The history of Native Americans was for many years, untold and in some cases omitted. the trail of tears is just one example of the systematic process of relocation enforced by the United States Government as America continued to expand. The natives were seen as uncivilized in comparison to their American and European counterparts. The natives would readily say their lives were uncomplicated and simple. Many resisted the influence of soldiers on their land and fought to the death to preserve their homes. Others did not resist and accepted the lifestyle and religion of the white man. Dr. Charles Alexander Eastman (1858-1939) was one of those who migrated from one world to another and in this short but interesting autobiography, he recalls his life and his path from the deep woods to civilization.
Eastman was a member of the Sioux tribe in Minnesota and explains his early life in Minnesota. From the beginning, he mentions the relationship between the Sioux Indians and white settlers. And while there are a few acts of violence discussed, the book does not contain a lot of text devoted to it. In fact, his story is mainly about his development as a person. There are White Americans who enter the story, but in a peaceful role and their actions help propel him to his next destination. That is not to say that all in the book is glorious and without incident. In fact, Eastman is fully aware of the plight of Sioux people and the deceit used by the American government in prior agreements with Native American tribes. There are a couple of people who are not exactly “friendly” but in the end do him no harm.
About midway through the book, he makes the fateful decision to go to Dartmouth College. And it is here that his life changes completely. In time he met and married Elaine Goodale and the couple would go on to have six children. The book ends before the fourth child is born but not before he accomplishes many things first as a doctor and then later as a representative on behalf of private business before the Indian Bureau, the President, and Congress. His time in Washington, afforded him the opportunity to meet several presidents and scores of congressmen. His observations about Washington are still relevant today.
Eastman possessed a very radical and freethinking mind for his era. His ability to have empathy and see things from all sides is on display and I found myself nodding in agreement at many of his thoughts. As an Indian and American, he was forced to navigate two worlds yet he never forgets his position in either. And that is a true mark of maturity and character. I have yet to read the other books he has published but have now added them to the list. Good read.