Thank you Buffalo Bulletin Heritage 2016 for your written version on the legends surrounding the name Crazy Women.
THE WOMAN BEHIND THE CRAZY NAME
By: Jennifer Burden
"No one knows for sure where the name comes from. There are haunting legends in which the story varies slightly. One thing is for sure, Crazy Woman’s story has been told time and time again and has paved the way for many jokes from tourists and locals alike – but the stories behind the name are always tragic.
One of the legends begins with a half-white, half American Indian man who came west as a trader. He found the fork of Crazy Woman and decided to call it home. He built a cabin and filled it with his goods. After some time, he brought his wife and a supply wagon west. It was said to be the first wagon drawn by an ox that the Crow had ever seen, according to a report from the University of Portland.
The man’s wife was white. She was a stranger in the West. She did not know the Crow language. She was unfamiliar with the territory. It was her experience that may have helped coin the term “out of her element.”
Legend has it that one of the “gifts” the trader brought was whiskey or black water. He would trade, secretly, with the chief, who was said to be a “quiet and dignified man,” according to the university report. His demeanor and character changed, as it often does, with the introduction of alcohol. The chief would be seen acting “funny,” dancing and hugging the women of the tribe. It was out of character, and the Crow became suspicious. What could be making their chief act so out of character?
The tribe eventually traced it to the trader, and they decided to order the trader to leave the area. If he didn’t, he would be killed. It was an ultimatum, but it didn’t end up going the way the Crow originally planned.
The warrior sent to the trader’s cabin to deliver the message was sidetracked with a drink of black water, according to the university. He joined his chief in relishing the taste of something new and the feeling of freedom it provided. But a young leader spied the chief and the warrior partaking in spirits and told the entire tribe what was happening.
The warrior denied the accusations and called the young leader a liar, but the trader confessed to supplying the chief and the warrior with whiskey.
The young leader challenged the warrior to a duel. The warrior was shaky, having grown fond of the whiskey. He was speared by the young leader.
The trader supplied the rest of the village with whiskey for the next week. The trader started asking for money in exchange for the whiskey. The University of Portland reports that, at first, he asked for one robe per drink, then two robes and then more. Next came the trading of ponies, then wives. But like most whiskey, it eventually ran out and chaos ensued.
The trader said he must leave to go get more whiskey, but one of the Crow didn’t trust the trader. He thought he would leave with all their robes and never come back – or worse, trade with their enemies, the university reports.
The trader, who feared for his life, holed up in his cabin. Eventually, he was killed – in front of his wife. She was struck with a tomahawk and left for dead – she wasn’t.
Instead, she foraged the land for food, sometimes running into Crow women, asking them for help.
The University of Portland reports that one Crow warrior found her and tried to bring her to the village to help her, but the widow feared for her life and fled to the hills. Her fate was never known. Perhaps she lived a solitary life in the hills. Maybe she found her way to another village. Either way, the story of Crazy Woman lives on.
The other story begins with a squaw, who was left alone after an attack on her Indian camp. After seeing her tribe slaughtered, she went crazy and lived on her own until her death. People knew her as Crazy Woman. "