The [Crow] custom of seeking death as a Crazy Dog individually seems to be relatively old. When a man for some reason became tired of life, he announced himself a Crazy Dog. This implied that he must thenceforth “talk crosswise”, that is, express the opposite of his real intentions and do the opposite of what he was bidden. His most essential duty, however, was to rush into danger and deliberately seek death. This obligation, curiously enough, was limited to one season. If at the end of this period he had by chance escaped death, the Crazy Dog was absolved from his pledge, unless he voluntarily renewed it for another season. Thus, Onehorn’s father-in-law was dissatisfied with the way rations were issued by the Government and became a Crazy Dog; the first year he failed to get hurt, but he did not wish to live any longer, again assumed the insignia and manners of a Crazy Dog for the following season, and was killed. Naturally, while the number of Crazy Dogs varied from year to year, it was never very great. During some seasons there was no one that was especially eager to court death; on the other hand, One-horn remembers as many as five Crazy Dogs at one time. The usual number seems to have been two. Hunts-to-die, however, made the statement that long ago there were as many as ten Crazy Dogs who went to war; one of them was killed, accordingly the rest also succeeded in being slain.
The most renowned of all the Crazy Dogs was Young-cottontail-rabbit, who was killed within the memory of men still living. His story is known throughout the tribe, and all the incidents in the following narrative by Itsū’ptete were repeatedly confirmed by other old informants.
At the old Agency (on the Yellowstone) they were issuing goods. It was there that I first came to know a Crazy Dog. When the people were seated, before the distribution of goods, a youth came riding on horseback, holding his blanket by his stomach. He used his quirt for a rattle. He came into the circle and began to sing. “What is this?” “This is a youth who has been shot in the knee. His knee is sore. He would like to be like other young men and wishes to die, that is why he acts like this.” Then for a long time we did not see him. One evening he came out, looking powerful. All of us were eager to see him. He made a rattle of baking-powder cans;3 inside he put beads. It rattled mightily. There was a fine chain on his horse’s bridle. His horse could not be seen, he had so much to carry. The youth came, with his gun in his belt. He had a wrist-band of silver-fox skin. He wore a switch and had little braids in front. He had a very fine necklace and shell earrings. His horse was a bald-faced bay that pawed the ground vigorously. We looked at him; the whole camp liked him. He went through the camp singing and swinging his rattle. We did not know he talked crosswise. One man said to him, “Don’t dance!” He got off in front of a lodge. His drummer held a drum like this one, and began to sing. The Crazy Dog danced. “I will test myself, I wish to die; I wish to know whether it will be well.” He shot down at his foot.1 “Well, I think it will be so,” he said. The women liked him very much. He danced every evening. When the Crow moved camp, he sang. When they camped again, he went through the camp singing. The old women cheered him lustily. He always sang at night. When they went on a hunt, the people regarded him as a dog. When they went to kill buffalo, the Crazy Dog went along hallooing. As these dogs act when they see a cow, so he acted in sight of the buffalo. They killed many buffalo and butchered them. The youth packed his horse. When the people camped, he went through camp singing. On the next day they moved, and camped in a coulée. One of the young men was thrown off his horse, which ran away. He rode back to the old camp site to catch the runaway, and found a party of Sioux. There were a few young Crows with him. They drove the Sioux into the bed of a creek; there were breastworks there. The Crazy Dog got there; he wished to die. He went to the edge of the breastworks and shot down at the Sioux, then they killed him. It began to rain violently. The Crazy Dog was lying in the rain water until daylight. The next day we got there, and found him lying in the water. The people wrapped him up and set him on horseback. They conducted him to camp, crying all the way. All the camp mourned grievously. They erected a four-pole scaffold to lay him on, and they planted a lodge pole, to which they tied the Crazy Dog’s sash. We moved without him. This is how he was killed. His drum, looking like this one, was hung on the scaffold.
Hunts-to-die knew of another Crazy Dog, who lived in his grandfather’s time. He was the handsomest Indian ever seen, and was called Good-crazy-dog; his real name was He-strikes-the-enemy-with-his-brother. At one time the Sioux attacked a Crow band, killing all, including some of Good-crazy-dog’s relatives. Good-crazy-dog said, “I am going to die, I will be a Crazy Dog.” He bought red flannel for the sashes,2 making one for each side. He made a rattle out of a buffalo paunch, and tied eagle feathers to one end of it; inside he put beads and little stones. He wore a fine war-bonnet on his head and tied skunkskin ornaments to his moccasins. His necklace was of bapā’ce shells, and his earrings of sea-shells. In the back he wore a switch and in front little braids of hair. He rode a fine spotted horse with docked tail; for its trappings he sewed together red and green flannel. When he rode through camp, he began to sing and the old women cheered him. He was killed in battle.
Spotted-rabbit told the following story about a namesake of his who had also been a Crazy Dog.
When Spotted-fish died, he left fifty head of horses to be distributed among his clansmen and fifty to his stepson, Spotted-rabbit. This happened in the autumn. Spotted-rabbit told the people he would catch up with his father in a short while. Accordingly, early in the spring, he became a Crazy Dog. He wished to die before his fifty head of horses were gone, for no one tended them as his father had done. Both his father’s and his own clansmen tried to dissuade him, but he paid no attention to them. He bartered several of his horses for red flannel and a war-bonnet, made himself a rattle, and went singing through the camp. People saw he was going to die and felt sorry for him. The Crow moved along the Missouri toward North Dakota. Some mornings they would find him lying with married women who came to sleep with him. One day, after going through the camp singing, he dismounted and sat down. His mother had some little rawhide bags filled with ripe plums. She handed them to him saying, “An old lady brought this for you. You had better eat and give some to your brother.” He untied the bags, pulled out a few plums, looked at them, and said, “I began to be a Crazy Dog early in the spring and did not think I should live so long. Yet here I am today eating plums.” He was eating some of the plums, and so was his brother, when the people said, “Some one is coming over there, they look like Dakota.” Spotted-rabbit gave his brother a rope and bade him fetch his horse. His brother ran and got the bob-tail pinto always ridden by Spotted-rabbit. Their mother bade a girl get a horse for her, which she did. Spotted-rabbit mounted and rode through camp, singing, followed by his mother. The Crow went toward the hills where the Dakota were. They espied a humpbacked Dakota Crazy Dog and stopped, but Spotted-rabbit went straight on toward the Dakota, who was waiting for him. The Dakota shot Spotted-rabbit in the breast, and killed him. Spotted-rabbit’s mother was there. She had her son’s body thrown on a horse and led him back. She told them that he had become a Crazy Dog on account of his father’s death. She told them to prepare his body so it would not be spoiled and that she would bury him with his father near the site of Ft. Smith. So they prepared a travois, and all moved toward that direction. But they found plenty of buffalo and told the mother they needed the food and would hunt while there was a good chance and lay the corpse in a tree crotch until the next year. So they laid him on a big tree by the river. The next year they wished to bury his body, but they found that beavers had cut the tree and nothing could be found of Spotted-rabbit but a looking-glass deposited with his corpse.
[#18] Crow: “Crazy-Dog Wishing to Die,” from Robert H. Lowie, “Military Societies of the Crow Indians,” in Clark Wissler, Societies of the Crow, Hidatsa, and Mandan Indians. New York: The Trustees, 1913.