Dr. Charles Alexander Eastman,
a.k.a. Ohiyesa,
Wahpeton Dakota Sioux (1858-1939)

- by Alice Marie Beard

Dr. Charles Alexander Eastman was involved in the forming of both Boy Scouts of America and Camp Fire Girls.

As a Sioux, he was known as Ohiyesa. His father was a Sioux Indian; his mother was the daughter of a U.S. Army officer and the granddaughter of a famous Sioux chief. Ohiyesa had the traditional upbringing of a Sioux from 1858 to 1874, followed by an undergraduate degree from Dartmouth and a medical degree from Boston University Medical School. He became a fully licensed physician. He was the only physician to aid victims of the Wounded Knee massacre in 1890. Because of racism, his ability to earn a living as a physician was always difficult. To support his family, in 1895 he began working for the YMCA organizing programs for youth living on Indian reservations. In 1920 he helped verify the burial site of Sacajawea.

While it became politically correct to condemn Camp Fire and Boy Scouts of America for stereotyping the indigenous peoples of America and for "exploiting" their cultures, much of that early lore was offered to CFG and BSA by Ohiyesa. His 1914 book Indian Scout Talks was subtitled "A Guide for Boy Scouts and Camp Fire Girls." He wrote, "These chapters represent the actual experiences and first-hand knowledge of the author. His training was along these lines, until he was nearly sixteen years of age. It is with the earnest hope that they may prove useful to all who venture into the wilderness in pursuit of wisdom, health, and pleasure, that they are dedicated to The Boy Scouts of America and The Camp Fire Girls of America."

It might be argued that Dr. Eastman himself did not see the true picture of the Sioux, that he saw "the Sioux ways" through the eyes of a child, idolozing them or turning them "magical" as people sometimes do with the days of their youth. However, it must be noted that it was a Sioux Indian who gave Camp Fire so much of its Indian lore, tradition, and flavor.

Dr. Eastman's connection to Camp Fire Girls and Boy Scouts of America came about because both he and Dr. Luther Gulick worked for the YMCA. Dr. Gulick was working for the YMCA by 1890; Dr. Eastman began working for them in 1895. In 1910, when Dr. Gulick was Secretary of the YMCA, the YMCA brought Boy Scouts to America by giving them office space and paying all the bills for the new organization for several years, by writing Boy Scout camping programs, and by loaning Boy Scouts a YMCA professional to serve as the first leader of Boy Scouts of America. And it was 1910 when Dr. Gulick, his wife, and others began the Camp Fire Girls program..

Though educated as a physician, Ohiyesa's calling seems to have been as a story teller and writer. He was as much a journalist as anything else. Included among his works are brief biographies of some of the best Native American leaders who lived during his time. The biographies are based on Ohiyesa's personal interviews and personal encounters. For historical significance, his work in this area would compare to a collection of the life stories of the losing Confederate generals of the Civil War, written by a man who knew them all personally. For the significance of sensitively and accurately telling the stories of extraordinary human beings, Charles A. Eastman's telling of life stories is among the finest I've read.

Below are the books of Charles A. Eastman.
(1) Indian Boyhood, McClure, Philips, 1902. Autobiography.
(Red Hunters and the Animal People, Harper and Brothers, 1904. Legends.
(2) Old Indian Days, McClure, 1907. Legends.
(Wigwam Evenings: Sioux Folk Tales Retold, Little, Brown, 1909 (with Elaine Goodale Eastman). Legends. (Republished as Smoky Day's Wigwam Evenings: Indian Stories Retold, 1910.)
(3) The Soul of the Indian: An Interpretation, Houghton, 1902.
(4) Indian Child Life, Little, Brown, 1913. Nonfiction.
(5) Indian Scout Talks: A Guide for Boy Scouts and Camp Fire Girls, Little, Brown, 1914. Reprinted as Indian Scout Craft and Lore, 1974.
(6) The Indian Today: The Past and Future of the Red American, Doubleday-Page, 1915.
(7) From Deep Woods Into Civilization: Chapters in the Autobiography of an Indian, Little, Brown, 1916.
(8) Great Heros and Great Chieftains, Little, Brown, 1918. Collection of biographies. Dr. Eastman wrote biographies of, among others, Red Cloud, Spotted Tail, Little Crow, Crazy Horse, Gall, Sitting Bull, Dull Knife, Roman Nose, Rain-in-the-Face, Chief Joseph, Little Wolf, Two Strike, American Horse, Hole-in-the-Day. The biographies were based on Dr. Eastman's own interviews with these men.

words of Ohiyesa:

Friendship is held to be the severest test of character. It is easy, we think, to be loyal to a family and clan, whose blood is in your own veins. Love between a man and a woman is founded on the mating instinct and is not free from desire and self-seeking. But to have a friend and to be true under any and all trials is the mark of a man.

The Indians in their simplicity literally give away all that they have--to relatives, to guests of other tribes or clans, but above all to the poor and the aged, from whom they can hope for no return.

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site by Alice Marie Beard,
Bethesda, MD