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Crazy Horse Dispute Settled
By Elizabeth Stawicki
Minnesota Public Radio
April 26, 2001

The descendants of the Lakota leader Crazy Horse have settled a defamation lawsuit over the use of his name in the marketing of Crazy Horse malt liquor. Crazy Horse's descendants filed suit eight years ago, trying to stop beer makers from using the chief's name on an alcohol product that was distributed to 32 states. The opposition to Crazy Horse malt liquor came in part, because Crazy Horse had denounced the introduction of alcohol to American Indians.

A bottle of Crazy Horse malt liquor.
(MPR Photo/Jim Bickal)
ON THE ROSEBUD SIOUX RESERVATION in Mission, South Dakota, the chairman of the former Stroh's Brewing Company publicly apologized Thursday for the use of Crazy Horse's name and image on the company's malt liquor. John Stroh III made a peace offering to the descendants of Chief Crazy Horse at a ceremony that settles one legal battle waged by his descendants, who claimed the Indian leader was defamed by the marketing ploy.

For Seth Big Crow, a descendant and administrator of the Crazy Horse estate, the apology and offering of peace restores his faith in the people who live outside the reservation.

"He has enough holdings - Stroh's brewing company - to fight us if he wants to. But he's big enough to come forward and say, 'We're going to correct what has happened.' That takes a mighty big person to do that," says Big Crow.

Stroh, the chairman of SBC Holdings, formerly Stroh's Brewing Co., flew from Detroit to Pierre, S.D., and then drove through some of the poorest areas of Indian land, to offer his apology in person to the Rosebud Sioux.

"We thought it was the right thing to do," says Stroh.

The Crazy Horse malt liquor brand was originally brewed by Heileman Brewing Co. When Stroh's acquired Heileman in 1996, it also acquired Heileman's contract with another brewery to manufacture the malt liquor. Two years ago, Stroh's left the brewing business. John Stroh says he's looking forward to settling the dispute in a way that's satisfactory to Big Crow and the other Crazy Horse heirs.

"We certainly never intended to offend anybody. We are indeed, deeply sorry for any offense we caused the Rosebud Sioux or any other Native American people," says Stroh.

Under the terms of the settlement, Stroh offered a public apology. He also offered a number of items in the name of peace. They include 32 Pendleton blankets, 32 braids of sweet grass, 32 twists of tobacco and 7 thoroughbred horses. Seth Big Crow views the settlement as not only important for the name of Chief Crazy Horse, but also as an important gesture by a non-indian to all American Indian people.

"It's something big. Along the lines of extending their apologies to the Native Americans here in the United States. Because it's the first time a big company has done that for us. And it's kind of an awakening thing for me, in the way of recognizing us as human beings," says Big Crow.

While Stroh's has settled its case for its part in producing the beer, the company that sold and marketed the malt liquor, Hornel, is still fighting in court to use the Crazy Horse name.

Related Links:
Broken Trust,MPR News project
Crazy Horse Memorial
Biographical information