A ventriloquy of anthros: Densmore, Dorsey, Lame Deer and Erdoes.
Erdoes has written other books on Indians that include ritual descriptions (Crying for a Dream 1990) and stories from several tribes (American Indian Myths and Legnds 1984), but his main focus since Lame Deer has been the Rosebud Lakota, and he has done much to promote them as the tribe of New Age choice, especially in Europe. Although this essay questions the commercialism of Erdoes' rhetoric and the ethics of his derivations, I cannot deny that Lame Deer has done much to dispel images of reservation residents as humorless and despairinly resigned. On the other hand, it has created new stereotypes based on information communicated under false pretenses.
The real authors of much of the culturally authentic material in Lame Deer are more well known to scholars and general readers than they were two decades ago. They include James Owen Dorsey, who surveyed Lakota myths and spiritual beliefs in A Study Of Siouan Cults (1972 ), Frances Densmore, who collected long descriptions of dreams and ceremonies in addition to hundreds of songs on the Standing Rock Reservation for her landmark volume, Teton Sioux Music (1972 ), and Eugene Buechel, S.J., whose collected data on Lakota herbal medicines was preserved on the Rosebud reservation at St. Francis Mission where Erdoes must have copied it before attributing it to Lame Deer.
To the revelation that much of Lame Deer is derived from early anthropologists, some of the book's admirers may shrug and say that the ideas and spirit of the book are still Lakota and that a speaker in an oral tradition does not have to footnote everything he says. This defense would have merit if Lame Deer were a legitimate extension of oral tradition, but the book's primary author represents a Euroamerican journalistic tradition with an antithetical agenda-to create characters and events that will sell as many books as possible. A storyteller or an orator in a Lakota community speaks to a particular audience about matters of importance to that audience. In so doing he or she draws upon personally accumulated knowledge. Speakers need not identify their individual teachers or recall specific experiences of learning.(1)
Similarly, a scholarly writer interprets material for an audience that assumes it is hearing a scholar's interpretation. They do not have to be told every source for every statement, and only those ideas or facts that help situate the ideas in a community of scholarship are cited. Stealing words or ideas rarely occurs, because the audience, like the witnesses to Plains coup stories, is prepared to recognize the lie.(2)
In speaking to the mass-market, Euroamerican consumer community, Richard Erdoes speaks less to enlighten than to preserve the illusion of a heroic presence with whom everyone will identify and whose wisdom everyone will buy. That is why he selects what he considers to be the best White Buffalo Calf Woman story (Densmore 1972 :63-68), the best description of the Sun Dance (Densmore 1972 :84-151), the best description of the Thunders (Dorsey 1972 :441), and the best description of herebal medicines (Buechel 1920). Erdoes puts all of this in the mouth of his ultimately wise, all-knowing protagonist. For the same reasons Erdoes explicitly quotes and cites Densmore only in describing the pre-reservation Yuwipi rites, when he wants to say something he thinks Lame Deer could not be believed to have known (Lame Deer and Erdoes 1972:173-74).
Whereas an oral narrator uses story elements from the past to enlighten the present, Erdoes uses the written record to preserve an image and to fulfill they yearnings of the disaffected youth he projects: "You know, we Indians are not like some white folks-a man and a wife, two children, and one baby sitter who watches the TV set while the parents are out visiting somewhere" (Lame and Erodoes 1972:1). The reader is immediately adopted into the "we" and safely set apart from the "some," the soulless, silent majority that the alienated reader loves to hate. Erdoes made the counter-culture readers of the early 1970s and their New Age descendants an offer they couldn't refuse: They could have their anger and serene wisdom. They could have an Indian soul.
Erdoes repeatedly has Lame Deer calling himself a "hippy Indian" (1972:28, 68). Whether or not that is a phrase John Fire used, his philosophy is more consistently that of a hippy or, in some instances, of the Erdoes-vintage Beat generation than of a traditional Lakota medicine man. Some of the book's early chapters could be retitled "Lame Deer: The Dharma Bum": "I was a wanderer, a hippy Indian. I knew nothing then. Right or wrong were just words. My life was a find-out" (1972:28). A "hippie Indian" is a contradiction in terms, if an Indian is someone who respects his culture. Needy readers may want to believe that their search for something to believe in was prefigured by a Sioux spiritual father. That would make them feel better, because they could trust someone over thirty, and they could grow up to be like Lame Deer.
Many under-thirty readers of the pre-AIDS generation would have welcomed the news that a true medicine man shared their highest aspiration: "I had a thirst for women. I wanted to know them. I loved many girls, more than a hundred. Their soft moaning had something to teach me" (1972:29). But sex is only one form of the liberation Lame Deer strives to attain. Not all Lakotas of Lame Deer's generation thought primarily of rebelling against the dominant culture. Thomas Mails' biography of Frank Fools Crow (1978) shows that some Lakota men sought knowledge out of a sense of loving responsibility for their relatives. Erdoes has Lame Deer rebelling against the white society to express himself rather than seeking knowledge to heal and enlighten others. The "find-out" is consistently negative, an escape, rather than an evolution: I was out of the trap. I hadn't been ready to settle down anyway. There were still many things I had to be-an outlaw and a law-man, a prisoner and a roamer, a sheep-herder and a bootlegger, a rodeo rider and a medicine man. I still wanted to lead many lives, finding out who I was. (1972:30)
What Lame Deer becomes in the course of the book may be a partially accurate portrait of an individual but is misleading and damaging when presented as typical of a whole people. Hardly a flower child, Lame Deer has a Kerouac-like contempt for women, especially in his early days. He thinks obsessively of his own development and his own pleasures. Such a man would not have been suffered kindly in an old Lakota camp, nor looked upon as a reliable medicine man in a traditional community today: I trained myself to need and want as little as could be so that I wouldn't have to work except when I felt like it. That way I got along fine with plenty of spare time to think, to ask, to learn, to listen, to count coup on the girls. (1972:39)
Even older women receive contemptuous treatment. Erdoes may have been unaware that the word "squaw" is an obscene reference to the vagina, but the frequent use of the term stil shows disrespect and misinforms the readers of typically Lakota attitudes and terminology. The anti-old age tenor of the following
paragraph may elicit glee in the youth culture, but its mockery of "elderlies" is not funny in a Lakota context: Every spring, as the weather got warmer, the men would fix up Grandma's "squaw-cooler." ... These [brush shelter] squawcoolers are still very popular on the reservation. Grandma liked to smoke a little pipe ... One time she accidentally dropped some glowing embers into an old visitor's lap. This guy still wore a breech cloth. Suddenly we smelled something burning. That breech cloth had caught fire and we had to yank it off and beat the flames out. He almost got his child-maker burned up. He was so old it wouldn't have made a lot of difference, but he still could jump. (1972:15-16) Later Lame Deer mentions "a young squaw" who became a medicine woman (1972:124) and refers to a midwife, one of the most respected female roles in Lakota culture, as an "old squaw" and a "good witch" (1972:134). Even a winkte, a transvestite, is said to "behave like a squaw" (1972:139).(3)
Less forgivable as the produt of an unraised consciousness is the recurrent justification of drinking on the reservations. Indians drink, writes Erdoes, "to forget the great days when this land was ours and when it was beautiful, without highways, billboards, fences and factories...to forget that there is nothing worthwhile for a man to do, nothing that would bring honor or make him feel good inside" (1972:66-67). Targeted readers of the "tune in, turn on, drop out" generation could presumably use such rhetoric to renew their commitments to drug dabbling and pop-nihilism. By identifying rather their commitments to drug dabbling and pop-nihilism. By identifying rather than empathizing, they could reap the benefits of self-pity without setting foot on a reservation.
