Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)




The recent historical resurgence in the study of American Indian culture has again revived an interest in the writings of Dr. Charles Alexander Eastman (Santee Dakota, 1858-1939). Dr. Eastman's life epitomized the struggle of American Indians to gain white educations and positions in white society at the close of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries. American history has failed to recognize many American Indian leaders of achievement and importance, and this study intends to illuminate the details of Charles Eastman's active and diverse life.

Charles Eastman was born near Redwood Falls in the camp of his great-grandfather, Cloudman. When he was four years old he fled onto the prairies of Dakota with his uncle and grandmother, refugees of the Minnesota Uprising. His father was betrayed into the hands of American authorities at Pembina, and Charles presumed he was dead. When Charles was fifteen his father returned and, after surprising his son, took him "home" to the Flandreau Indian Homestead Colony. Charles reluctantly began his education, but after several years at Santee Normal School, Dr. Riggs noted Charles was a fast learner and urged him to seek further education. Through Riggs, Charles attended Beloit and Knox Colleges, and eventually Dartmouth. Charles by this time was imbued with the desire to become a doctor and help his people. With the help of New England progressives, Charles attended Boston Medical School and was assigned to Pine Ridge Agency in 1890. The Massacre at Wounded Knee led Charles to question the treatment of Indians, and, after exposing corruption, he was forced to resign. Charles spent most of his life actively pursuing assistance and changes for his people. He engaged in private practice, YMCA organizing, lobbying in Washington, working as an Outing Agent at Carlisle, and as a physician at Crow Creek Agency. In 1903 Charles became the Clerk to Rename the Sioux, simplifying inheritance under the Dawes Act. By 1910 Charles had established himself as a lecturer and author, devoting much of his time to these pursuits. In 1915 the Eastman family began a camp in New Hampshire for girls, and Charles, by 1919, was President of the Society of American Indians. In 1923 Charles was appointed a U. S. Indian Inspector and investigated the Sakakawea burial controversy. In 1928 he traveled to England, speaking in behalf of the Brook-Bryce Foundation. In his last years, Charles withdrew to his cabin at Desbarats, Ontario, and remained disillusioned about the future of Indian people in the face of "civilization." His life was frustrated at many points, diminishing much of his life long success. He was a man of two distinct cultural experiences and portrays a vivid picture of the trials and effects of acculturation among educated American Indians.