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The Dull Knifes of Pine Ridge: A Lakota Odyssey

de Joe Starita

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Joe Starita tells the triumphant and moving story of a Lakota-Northern Cheyenne family. In 1878, the renowned Chief Dull Knife, who fought alongside Crazy Horse, escaped from forced relocation in Indian Territory and led followers on a desperate six-hundred-mile freedom flight back to their homeland. His son, George Dull Knifenbsp;survived the Wounded Knee Massacre and later toured in Buffalo Bill Cody's Wild West Show. Guy Dull Knife Sr. fought in World War I and took part in the Siege of Wounded Knee in 1973. Guy Dull Knife Jr. fought in Vietnam and is now an accomplished artist. Starita updates the Dull Knife family history in his new afterword for this Bison Books edition.… (més)
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Originally published in its currently out of print hard cover edition in March of 1996, The Dull Knifes of Pine Ridge: A Lakota Odyssey is still in print as a paperback. Numerous used copies of the hard cover edition are available from various online vendors for under $4.00.

Written by Joe Starita, an award-winning journalist and former New York City bureau chief for The Miami Herald who was born and raised in Nebraska, this book presents a unique and moving chronicle of not only four generations of the Dull Knife family of the Cheyenne and Lakota tribes but of the Lakota Nation itself. Starita's style is detail oriented and sensitive and by interweaving narrative and oral history it goes much deeper into the emotional and spiritual realms of human beings than a simple recitation of dates and cold facts. After approaching the elders of the Pine Ridge reservation, Starita met with the Dull Knifes who over a period of two and a half years shared their family documents, archival historical materials and consented to be extensively interviewed along with many of their family friends.

Located in South Dakota, in the heart of the Badlands, the Pine Ridge Reservation is one of the largest reservations and is home to two counties that are the poorest in the entire United States. It is the home of the Oglala Lakota and it is the home of five generations of Lakota who descend from the great Northern Cheyenne chief, Wo'he Hiv', Morning Star, known among the whites and the Lakota with whom he intermarried, as Dull Knife.

In 1878, at around the age of 60, Chief Dull Knife led hundreds of his people on a 600 mile long mid-winter flight back to their homelands and away from the starvation and fatal illnesses of a foreign and cruel environment on an Oklahoma reservation where they had been forcibly located during the United States government's drive toward genocide of native peoples. This begins the saga of the Dull Knife family of Pine Ridge.

The book details the treachery and mayhem that followed Dull Knife. It recounts the bloody battle on the Greasy Grass river in Montana that is also known as the Custer Fight or the Battle of the Little Big Horn and the merciless aftermath of revenge and attempted genocide, telling us in tragic detail and from personal accounts about the massacre at Wounded Knee. Big Foot and his Miniconjou band of followers including mostly starving elderly, women and children were brutally cut down in cold blood in the snows of a December day by U.S. Army troops on the Pine Ridge.

From Dull Knife's story, the book continues on to that of his son, George Dull Knife, who made a living for himself and his family in the impoverished early days of reservation life by working as a lawman on the reservation and as a member of Buffalo Bill Cody's Wild West shows that traveled throughout the United States and Europe. We learn firsthand of the atmosphere of hopelessness that permeated the reservation where once proud and free people tried to adjust to a life of captivity and poverty while struggling with the bitter memories and fresh wounds from brutality, lies and aggression as well as the destruction of their environment and the source of plains life, the buffalo, at the hands of the white government.

Next we follow the life of George's son, Guy Dull Knife, and his struggles with white regulated and enforced Indian schools where the goal was to wipe out all elements of Indian culture and spirituality. Forbidden to speak his language or to practice any of his people's sacred ceremonies and living in poverty, Guy Dull Knife, persevered in his life long struggle to maintain the traditional ways of the Lakota. His role as a tribal elder and his strength of character saw him through a long and rich life of service not only to his people, the Lakota, but to the United States as well. At the time this book was written Guy Dull Knife at the age of 96 was the sole surviving Lakota veteran of World War I. He lived thorough swiftly changing times to see the white government's influence of treachery and greed inflame Pine Ridge through the puppet government of Dick Wilson and the reign of terror of his G.O.O.N. squads that ultimately erupted in the bloody second Wounded Knee tragedy, claiming the lives of one Lakota man and two FBI agents and resulting in the illegal imprisonment of AIM activist and Lakota-Anishnabe warrior Leonard Peltier who unjustly languishes in federal prison in Leavenworth, Kansas to this day.