Appealing to the 1960s drug culture may also account for Lame Deer's emphasis on experience for its own sake: A medicine man shouldn't be a saint. He should experience and feel all the ups and downs, the despair and joy, the magic and the reality, the courage and the fear, of his people. He should be able to sink as low as a bug, or soar as high as an eagle. Unless he can experience both, he is no good as a medicine man. (1972:68) Fools Crow is in the tradition of a medicine man who concentrates from an early age on spiritual matters (Mails 1979:49-91). Erdoes' Lame Deer follows the hagiographic path of the repentant sinner, who comes closer to the light because he has descended further into the darkness: Sickness, jail, poverty, getting drunk-I had to experience all that myself. Sinning makes the world go round. You can't be so stuck up, so inhuman that you want to be pure, your soul wrapped up in a plastic bag, all the time. You have to be God and the devil, both of them. (1972:68) And again in the context of the Paulinian-Nietzschean-Kerouacian formula Lame Deer brings it all back home: "When I was a young man I roamed the country on foot like a hippie, sleeping in haystacks or under the stars on the open prairie ... I managed to be both a Christian and a heathen, a fugitive and a pursuer, a lawman and an outlaw. I was uneducated but soaked up knowledge like a sponge" (1972:68).
All of this culminates in Lame Deer's becoming a "healer and a medicine man" (1972:69). In a letter to The Lakota Times (September 18, 1991) Bernice Fire Milk, the only surviving daughter of John Fire, writes: My father was not a medicine man. He dreamed "heyoka dreams" ... and went to a medicine man, George Poor Thunder ... He was told to show himself, among the people as a clown for four years, so nothing bad happens to his children. His clown name was "Alice Jitterbug." He went to powwows and rodeos and showed himself as such until the same medicine man said he could release himself from the role of a clown. Erdoes consistently exploits Lame Deer's heyoka dream for its comedic effect. The teasing in the following passage is improbably disrespectful, even for an ex-heyoka, and the similes could well be urban journalese: "I had many loves then. One day, one girl; the next day, another one. Sometimes even one girl in the evening, and then another one later in the night ... They are white-haired [now] and some have faces all wrinkled like walnuts, faces landscaped like the Badlands" (1972:69).
Even when Erdoes describe relations between men and women in pre-reservation Lakota society, he still preserves the Indians-were-ahead-of-their-time image: "In the old days the wincincalas, the good-looking girls, were pretty hard to get" (1972:129). This is a strategic understatement in describing a society that put supreme value on virginity before marriage.(4) When he says that Indians "are no prudes" as evidenced by "all the families with eight, ten, and twelve kids" (1972:129), most readers will assume that Indians, being wild and uninhibited, do nothing but make love, even though unlike hippies, they are "bashful" about it. Actually, pre-reservation families were small, since children were spaced at least four years apart to ensure adequate nursing time for each child. When children were born more frequently, the men were teased for lacking self-control.(5)
Although Lame Deer provides a story about how a man who exploited the seductive power of the elk medicine was supernaturally punished and turned into a ghost, he seems to forget that the phrase used to describe the man's conquests-"he was counting coup on those girls" (1972:130)-is the very phrase that he himself used in describing his own love-life.(6) Whatever Lame Deer does is usually considered typical behavior: "What about sex and the medicine man? Well as I said before, they don't pay him to be good; they pay him because he has the power. A medicine man has to find out about all of life and sex" (1972:142). As for his expertise in sex therapy, Lame Deer's second opinion is pure Hugh Hefner: "one medicine man whom I taught myself told me he had cured a case of nymphomania with an herb. If she was unhappy, all right, but if she was a happy nymphomaniac, why cure her?" (1972:142).
Erdoes reruns this footage twenty years later in Lakota Woman when his narrator, Mary Crow Dog, recalls the "very free and wild" sexual liaisons among the members of AIM in the late 1960s and early 1970s: If some boy saw you and liked you, then right away that was it. "If you don't come to bed with me, wincincala, I got somebody who's willing to." The boys had that kind of attitude and it caused a lot of trouble for Barb and myself, because we were not that free. If we got involved we always took it seriously. Possibly our grandparents' and mother's staunch Christianity and their acceptance of the missionaries' moral code had something to do with it. They certainly tried hard to implant it in us, and though we furiously rejected it, a little residue remained. (Crow Dog and Erdoes 1991:65) The implication again is that pre-reservation Indians had no codes of sexual behavior, that only the missionary influence interfered with immediate consent and spontaneous joy.(7)
Erdoes' female persona may or may not be the real Mary Crow Dog, but her comments on the status of Sioux women, past and present, as having to do all the work without real respect from men is simply false, as attested to by both oral tradition and the written record.(8) Saying that men paid lip service respect to Grandmother Earth and the White Buffalo Calf Woman, while treating their women as baby makers and household drudges might be acceptable if "men" were changed to "some young, culturally ignorant members of AIM in the early 1970s." But Erdoes indicts all of Lakota culture, extending the stigma of male dominance to a mockery of the prohibition against menstruating women attending ceremonies or handling ritual objects: "One old man once told me, 'Woman on her moon is so strong that if she spits on a rattlesnake, that snake dies.' To tell the truth I never felt particularly powerful while being 'on my moon'" (Crow Dog and Erdoes 1991:67).(9)
Mary Crow Dog says Lakota men only honored women for being "good beaders, quillers, tanners, moccasin makers, and childbearers" (1991:66) . For readers in the 1990s, such statements trigger social alarms and compel attention. Even a professionally critical reader, with little knowledge of Lakota tradition, may take Lakota Woman for credible ethnography. G. Thomas Couser, chair of the American Studies program at Hofstra University, writes that "Mary Crow Dog could not be a true feminist, because she married a medicine man and therefore defined herself in terms of traditional Lakota values [that] meant subordinating herself to a man" (1992:286). Even her "devotion of narrative space to her husband may be rooted in traditional communalism, as well as female deference" (1992:286). Couser, via Erdoes, concludes that Mary Crow Dog "updates ... a woman's perspective on the role of the medicine man in Lakota culture" (1992:286). Erdoes may have updated his readers' approval rating in the twenty-year interval from Lame Deer to Lakota Woman, but while women in the first book were frequently objects of winking humor, in the second book they are contemporary Sioux women trying to emancipate themselves from a primitive subjugation that is more oppressive than that of their Anglo sisters.
In some ways Erdoes resembles the popular writers Vine Deloria Jr. recently described: Today there are numerous popular writers either claiming to be Indian or alleging that the last medicine man or woman in the tribe has designated them, rather than a tribal member, to be the final authority on culture and religion. One impostor even alleges, when caught plagiarizing, that he did not have final editing privileges on his manuscript, implying that after he had submitted the draft of his book, his editor took down one of the existing classics of the field and promptly inserted several pages of material. (Deloria 1991:459-60) In the epilogue to Lame Deer Erdoes explains that Lame Deer overcame the writer's doubts about the destined nature of their collaboration. Erdoes was an Indian at heart all along, according to Lame Deer: You were chased from your land like us. You are an artist ... you spend hours dreaming in ... a tree ... a kind of vision quest ... you are always picking up stones ... deep inside you there must be an awareness of the Rock power ... I always wanted somebody to help me write a book about Indian religion and medicine, and when I first met you I knew that you were the man I had been waiting for. Your coming was no accident. (1972:264) Although Erdoes modestly declines to assert whether he "was foreordained to meet Lame Deer" (1972:264), the weight of Lame Deer's authority by the end of the book cannot help but convince readers who want to identify the same inclinations in themselves.
Erdoes' strategy is to maintain a facade of urban sophistication to protect himself from appearing "romantic." He knows that even his most unsophisticated readers are aware of the opprobrium of this term, and he helps to distance himself from it by recalling how as a child he devoured Karl May's novels about "Winnetou, a young Indian chief of super-human strength, courage, and nobility" (1972:258). Most of his readers can identify their own pre-conversion enthrallment with Victor Mature's Crazy Horse or Jeff Chandler's Cochise, and knowing that Winnetou could not have been an Apache, since he rode around in a canoe and on a buffalo runner, they can feel they have come a long way from the days of May and their own cinematic past.
