Charles Alexander Eastman, MD (Ohíye S’a)

Photo courtesy of the National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution [BAE GN 3463]

Santee Dakota Physician, Advocate, and Folklorist

Charles Alexander Eastman, MD (Ohíye S’a)


Charles Alexander Eastman was born in a buffalo hide tipi near Redwood Falls, Minnesota in winter 1858. In the Dakota naming tradition to mark life passages, he, as the last of five children, was first named Hakadah (The Pitiful Last) because his mother died following his birth. As he matured and demonstrated that the name no longer described him, he was given the Dakota name Ohíye S’a (Wins Often). Separated from his father and siblings during the US Dakota War of 1862, Ohíye S’a fled from the warfare with his maternal grandmother and family to North Dakota and Manitoba, Canada. Told that his father had been hung as one of the Dakota 38, he was raised as a hunter and warrior. However, his father had been imprisoned in Davenport, Iowa, converted to Christianity, and took the last name of his deceased wife, Eastman. When he returned fifteen years later, he searched for and found his son, encouraged his son to accept Christianity, and the family established a homestead in the Dakota Territory. Due to the guidance of his father, Ohíye S’a adopted Christianity, took the name Charles Alexander Eastman, and soon began Western education, first attending Beloit and Knox Colleges, and graduating from Dartmouth College in 1887. He graduated from Boston University medical school in 1889 and became among the first Native American doctors to be trained in Western traditions of medicine. His career led him to multiple jobs including: becoming a Government Physician for the Sioux at Pine Ridge Reservation and later Crow Creek; a medical doctor in private practice in St. Paul, MN; a field secretary seeking to build new Y’s for Indian tribes for the International Committee of the YMCA; and a legal representative and lobbyist for the Sioux tribe and an Indian inspector for the Bureau of Indian Affairs. He also cofounded the Boy Scouts.

Eastman wrote eleven books, with several translated into multiple European languages and emphasizing Indian contributions to American civilization. Many of these books interpreted his knowledge of Native traditions, practices, and worldviews for American and international audiences. While he believed in both Native religion and Christianity, and valued Western education, he advocated for Native people to live bi-culturally, thus retaining their Indian identities, beliefs, and customs while interacting with the white world rather than fully assimilating. Among his writings featuring folklore are:

Indian Boyhood (1902)

Eastman, Charles A. and Elaine Goodale Eastman. Wigwam Evenings: Sioux Folk Tales Retold (1909)

The Soul of the Indian (1911)

Phyllis May-Machunda

Eastman, Charles A. 1903. Indian Boyhood. New York: McClure, Phillips & Co.

Eastman, Charles A. 1904. Red Hunters and the Animal People. Harper & Brothers.

Eastman, Charles A. 1907. Old Indian Days. Little, Brown.

Eastman, Charles A., and Elaine Goodale Eastman. 1990. Wigwam Evenings: Sioux Folk Tales Retold. University of Nebraska Press.

Eastman, Charles A. 1911. The Soul of the Indian. Houghton Mifflin Company.

Eastman, Charles A. 1914. Indian Child Life. Little, Brown and Company.

Eastman, Charles A. 1924. Indian Heroes and Great Chieftains. Little, Brown and Company.