Charles Alexander Eastman - Sioux Doctor,
Author & Reformer
Alexander Eastman, aka: Ohiyesa (1858-1939) - A Santee Dakota
Indian, Eastman was known as Ohiyesa, meaning "the winner” to his
people. He was born in 1858 near Redwood Falls, Minnesota of
Sioux, Many Lightnings, and the half-blood daughter of a
well-known army officer. His mother died soon after his birth and he
was raised by his paternal grandmother and an uncle.
Minnesota massacre in 1862, the family fled to Canada where he lived
until the age of 15. At that time, his father, who had accepted
Christianity and had become "civilized,” came for him and brought the
teenage boy to his home in Flandreau,
South Dakota. There, several
Sioux families had established themselves as farmers and homesteaders. Ohiyesa was then placed in the mission school at Santee,
where he made so much progress in a two year period that he was
selected for a more advanced course and sent to Beloit College, in
He would later attend Knox College in Galesburg,
Illinois, and Kimball Academy and Dartmouth College, in New Hampshire.
He graduated from Dartmouth in 1887 and immediately entered the Boston
University School of Medicine, where he received an M.D. degree in
Charles Eastman in traditional Sioux clothing.
Dr. Eastman was then appointed as the government physician to
the Pine Ridge Agency in
South Dakota, a position he held for almost
three years. When he returned to the reservation, he became
known as the "white doctor who is an Indian."
In 1890, the
Ghost Dance religion was spreading among
Sioux. Following the vision of
the spiritual movement
gave hope to
Native Americans when conditions were bad on
vision prophesized that if the
Ghost Dance was
performed, whites would vanish, the buffalo would return, and Indian
land, life, and culture would be restored.
When the dance spread to the
the Indian Agents became alarmed.
Attempting to quell the movement, the army massacred
approximately 200 men, women, and children at
Eastman was the only physician to care for
those who survived.
In 1891, Charles married Elaine Goodale of Massachusetts, a
poet and Indian welfare activist. The couple
would eventually have six children. In 1893 he moved his family to St.
Paul, Minnesota, where he started a private practice. Unfortunately,
the practice was not successful and financially struggling, his wife
encouraged him to write some of the stories of his childhood. He
published his first two articles in 1893 and 1894 in St. Nicholas
In the next four years, Eastman was
involved in establishing 32 Indian groups of the Young Men's Christian
Association (YMCA), and in 1899, helped recruit students for the
Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Pennsylvania. Continuing to
write, Eastman published a memoir entitled Indian Boyhood in
1902, which recounted his first fifteen years of life among the
During the next 20 years, he would write ten more books, most
concerned with his Native American culture.
His writings and work with the YMCA,
prompted the founders of the Boy Scouts of America to request his
assistance. With his fame as an author and lecturer, Eastman was
instrumental in promoting that group, as well as the Camp Fire Girls.
Providing advice to both groups on how to organize their summer camps,
he directly managed one of the first Boy Scout camps along the shores
of the Chesapeake Bay. In 1915, the family organized its own summer
camp at Granite Lake, New Hampshire, where the entire family worked
for a number of years.
During these years, Eastman was also active in national politics, particularly in matters
dealing with Indian rights and often acted as an attorney for the
Washington. He also was one of the co-founders of the Society of
American Indian (SAI), which pushed for freedom and self-determination
for the Indian. In 1921, he and his wife, Elaine, separated; but, were
never legally divorced nor publicly acknowledged the separation.
From 1923-25, Eastman served as an
appointed US Indian inspector under President Calvin Coolidge. His
recommendations would later serve as the basis of the Roosevelt
Administration's New Deal for the Indian, which sought freedom and
self-determination for them.
In later years, Eastman built a cabin on the eastern shore of Lake
Huron, where he spent his summers, and wintered in Detroit with his
only son Charles, Jr., also called Ohiseya. On January 8, 1939 Charles
Eastman, Sr. died in Detroit of a heart attack at the age of 80.
of America, updated April, 2017.
Alexander Eastman, aka: Ohiyesa (1858-1939)
Writings by Charles Alexander Eastman
American Horse - A Shrewd Sioux Chief
Chief Gall - An
Aggressive Sioux Leader
Chief Joseph - Leader
of the Nez Perce and a True American
Crazy Horse - A Sacred
Dull Knife - Northern
Little Crow - Leader
of the Santee Uprising
Little Wolf -
Courageous Leader of the Cheyennes