Thursday, February 6, 2020

Indian Boyhood by Charles Eastman

Indian Boyhood
Charles A. Eastman
Native American
Published 1902

My children and I read this book for history. We read it many years ago for our Little House year, but they were much younger at the time and remember nothing. My goal was to expose them (again) to life other than their own, and because this is a "child's" memoir, I hoped it to be interesting. It also supports our study of Native Americans. One thing I got out of it was the great appreciation for and knowledge of nature.

Indian Boyhood is the autobiography/memoir of a Native American boy born in Minnesota, 1858. Charles Eastman was born Hakadah, and later known as Ohiyesa. His mother died at his birth and his father [Jacob] and brothers were betrayed by another Native tribe to the United States Government, and thought to have been killed.

For fifteen years of his life, Ohiyesa was raised by his grandmother and trained to be a warrior by an uncle. He told his story in this memoir about growing up and living as a Dakota Sioux. He wrote about his earliest recollections, survival training, recreations, family and tribal traditions and legends, adventures, and finally his opinion of the white man's civilization.

He also grew up with animosity and bitterness in his heart, with a desire to someday avenge his father's death. It was easy to understand why he harbored these feelings, and why he had negative opinions of the white man. He believed they always desired to acquire more possessions and to be rich. They wanted [the Indians] to sell their land, and eventually would drive them away and destroy their beautiful country, Eastman said.

But Eastman admitted that he admired the white race because of the power they had to build and invent, such as the "fire boat walks on mountains," which was a locomotive. And he noticed an obvious difference between those whites who practiced Christianity and those who did not.

The best chapter is the very last one. After Ohiyesa turned 15, he was surprised by a visit from his father, Jacob, who explained how, after his betrayal, he had been imprisoned for "involvement" in the Minnesota Massacre, and while in prison he was educated and introduced to Christianity. When the U.S. government found no evidence to support the charge against Jacob, he was pardoned by President Lincoln and went to live on a reservation. There he found government reservation life insulting and decided to try "the white man's ways."

He bought land under the Homestead Act and began to assimilate into the civilized world. But it was Jacob's faith that compelled him to search for Ohiyesa, even knowing how dangerous it would be. When Jacob found his son, he brought white man's clothing for Ohiyesa to change into. Initially, he was reluctant to wear the clothing because it represented the very people he hated. However, he reasoned, they also did not kill his father or brothers, and that is what finally convinced him to put them on. Then Ohiyesa went to live with his father.

Each morning his father sang hymns and read from the Bible, and this left a great impression on Eastman, who also made the decision to follow Christ. He said, "Here is where my wild life ends, and my school days begin."

The memoir ends there, but I will add that Eastman went on to become a thoroughly educated man and a great leader, especially for the Native American people. A bit of trivia: he was the founder of the Boy Scouts of America. And he wrote numerous other books, of which someday I hope to have time to read.

Dr. Charles Alexander Eastman - Ohiyesa


  1. Very interesting. It seems a powerful book to read. I'm glad you revisited.

  2. Thank you so much for posting this, I have just finished reading "Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee" and "Empire of the Summer Moon" and found them so interesting ( and sad of course) ! I want to read this book, it sounds fascinating!

    I do love all your posts!

    Cindy Scott

  3. SILVIA & JILLIAN...Certainly if you want to know more about the Native American people, a primary source like this is a good place to start.

    CYNTHIA...Thank you!! BTW, I cannot wait to read Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee! I have that on my TBR for this year. I started to watch the HBO movie of it on bc I was going to watch it with my kids, since we just finished Indian Boyhood, but not only was it super graphic (and very realistic), but there was profanity. So I didn't finish it. :(

  4. Thanks for this. I'd never heard of Charles Eastman before, and its good to hear of a success story.

  5. MICHELLE: You're welcome. He may also go by his Sioux name...Ohiyesa.