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Eastman, Charles Alexander, (Ohiyesa) 1858-1939

Indian Boyhood ~ Charles Eastman, a Santee born in 1858, wrote extensively about his life and Sioux culture. He became a physician and was present on the Pine Ridge Reservation during the Wounded Knee Massacre when he cared for many of the wounded.

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Dr. Charles Alexander Eastman (Sioux: Ohiyesa, February 19, 1858 - January 8, 1939) was a Native American author, physician and reformer. He was active in politics and helped found the Boy Scouts of America.

Ohiyesa was born on a reservation near Redwood Falls, Minnesota. He was the son of the Dakota Many Lightnings and his mixed-blood wife, Mary Nancy Eastman, who died at his birth. Mary Eastman was the daughter of the painter Captain Seth Eastman. During the Minnesota Uprising of Dakota in 1862-63, Ohiyesa was cared for by paternal relatives who fled into North Dakota and Manitoba. When he was later reunited with his father, now using the name Jacob Eastman, and older brother John, the Eastman family established a homestead in Dakota Territory.

With his father's encouragement, Eastman attended mission and preparatory schools and graduated from Dartmouth College in 1887. He graduated from Boston University, with a medical degree, in 1889. Eastman worked as agency physician for the Indian Health Service on the Pine Ridge Reservation, and later at the Crow Creek Reservation, both in South Dakota. He also established a private medical practice. Between 1894-97, Eastman established 32 Indian groups of the Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA). In 1899, he helped recruit students for the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania. In 1910, along with Ernest Thompson Seton of the Woodcraft Indians and Daniel Carter Beard of the Sons of Daniel Boone, Eastman helped found the Boy Scouts of America.

Eastman was active in politics, particularly in matters dealing with Indian rights. He served as a lobbyist for the Dakota between 1894 and 1897. In 1903, President Theodore Roosevelt assigned Eastman the responsibility for revising the allotment method of dividing tribal lands. In 1923-25, Eastman served under Calvin Coolidge as an Indian inspector. He was also a member of the Committee of One Hundred, a reform panel examining federal institutions and activities dealing with Indian nations. In 1925, the Bureau of Indian Affairs asked him to investigate the death and burial location of Sacagawea, the woman who accompanied the Lewis and Clark Expedition in 1805. He determined that she died of old age at the Wind River Indian Reservation in Wyoming on April 9, 1884, although later historians believe it more likely that she died as a result of an illness in 1812.

Eastman was the recipient of the first Indian Achievement Award in 1933.

Eastman was married to Elaine Goodale, and had six children. Goodale briefly served as superintendent of Indian education in the Dakota Territory, and was a well known poet.

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Buffalo Hide Tipi

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Eastman was born in a buffalo hide tipi near Redwood Falls, Minnesota, in the winter of 1858. At birth, he was named “Hakadah”, meaning “the pitiful last,” because he was the last of his three brothers and one sister, and his mother died shortly after his birth. She had been the granddaughter of the Sioux chief Cloud Man and the daughter of Stands Sacred and a well-known army officer, Seth Eastman. These were still the days of nomadic bands of Plains Indians living in relative isolation from the white settlers who were invading their traditional lands. In his early youth, he received the name Ohiyesa, meaning "the Winner."
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Son of Many Lightnings

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Hakadah's father was named Many Lightnings (Tawakanhdeota). He was a full-blood Sioux, and later took the name Jacob Eastman.

Since Hakadah's mother had died, the baby was raised in the tribe's homeland of Minnesota by his grandmother. When he was four, the so-called "Sioux Uprising of 1862" occurred and he became separated from his father, elder brothers and sister, whom the tribe thought had been killed by the whites. Hakadah was taken into exile into Manitoba with the remaining members of his band of Santee Sioux.

For the next eleven years he lived the original nomadic life of his people in the care of his uncle and grandmother. His uncle was a well-known hunter and warrior and gave the youth, now called Ohiyesa, the traditional training of a young hunter, warrior, and member of the tribe. Ohiyesa's knowledge of these skills and spiritual values would later be reflected in his activities and his writings.

At fifteen, Ohiyesa had just entered Indian manhood and was preparing to embark on his first war-path to avenge the reputed death of his father when his father reappeared! Jacob Eastman had adopted the religion and customs of the whites and had come to take his son back with him.

