American Horse the Younger was born between 1830 and 1840 in the Black Hills territory of South Dakota. He was the son of Sitting Bear. American Horse the Younger was an Oglala Lakota* chief, known in his tribe as Wasechun-tashunka. As a youth, he was tutored by his uncle, since his own father was killed in battle while he was still young.
American Horse the Younger was not a recognized leader until 1876, when he took the name and place of his uncle, American Horse the Elder, who was killed in the massacre at Slim Buttes. Prior to that time, American Horse the Younger had the nickname Manishnee, which means “Cannot walk," or “Played out."
Young American Horse championed accommodation with the encroaching whites. Meanwhile, the fervor for Wovoka's Ghost Dance intensified on numerous Lakota reservations in the years prior to 1890, when Big Foot's band was slaughtered at the Wounded Knee massacre. As the chief, American Horse acted as the speaker for the tribe; he signed the treaty secured by the Crook commission in 1887, which forced the Lakota to abandon half of their Lakota reservation in Dakota to the white man.
In council, American Horse disputed with traditional Lakota over whether to reconciled themselves to reservation life. He maintained that there was no future in resisting the white invasion. His band was closely affiliated with a trading post, and consequently its members were inclined to be friendly with the whites.
A defection to the Ghost Dance movement
The concession of sacred land to the whites was exceedingly divisive and controversial in American Horse's tribe; those opposed declared that the white commissioners' promises could not be trusted. The staunch traditionalists, aroused by the Ghost Dance that had recently reached the Lakota — and by the killing of Chief Sitting Bull in 1890 — withdrew from the council and prepared to make war on the government. In addition, the guaranteed benefits of the treaty proved to be smoke in the wind.
When American Horse's people capitulated, he at once joined the peace element at the Red Cloud agency near Fort Robinson, Nebraska. He was influential in keeping the young braves subdued. The U.S. military used him often because they considered most of the older and better-known chiefs to be belligerent at heart.
Holding it together
The Lakota were nearly starving when the rebels took their arms and went out to the badlands to dance themselves into the exalted state necessary for the final struggle with the whites. American Horse and others friendly to the whites urged them to submit. The episode would have ended there were it not for the massacre of Chief Big Foot's band by Crook's 7th Cavalry — after it had surrendered.
Following the murder of Chief Crazy Horse, American Horse was again influential and energetic on behalf of the government. He became a vigorous contributor in the affairs of the Teton Lakota. He was well known for his talent as an orator, a skill nearly always used for peacemaking, yet he could say sharp things about the whites' treachery. Overall, he was receptive to negotiation and a master of wordplay.
The Ghost Dance movement brims over
During the Ghost Dance period in 1890-1891, American Horse established his prominence as never before. As greater numbers of Lakota rallied to the Ghost Dance, American Horse kept himself free of it and admonished his people to follow his example. When the movement grew into a far-reaching disturbance among the native nations, he took an active stance against it. When the government ordered all Indians who did not dance the Ghost Dance to surrender at Pine Ridge agency, American Horse was the first chief to lead his people into the government agency.
In 1891, American Horse led a delegation comprising leaders of the friendly and the lately hostile party from Pine Ridge to Washington, D.C. Conferences held there resulted in the re-issuance of living rations and in fairer treatment of the Lakota. American Horse advocated the education of the Indian; his son, Samuel, and nephew, Robert, were among the first students to attend the Carlisle Indian School.
Another death at Pine Ridge
After many years as servant and protector of his people, American Horse the Younger died at Pine Ridge on December 16, 1908.
*Then known as Sioux.