Like Winnetou, Lame Deer never killed his enemies, in his case the hordes of frog-skin fanatics and anonymous anthros who present themselves for predictable boos and hisses. He dispatches them with Erdoes' words as ably as Winnetou "stunned them temporarily with a blow from his mighty fists" (1972:259). The tone of irony that Erdoes assumes toward his childhood beliefs is the same tone that Lame Deer takes in the social satire of the opening chapters. Those chapters, like the epilogue, speak loss to the survival concerns of the Lakota community than to the desire of the mass audience to find a way of saving themselves from their oppression. Lame Deer becomes the voice that validates Erdoes' revolutionary mission. The Lakota community is not strengthened by the Anglo reader's relieved discovery that he or she is one of the good guys: You, Richard, are an artist. That's one reason we get along well. Artists are the Indians of the white world. They are called dreamers who live in the clouds, improvident people who can't hold onto their money, people who don't want to face "reality." They say the same things about Indians. How the hell do these frog-skin people know what reality is? (1972:33)
In peopling his tale with heroes and villains, Erdoes attempts to capitalize on Vine Deloria Jr.'s castigation of anthropologists for not putting financial support back into the communities they study (1991:457). While Deloria may have hoped to move anthropologists to be more appreciative, Erdoes simply sets scholars up as straw men for the average non-Indian academic reader to self-servingly scorn. Anthros are responsible for believing reservation Indians are "warriors without weapons" (1972:36-37); saying that Indians came from Asia via Alaska (1972:58); thinking "symbols are just words, spoken or written in a book" (1972:97); being gullible when they inquire about "Mister Indian's sex life" (1972:140); wanting to steal the sacred buffalo horn cap from the Cheyenne (1972:254).
When Erdoes depends heavily on some of these anthros and puts their words in the mouth of Lame Deer, he not only elevates his protagonist by giving him the most eloquent language his research could discover, he detracts from the creative diversity of the Lakota oral and ritual traditions. Erdoes knew that the version of the White Buffalo Calf Woman story that Lone Man told to Frances Densmore sometime between 1911 and 1914 (1972 :63-68) is one version of the story rather than the story, but that is not the impression he leaves with his readers.(10) In the early 1970s Erdoes assumed that many readers would be familiar with Black Elk's "The Gift of the Sacred Pipe" (Brown 1971:3-9), but that the longer version recorded by Densmore would be known only to a relatively small group of scholars, since the Densmore book was available only in the original publication in academic libraries. When Erdoes came to write The Sound of Flutes, published four years after Lame Deer, this collection of legends contained a White Buffalo Calf Woman story that combined the Densmore version with the one told by Black Elk in The Sacred Pipe, and this composite version also was attributed to Lame Deer (Erdoes, 1976:117-22). Although The Sound of Flutes story (reprinted in Erdoes and Ortiz 1984:47-52) is somewhat disguised, because it draws from two sources instead of one, Erdoes may have thought that no one would notice, since the book was intended for children and general readers.(11)
In the case of Lame Deer the assumed ignorance of the general reader seems to have been confirmed, considering the book's continued popularity. Anyone who reads Densmore and Lame Deer in succession can hardly fail to notice the resemblance. The following exposure is not meant simply to discredit Erdoes. Some readers may assume that Erdoes had no choice but to draw from the written record.
Even if that were true, and the contemporary Lakota had lost their oral tradition (which is not the case), Erdoes did not have to conceal his borrowings. Densmore prefaces Lone Man's telling by saying that she listened to different versions for two years and had her interpreters present them to Lone Man before he told the whole story "in connected form, incorporating therewith material which he wished to add." Densmore and Lone Man place themselves within a Lakota tradition augmented by many contributors. In addition Densmore respects a scholarly tradition of describing methods and acknowledging sources.
Those familiar with an oral tradition will know how minor details and even major events can vary as different narrators improvise upon a familiar plot line. The similarities in the following examples cannot derive from coincidence, since there are so many of them. More importantly, one man, Lame Deer, cannot credibly be the cracker-barrel super hero that Erdoes draws: the most boldly adventurous, the most brilliantly satirical, the funniest, the wisest, a benevolent healer, a compelling storyteller, etc. Erdoes can make Lame Deer's pipe story at least the equal of Black Elk's, even if Lame Deer himself could not tell such a story, because Erdoes has mined the raw material to sustain Lame Deer's persona and his own socially "relevant" themes.
In tracing the excerpts it is helpful to note that wherever Erdoes slightly altered Densmore and the other ethnographers, he did so to express his own emphatic pantheism, his Nietzschean transcendence of good and evil, and an assortment of popular social positions taken to heart by college students and show-biz celebrities of the 1960s. The story of the coming of the pipe contains several basic events in almost all versions: Two scouts, searching for game, meet a mysterious woman. When one of the scouts regards her lustfully, he is enveloped by a cloud that reduces him to bones. The woman tells the other scout to have his people prepare a special tipi where the wisest elders are to receive her. Upon her arrival she tells them and the people assembled outside that she has brought them a sacred pipe, and that they are to respect it and use it for prayer. At her departure the people see her turn into a white buffalo.
After what purports to be a personal narration of the pipe story, Lame Deer adds a cautionary comment: "This is not the only way the story is related, and it is not quite as the spirits have told me" (1972:241). Readers can examine Black Elk's or Fools Crow's pipe stories to realize how dependent Erdoes is on Lone Man and Densmore. When the two scouts in both versions first see the sacred woman approach, they perceive that she is not a buffalo (1972 :64, 1972:241). They also notice the style of her hair. Densmore's version reads, "Her hair was hanging loose except at the left side, where was tied a tuft of shedded buffalo hair" (1972:64); and Erdoes writes, "She wore her hair loose, except for a part of it on the left side which was tied together with buffalo hair" (1972:240). Then both add next that she carried a sage leaf fan in her right hand (1972 :64, 1972:240).
After the lustful scout is killed and the righteous scout returns to camp, the altar is prepared according to the woman's instructions, specifying a buffalo skull and a pipe rack in both versions. Erdoes omits the sage. Then, when the woman enters holding the pipe stem with her right hand and the bowl with her left (1972 :64, 1972:241), the Lakota chief in Densmore explains that the people are very poor:" 'We are at present needy and all we have to offer you is water'...then braided sweet grass was dipped into a buffalo horn containing rain water and was offered to the Maiden" (1972 :65); Erdoes has it this way: "the old men of the tribe [said] 'we have had no meat for some time and all we can offer you is water.' They dipped some wacanga-sweet grass-into a skin bag and gave it to her" (1972:241).
When the woman addresses the people, Erdoes follows Lone Man but adjusts the message to his emphasis on mystical rather than tribal unity. Lone Man's chief immediately addresses the woman with the most respectful kinship term he can bestow: "My dear relatives: This day Wakantanka has again looked down and smiled upon us by sending us this young Maiden, whom we shall recognize and consider as a sister" (1972 :65).(12) He repeats the term twice more in the welcoming words that precede her speech. The woman in turn begins her speech by assuring the group that Wakan Tanka "smiles on us because we have met as one family" (1972 :65). She emphasizes kinship and the honor of the specific adoption she has received: "the best thing in a family is good feeling toward every member of the family. I am proud to become a member of your family-a sister to you all" (1972 :65). In Lame Deer the woman enters the tipi where she is greeted collectively by "the old men of the tribe," who say in unison: "Sister, we are glad you came" (1972:241). The woman is never again called "sister" in Lame Deer's account.
In Lone Man's version the woman addresses the whole group as "My relatives, brothers and sisters" (1972 :65). Next she addresses only the women beginning with "My dear sisters." She turns to the children with "My little brothers and sisters" and back to the men with "Now my dear brothers." After speaking respectfully to the chief alone, "My dear brother," she prefaces her departure with "Now my dear brothers and sisters, I have done the work for which I was sent here and now I will go." As she is leaving, the chief orders "that the people be quiet until their sister was out of sight" (1972 :66).