The rich history and traditions were passed on to Guy Dull Knife, Jr. and continue to this day to thrive in the life of his children including his son, Guy Dull Knife III, and are evidenced in his work as an artist and sculptor. Guy Dull Knife, Jr. served in Viet Nam and specifically because of his race was assigned the extremely dangerous and lonely duty of point man which he performed with bravery and skill. Lakota warriors have often fought, as members of the United States armed services, against the enemies of this country even before they were recognized as U.S. citizens or before they were allowed to vote or even to speak their own native language. The integrity, courage, and commitment to the welfare of their people has never died.

This odyssey also traces the lives of the grandmothers, mothers, sisters and daughters of the Dull Knife family, their strength, their preservation of the arts and traditional home crafts of the Lakota, as well as their determination in their guidance of their families.

We are privileged to hear first hand accounts of the events that shaped Lakota and American history. Through the rich and detailed talents of a people who have relied on oral history for centuries we glimpse the treasure of their culture and sense the profound suffering that was undergone to preserve it. They share with us the intimate details of their personal lives and of their national identity.

Joe Starita managed to capture with rare and powerful insight an almost tangible historical view of the Lakota of Pine Ridge. Having visited Pine Ridge several times and having conversed with the people there, including traditional warriors who have danced the sacred Sun Dance, I see in this book the careful and faithful telling of the heart and mind and spirit of these people. Starita has provided us with a candid, thoughtful and emotional vision of a continuing saga of this great Nation by simply being willing to respectfully listen and report from the storehouse of memories and experiences of this representative family, the Dull Knifes. He fills in the narrative with historical facts that help us to place the reminiscences in context but refrains from editorializing or intruding upon the story with any of his own personal viewpoints, a method that I found to be refreshing, honest and informative in the extreme.

There are many books about the First Nation experience throughout history, many books about the Lakota in particular. There are books and books specifically about the Wounded Knee Massacre, the Little Big Horn, Dull Knifes trek from Oklahoma to South Dakota, Buffalo Bill Cody's Wild West shows, the AIM uprising at Wounded Knee in the 70s, Lakota culture and art, Lakota language and even Native American presence fighting with America's military. With the possible exception of Leonard Crow Dog's book, Crow Dog: Four Generations of Sioux Medicine Men I know of no other book that gives such a cohesive, uninterrupted vision of Lakota life or that takes the reader so intimately inside the hearts and minds of this determined, courageous, and graceful people.

This is a book I highly recommend to every American. Our current national identity has much to do with our historical roots that are so profoundly reported in this book. It is imperative that we understand, acknowledge and learn from our past if we are to survive and flourish in the future. We all can learn much from the grandfathers and grandmothers whose tradition of wisdom is passed down to the present day, some of which we are fortunate to receive from this wonderful book. ( )
  Treeseed | Feb 19, 2008 |
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Joe Starita tells the triumphant and moving story of a Lakota-Northern Cheyenne family. In 1878, the renowned Chief Dull Knife, who fought alongside Crazy Horse, escaped from forced relocation in Indian Territory and led followers on a desperate six-hundred-mile freedom flight back to their homeland. His son, George Dull Knifenbsp;survived the Wounded Knee Massacre and later toured in Buffalo Bill Cody's Wild West Show. Guy Dull Knife Sr. fought in World War I and took part in the Siege of Wounded Knee in 1973. Guy Dull Knife Jr. fought in Vietnam and is now an accomplished artist. Starita updates the Dull Knife family history in his new afterword for this Bison Books edition.

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