Sunday, September 18, 2022

Dr. Charles Eastman

By Nancy J. Farrier


Charles Eastman was born in 1858, in Minnesota. He was named Hakadah (the pitiful last) when his mother died a few days after his birth. He had three brothers and one sister. As a youth, he received the name, Ohiyesa (the winner).


Eastman in Sioux dress
Public Domain

Suring the “Sioux uprising of 1862” Ohiyesa was separated from his father and siblings. For the next ten years he was raised by his grandmother and uncle and lived a nomadic life. He believed those ten years were very formative and helped him the rest of his life

In his teen years, Ohiyesa wanted to avenge his father’s death. He was surprised when his father showed up in his camp. He had become a Christian and lived in the white man’s world and came to take his youngest son home. Ohiyesa was not happy but went with his father and eventually adjusted to that lifestyle. 


He had a thirst for learning and wasn’t satisfied with the small school close to them. His father encouraged his education. Ohiyesa walked 150 miles to a better school and at the encouragement of a missionary educator was accepted at Beloit College in Wisconsin. His father adopted the English name of his wife’s father, Eastman, and Ohiyesa became Charles Alexander Eastman.


Eastman went to several different schools, colleges and universities, before graduating from Dartmouth College in 1887 and going to Boston University to study medicine. He graduated with his medical degree in 1890, much faster than most students. 


Elaine Goodale, Public Domain
Wikimedia Commons
He became the Government Physician to the Sioux. Dr. Eastman was the first on the scene at Wounded Knee to treat the wounded Indians. After seeing the horrors inflicted on the tribes he became an advocate to help the Sioux. 


Charles married, Elaine Goodale, a white woman, a poet and Indian welfare activist, in 1891. They would have six children. He had to quit his job after a disagreement with a corrupt Indian agent. He and his wife moved to St. Paul, Minnesota where he began an medical practice. Within a short time he was offered a position as field secretary for the International Committee of the YMCA. 


He was also instrumental in promoting and working with Boy Scouts of America and Camp Fire Girls. He helped organize and establish many of the camps and even ran a camp on the shores of Chesapeake Bay. In 1915, his whole family settled in to run a camp at Granite Lake, New Hampshire.


Charles Eastman's Book
Dr. Eastman went to Washington D.C. to lobby for Sioux rights in 1897. He served again as Government physician to the Sioux tribe and then became an employee of the Indian bureau in 1903. He was charged with giving English names to all the
Sioux and recording names and family lineage. While doing this he met almost every living Sioux and interviewed them.


At his wife’s encouragement, Charles became an author, publishing his first book, Indian Boyhood, in 1902. The book was an immediate success. People were fascinated with his detail about life growing up among the Sioux. He published fifteen books, many used in schools, and also translated to French, German, Danish and Czech. He also wrote articles and was a public speaker.


Dr. Charles Eastman, Public Domain
Wikimedia Commons

By 1910, Dr. Eastman became involved in attempting to improve the circumstances of Indian tribes. He became President of the Society of American Indians. He set up a summer camp for young girls to teach them the Indian way of life.


In 1921, Charles and Elaine separated. They did not give the reason for this. Charles bought a plot of land on the north shore of Lake Huron. When he wasn’t traveling and speaking, he lived a primitive life in his small cabin. In later years, he would spend the bitter part of the winter with his son in Detroit. He died in 1939.


Dr. Eastman was the foremost advocate for Indian rights of his time. At the 1933 World’s Fair he was presented with a special medal honoring his achievements. His contribution to understanding Indian philosophy and religion were very significant. 

Have you heard about Dr. Eastman? I was fascinated at the extent of his education and the work he did for the cause of the different tribes. What did you find the most fascinating? I'd love to hear from you.

Nancy J Farrier is an award-winning, best-selling author who lives in Southern Arizona in the Sonoran Desert. She loves the Southwest with its interesting historical past. When Nancy isn’t writing, she loves to read, do needlecraft, play with her cats and dog, and spend time with her family. You can read more about Nancy and her books on her website:






  1. Thank you for posting today, and for contributing to the success of this blog! I don't think I've heard of Dr. Eastman before. I admire his drive to get an education and serve others.

  2. Hi Nancy! I have not heard of Dr. Eastman before. I especially found his education experience and his work that involved meeting almost every living Sioux fascinating. Thanks for posting!