The version in Lame Deer also opens with "Wakan Tanka smiles on us," but the woman in Densmore attributes the smile to the observance of Lakota kinship ("we have met as belonging to one family"), while Erdoes turns kinship into metaphysical unity. Here the pipe unites the world rather than the people: "Wakan Tanka smiles on us, because now we are as one, earth, sky, all living things and the ikce wicasa-the human beings. Now we are one big family" (1972:242). In Densmore the pipe recognizes different virtues: the people's "great respect and reverence for sacred things," and their maintenance of social harmony by unsentimentally casting out wrongdoers (1972 :65). With proper anti-law and order sentiment Erdoes repeatedly censors all references to the social disciplines that allowed tribes to survive and endure.
But while Lame Deer relies on counter-culture cliches, it also adjusts its references to women and family relationships to both non-Lakota and protofeminist beliefs. Lone Man has the woman address her sisters in terms of their distinctly feminine virtues: that their strength is to bear sorrow and comfort others, that they must make clothing and prepare food for the family, and that they must exercise their special gift of kindness, as well as their particular sensitivities to remembering the dead and nurturing children (1972 :65). In Lame Deer, however, the message is phrased with a self-conscious equality that the older narrators simply assumed: "The task which has been given you is as great as the one given the warrior and hunter" (1972:242). The specific contributions of the women are reduced to feeding and clothing, and decorating the pipe.
Erdoes also omits the woman's separate speech to the men, perhaps because it includes sentiments he wants to withhold from a modern audience: "You realize that all your neccessities of life come from the earth below, the sky above, and the four winds. Whenever you do anything wrong against these elements they will always take some revenge upon you. You should reverence them... Wakantanka smiles on the man who has a kind feeling for a woman, because the woman is weak. Take this pipe, and offer it to Wakantanka daily. Be good and kind to the little children" (1972 :66). In the full context of the speech, however, men are implicitly weaker in kindness and bearing sorrow, though traditionally male weakness was not mentioned.
Among published narratives, only Lone Man and Erdoes have the White Buffalo Calf Woman address the tribe by age and gender. Lone Man's woman tells the children to observe the sacrifice that their parents make for them in various forms of prayer "so that nothing but good may come to you as you grow up" (1972 :65). She makes Wakan Tanka conceivable to them as their "great grandfather." Erdoes reverses the direction of respect to arrive in the child-centered sentimentality of 1960s: "The White Buffalo Woman then turned to the children, because they have an understanding beyond their years and, among Indians, the right to be treated with the same respect which is shown to grownups" (1972:243). The expression of parental care by spiritual sacrifice is watered down to "she told the little children that what the grown men and women did was for them" (1972:243).
After the story itself ends, Erdoes follows Densmore in commenting on the woman's departing song and ironically refers to the translation in the passive voice (since the translation comes from Densmore): "Niya tanin mawani ye, which has been translated as 'with visible breath I am walking'" (1972:243). Densmore comments that the song was sung in the Spirit-keeping ceremony "when a man who keeps the spirit of his child can afford to buy a white buffalo robe" (1972 :67). Perhaps visible breath in this context refers to the manifestation of the dead child's spirit through the ceremony. Erdoes connects breathing to being alive in the general sense, and the smoke of the pipe not only to "the breath of our people" but to "the breath of the buffalo on a cold day," so that "the pipe, man, and the buffalo are all one" (1972:244). Of course the breath of any animal is visible on a cold day. The interpretation explains both the buffalo spirit in "White Buffalo Calf Woman" and pro- vides a transition to the familiar listing of non-wasteful uses of the buffalo's body in the next paragraph. In this case an artful arrangement of sequence accounts for a definitive pronouncement on belief.
Since the description of the Sun Dance is longer, the parallels to Densmore are more numerous than in the pipe story, and they are also more obvious. Erdoes begins by justifying the most sensational aspect of the dance for the general reader. "The way I look at it our body is the only thing which truly belongs to us. When we Indians give of our flesh, our bodies, we are giving of the only thing which is ours alone" (1972:187). The corresponding passage in Densmore reads: "A man's body is his own, and when he gives his body or his flesh he is giving the only thing which really belongs to him" (1972 :96). The point of divergence again reveals commercial targeting. Chased By Bears, Densmore's informant, says that the offering of the body proves sincerity to Wakan Tanka (1972 :96). Erdoes takes the opportunity to push more pop-pantheism. The Great Spirit has given himself in the whole of nature, so a Sun Dancer cannot give "anything less" (1972:187).
Although Lame Deer had participated in many Sun Dances his book includes only a few references to personal experience.(13) Perhaps he was reluctant to reduce the most profound of Lakota prayers to print. Erdoes has him saying: "Just telling about it makes me a little uneasy. Formerly we didn't talk much about it even among ourselves, and then only on solemn occasions, when twelve old and wise men were present to make sure that what was told was right, with nothing added and nothing left out" (1972:190). In 1911 Densmore had assembled fifteen elders and had supplemented her research with forty other interviews (1972 :87). Perhaps twelve sounded more ceremonial than fifteen to Erdoes. In any case Lame Deer's persona might well be uneasy about implying that the account of "the old days" (1972:190) he presents is from his own memory or his own direct reception of oral tradition: "this is a good hour to relate to you how we celebrated the sun dance in days long past, to make you see it in your mind in all its ancient awesomeness" (1972:190).
Though much abbreviated, the details Erdoes selects correspond to Densmore's. Compare the descriptions of the mellowed earth altar just west of the Sun Dance pole:
[A]bout 15 feet west of the
pole a square of earth was
exposed, all vegetation being
carefully removed and the
ground finely pulverized.
This square of earth was
called owanka wakan,
"sacred place," and no one
was allowed to pass between
it and the pole. Two
intersecting lines were traced
within the square of earth,
forming a cross, these lines
being parallel to the sides of
the square but not touching
them. After tracing these
lines in the soil, the
Intercessor filled the incisions with
tobacco which had been
offered to the sky, the earth,
and the cardinal points. He
then covered the tobacco
paint-powder, over which he
spread shining white "mica
dust." (1972 :122)
A little way west of the pole
they made a square of
earth-owanka wakan, the
sacred place. It contained a
measure of power given by
the Great Spirit to be used
for the people. Two lines
traced within the square,
small ditches, really, were
filled with tobacco, covered
with vermillion powder,
silvery mica dust and downy
eagle feathers. The cross
symbolized the four
directions of the wind. Nobody
was allowed to step between
the pole and the owanka
While Erdoes' description washes away many vivid details from Densmore's, the passages thought to be most entertaining and exotic are saved and colloquialized for the mass audience. After the Sun Dance tree is cut, Densmore describes the reverence in which it was held: From this time the pole was regarded as sacred and no one was allowed to step over it, or over any of the branches which had been cut from it. Jealousy frequently arose among the women in regard to the privilege of cutting the tree, and it is said that on one occasion a woman was so angry because she was not chosen for the purpose that she stepped over the pole. Half an hour later she was thrown from her horse, dragged some distance, and killed. The horse was known to be a gentle animal, and the event was considered a punishment justly visited on the woman. (1972 :114) Erdoes omits the jealousy of the woman as perhaps insufficiently noble for the tribe and the occasion, and substitutes the lesser offense of "carelessness" in order to editorialize stereotypically on what remains of the story: "A man who once carelessly jumped across it had his neck broken the next day when his horse threw him. You might call this an accident, but we old full-bloods know better" (1972:192).
