Joseph Marshall III was raised in the traditional Lakota manner by his grandparents, so Lakota was his first language. He has become a noted writer about his tribe and his heritage, and a consultant for films and documentaries about Native American subjects. He is the author of numerous nonfiction books and at least one
book of fiction. Much of his work focuses, as this one does, on the personality of Crazy Horse and the retelling in various ways of the Battle of Little Big Horn, a seminal moment in American history when it seemed that the hated and feared Indians might achieve permanent sway over white people in the West.
The Power of Four is subtitled “Know Yourself – Know Your Friends – Know the Enemy – Lead the Way.” These are the four corners of effective leadership. In many examples, Marshall illustrates that Crazy Horse was not a great leader because he was born to hold a certain office or attained a position through votes. He was a leader because his deeds were well-known and his bravery and good judgment had been proven many times before he was called on to guide forces into battle at Little Big Horn. From his earliest childhood, he was schooled in how to overcome adversity. One small example is that he had light-colored hair, not at all common among his people, so his mother gave him a nickname that called attention to that trait rather than avoiding it. This forced the boy to figure out from an early age how to cope with teasing and insults.
Crazy Horse grew up in a world in which everything that was used was acquired by the people; nothing was wasted, and no blessings simply “appeared.” By the time a boy was 12 or 13, he was deemed a man because he had been hunting, foraging, and fighting like a man. Contrast this with current society (whether Native American or not) where children are showered with advantages of every sort without having a clue as to their source; indeed, even their parents might not be able to say where these things really came from. This connection with the necessities of life gave Crazy Horse and his people a special insight into how all life must interact in harmony with the natural world. The fact is that from childhood, a Lakota had the opportunity to know himself or herself and to know his or her friends, people upon whom one’s survival vitally depended.
Knowing the enemy was also a crucial piece of information. There were always enemies: warring tribes, the white man, and animals that could attack and kill unsuspecting humans. Crazy Horse had fought against the whites; he knew some of their vulnerabilities and he knew their strengths and what it would take to overcome them.
Marshall cites current-day enemies of his people as “apathy, ethnocentrism, and racism.” Anyone who has visited Indian reservations anywhere in America will agree with this assessment. The author is exhorting his people (and all of us) to follow the example of Crazy Horse, a man who, in Marshall’s estimation, was not a mere politician or simply a brave warrior but “was humble, dedicated, selfless, and persistent.” This is a noble purpose to which he appears to have dedicated much of his life. One can only wish him well in his quest for true leaders. We all need them.