the translation).

Dr. Valentine T McGillycuddy, former agent of the Pine Ridge Reservation and a warm per­sonal friend of the deceased, furnished the following state­ment to the South Dakota newspaper: “This noted chief was known among the whites as Young Man Afraid, to distin­guish him from his father, Old Man Afraid, who died at Pine Ridge agency in 1889, at the age of seventy-five years, the young man’s’ age being about fifty years. As successor to his father, he was hereditary chief of the [Oglala] Sioux, the Young Man Afraid having held the hereditary chieftainship for many generations. This long line of blue-blooded suc­cession gave him more promi­nence, influence and authority in the Sioux nation than any chief living.”

Exactly when Young Man Afraid of His Horses was born is not known. McGillycuddy suggests it was about 1839; several sources say about 1830. As a young warrior, the son of Old Man Afraid of His Horses took part in raids on emigrants along the Holy Road (the Indian name for the Oregon Trail).

Later, after the Oglalas agreed not to make further raids on the wagon trains, Old Man Afraid took his son and follow­ers to the Smokey Hill River in Kansas. They spent the winter of 1856-57 there with the Cheyennes. An important medicine man named Ice took a liking to Young Man Afraid and taught him the ways of the Cheyenne people.

In the summer of 1865 the Oglalas were camped on a creek about 70 miles northwest of Fort Laramie (in what would become Wyoming) when the tribal leaders decided it was time to revive a custom that had fallen into disuse. Seven older leaders, called “big bel­lies,” selected four strong                                   ,   young men to be “shirt­wearers.” With all the people standing in front of their tepees, elaborately dressed warriors rode around the camp four times. Each time a young man from the crowd was chosen. The first three were Young Man Afraid, Sword. and American Horse, all sons of big bellies. Unexpectedly, the fourth was a commoner named Crazy Horse (see “Warriors and Chiefs” in the December 2002 Wild West). All four men were paraded to the center lodge.

After a huge feast of buffalo and boiled dog, the big bellies told the four young men that their job as shirt-wearers would be to supervise the war­riors and to make sure that order was maintained. All Oglala men, women and chil­dren were to have their rights respected. Shirt-wearers must be wise, kind and firm in all things. 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 were forbidden to ever take up arms against their own people without great thought and council.

Shirts made from two bighorn sheepskins beautifully. quilled and fringed with hair from horses’ manes were handed out. One of the big bellies told the shirt-wearers that they were obliged to look out for the poor, the widows, the orphans and all those of little power, but, if someone harmed the shirt-wearers, they were to pay no more attention to it than if a dog lifted his leg at their tepees. The big belly acknowledged that it would be difficult for the foursome to follow these strong injunc­tions, but said he knew they would do their duty gladly and with good heart.

By the end of 1865, the most powerful of the Oglala leaders were Crazy Horse, Young Man Afraid and Red Cloud. Although not a hereditary chief, Red Cloud seemed to direct the effort to dislodge whites from the Bozeman Trail and the Powder River coun­try in the mid-1860s. Young Man Afraid and Crazy Horse helped all they could. To appease the Indians, the U.S. government in 1868 gave the Black Hills, Dakota Terri­tory, forever to the Indians. Nevertheless, by 1875, white miners were arriving in droves to search for gold.

To ease tensions resulting from the obvi­ous violation of the 1868 treaty, the gov­ernment offered to buy back the Black Hills from the Sioux (or Lakotas). The offer split the Sioux into three groups. The older reservation Indians, led by Red Cloud and Spotted Tail, believed that they’d already lost the Black Hills so they might as well get the best price they could for them. A sec­ond faction led by Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull was determined to fight. Young Man Afraid, who had abandoned the warpath after Red Cloud’s War, led the third group, which hoped to work out some kind of accommodation that would allow the Lakotas to live in peace. In his view, giving up the Black Hills would be a disaster for the Lakota way of life. Although he was unwilling to fight, he was equally unwill­ing to sell those sacred hills.

