Charles Eastman Biography


(Critical Survey of Native American Literature)

Charles Eastman was born at a time when the Santee Sioux were facing the hardships of reservation life. He later became recognized as the most highly educated Indian in the United States and devoted his entire career to helping Indians adjust to the dominant white society.

Eastman’s mother, who died giving birth to him, was the mixed-blood daughter of Captain Seth Eastman, noted artist; his father belonged to the Wahpeton band of the Santee Sioux. Eastman received the name Ohiyesa to represent symbolically a victory by his band over another in a lacrosse game. After the ill-fated Santee Sioux uprising in Minnesota in August, 1862, Eastman was among those who fled to Canada. He believed his father, Many Lightnings, had been killed during the up- rising.

Eastman’s paternal grandmother and uncle reared him in the traditional ways of a Sioux boy. He became a skilled hunter and anxiously awaited his initiation as a warrior. His traditional upbringing abruptly ended in 1872 when his father appeared in Canada to reclaim him. Many Lightnings had been imprisoned for his actions in the Sioux uprising and became a Christian while in confinement. After his release, he established a home at Flandreau, Dakota Territory. Many Light-nings convinced Eastman to return with him to Flandreau and later to adopt an English name and to begin his formal education in white schools.

For the next seventeen years, Eastman attended several schools. In 1887, he received his B.S. degree from Dartmouth College, and in 1890, he obtained his medical degree from Boston University. The Indian Rights Association and the Lake Mohonk Conference of Friends of the Indian, two powerful reform groups, praised his accomplishments and used him as a model for other Indians. Eastman was now thirty-two years old and ready to begin a career dedicated to helping Indian people.

Eastman’s adult years paralleled an important period of federal Indian policies—from the Dawes...

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(Critical Survey of Native American Literature)

Eastman, Charles Alexander [Ohiyesa]. From the Deep Woods to Civilization: Chapters in the Autobiography of an Indian. 1916. Reprint. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1977.

Eastman, Charles Alexander [Ohiyesa]. Indian Boyhood. New York: McClure, Phillips, 1902. Reprint. New York: Dover, 1971.

Eastman, Charles Alexander [Ohiyesa]. The Indian Today: The Past and Future of the First American. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1915.

Eastman, Charles Alexander [Ohiyesa]. The Soul of the Indian: An Interpretation. 1911. Reprint. New York: Johnson Reprint, 1971.

Wilson, Raymond. Ohiyesa: Charles Eastman, Santee Sioux. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1983.