Occasionally Densmore is cast aside when another anthropologist provides juicier material for the projected reader. The rawhide figures of the man and the buffalo bull, traditionally attached to the top of the Sun Dance tree, had exaggerated erections. Modern Sun Dances omit this (see Mails 1978:121), as does the Densmore account, but Dorsey includes it (1972 :456). When the warriors shoot down the cut-outs with arrows, Walker understands them to be cleansing inappropriate thoughts from the Sun Dance camp (1979 :110). Erdoes seizes the opportunity to reiterate that the Lakota were not "prudes" (1972:129). The large male parts "are ready for action" and "stood for" the renewal of life.(14) When the men and women engage in the ritualized sexual banter preceding the shooting, Walker's purification rite descends to the readers' assumed permissiveness: "Ordinarily women would have been ashamed to speak this way, coarsely, with all the people to hear them, but at this one time it was all part of a rite and therefore good" (1972:194).
Erdoes also alters several of Densmore's Sun Dance songs. While the women are ritually striking the sacred tree with the "brand new" axe (1972 :112, 1972:191-92), young men sing of their brave deeds:
ite sabye In a fight, owale I yield first place to ca hecamon none (1972 :112) Black face paint I strive for. The black face paint Unafraid I seek I live. Therefore I have done this (1972:192)
Erdoes lengthens the song for commercial consumption. A culturally informed audience would know that black face paint implied victory, struggle, courage, and survival.(15) Erdoes' assumed audience would need to have this spelled out.
Many passages outside of the Sun Dance chapter diverge from Densmore only in their folksy style. On the nature of spiritual identity Brave Buffalo told Densmore that "all men have a liking for some special animal, tree, plant, or spot of earth. If men would pay more attention to these preferences...they might have dreams which would purify their lives" (1918:172). Erdoes puts it this way: "The Great Spirit wants people to be different. He makes people feel drawn to certain favorite spots on this earth where they ... [say] to themselves, 'That's a spot which makes me happy, where I belong'" (1972:146).
On the gifts of different species Erdoes barely bothers to change the words of Shooter, as he follows Brave Buffalo: "Animals and plants are taught by Wakantanka what they are to do. Wakantanka teaches the birds to make nests, yet the nests of all birds are not alike. Wakantanka gives them merely the outline" (1972 :172); "The animals and plants are taught by Wakantanka what to do. They are not alike. Birds are different from each other. Some build nests and some don't" (1972:146).
For the rest of this passage Erdoes' abbreviations are instructive. Shooter emphasizes the uniqueness of all living beings: "The reason Wakantanka does not make two birds, or animals, or human beings exactly alike is because each is placed here by Wakantanka to be an independent individuality and to rely on itself" (1972 :172). Erdoes writes that "the Great Spirit wants people to be different" (1972:146) but then submerges safely into "the Great Spirit is one, yet he is many. He is part of the sun and the sun is a part of him. He can be in a thunderbird or in an animal or plant" (1972:146). Shooter prefaces his long, finely detailed appreciation of differences in nature with the Lakota emphasis on balance: "All living creatures and all plants derive their life from the sun. If it were not for the sun, there would be darkness and nothing could grow-the earth would be without life. Yet the sun must have the help of the earth. If the sun alone were to act upon animals and plants, the heat would be so great that they would die, but ... the sun and earth together supply the moisture that is needed for life" (1972 :172).
In addition to these surreptitious borrowings, Erdoes quotes openly from Densmore to describe the origin of the Yuwipi ceremony in the shaking tent rite of pre-reservation days (173-74). Densmore's Teton Sioux Music is identified in Lame Deer's single footnote, but the text attempts to preserve the illusion that Lame Deer speaks through the oral tradition. Lame Deer's innocence of ethnology is virtually proclaimed, so as not to blow his cover: Even though it is not mentioned by name, one book describes yuwipi as it was practiced long ago, before we had houses to live in. This book was written by a woman who lived for a number of years among us, when I was a small boy, before the First World War. She got her stories from the white-haired, holy men who still remembered the days before the reservations. (1972:173) Ironically, Erdoes got some of his own "stories" from the same holy men, but he omits their names for the same reason he conceals Densmore's.
Some may think that Lame Deer chose not to name names because he was describing a sacred matter. If so, he was observing a different ethic from the fifty-five Lakota who volunteered information on the Sun Dance. When one of the primary fifteen elders died a few weeks after the interviews, Densmore asked "whether the death of Red Bird was attributed to the information given concerning the Sun Dance and was assured it was not. Indeed Red Bird said during his last illness that he was greatly comforted by the thought that he had helped to preserve the songs and beliefs of his people" (1972 :89n).
By not acknowledging specific origins, Erdoes deflects readers from learning more about Lakota traditions and history. If Lame Deer speaks only out of the oral tradition, then many readers will think his knowledge is confined to the reservation, and that their knowledge as outsiders must depend exclusively on him. Still, despite this strategy, Erdoes plagiarizes in barely hidden sequences. Although James Owen Dorsey cites an earlier nineteenth century scholar, J.W. Lynd, for recording the Dakota belief that stone is the oldest spirit because "he is the hardest" (1972 :447), Lame Deer expresses the unusual comparison as if it were his own (1972:103). And from Dorsey's opinion that Tunkan (stone) corresponds to the Hindu lingam, Erdoes comes up with "He stands for creation, you know, like the male part" (1972:103).
Then, in a far from unanimous version of the earth's early days, Erdoes continues to imply that he is reporting directly from the oral tradition:
Before man's creation, Lame
Deer says, the thunderbirds
fought with the unktegila
[sic], a water monster
described as having "red hair
all over, one eye ... one
horn in the middle of its
forehead" and "a backbone
like a saw" (1972:227).
Dorsey's description is
nearly identical: "It has red
hair all over, and one eye. A
horn is in the middle of its
forehead, and its body
resembles that of a buffalo.
Its backbone is like a
cross-cut saw" (1972
:441). The effects of viewing the monster, however, are somewhat changed in Lame Deer. The number three Europeanizes the story enough to make it fabulous. Dorsey's victim "goes crazy for a day" and then dies (1972 :441). Erdoes' victims go blind on the first day, crazy on the second, "and on the third day they died" (1972:227).
While the unktehi look alike in both versions, Lame Deer makes them devils in comparison to the angelic Thunderbirds. The angels gain wings after they die, having transcended their earthly bodies which become stone like those of the unktehi. This part is not in Dorsey, and it echoes Christian assumptions about sacred beings leaving their bodies to become pure spirit, while inferior beings remain forever body. The rest of Erdoes' description of the Thunderbirds and their power hews closely to Dorsey. From Dorsey comes Erdoes' description of the Thunderbird's mountain home, guarded specifically by a butterfly at the east, a bear at the west, a deer at the north, and a beaver at the south (1894:222, 1972:228).
Though Dorsey says the Thunderbirds are four-in-one, Erdoes neglects the opportunity to supplement his everything-in-one message. Instead he takes only the unusual image offered by the written tradition, though abbreviating it into a typically less vivid form:
One of the varieties is black,
with a long beak, and has
four joints in his wing.
Another is yellow, without
any beak at all; with wings
like the first, except that he
has six quills in each wing.
The third is scarlet, and
remarkable chiefly for
having eight joints in each
of its enormous pinions.
The fourth is blue and
globular in form, and it is
destitute of both eyes and
ears. (1972 :441)
The great wakinvan of the
west is the first and foremost
among them. He is clothed
in clouds. His body has no
form, but he has huge,
four-jointed wings. He has
no feet, but he has claws,
enormous claws. He has no
head, but he has a huge beak
with rows of sharp teeth. His
color is black. The second
thunderbird is red. He has
wings with eight joints. The
third thunderbird is yellow.
The fourth thunderbird is
blue. This one has neither
eyes nor ears. (1972:228)
Erdoes' description may also be indebted to Walker: "[H]e has neither legs nor feet, but has huge talons that can pierce the hardest of things; he has no mouth, but has a huge beak armed with sharp teeth" (1983:213). By way of explanation, Erdoes rhetorically asks, "Who knows what the great thunderbeings look like? Do you know what God looks like?" (1972:228).
