It portrayed a scene the artist had witnessed in Montana, many years before. An old Crow chief had word that his favorite son had died in Carlisle University; he killed the boy's horses, cut off their heads, gashed his back and fastened rawhide thongs into the raw flesh, and dragged those skulls all over the mountains all day long, to show that neither grief nor physical agony could shake his fortitude.It seems like there must be an easier way to show how tough and resolute you are. I mean, sure, we've all thought about tying severed horse heads to some rope and attaching them to our skin with various hooks and pins, but we don't actually do that. Besides, what did the horses do to deserve that? Dragging various animal parts does less to show you are not affected by grief than you might think.
Howard goes on to write,
When the world cracks under a man's feet and the sky breaks and falls on his head, if he can clench his jaws and keep on his feet, and keep his head up, if for no other reason than the stubborn pride of fighting, then that's something, at least, and if he can't do that, he'd better blow his brains out, like a gentleman.Sitting in a car on the morning of June 11, 1936, Howard put a .38 automatic to his head and pulled the trigger.