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8. Regional Realism   

8. Regional

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Authors: Charles Alexander Eastman (Ohiyesa) (1858-1939)

Jack Coldwell, Jr., interpreter, Chief American Horse
[1089] John S. (Jack) Coldwell, Jr., U.S. allotting surveyor and his interpreter making an American citizen of Chief American Horse, Oglala Sioux (c. 1907), courtesy of the Denver Public Library, Western History Department.

Charles Alexander Eastman Activities
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A Santee Sioux, physician, government agent, and spokesperson for Indian rights, Charles Alexander Eastman was also the first well-known, widely read Native American author. A fully acculturated Indian, Eastman worked to create understanding between Native Americans and Euro-Americans and sometimes found himself in the conflicted position of being caught between the two cultures. His writing resonates with his efforts both to make Indian traditions accessible to a white audience and to define his own identity as an Indian and as an American.

Eastman was separated from his parents at an early age when their tribe fled to Canada after the ill-fated Minnesota Dakota conflict. His father, Many Lightnings, was presumed dead so Eastman was given a traditional Sioux upbringing by his uncle and his grandmother. In 1869, however, Eastman found out that his father was not dead but had in fact changed his name to Jacob Eastman, adopted Euro-American customs, and converted to Christianity. Changing his son's name from Ohiyesa to Charles Alexander, Jacob Eastman took the boy from the Sioux community in Canada and raised him on a farm in South Dakota. With his father's encouragement, Eastman received a Euro-American education and eventually earned a degree from Dartmouth and an M.D. from Boston University.

In 1890 Eastman accepted what would be the first of many positions with the U.S. government, becoming an agency physician at the Sioux reservation in Pine Ridge, South Dakota. There he witnessed the aftermath of the tragic massacre at Wounded Knee, in which many Sioux who had participated in the Ghost Dance religion were killed or injured in a raid by the U.S. army. While at Pine Ridge, Eastman met and married Elaine Goodale, a reservation teacher and social worker. The couple soon relocated to St. Paul, Minnesota, where Eastman practiced medicine and eventually held other government jobs, at one point heading a federal project to give Anglicized surnames to Sioux Indians. In the early twentieth century, Eastman also helped establish the "scouting movement" in the United States, infusing the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts with his interpretations of Native American culture.

With his wife's substantial editorial assistance, Eastman embarked on a successful literary career in 1900. His account of his traditional Sioux childhood, Indian Boyhood, was an enormous success and was reprinted at least ten times within his lifetime. He also published several collections of traditional Sioux lore and history, making traditional Native American animal tales accessible to a white audience. He advanced his interpretations of Indian spirituality and culture in The Soul of the Indian and The Indian Today. His moving autobiography, From the Deep Woods to Civilization, chronicles his experiences in the "white world" and among the Sioux at Pine Ridge. In 1921 Eastman separated from his wife, who, according to many scholars, had a significant role in the writing and editing of his work. He did not publish again in his lifetime. Although he continued to lecture and occasionally became involved in various Indian causes, Eastman spent most of the end of his life in seclusion in a remote cabin in Ontario.

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