Erdoes also goes to Walker for the stories Lame Deer claims to have heard in his childhood (1972:20-27). Ella Deloria showed that Wi and Hanwi, the sun and moon, Tate, the wind, and his wife, Ite, were characters invented by Walker's informants and were not part of the oral tradition John Fire could have learned as a child.(16) Erdoes uses the Walker material once again to allow his hero to make the potentially exotic comfortably familiar. Ite's punishment for her adulterous affair with Wi in this "Sioux" story is not primitive legend but everyday common sense: She still remained the most beautiful creature in the world, but only if one looked at her from one side. The other half of her face had become so hideous and ugly that there were no words to describe it. From that time on she was known as Anunk-Ite, or Double Face. When it comes to love the women always have the worst of it. (1972:20)
Only when Erdoes wants to say something that his literary persona could not have known first-hand does he reveal sources. One instance is the quote on Yuwipi from Densmore. The other is Lame Deer's reference to a book by George Catlin for information on the Pipestone Quarry in the 1830s. Only Lame Deer's keen senses of sight and touch preserve him from the contamination of print: "I found an old book by George Catlin in your library which was printed over a hundred years ago. I like to leaf through this book of yours and look at its faded, yellow and brown speckled pictures" (1972:247). He says Catlin "got a few things wrong," though he does not identify those things. Instead he emphatically praises Catlin as "an artist," congenitally careless of facts but intuitively right: "behind a mass of words ... very faintly, you can see the main idea of the pipe coming through" (1972:247).
Through Catlin, Erdoes defines and justifies his role in the narrative. Artists and Indians are not only free from frog-skin greed, they have the same inborn sense of taste. In the Mount Rushmore chapter, he steps forward to claim equal billing: Listen my white friend Richard here told me some reasons why he doesn't like Mount Rushmore. We Indians have many reasons why we don't like it, but he has thought up a few we never hit on. He calls these faces one big white ego trip. He says good art can't be made with a jackhammer, and I think, being an artist, he knows what he is talking about. He says that anything which is in such disharmony with nature is bad art. (1972:81) "Richard" is usually as delightfully clever as Lame Deer himself. Perhaps Erdoes re-creates the Lone Ranger-Tonto reversal he describes in the May novels where "Winnetou had a sidekick, a German trapper called Old Shatterhand" (1972:258).
Erdoes may have expected that written sources unpublished at the time he wrote Lame Deer would always remain virtually unread. At the end of chapter nine Lame Deer lists and describes "some of the herbs and plants we use in our work" (1972:160). Erdoes copied most of these remedies from the note cards of Eugene Buechel, then kept at St. Francis Mission on the Rosebud Reservation and subsequently published by Dilwyn J. Rogers (1980).(17) Even the language Erdoes attributes to Lame Deer either reproduces or slightly colloquializes Buechel's (1980:26) words:
Buechel's card for sinkpe
tawote reads, "Means
'muskrat's food.' Used as
medicine for cramps of arms
or legs; roots pulverized,
mixed with gun powder and
given as a drink in water"
For sinkpe tawote Erdoes
writes, "that's muskrat food
... When you grind them
up and mix them with
gunpowder they are a help
against cramps in arms and
Buechel's card for pispiza
tawote reads, "Means 'prairie
dog's food.' Leaves
pulverized and given to people
when they find breathing
Erdoes writes, "the
prairie-dog medicine, helps
those people who have
If he diverges from Buechel in any particular, it is predictably to filter the clinical information through Lame Deer's comedic mask:
For canhlogan wastemna the
Buechel card reads, "for a
woman who is having
difficulty giving birth ...
Pulverized roots put on the
face of a sleeping man so he
will not wake up and his
horses can be stolen"
Erdoes takes the substance as
information but updates its
application as a punch line,
"helps a woman during a
bad childbearing. It will also
make a man fall asleep so
that you can steal his horses,
but it's no good for stealing
cars" (1972:160-61). Erdoes
adheres almost undeviatingly
to Buechel's descriptions in
eight other instances (Rogers
1980:27, 28, 38, 40, 45, 52,
55, 56; Erdoes 1972:160-62).
In the same section, Erdoes (1972:160-61) takes several additional remedies from Densmore: cante yazanpi icuwa for heart trouble (1972 :260); taopi pejuta for wounds (1972 :254); and winawizi hutanka for hemorrhages (1972 :264-65). The medicine for impotence cannot be found in the written sources, perhaps because it would not have been divulged to Buechel as a priest, or to Densmore as a Victorian woman. On the other hand, its inclusion by Erdoes amplifies Lame Deer's journalistic education: "you tell me one can't have a book nowadays without a lot of sex" (1972:129): If a man is weak and can't get it up, a certain snakeroot could be a big help. One plant, if just one tiny seed of it is given an old man, can keep him going the whole night through. I won't describe or name it, otherwise the whole place would be overrun by white men from the big cities looking for these seeds. They'd go crazy with this herb, and I'd catch hell for telling about it. (1972:162)
While some "traditions" that Erdoes invents may be entertaining and relatively harmless deceptions, others may have a negative effect on the development of Lakota culture. Talal Assad describes how Third-World countries can lose the ability to shape and determine their own beliefs: "In modern and modernizing societies, inscribed records have a greater power to shape, to reform, selves and institutions than folk memories do. They even construct folk memories" (1986:163).
In some instances Erdoes' Lame Deer may be dogmatizing sacred traditions that are otherwise creatively variable. Twice he insists that the sweat lodge always faces west in Lakota ritual practice: "most of the anthropologists have written that it faces east, but this is true only for the sweat houses of the heyoka, the clowns who do everything different from anybody else" (1972:168, see 132).(18) The flexibility of Lakota ceremonial practice permits different colors to signify the directions at a Sun Dance, a Yuwipi ceremony, or a Vision Quest, depending on the medicine man's individual vision. (Sweat lodges are described as facing east in Brown 1971:32; Deloria, "Camp Circle Society" n.d.:23; Mooney 1965:66; Powers 1982:41; they face west in Mails 1979:95).
While some of Lame Deer's information is wrong because it mistakenly appears to be monolithic, other ethnographic details are simply incorrect: "Indian kids call their aunt 'Mother' when she acts like a mother" (1972:24). Actually Lakota children refer to their mother's sisters as ina (mother), and to their father's sisters as tunwin (aunt). If Lame Deer were correct, tunwin would be a more distant or less respectful term than ina, which it clearly is not.(19) Of course any small child in any culture may call a woman "mother" if she acts like one, but that is not what Lame Deer means. Lame Deer also refers to the traditional wedding ceremony he conducted at Erdoes' apartment in New York (1972:132, 143). The Lakota had no formal wedding ceremony. The reverse of claiming a non-existent tradition occurs when Lame Deer says that an inevitable fact of life in all cultures did not exist: "we had no jails. Therefore we had no criminals" (1972:63). Besides the banishment of criminals referred to by the White Buffalo Calf Woman and quoted previously from Densmore, the old Lakota had many ways of dealing with those who threatened social harmony.(20)
While Lame Deer rightly descries the inequality of American justice and vividly expresses the ravages of alcoholism, he sometimes offers jarring contradictions. Annoyed by the depersonalization of eating and drinking associated with scientific nutrition, he imagines the day when vitamin pills replace food. His alternative, however, is neither appropriate nor funny: I'd rather have a glass of mini-sha, red water, with one of my neighbors. He is an old wino but very generous. He'll share his last bottle with a friend. He told me, "The whisky can't get away from me. The more I give away, the more it comes. I've got to be careful, or I'll drown in it." (1972:36) This may be defended as a last resort against dehumanization in the same way that A Clockwork Orange says that it is better to be violent than numb, but the charm of sharing alcohol is a little too inviting, especially for a "youth culture" that equated friendship with sharing drugs.
