In the Footsteps of Crazy Horse

In the Footsteps of Crazy Horse by Joseph Marshall III Illustrated by Jim Yellowhawk

Author Joseph Marshall III is an enrolled member of the Sicangu Lakota tribe.

In the Footsteps of Crazy Horse is an exciting journey through history, as Jimmy McLean’s grandfather share stories about the famous warrior and hero.

Jimmy McLean’s light brown hair and fairer skin have always set him apart from his fellow Lakota.  At school, he is accepted by neither Lakota nor whites.  Smaller and younger than his bullies, Jimmy chooses to avoid confrontation rather than stand his ground.

His grandfather, Nyles High Eagle, has the perfect summer plan to help Jimmy gain confidence while learning about his heritage.  He takes Jimmy on a road trip following in the footsteps of Crazy Horse, a Lakota warrior who had lighter coloring, much like Jimmy.  At each stop, he shares stories, detailed accounts of battles, and observations about how Crazy Horse fought back against the white encroachment on tribal lands.  Jimmy soon learns about courage, struggle, facing impossible situations and what it means to be a hero.

For many readers, this will be a first opportunity to gain a non-white perspective on the settlement of the west and one that it is critical that they understand.  Too often stories of western expansion choose to omit details regarding the US government’s actions to force Indians from their own lands and the tactics that were used by white settlers to achieve their goals.  In the Footsteps of Crazy Horse provides a valuable counterpoint, showing the heart of the resistance by the Indians and the ultimate tragedy of their final decisions to surrender.

Although set in the present, when Nyles shares tales about Crazy Horse, his stories draw the reader into the past. The stories capture the mood and tension surrounding some of Crazy Horse’s most important life moments, often battles.  As such, there are many highly detailed battled scenes throughout the book.  While not explicitly gory, Marshall does not minimize or skim over the absolute devastation and loss that occurred on both sides.  Because of this honest portrayal, this book will be best for readers who are mature enough to handle and discuss this.  This makes it an excellent choice for classroom use or discussion.

The choice to frame the historical tale with the modern story of Jimmy and his grandfather is an excellent way to draw in readers who might otherwise not consider themselves fans of historical fiction, which is fantastic as this book deserves a large audience.

My review was done based on an e-ARC.  As such, there may be slight discrepancies between the version I read and the hardcover publication.  I checked out the printed edition and was delighted that it comes with maps that help readers follow Jimmy and his grandfather on their journey.  The book does offer a comprehensive glossary, which from the perspective of a teacher is always a huge bonus.

Great for: All libraries should examine their holdings regarding American Indians.  If the highly problematic Indian in the Cupboard is constantly displayed and showcased, it is time to re-evaluate.  Books like this and Tim Tingle’s excellent How I Became a Ghost, written by Native American writers, should be taking the places of outdated, often racist texts.  Although it offers an invaluable look at history through the eyes of the people most affected by it, In the Footsteps of Crazy Horse will appeal to many readers for the action and battle sequences it presents.  While I personally struggle to reconcile with violence in children’s books, I believe the book does an excellent job of providing both context and honesty regarding the pain and loss involved.  There is no glorification of the violence here.

Age Recommendation: I would recommend this for Grades 5-8, primarily due to the violence, although I do believe the comprehension level would be manageable for some fourth graders as well. The flashbacks are not always in chronological order which may be confusing to some readers.  There is quite a bit of background knowledge that I drew on as an adult that younger readers may not have and In the Footsteps of Crazy Horse may raise lots of questions for them.  This is a good thing!  Be prepared to research and discuss together!

Sex, Nudity, Dating – Crazy Horse’s father had two wives at the same time.  It is explained in the book that it was just something some men did in those days.  No fuss is made about it, just a clean statement of fact.  Crazy Horse had a girlfriend but he did not marry her because her father didn’t like him.  He married someone else.
Profanity – “darn”,
Death, Violence and Gore – Crazy Horse’s mother died when he was little. People are killed in a village.  White soldiers, known as Long Knives were likely responsible for deaths and setting fire to a village.  The Lakota find bodies of people, including children, killed by the soldiers.  A woman must bury her baby.  Others are wounded.  Sicangu fight back.   People have rifles, bows and arrows.  People on the wagon trains would shoot at Indians.  There is a fight between the soldiers and Indians.  The soldiers fire a cannon at a village. In turn, warriors attack them. People die in this fight. There’s mention of how people can lose fingers, toes, even the tip of the nose to frostbite.  An ambush conducted by the Lakota and Northern Cheyenne is detailed.  Some warriors are hit by friendly fire.  Many white soldiers are hit, killed or injured.  We’re told that the fight ended with hand-to-hand comment and was gruesome, but no gory details are provided.  The white soldiers were all killed.  Many warriors were killed as well.  Crazy Horse had a close friend die in the battle, he had been shot through the chest and his blood froze in the cold.  Animals are hunted for food.  Crazy Horse’s daughter tied of cholera.  Jimmy’s uncle died.  There were concerns that white soldiers would kill or capture Crazy Horse and his people if they did not surrender. Warriors are armed with guns, bows, arrows, war clubs and lances.  In several battles there are no survivors of one side of the combatants.  Soldiers fall from their horses, shot. In some cases, the soldier’s dead bodies were stripped, robbed and mutilated (and yes, mutilated is explained).  The same thing had been done to Indians previously.  Wounded men scream and moan in pain.  Men have dried blood on their clothes and bodies. A man is stabbed with a bayonet and mortally wounded.
Drugs, Alcohol and Smoking – a grandfather has pipe tobacco.
Frightening or Intense Things – A boy is bullied.  A village is burning.  We learn how the settlers from the east forced his people off their own lands.  White kill many buffalo, making food scarce.  Indians were sent to prisons in Florida.


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