In the state of South Dakota, the Pine Ridge Reservation is home to the descendants of the Oglala Sioux Native American tribe. The children of Pine Ridge aspire to enroll in the Red Cloud High School with hopes of attending college. Many of their parent, suffer from alcoholism, a plague that has followed the Oglala Sioux since their first encounter with white settlers in the early 1800s. Poverty and discrimination have resulted in depression and despair which has yet to be fully addressed. The true story of the Native American experience remains misunderstood and in some cases neglected. They current day Oglala are the descendants of indigenous people whose home was a North American continent in which life was simple yet effective with languages largely unwritten and passed down through oral teaching. The Sioux were only one of hundreds of tribes, some of whom are now extinct such as the Canarsie Indians. Chief Luther Standing Bear (1868-1939) was born in Rosebud, South Dakota into the Oglala Sioux tribe and this is his story of his life and his people.
I found this enjoyable autobiography on Amazon while browsing through recommendations. I have always been curious about Native American history and the title quickly caught my attention. This story begins in Rosebud, South Dakota during Standing Bear’s childhood. Life is simple for the Sioux and he takes us through the motions, explaining daily life and the many customs practiced by their tribe. There is a good amount of information about the Sioux and their approach to life. Readers today may find some things strange but it is imperative to remember that this was a community that had no exposure at that time, to modern technology.
Life for the Sioux changes as the United States Government increases its policy of expansionism and begins to seize land home to native tribes. The new settlers introduce the Sioux to new foods and customs, and his descriptions about them are eye-opening and highlight the stark difference in culture between the two groups. But over time, the two groups become more acquainted with each other and the white settlers become determined to give the Sioux a formal education. Standing Bear enrolls the Carlisle Indian School under the direction of Captain Pratt who becomes one of the most important figures in his life as we read the book. And it is at this point, that his life is never the same and his path of education would take him places he never imagined. He adopted the English first name of Luther and it remained with him for the rest of his life.
As Standing Bear increases his knowledge and his expertise of the English language, he is accepted to work in a store owned by former United States Postmaster General John Wanamaker (1838-1922) which changes his view of the world and he soon realize that he must do what is possible to help his people the Sioux. He makes the tough decision to return to his home, with the intention of using his education and teaching skills to improve life for the Sioux. But the story soon take takes yet another turn as he meets and marries Nellie De Cory with whom he would father several children. And it is not long before opportunity comes knocking again and soon husband, wife and child are off to London as part of the traveling Buffalo Bill Show. He recalls life in England and how he and fellow tribesmen adjusted to show business on the road in a foreign country. Throughout all, he is the undisputed leader who lives an exemplary lifestyle founded on principle. His heritage as a Sioux is of the utmost importance and the words of his father are never far from his mind throughout the book.
Upon his return to the United States, his life takes a series of turns, and his next destination was California, headquarters for the motion picture industry. He finds work in Hollywood for a short time as an actor but quickly realizes that no one understands how to accurately portray Indians on screen. The non-existent presence of authentic Indians in motion pictures is not lost on him and he informs us at the book’s closing that he is planning on opening an Indian Employment Agency to help other Native Americans find work. However, his ultimate goal was to help other Indians make the transition from the plains to the white man’s world. Their world is foreign to us but Standing Bear knows this and his purpose here is to help you understand and appreciate the Sioux. On February 20, 1939, Standing Bear died from complications of the flue while filming ‘Union Pacific’ directed by Cecil B. DeMille (1881-1959). He was seventy-years old and had lived an extraordinary life as described within the pages of this book.