Crashing Thunder Biography

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(Native Americans: A Comprehensive History)

Crashing Thunder and his Winnebago relatives became known to generations of students. His life story—elicited, translated, and published (as Crashing Thunder: The Autobiography of an American Indian, 1926) by ethnologist Paul Radin—reveals the day-to-day lives and the fundamental beliefs of the Winnebago. When he was born, Crashing Thunder relates, his mother was told that he would not be an ordinary individual. This prediction came true in the sense that Crashing Thunder, who with great reluctance and after years of avoiding the task, wrote an important social history of his people, despite his and other tribe members’ worries that such a record, however valuable to the tribe it might be, would certainly be misunderstood by whites and would lead to trouble.

In another sense, and fortunately for students of Indian culture, Crashing Thunder was ordinary and his life experiences typify those of many of his contemporaries. Reading his book, one learns what childhood, adolescence, and adulthood were like for a Winnebago of his time. His rich and varied life included some of the following experiences: the childhood and adolescent tradition of the vision quest, courtship and sexual experience, marriage, family life (including the murder of a brother), murder, alcoholism, storytelling, ceremonies, migrant work and trouble in the white world, and conversion to the Native American Church and its peyote rituals.

Further Reading

Radin, Paul, ed. Crashing Thunder: The Autobiography of an American Indian. Foreword by Arnold Krupat. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1999.