Born to a man who was probably a Brule band leader, Luther Standing Bear described himself nonetheless as an Oglala Sioux. According to his own account, Plenty Kill—as he was named as a child—grew up in the traditional Sioux manner at a time when the old life was being threatened and destroyed by white settlers and the U.S. cavalry. In 1879 he entered the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania, where he was given his name and where he got his only formal education. In 1902 Standing Bear traveled with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, performing in the United States and England. He later moved to California, where he lectured and acted.
In 1928, Standing Bear published his first book, My People, the Sioux, primarily an autobiography highlighting his youth, Carlisle years, the Ghost Dance, and Wild West Show experiences. My Indian Boyhood (1931), written for an adolescent audience, is also autobiographical. Land of the Spotted Eagle (1933), perhaps his most important book, is an ethnographic description of traditional Sioux life and customs, criticizing whites’ efforts to “make over” the Indian into the likeness of the white race. Standing Bear also collected versions of his tribe’s tales and legends, publishing them in Stories of the Sioux (1934). In an essay written for the American Mercury, Standing Bear argues that loss of faith has left a void in Indian life and that the white man would do well to grasp some of the Indian’s spiritual strength.