I gather the book is an interesting story of the work involved, but that it is also a 'hurray' for America that doesn't provide a thoughtful look at the complete story of the place or people. Though he is commonly heralded as a great patriot that Coury would like us to emulate, he was a member of the Ku Klux Klan, working on a monument to the Confederacy. (Update, 10:20 AM, June 12, 2012: Elizabeth Burns at School Library Journal asked for a link about Borglum and the Klan. It is mentioned in several books, and at the PBS American Experience webpage about him.)
Hanging Off Jefferson's Nose is by Tina Nichols Coury. Here's an excerpt from her website:
In character as “The Rushmore Kid” she [Coury] visits schools across the United States to present her popular "Why I Love America” program, which promotes an understanding and appreciation of the essential qualities that make America great.I understand and appreciate love of ones nation, but we ought to be critical of the things about America that are not great, too.
Mistakes made by America's leaders, for example, must be something that children learn, and there are plenty of mistakes made with regard to the ownership of the Black Hills and Mount Rushmore.
That land was taken without the consent of the Lakota people. The U.S. government has tried to settle with them by offering them money, but, that land is sacred to the Lakota's, and they were not, and are not interested in the money. They want the land.
The Lakota's do appear in Coury's book, but not in the way I just described. Here's the page they're on:
I'll start by noting problems with Sally Wern Comport's illustrations. She shows several men dancing around a fire in a stereotypical way. The man in the foreground on the left is playing a drum with his open palm. That is an error. Native peoples across the United States use a drumstick to play the drum.
I'd like to know what the source for the drawing was because old black/white silent-film footage of the time shows some Native dancers at an event at Mount Rushmore. It was during the day, not at night, and the dancers weren't dancing around a fire. In fact, I've never seen Plains Indians dancing around a fire, except in stereotypical drawings by non-Native artists.
The text for the page offers a clue about that event:
Winters were harsh in the Black Hills. For the Lakota Indians who lived there, food was scarce. The Borglum family helped out often and went so far as to arrange for a buffalo herd to be donated to the tribe. At the powwow to celebrate, the grateful Indians made Lincoln and his dad blood brothers of the Oglala Lakota Tribe at the Pine Ridge Reservation. Lincoln was happy to lend a hand but dog-tired after dancing all night.They had a powwow to celebrate? Again, I'd like to know the source of that information.
In The Great White Fathers: The Obsessive Quest to Create Mount Rushmore, John Taliaferro writes that the Borglum's provided a herd of cattle (not buffalo) and blankets and that the Oglala's were grateful to him and held a ceremony at Pine Ridge during which they made him an honorary member. Taliaferro also writes that Borglum wanted buffalo meat served at the dinner, but his efforts to hunt and kill one didn't work out. Was the ceremony a powwow, as Coury describes? Did they dance all night? Was there a fire that they danced around?
The text prompts other questions... Why was food scarce? Was it scarce for everyone, or, did this scarcity have something to do with policies of the federal government? Without sufficient context, the Oglala's are portrayed as pitiful and in need of rescue by kind hearted whites.
I'll keep looking for other accounts. Presumably, Coury has one that says it was a powwow and that they Oglala's made the Borglum's "blood brothers". Is it a Native source, I wonder?
"Blood brothers" is one of those cliche's associated with American Indians. Its supposed to mean a deep friendship between a white guy and an Indian guy. It figures in a lot of old westerns and, interestingly, it is also in Indian in the Cupboard by Lynne Reid Banks, on page 167, where Omri tells Little Bear that he'll make Boone his blood brother. Little Bear doesn't know what Omri is talking about:
"When Boone is better, do you know what you're going to do? You're going to make him your blood brother!"Banks apparently knew it was not legit. Too bad she didn't get the larger problems in making a Native man under complete control of a white boy.
Little Bear shot him a quick, startled look. "Blood brother?"
"You both make cuts on your wrists and tie them together so the blood mingles, and after that you can't be enemies ever again. It's an old Indian custom."
Little Bear looked baffled. "Not Indian custom."
"I'm sure it is! It was in a film I saw."
"White man idea. Not Indian."
"Well, couldn't you do it, just this once?"
Anyway! I recommend libraries not order Hanging Off Jefferson's Nose. Some people argue that you can't reject a book for what it leaves out (in this case, the context by which the Black Hills were taken from the Lakota people), but you can reject it for stereotyping. Based on this page, I'd save my libraries money and buy something that doesn't put a librarian into the position of having to say "this page is wrong..." when she reads it to a group, or checks it out to a student.