Charles Eastman
Image from World Wisdom

(Dr. Charles Alexander Eastman)

Santee Sioux

Charles Alexander Eastman (born Hakadah and later named Ohíye S’a; February 19, 1858 – January 8, 1939) was a Native American physician, writer, national lecturer, and reformer.

Eastman was of Santee Dakota and Anglo-American ancestry. Active in politics and issues on American Indian rights, he worked to improve the lives of youths, and founded thirty-two Native American chapters of the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA). He also helped found the Boy Scouts of America. He is considered the first Native American author to write American history from the Native point of view.

Eastman was named Hakadah at his birth, meaning “pitiful last” in the Dakota. Eastman was so named because his mother died following his birth. He was the last of five children of Wakantakawin, a mixed-race woman also known as Mary Nancy Eastman. Eastman’s father, a Santee Dakota named Wak-anhdi Ota (Many Lightnings), lived on a Santee Dakota reservation near Redwood Falls, Minnesota.

Eastman’s mother was the daughter of U.S. Army officer and illustrator Seth Eastman, and Wakháŋ Inážiŋ Wiŋ (Stands Sacred), who married in 1830. Eastman was posted to Fort Snelling, near what is now Minneapolis, and married the fifteen-year-old daughter of Cloud Man, a Santee Dakota chief. Seth Eastman was reassigned from Fort Snelling in 1832, soon after the birth of Winona (meaning “first-born daughter”). He declared his marriage ended when he left, as was typical of many European-American men. Winona was later called Wakantakawin.

In the Dakota tradition of naming to mark life passages, her last son Hakadah was later named Ohíye S’a (Dakota: “wins often”); he had three older brothers (John, David, and James) and an older sister Mary. During the Dakota War of 1862, Ohíye S’a was separated from his father Wak-anhdi Ota and siblings, and they were thought to have died. His maternal grandmother Stands Sacred (Wakháŋ Inážiŋ Wiŋ) and her family took the boy with them as they fled from the warfare into North Dakota and Manitoba, Canada.

Fifteen years later Ohíyesa was reunited with his father and oldest brother John in South Dakota. The father had converted to Christianity, after which he took the surname Eastman and called himself Jacob. John also converted and took the surname Eastman. The Eastman family established a homestead in Dakota Territory. When Ohiyesa accepted Christianity, he took the name Charles Alexander Eastman.

His father strongly supported his sons’ getting an education in European-American style schools. Eastman and his older brother John attended mission and preparatory schools, and college. Eastman first attended Beloit College and Knox colleges; he graduated from Dartmouth College in 1887. He went on to medical school at Boston University, where he graduated in 1889 and was among the first Native Americans to be certified as a European-style doctor.

His older brother became a minister. Rev. John (Maȟpiyawaku Kida) Eastman was a Presbyterian missionary at the Santee Dakota settlement of Flandreau, South Dakota.

“The true Indian sets no price upon either his property or his labor. His generosity is limited only by his strength and ability. He regards it as an honor to be selected for difficult or dangerous service and would think it shameful to ask for any reward, saying rather: “Let the person I serve express his thanks according to his own bringing up and his sense of honor. Each soul must meet the morning sun, the new sweet earth, and the Great Silence alone!. What is Silence? It is the Great Mystery! The Holy Silence is His voice!

Whenever, in the course of the daily hunt, the hunter comes upon a scene that is strikingly beautiful or sublime — a black thundercloud with the rainbow’s arch above the mountain, a white waterfall in the heart of a green gorge, a vast prairie tinged with the blood-red of the sunset — he pauses for an instant in an attitude of worship.

He sees no need for setting apart one day in seven as a holy day, because to him all days are God’s days.

The first American mingled with his pride a singular humility. Spiritual arrogance was foreign to his nature and teaching. He never claimed that the power of articulate speech was proof of superiority over the dumb creation; on the other hand, it is to him a perilous gift.

Children must early learn the the beauty of generosity. They are taught to give what they prize most, that they may taste the happiness of giving”.

The Books of Charles A. Eastman

Every age, every race, has its leaders and heroes. There were over sixty distinct tribes of Indians on this continent, each of which boasted its notable men. The names and deeds of some of these men will live in American history, yet in the true sense they are unknown, because misunderstood. I should like to present some of the greatest chiefs of modern times in the light of the native character and ideals, believing that the American people will gladly do them tardy justice.

It is matter of history that the Sioux nation, to which I belong, was originally friendly to the Caucasian peoples which it met in succession-first, to the south the Spaniards; then the French, on the Mississippi River and along the Great Lakes; later the English, and finally the Americans. This powerful tribe then roamed over the whole extent of the Mississippi valley, between that river and the Rockies. Their usages and government united the various bands more closely than was the case with many of the neighboring tribes.

During the early part of the nineteenth century, chiefs such as Wabashaw, Redwing, and Little Six among the eastern Sioux, Conquering Bear, Man-Afraid-of-His-Horse, and Hump of the western bands, were the last of the old type. After these, we have a coterie of new leaders, products of the new conditions brought about by close contact with the conquering race.

This distinction must be borne in mind — that while the early chiefs were spokesmen and leaders in the simplest sense, possessing no real authority, those who headed their tribes during the transition period were more or less rulers and more or less politicians. It is a singular fact that many of the “chiefs”, well known as such to the American public, were not chiefs at all according to the accepted usages of their tribesmen. Their prominence was simply the result of an abnormal situation, in which representatives of the United States Government made use of them for a definite purpose. In a few cases, where a chief met with a violent death, some ambitious man has taken advantage of the confusion to thrust himself upon the tribe and, perhaps with outside help, has succeeded in usurping the leadership.

Indian Heroes and Great Chieftains


Indian BoyhoodOld Indian Days

Soul of the Indian

Who was Charles Eastman?
(Slide Show)


Secondary bibliography on Charles Eastman

Biographical sketch  at the Native Authors site.
Bibliography  and information by Paul Reuben at his PAL site
Pictures and quotations from the National Library of Medicine site.
A slideshow with pictures at the commercial site World Wisdom includes pictures of Eastman and a biographical sketch.
Biographical sketch of Eastman’s wife Elaine Goodale at The National Cyclopedia of American Biography

Works Available Online

Note: The University of Virginia E-text Center now has free versions of  Eastman’s works available for download  in PalmOS and Microsoft Reader format.
Indian Boyhood (1902) (Virginia)
Red Hunters and the Animal People (1904)
The Madness of Bald Eagle (1905) (Virginia)
Old Indian Days (1907) (Virginia)
Wigwam Evenings (with Elaine Goodale Eastman) (1909)
The Soul of the Indian (1911) Google Books.
Indian Child Life (1913)
Indian Scout Talks (1914)
The Indian To-Day (1915) Google Books.
From the Deep Woods to Civilization(1916) Google Books.
Indian Heroes and Great Chieftains (1918)

Essays and Speeches (all from Google Books)

“Address to the Mohonk Conference” (1907) Google Books.
“The Sioux Mythology” Popular Science Monthly, 1895. Google Books.
“What Can the Out-Of-Doors Do for Our Children?” Education, 1920-21
Letter about Sitting Bull in Moorehead’s The American Indian in the United States
“The Indian as a Citizen,” Lippincott’s, 1914
“The North American Indian” from Spiller’s Papers on Inter-Racial Problems, 1911

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s