Monday, December 14, 2009


Two of the books on my list of recommended books are The Middle Five by Francis LaFlesche and Indian Boyhood by Charles Alexander Eastman. Both can be used by students in grades 7 through 12. I'm thinking about those two books because I've come across a reference to them. A reference, that is, in a letter written over 100 years ago.  In 1904, Clara D. True wrote to C. J. Crandall. She was a teacher at the Day School in Santa Clara Pueblo in northern New Mexico. Crandall was in Santa Fe, New Mexico, serving as a Superintendent of U.S. Indian Schools. True wrote:
Dear Sir:

Enclosed is [a] new set of Abstract F. I am sorry I did not know of the distinction in books. Those I cannot use myself nor give to the children I have been putting on the magazine and newspaper table I have kept for the returned students, hence the wearing out of the so called "Library" books, or most of them. "Indian Boyhood" and "Middle Five" were enjoyed.

I expend a lot of property, I know, but I try to get the intended good out of it and get rid of it as I have not room enough to turn around in anyway. If I put discarded stuff outside the house I seldom see it again. I kept a variety of junk on the roof until I found it was causing leaks by interfering with the running off of the rain water. To keep from sitting up at night with stove legs and desk irons I have buried them in the chicken yard where they await the final resurrecting.

Very respectfully,
Clara D. True
I don't know what Abstract F is. I don't know (yet) anything about Clara D. True. The letter is in files of the National Archives. In the 1800s, the federal government established boarding and day schools for American Indian students.  From time to time my research takes me into archives. Finding letters and the like that refer to literature is one of my tasks. Clara D. True's letter tells me that Eastman and LaFlesche were being read by Native students in 1904.

Indian Boyhood by Charles Alexander Eastman, was published in 1902 by "McClure, Philips &; Co." in New York. Eastman was Dakota (Sioux). He was born in 1858. As a child, his paternal grandmother took him to Canada, leaving Minnesota during the Minnesota Dakota conflict of 1862 (that was the "Minnesota Massacre" Laura Ingalls Wilder referred to via Mrs. Scott in Little House on the Prairie). Eastman's formal education began at Santee Normal School. He graduated from Dartmouth College in 1886, and got a medical degree at Boston College in 1889. There's a lot to say about him and his life, both as a child and as an adult.  The first stories he wrote were published in St. Nicholas: An Illustrated Magazine for Young Folks.

The Middle Five: Indian Boys at School by Francis LaFlesche, was published by Small, Maynard in Boston in 1900.  LaFlesche was Omaha. He was born in 1857 in Nebraska. The Middle Five is his autobiographical account of his years at the mission school he attended. That school was run by the Presbyterian Church. Later, he worked with Alice Fletcher on a book about the Omaha's. 

I'm glad to know that True's returning students liked both books, and I'm also glad to know that she was providing students with books by Native writers. I imagine it meant a lot to them, in the same way that Native-authored books mean a lot to me, now, in 2009.

1 comment:

Jean Mendoza said...

It will be interesting to see what your investigations of Clara D. True turn up. Her note hints at a wry sense of humor -- what does it mean to sit up at night with stove legs and desk irons?? (I do have a vague idea of what those things are, having lived with a cast-iron stove and old school desks, but the way she places herself in relation to them sounds humorous).