Charles Eastman, Class of 1887, Publishes His First Memoir

The famed author and lecturer was a Santee Dakota Sioux.

In his lifetime, Charles F. Eastman, a Santee Dakota, wrote more than ten books, including several notable autobiographies including Indian Boyhood, Soul of an Indian, and From the Deep Woods to Civilization. Born near Redwood Falls, Minnesota in 1858, Eastman entered Dartmouth in 1883. At Dartmouth, Eastman was a star athlete; he was the captain of the football team, ran, boxed, and played baseball and tennis. He was a member of Phi Delta Theta and graduated with honors.

In an article titled "Stranger in the Land" from the January/February 1981 issue of Dartmouth Alumni Magazine, Eastman's daughter, Eleanor Mensel, says of her father's connection to his alma mater, "He loved Dartmouth. He often talked about his experiences there. He always kept in touch with his old Dartmouth friends."

After graduating from Dartmouth in 1887, he studied medicine at Boston University, gaining his medical degree in 1890. After graduation, he accepted a position as a physician at Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota where he saw first-hand the bloody aftermath of the Wounded Knee Massacre.

He made significant contributions to the YMCA and the founding of the Boy Scouts of America. A popular lecturer, Eastman traveled extensively to give talks, including visiting London in 1911 to represent the American Indian at the Universal Races Congress. Eastman returned to campus several times over the course of his lifetime; he spoke at Dartmouth Night in 1913. He retired to a spartan cabin on Lake Heron in Ontario.

The John Kimball Jr. 1943 Professor of History and a member of the Native American studies, historian Colin Calloway devotes a chapter to Charles Eastman's legacy and his Dartmouth days in The Indian History of an American Institution: Native Americans and Dartmouth. The 2010 book, published by the University Press of New England, is available in print and electronically online.

Of Eastman's legacy, Calloway writes:

"Although Eastman absorbed Western learning and Western values and worked to bring about the assimilation of Indian people into mainstream society, he remained strongly attached to the traditional Sioux ways and values he had learned growing up and insisted that American had much to learn from Native people...He wrote primarily for non-Indian readers, many of them influential, and he told them much that they wanted to hear. He did not dwell on repression and injustice, and he employed the dominant discourse of racial hierarchy and progress. But he also advocated for Indian rights, criticized American hypocrisy, and took on the BIA."

To honor Eastman, the Native American Studies program offers a Charles Eastman Pre-Doctoral Fellowship to support Native American scholars at Dartmouth and throughout higher education who are working towards the completion of their doctorate.

Photographs courtesy of Rauner Special Collections; Eastman is featured in the top left corner of the photo on the left and in the center of the grid of photos in the bottom right-hand corner. The illustration is from the first edition of "Indian Boyhood".