During the summer of 1875, Red Cloud, Spotted Tail and other reservation chiefs made a trip to Washington, D.C., to discuss the sale. Although invited, Young Man Afraid, steadfast in his opposition, chose not to go. Crazy Horse and Black Twin also refused to make the trip.

In September 1875 a U.S. commission came to the reservation to continue nego­tiating for the Black Hills. Many Sioux (as many as 20,000, according to one esti­mate) assembled on Chadron Creek in Nebraska, 25 miles from Camp Robinson, the nearest military post. Under an Army :ent flap sat a general council of the Sioux with the commissioners sent from Wash­ington-including Brig. Gen. Alfred Terry and Senator William B. Allison of Iowa. The only protection for these officials was pro­vided by Captain James Egan’s troop of the 2nd Cavalry, about 50 men.

On the second day of the council there suddenly appeared from the direction of the Black Hills 300 mounted Indians in full war regalia under the leadership of another Oglala Sioux, Little Big Man. He announced that by any old division of the hunting grounds, the Black Hills had been appor­tioned to the northern Sioux, and that he had been sent down from the north by Sitting Bull not to sell the Black Hills but to kill the white commissioners.

That dramatic announcement caused Captain Egan to quickly place his company to the rear of the commissioners’ tent, with their carbines loaded. In response, Little Big Man stationed his warriors in the rear of Egan’s men, whom they outnum­bered 7 to 1. Egan then ordered his first sergeant to cover Little Big Man with his carbine and to fire at the first hostile signal from, the Indian leader. Into this tense situation came Young Man Afraid, who brought with him many war­riors also in full war rig. After wedging his men between the northern warriors and the cav­alry, Young Man Afraid looked at Little Big Man and reportedly said: “My friend from the northeast look at me, I am Man Afraid, chief of the Oglala. You are now on the hunting grounds of the Oglalas and Brules, those white men come from the great father on a mission of peace, they are under my protection. If you fight them you must also fight me. I have no more to say.”

The fight did not come off. Little Big Man and his followers disappeared as rapidly as they had come. Young Man Afraid had saved the commissioners. And it wasn’t the first or last time he placed himself between two warring factions. On October 22, 1874, 26 bluecoats led by Lieutenant Emmet Crawford had been on their way back to their stockade when a band of hostile young warriors attacked. Young Man Afraid and his followers had appeared on the scene before a drop of blood fell. After breaking through the ring of warriors, he had formed a protective wall around the bluecoats and escorted them on to the stockade. Many years later, a few years after the Wounded Knee fight, he would use the same maneuver to stop a hostile band led by Chief No Water that was attempting to block the arrest of Chief Two Sticks for the murder of five white cowboys (see “Warriors and Chiefs” in the June 2002 Wild West).

The influx of white gold seekers into the Black Hills caused Crazy Horse and his fol­lowers to strike back against intruders there and elsewhere (such as at the Greasy Grass, or Little Bighorn River, in June 1876). While Red Cloud and other agency chiefs were suspected of sending warriors and arms north to aid the resisting Lakotas, Young Man Afraid and his immediate band never wavered in their friendship with the whites.

In May 1877, Crazy Horse accepted an offer by the government to give him his own agency if he surrendered at the Red Cloud Agency near Camp Robinson. How­ever, after turning himself in, he discovered that there were strings attached. Lieutenant William Philo Clark, military head of the Red Cloud Agency, informed Crazy Horse that he could not have his own agency until he made a trip to Washington, D.C., to meet the Great White Father. This was not acceptable to Crazy Horse, and he refused to make the trip. After a July council at the Red Cloud Agency, the customary feast was discussed and Young Man Afraid, try­ing as always to hold the Oglalas together, suggested that it be held at Crazy Horse’s lodge, thus making Crazy Horse the giver of the feast. Red Cloud, who had become very envious of the attention paid to the agency newcomer, walked out in protest. And when Crazy Horse reconsidered going to Washington, Red Cloud told him it was an Army ruse to send him off to prison. Both the Indian establishment and the Army seemed to fear Crazy Horse. The consensus was  it would be better just to kill Crazy Horse but short of that he had to be arrested.