Ohiyesa was taken to a homestead in Flandreau, Dakota Territory, where his father and other "progressive" Indians had moved. The young man was sent to a mission day school, where his first impulse was to run away and return to the natural ways of his people. However, his father prevailed, and Ohiyesa cut his long hair and began to adopt the clothing and ways of white civilization.

Despite his unhappiness, Ohiyesa applied himself to his studies in school. Two years later he walked 150 miles to attend a better school at Santee, Nebraska, where he excelled. He was soon accepted to the preparatory department of Beloit College in Wisconsin. He was now known primarily as Charles Eastman.

Charles Eastman spent two years at Beloit before moving on to two other colleges and then eventually to Dartmouth College. He graduated from Dartmouth in 1887.

Charles Eastman then enrolled as a medical student at Boston University. He graduated in 1890 with his medical degree and the honor of being the orator of his class. He had spent a total of 17 years in primary, secondary, college, and professional education, much less time than is usually required for most students. And, it should be remembered, he had only started formal studies, including English, at age 15!

During his studies in the East he had made the acquaintance of many prominent people who would later help him further his career. With such help, his first position was as Government Physician for the Sioux at the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota. He was there before, during, and after the "Ghost Dance" rebellion of 1890-1891, and he cared for the wounded Indians after the massacre at Wounded Knee.
In 1891 Charles Eastman married.

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Elaine Goodale Eastman

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Charles Eastman's wife was a white woman who was also working at the Pine Ridge reservation, Miss Elaine Goodale of Berkshire County, Massachusetts. Shortly after returning from his wedding in the East, Eastman was forced by the corrupt Indian agent to quit his job at the agency in retaliation for his attempt to help the Sioux prove crimes against the agent and his white friends. In 1893, he, his wife and their new baby moved to St. Paul, Minnesota, where he started a medical practice.

Soon, however, Charles Eastman accepted a position as field secretary for the International Committee of the YMCA, and spent the next three years traveling throughout the US and Canada visiting many Indian tribes in an attempt to start new YMCAs in those areas.
In 1897 Dr. Eastman went to Washington as the legal representative and lobbyist for the Sioux tribe. From 1899 to 1902 he again served as a government physician to the Sioux, this time at Crow Creek Agency in South Dakota.
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Boy Scouts

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In 1910 Eastman began his long association with the Boy
Scouts, helping Ernest Thompson Seton establish the organization based in large part on the prototype of the American Indian.

It was also at about this time that he started to become in high demand as a lecturer and public speaker, traveling extensively in the US and abroad. Eastman was chosen to represent the American Indian at the Universal Races Congress in London in 1911. His public speaking continued for the remainder of his life.

Beginning in 1910 and for the rest of his life, Charles Eastman also became involved with many progressive organizations attempting to improve the circumstances of the various Indian tribes. At one time he was president of the Society of American Indians, one prominent organization of that type.

From 1915 to 1920 the Eastman family created and operated a summer camp for girls, Camp Oahe, at Granite Lake, New Hampshire, attempting to teach Indian life-ways to young girls.

 

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Lake Huron, near Desbarats, Ontario, Canada

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Charles Eastman and his wife separated in August 1921, quite possibly because of opposing views regarding the best future for the American Indian. Elaine Goodale Eastman stressed total assimilation of Native Americans into the dominant society, while Eastman favored a type of cultural pluralism in which Indians would interact with the dominant society, utilizing only those positive aspects that would benefit them but still retaining their Indian identity, including their traditional beliefs and customs—in effect living between two worlds.

Eastman believed that the teachings and spirit of his adopted religion of Christianity and the traditional Indian spiritual beliefs were essentially the same and had their common origins in the same “Great Mystery;” a belief that was controversial to many Christians.


In 1928 Eastman purchased land on the north shore of Lake Huron, near Desbarats, Ontario, Canada. For the remainder of his life, when he was not traveling and lecturing, he lived there in his primitive cabin in communion with the virgin nature that he loved so dearly

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A Long and Useful Life

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In his last years he spent only the coldest winter months with his son in Detroit, where he died on January 8, 1939, at the age of eighty. For several years toward the end of his life he worked on a major study on the Sioux, but the project was never completed.

In his later adult life Charles Eastman was the foremost Indian spokesman of his day. His contributions to our understanding of the American Indian philosophy and religion are so significant that at the 1933 Chicago World’s
Fair Eastman was presented a special medal honoring the most distinguished achievements by an American Indian.

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