Studies in American Indian Literatures 17.2 (2005) 10-17
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Eastman's Maternal Ancestry
Letter from Charles Alexander Eastman to H. M. Hitchcock, September 8, 1927
A. LaVonne Brown Ruoff
The H. M. (Hiram M.) Hitchcock papers in the Edward E. Ayer Collection contain four letters from Charles Alexander Eastman (Ohiyesa; Santee Dakota, 1858–1939) to Hitchcock, dated from 1927 to 1935.1 The most interesting of these letters is that of September 8, 1927, transcribed below.2 Here Eastman proudly describes his parents' lineages and poignantly expresses his deep sorrow at the death of his mother when he was an infant.
Little is known about Hitchcock, a businessman and historian from Minneapolis, Minnesota. In 1930 he published several articles about early Minnesota history and in 1931 wrote one on Eastman, "An Indian Returns Home."3 During the early twentieth century, Eastman became one of the most prolific authors and speakers on Sioux ethnohistory and American Indian affairs. Among his most acclaimed and widely read books are Indian Boyhood (1902), Old Indian Days (1907), Soul of the Indian (1911), From the Deep Woods to Civilization (1916), and Indian Heroes and Great Chieftains (1918). In Charles A. Eastman (Ohiyesa), Raymond Wilson describes him as "the first major Indian author to write Indian history from the Indian perspective."4 Eastman's mother, named Winona at birth and later Wakantankawin and Mary Nancy Eastman (1830–58), was the daughter of Seth Eastman (1809–75) and Wak inajin win (Mdewakanton Dakota). In 1830 Seth Eastman and Wak inajin win married at Fort Snelling in present-day Minneapolis, Minnesota. Born in New Hampshire, Seth Eastman was a West Point graduate who became a topographical engineer and celebrated painter. [End Page 10] In 1833 he left his family behind after the War Department ordered him to Louisiana. He returned to Fort Snelling as commander in 1841, bringing with him a white wife, Mary Henderson Eastman (b. 1818).5
The maternal grandfather of Wakantankawin (Mary Nancy East–man) was Mahpiya Wicasta, sometimes given as Wichasta (Cloud Man, b. 1780). A Christian convert, Cloud Man was a Mdewakanton Dakota chief who had a French father and Mdewakanton mother. Wahkan–tanawin and Ite Wakanhdi Ota (Many Lightnings), a Wahpeton Dakota, married in 1847. She bore three sons and a daughter before Charles was born near Redwood Falls, Minnesota. After he converted to Christianity, Many Lightnings took the name Jacob Eastman.
The transcription of the signed, autograph letter below retains as much of Eastman's personal style as can be discerned. His divisions and omissions of words, grammar, spelling, punctuation, and capitalization have been retained.6 Deleted words are indicated thus:
mother. Distinguished anthropologist Beatrice Medicine (Lakota) provided invaluable assistance in the transcription of Dakota names. I am deeply grateful for her help.
Sept. 8, 1927
Mr. H. M. Hitchcock
My dear friend,
I received your letter and the copies of the picture my beloved mother. I found Mr. Mayer's picture of my mother three years ago in the collection of Mr. Ayers, which was placed in the first floor of the Newberry Library in Chicago, and I had copies made for me by "Underwood and Underwood."7 However, I am grateful and thank you just the same as if I hadn't the pictures already. Further more I thank you for your kind interest in our family history. I certainly will do what I can toward getting your article in proper and authentic form. I know Mr. Samuel Pond of Minnesota personally and historically, for the family were closely associated with my mother's family in their early missionary efforts among the Sioux.8 My great grandfather and my mother's grandfather [End Page 11] was instrumental in establishing the first Protestant missionary work among the Sioux and at Minneapolis. My great grandfather's village was located between Harriet and Calhoun Lakes, facing perhaps more toward the latter.9 But, my mother was born on the shore of Lake Harriet, while camping there...