Born in the Dakota Territory near the forks of the Cheyenne River about 1835, Rain-in-the-Face was from the Hunkpapa band within the Lakota nation. His name may have been a result of a fight when he was a boy in which his face was splattered like rain with his Cheyenne adversary's blood. Late in his life, the chief related that the name was reinforced by an incident when he was a young man where he was in a battle in a heavy rainstorm with a band of Gros Ventres. At the end of the lengthy combat, his face was streaked with war paint.
He first fought against the whites in the summer of 1866 when he participated in a raid against Fort Totten in what is now North Dakota. In 1868, he again fought the U.S. Army in the Fetterman massacre near Fort Phil Kearny in present-day Montana. He again was on the warpath during the Black Hills War, leading a raid near the Tongue River in which two white civilians accompanying Custer's cavalry were killed. He returned to the Standing Rock Reservation, but was captured by Custer after being betrayed by reservation Indians. He was taken to Fort Abraham Lincoln and incarcerated. However, he was freed by a sympathetic soldier and returned to the reservation, then fled to the Powder River. In the spring of 1876, he joined Sitting Bull and traveled with him to the Little Big Horn River in early June.
During the subsequent fighting on Custer Hill on June 25, Rain-in-the-Face is alleged to have cut the heart out of Thomas Custer, a feat that was popularized by American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in "The Revenge of Rain in the Face." According to legend, Tom Custer had unjustly imprisoned Rain-in-the-Face. Some contemporary accounts also claimed that the war chief had personally dispatched George Custer as well, but in the confused fighting, a number of similar claims have been attributed to other warriors. Late in his life, in a conversation with writer Charles Eastman, Rain-in-the-Face denied killing George Custer or mutilating Tom Custer.
Rain-in-the-Face died in his home at the Bullhead Station on the Standing Rock Reservation in North Dakota after a lengthy illness.