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From the Deep Woods to Civilization


FROM THE DEEP WOODS TO CIVILIZATION. At the time when From the Deep Woods to Civilization, by Charles Eastman (or Ohiyesa, his name as a Santee Sioux), was published in 1916, Native Americans were no longer viewed simply as savages who deserved their fate. Instead, with the end of frontier hostilities and the growing popularity of groups like the Boy Scouts and Camp Fire Girls, both organized in 1910, the American public had come to associate Indians with noble qualities such as courage and environmental awareness. Few non-Indians under-stood the complex and tragic history of Native Americans, but most were curious about the continent's indigenous cultures. Charles Eastman wrote his autobiographical From the Deep Woods to Civilization for these curious Americans. This book sketches Eastman's life from his boyhood along the Minnesota-Canada border, through his education at mission schools, Dartmouth College, and Boston University Medical School, to his adult career as a physician, YMCA official, and Indian activist and lecturer. But the book's architecture and pleasant style are deceptive. Rather than tracing a young man's "progress" from the wilderness to civilization, Eastman's narrative grows increasingly pessimistic as the young doctor witnesses corruption at Indian agencies, the cruel killing at Wounded Knee, South Dakota, in 1890, and the hypocrisy of white society. Rather than "rising" to civilization, Eastman seems to be plunging deeper into despair. In the end, the author affirms the wisdom of his Native elders and questions the achievements of "civilization."


Hoxie, Frederick E., ed. Talking Back to Civilization: Indian Voices from the Progressive Era. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin's Press, 2002.

Wilson, Raymond. Ohiyesa: Charles Eastman, Santee Sioux. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1983.

Frederick E.Hoxie

See alsoLiterature: Native American Literature ; Wounded Knee Massacre .

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