Still, Lame Deer is nothing if not charming. The voice Erdoes gives him is wise, witty, articulate, and glib. When it is ungrammatically colloquial, it conventionally reassures the readers that they are hearing a real grass-roots person, one who could not possibly lie. But few real people of any sort utter the prose poems in which Lame Deer sometimes sings. Note the abundance of alliteration and present participles: Staring open-eyed at the blazing sun, the blinding rays burning deep into your skull, filling it with unbearable brightness ... Dancing, dancing, dancing from morning to night without food or water until you are close to dropping in a dead faint ... (1972:187) The voice of Lame Deer in Lincoln and Slagle's The Good Red Road represents a different effort to write the holy man's speech: I educated eighteen medicine men; fourteen now are dead. But you find the right holy man now, if you want to be healed or taught-keep lookin' till you find the right one. Sure, there's lots a fakes, but some real too. It's got to be the power a' the Great Spirit, right here, now, between you'n me. (1987:148)
How did Lame Deer actually sound and what did he really say? Concluding his discussion of dubious editing by Paul Radin in Crashing Thunder, Arnold Krupat reflects, "We have no one's spoken words, however much we may be urged to believe that the Indian has been allowed to speak for himself, but only written words, and words in English ... But all of these words ultimately are Paul Radin's words" (1983:106). Lincoln and Slagle's words, however, sound more plausible than many of those that Erdoes puts in Lame Deer's mouth. In Lame Deer all the voices-Lame Deer's, Pete Catches', Leonard Crow Dog's, Erdoes' own-sound more or less alike. In reality Pete Catches speaks English eloquently and draws on a vocabulary that results from extensive reading. The following passage was spoken around the time Erdoes visited Rosebud: [L]ooking to this Indian pipe ceremonial [of Frank Good Lance] ... I found out that my true yearning to serve my God and pray to him was in like manner ... So now I am conducting Indian pipe ceremonials, and in them they call me a medicine man. I have my own sweat bath structure, rocks and fire place, and I hold a sweat bath nearly once a week, but in all these endeavors I try to be honest with myself and honest with the world around me. In doing so I feel sure that I please the Great Spirit. I tread this earth but once, and on it I try to do good, all the good that I can do, for my people. (South Dakota Oral History Center tape recording and transcript 0459, 1969:2)
Leonard Crow Dog has a distinctive style sprinkled with compound words of his own coinage. If his rhetoric were as creatively non-standard in the late 1960s as it was in the following passage from 1983, it is hard to believe that he spoke with the voice Erdoes gave him in 1972: It takes time for the peyote to have its way. For an hour or two there is maybe nothing. Suddenly you notice a change. Things are no longer what they were ... Time, like space, grows and shrinks in unexplainable ways-a lifetime of being, learning, understanding, pressed together in a few seconds of insight, or time standing still, not moving at all, a minute becoming a lifetime. Think what you can do with such a minute. (1972:210-11) I'm not a sacred man. I'm just an interpreter, I'm just a part of an overseer of defending our sacred land of the western hemisphere. I am just like you as a human person. I too make mistakes, but I too am very careful in my privacy and my life. I too, defending the land ... 200 and some years of the Constitution ... and us and ourselves, we had no intentions, we never had intentions to lose our land ... I know too, speak in a white Court language. I know too, speak in a Lakota tongue. I know too, speak in an Indian language. And I know too, speak in a community theory. And I know too, representing the community, representative of the land, to defend ... not only Lakota people but the nest of the western heart of the western hemisphere. [Earlier in the interview he had described how the eagle spirit makes its nest in the center of Bear Butte]. (From a cassette tape recorded by the Oglala Legal Rights Fund in 1983, in the archives at Oglala Lakota College)
Similarly, another speaker, Joe Flying By, does not speak English fluently, but for that very reason he speaks it resourcefully and effectively. In the following passage he refers to the loss of the metaphorical imagination that sustains storytelling: We are talking about what is true and what is right ... We don't see the Great Spirit in person, but we know and we pray to him ... It's hard to tell things that are past. People of today are in doubt, they don't believe. People are talking: "I think that man is crazy," "I think that woman is out of her mind, that she makes up stories." So this is what's happening today. So it's hard to tell things, but I will do my best. If anybody don't believe this story [how men first started to kill buffalo, as an analogy to hostility between whites and Indians], he will be a lost person. If they believe this what I say, they think it's true that they should walk that line and try to be a person from this. They're people that I'm talking about. (From a cassette tape recorded by the Oglala Legal Rights Fund in 1983, in the archives at Oglala Lakota College)
While it is likely that medicine men interviewed by Erdoes in the 1960s might have similar ideas, it is not likely that they would speak in the same voice.(21) Erdoes not only conflates Lame Deer and his contemporaries, he merges Lame Deer and his predecessors in order to put the best face on the Sioux he sells. Lame Deer: Seeker of Visions continues to be a model for those who wish to imitate Lakota culture, and for some of those who study it. It is true, as Geoff Sanborn has pointed out, that scholars have ignored the book's literary qualities. The prominent themes he proceeds to show-capitalism ("fission") versus environmentalism ("fusion") -demonstrate that the text lends itself to structured interpretation (1990:39-40). However, as a document conceived for consumers of a particular pop-culture moment, and as an unscrupulous attempt to exploit the written record of the Lakota people, Erdoes' work could be a handbook for hitting the literary jackpot. Lame Deer is still in print and more popular than ever. I leave the last word to Victor Douville, chair of the Lakota Studies Department at Sinte Gleska University: These [passages quoted here] are, no doubt, Erdoes' contributions that John Fire "passively" approved of. John did not have the capability of digesting the Densmore, Dorsey, and any other anthropological writings. If John were hard pressed by the Indian community and other knowledgeable people, he probably would have denied ever saying those things. Having met John and studied his actions, I strongly believe that he probably did not read all of Lame Deer, because he could not read that well. However, I do believe that whenever he spoke about himself, that this was usually accurate, although I know he liked to B.S. in a profound manner. I would have to say that the majority of the blame should be on Erdoes for the way he exploited Lakota culture and John. (The amount of blame? Three-fourths for Erdoes and one-fourth for John). Nevertheless, without Erdoes, there would have been no Lame Deer: Seeker of Visions, and we would not be writing this criticism and developing grey hairs. (Note written on manuscript of this essay, September 2, 1992)
(1.)In storytelling the anonymous keepers of a cumulative tradition are cited through the use of the quotatives-ske', keyapi', or ke' (they say, or it is said)-interspersed throughout myths and legends to remind the listeners that the speaker is reliable and respectful, and that he does not speak for himself alone. See Rice 1992:52-56.
(2.)Black Elk's recollections of his battle deeds in the Neihardt interviews were "witnessed and validated" by elderly companions who also related their coups. See DeMallie 1984:34.
(3.)In an interview in Indian Country Today (April 7, 1993:1, 3), Ives Goddard of the Smithsonian Institution finds both historical and linguistic causes for the word's racist meanings. European traders in New England used the Naragansett word for women, squaw, to refer to those who could be bought or exploited. The vagina meaning "may be based on a Mohawk word just as offensive as the four letter English word." In the same article Bea Medicine comments, "It is a very derogatory term for Indian women. It equates them with sexuality and perpetuates the stereotype that Indian women are loose and promiscuous." Erdoes' use of the term was not atypical among theoretically sophisticated writers at the time he wrote Lame Deer. An art critic for New York Times Magazine, David Garnett, inadvertently indicated why "squaw" dehumanizes Indian people: "From her [Pocahontas'] portrait, obviously a close likeness, one guesses at a shrewd, observant intelligence and a high vitality. There is nothing of the animal sleepiness seen in the pictures of many squaws" (April 5, 1964. Quoted by Stedman 1982:25).