On the morning of September 4, a party consisting of 400 agency warriors and eight full companies of the 3rd Cavalry set out to arrest Crazy Horse, and Young Man Afraid went along to ensure that his friend wasn’t shot while “attempting to escape.” The arresting party reached Crazy Horse’s lodge about six miles from Camp Robinson and discovered that he had fled 40 miles north to the Spotted Tail Agency. The next day, though, he returned to Camp Robinson, hoping to explain why he wanted to leave the Red Cloud Agency. Instead he was arrested and then, while trying to break loose in front of the guardhouse, was bayo­netted to death by a trooper (see “The Last Stand of Crazy Horse” in the December 2002 Wild West).

The next year, when Dr. McGillycuddy was appointed agent for the Pine Ridge Agency, Young Man Afraid of His Horses became his closest Sioux confidant. On the advice of Young Man Afraid, McGillycuddy appointed 27-year-old Miwakan Yuha (Man Who Carries the Sword) to select the 50 members of the tribal police force. From the beginning of the selection process, Red Cloud unsuccessfully applies all his persuasive power, as well as threats, to prevent Sword’s success.

During McGillycuddy’s tenure as agent he was engaged in a never-ending struggle with Red Cloud, who did everything he could to get him fired. While on trial on trumped-up charges, Red Cloud accused the agent of usurping his authority by offering inducements to Young Man Afraid to set himself up as head chief of the Oglalas. Young Man Afraid rose from the floor and drew his blue blanket, embel­lished with beadwork and porcupine quills, more closely about him. A single eagle feather, signifying his chieftainship, stood upright from his sleek, shining hair. “As far as the memory of the Sioux nation reaches, my father and his father and his father before him have been chiefs of the Dglala,” he said. “I was born a chief, no one can make me one. I am Young Man of Whose Horse They are Afraid, rightful chief of the Oglala Sioux Is it not so, Red Cloud?” Red Cloud didn’t say a word. Young Man Afraid resumed his seat on the floor. The trial ended without a decision. McGilly­cuddy remained agent until 1886, during which time he ruled the agency with an iron hand. His stern discipline was felt by all who ventured within its borders, and at all times Young Man Afraid stood ready to come to his assistance. He also continued to oppose further sales of Sioux lands.

In 1889-90, Young Man Afraid opposed the so-called Ghost Dance craze, which to many whites looked like an uprising. He worked to dissuade his people from taking part in the religious movement, making several trips to the Badlands to convince the dancers to return to Pine Ridge. When he saw he was wasting his time, Young Man Afraid went on an extended hunt in Wyoming and did not return until after the Wounded Knee disaster of December 27, 1890. He immediately began to work for a peaceful settlement of the whole affair. He advised the Oglalas not to avenge the deaths at Wounded Knee, for if they did the soldiers would kill them all. Once again he visited Ghost Dance camps, encouraged the people to surrender and assured them that they would be kindly treated if they gave themselves up. He did this knowing that the whites were often fickle in keeping their word, but he also knew that the Lakotas could never again be victorious.

Young Man Afraid’s friendship with the white authorities never made him a traitor to his people. In 1891, when the Army demanded that he turn in some of his warriors for murdering two white men, he replied: “No, I will not surrender them. But if you will bring me the white men who killed Few Tails I will bring the Indians who killed the white soldier and the herder. Right out here, I will have my young men shoot the Indians and you have your sol­diers shoot the white men, and then we will be done with the whole business.” Young Man Afraiddied on July 12,1893, in Newcastle, Wyo. According to the Rapid City journal article, he died from unknown causes on his way back to Pine Ridge after visiting the Crow Indians in Montana. His remains were taken to Pine Ridge for burial. Upon being told of the chief’s death, Dr. McGillycuddy said: “Should trouble again arise with the Sioux nation, Young Man Afraid will be missed. For many years, he has been the firm and unwavering friend of the government and the whites.”

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