- Song of Dewey Beard: Last Survivor of the Little Bighorn by Philip Burnham
In his recent work, Philip Burnham offers an account of the life of Dewey Beard, a man whose life was as remarkable as it was long. As Burnham recounts, Beard’s journey began around the time of the Civil War as Putinhin, son of Horn Cloud, and took him through to the middle of the twentieth century. He survived the Little Bighorn and Wounded Knee—where he lost his father, wife, child, and two brothers. Despite such tremendous tragedy, the story of Dewey Beard is not one of defeat.
Much like the technological innovations that signaled the changing of the world around him, the life of Dewey Beard can sufficiently be described as one of countless transformation and adaptation. The Putinhin who fought to defend his family at the Little Bighorn and at Wounded Knee would eventually become Dewey Beard and support his family through his work with showman “Buffalo Bill” Cody and in film. Beard represented both the end of an era and the beginning of a new age. That transformation, however, did not necessitate a suppression of Beard’s former self, and [End Page 153] despite his adaptation to this “new” age, Beard remained distinctly Lakota. Furthermore, Burnham contends that Beard’s experience at the Little Bighorn, which proved to be his first experience in war, made him an adult. This experience produced a hatred for war that Beard carried with him the rest of his life.
Burnham’s work does not put an end to all the questions and uncertainties surrounding the life of Dewey Beard. This is something that Burnham readily admits. Despite inconsistent depictions of Beard within his source material, Burnham skillfully combines historical research and analysis with Lakota oral tradition to provide a fairly balanced account of Beard’s life. As such, Burnham reignites a too-little told story of one of the most extraordinary figures of Great Plains history.
University of Oklahoma