(4.)See Ella Deloria 1988:139-40. In a lecture of October 21, 1985, Charlotte Black Elk states that nineteenth century Lakota women had a special responsibility for making choices that would help or harm their communities. Winter count records as well as oral tradition reveal that having an illegitimate baby was "the most horrible thing that could happen to us" (Sinte Gleska University videotape 12-41, 42, 43).
(5.)Ella Deloria describes family planning at length in the unpublished manuscript, "Camp Circle Society," n.d.:83-84. See Rice 1992:21-22.
(6.)Erdoes presents some undocumented and improbable information on the subject in American Indian Myths and Legends. "On the Plains seducing a pretty girl was almost like counting coup. A man might draw figures on his courting robe to indicate his conquests" (1984:273). For a less distorted summary of the mores of seduction, see Ella Deloria's, "Camp Circle Society." n.d.:138-50, an unpublished manuscript quoted in Rice 1992:22-26.
(7.)According to Mary Crow Dog, traditional courting disciplines were not only unknown, they were apparently thought to consist of the belief that counting coup on an enemy resulted in sexual privilege at home: "We had girls who would go to bed with any warrior who had done something brave" (Crow Dog and Erdoes 1991:78). On authentic courtship and marriage customs, see Ella Deloria, "Camp Circle Society," n.d:128-75 and 1988:138, 153-55, 160-61; Hassrick 1964:129-30; Walker 1982:51-53.
(8.)The idea of gender balance rather than hierarchy has been well established in both anthropology and recent extensions of the oral tradition: "Women are neither inferior nor superior to men, merely different. Both sexes are valued for the contributions they make to the society" (M. Powers 1986:6). For contemporary perspectives on the traditional role of Lakota women as it has been adapted to the modern world, see Reyer 1991. In a lecture at Sinte Gleska University of October 21, 1985, Charlotte Black Elk commented that the image of the Indian man followed at ten paces by all his wives was partly true: "that guy was sent out to clear out the snakes" (SGU videotape 12-41, 42, 43).
(9.)The Lakota do not consider menstruation unclean, but the emanation of female power during a woman's period can overwhelm male power. A menstruating woman therefore strictly avoids touching weapons, medicine, pipes, and other ceremonial objects. See M. Powers 1986:70-71. Charlotte Black Elk theorizes that women did not have to be cleansed from menstruation but were rather cleansed by it. That is why women did not need to participate in the sweat lodge and have only recently, and untraditionally, begun to do so. (Lecture October 21, 1985, Sinte Gleska University videotape 12-41, 42, 43).
(10.)The most readily available versions of the White Buffalo Calf Woman story are Black Elk's in Brown 1971:3-9 and in DeMallie 1984:283-84. Other versions are in Mails 1979:142-44, Theisz 1975:25-26, and Walker 1980:110-11. For a useful summary of additional versions, see Steinmetz 1990:53-57.
(11.)Any careful reader, however, might be confused by the inconsistencies of attribution between The Sound of Flutes (1976) and American Indian Myths and Legends (1984) edited by Erdoes. Identical stories about the Thunder are attributed in the earlier volume to George Eagle Elk (1976:33-37) and in the later one to Lame Deer (1984:218-22). Similarly, in Lame Deer: Seeker of Visions, Lame Deer tells the same story of Blood Clot Boy (1972:237-38) that Jenny Leading Cloud tells in American Indian Myths and Legends (1984:7-8). In another instance the story of the White Buffalo Calf Woman in the anthology (1984:50-51), including unusual details found in no other version-she gives the Lakota corn, fire, and teaches them to cook in a buffalo paunch-is confused with the story of "First Woman," who receives these gifts from the Great Spirit at the end of Lakota
12. On the special regard in which men held their sisters, see DeMallie 1984:341-42, Bushotter ca. 1887 III:602-03, and Hassrick 1964:109.
13. See the photographs of Lame Deer as an assisting holy man at the 1975 Rosebud Sun Dance in Mails 1978:313-15, 318-19.
14. In Gift of Power Erdoes has Archie Fire Lame Deer explain how the figures in the Sun Dance tree lost and regained their virility: "The missionaries did not like [the huge male parts], so these figures had something missing at the commercialized Sundances they held on Pine Ridge. At our traditional Sundances, we did not submit to any white-imposed prudery" (1992:237). In American Indian Myths and Legends he introduces the "Tales of Love and Lust" section with the comment: "The missionaries' prudish attitudes always puzzled the Indians who even as children generally took sexual experience in its many forms for granted" (1984:273). Ironically, Erdoes offers an image that even non-prudes will not take for granted when he has Mary Crow Dog describe a homosexual Sun Dancer in a state of masochistic satisfaction: "His way of piercing [tied to four poles] had always been considered the most painful because he...had to work himself free agonizingly slowly, bit by bit. He was swaying back and forth languidly, almost like a ballet dancer, his eyes closed, his face expressionless with just a trace of a smile, swaying back and forth, back and forth, the blood streaming from his wounds" (1991:259).
15. On these meanings of the black face paint, see DeMallie 1984:317 and Densmore 1972 :359. For a Christianized version in which warriors wore paint because they were ashamed of killing, see Brown 1971:92.
16. The criticism of Walker appears in the unpublished manuscript, "Dakota Commentary on Walker's texts," ca. 1937. This manuscript is included in An Ella Deloria Reader, a volume I am currently editing for the University of New Mexico Press. Parts of it are presented in Jahner's introduction to Walker 1983:17-24.
17. Buechel collected, dried, and mounted plants on the Rosebud Reservation between 1917 and 1923. His 311 file cards included the Latin and Lakota names of each plant and their medicinal uses. They were edited and published by Dilwyn J. Rogers in 1980. The citations here refer to that publication, although the dates of Buechel's descriptions are approximately sixty years earlier. Erdoes must have examined Buechel's note cards at the Buechel Memorial Lakota Museum in St. Francis, South Dakota, while he was writing Lame Deer, prior to its publication in 1972.
18. In Crying for a Dream: The World Through Native American Eyes (1990) Erdoes is more cautious, perhaps because he is writing without a co-author. While "Lame Deer teaches that the sweatlodge...always faces west...Black Elk maintained that the inipi should face east. There seems to be some difference of opinion" (1990:20-21). Nevertheless, in Gift of Power (1992), the story of Archie Fire Lame Deer, who claims to be John Fire's son, Erdoes repeats the original assertion that the sweat lodge always faces west (1992:176). Archie Fire's identity has been disputed. In a letter to The Lakota Times (September 18, 1991) Bernice Fire Milk refers to herself as the only surviving child of John Fire Lame Deer: "Archie Quick Bear going around showing himself off as Lame Deer in the United States and Europe has dishonored and disgraced the name of Lame Deer. He, Archie Quick Bear, isn't recognized by our people as Lame Deer."
19. On Lakota kinship terms, see Ella Deloria 1994:17-19 and 1988:162-67; see also Walker 1982.
20. On forms of tribal justice in the nineteenth century, see Ella Deloria, "Camp Circle Society," n.d.:52-78, 1944:23-24, and 1988:137, 139-40; see also Walker:1982:31-34, 59-61.
21. James Clifford praises DeMallie and Jahner's 1980 collection of interviews gathered by Walker, because it contains statements on religious belief by more than thirty authorities "interpreted in differing, idiosyncratic styles" and resulting in "a version of culture-in-process that resists any final summation" (1986:15-16). Although Clifford is correct about the varieties of interpretation, the reader hears only Walker's English revision of notes taken by his interpreters. For the statements of Thomas Tyon, however, DeMallie and Jahner translate directly from Tyon's written transcript (1980:148-71, 264-69)
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|Title Annotation:||Frances Densmore, James O. Dorsey, Archie Fire Lame Deer, John Fire Lame Deer, Richard Erdoes|
|Publication:||The American Indian Quarterly|
|Date:||Mar 22, 1994|
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