Song of Dewey Beard: Last Survivor of the Little Bighorn

Song of Dewey Beard: Last Survivor of the Little Bighorn

Song of Dewey Beard: Last Survivor of the Little Bighorn

Song of Dewey Beard: Last Survivor of the Little Bighorn

Synopsis

Beard was not only a witness to two major battles against the Lakota; he also traveled with William "Buffalo Bill" Cody's Wild West show, worked as a Hollywood Indian, and witnessed the grand transformation of the Black Hills into a tourism mecca. Beard spent most of his later life fighting to reclaim his homeland and acting as "old Dewey Beard," a living relic of the "old West" for the tourists.

Excerpt

Most biographies are written about people who are already famous: generals and actors, outlaws and artists, presidents and popes. But Dewey Beard’s achievement is different. You’d be hard pressed to find an essay about him, much less a movie or a book. That’s because his life was both epic and quiet, a man better remembered for what he endured than what he wrote, for what he saw than what he said. He was a warrior turned peacemaker, a survivor turned showman, an old man who outlived all of his children. In some ways his story is a representative one for a century of Plains Indian life. But his personal journey was an extraordinary saga by any measure.

When I found Dewey Beard, he was buried in an unmarked grave. There were no books about him. He didn’t leave any letters to speak of, and most of the elders who knew him were gone. One day a local church official, in response to my questions about the old man, said sadly, “You’re ten years too late.”

I didn’t believe him. I had taught years before in Lakota country, and I knew something about the people who lived there and how they respect the ancestors. Though not Lakota, or even Indian, I started going back to South Dakota every summer to piece together the story of Beard’s life.

I soon came to realize it was more complicated than one life. I met some people who helped me along the way, and they became part of the story too, the story of a warrior and his people.

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