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Song of Dewey Beard: Last Survivor of the Little Bighorn

From Chapter One:

"What Beard saw in a lifetime was as big and bold and astonishing as a Dakota sky in full summer. As an adolescent he rode his buckskin pony up Deep Coulee and shot a U.S. trooper at the Little Bighorn. In his thirties he took at least two bullets at Wounded Knee and watched as half his family was killed. A half century later he was quarreling with the U.S. Army over ownership of his homestead. He was a nephew of Crazy Horse, a companion of Sitting Bull, a follower of Big Foot, an employee of Buffalo Bill Cody, and an acquaintance of bigwigs from matinee heartthrob Robert Taylor to the intrepid General Nelson Miles. Beard homesteaded, horse wrangled, buffalo hunted, movie acted, Ghost Danced, counted coup, killed in battle, and tasted the body of Christ in holy communion. "He's ranked up there with Dale Carnegie," laughs great-nephew Leonard Little Finger, who remembers that their obituaries appeared on the same page in Time magazine. Dewey Beard was an American original."

Reviews:

"Take note; this is something we have never seen before: a serious, and sometimes funny, and often dramatic, and always interesting account of a Lakota life after the buffalo were gone.  That's where the story usually stops.  Burnham lets Beard tell us what happened next." 

 

--Tom Powers, author of The Killing of Crazy Horse

 

 

"Burnham's engaging, sometimes haunting book, with words and stories of Beard's descendants, tells nearly as much about contemporary reservation life as about the extraordinary man of the title. Their memories and their life lessons, painful, moving and frequently funny, are revelations of a largely unseen side of the America created during the long life of the Little Big Horn's last survivor."

 

--Elliott West, History Book Club

 

 

"…This volume covers this tragic ground with sensitivity, respect, and tremendous insight. Burnham's insights, however, are not the outcome of hours spent hunched over government records, digging through dusty tomes, or prowling archives. Instead, they were acquired through what can only described as active listening, the method at the heart of high-quality oral history research. Over many years, Burnham tracked down and developed relationships with Dewey Beard's kinfolk, friends, neighbors, and other acquaintances. In doing so, he recorded their fragmented memories of this much beloved figure. Burnham has compiled and organized those memories here, skillfully locating them within the sociocultural setting of reservation life, the flow of events internal and external to the Lakota communities, and the ever-changing federal policies that shaped Lakota existence in the late-nineteenth and first sixty years of the twentieth century."  

 

--Debra Buchholtz, American Studies Journal

 

 

"While honestly addressing spirituality, grief, and other cultural traditions, the book contains none of the darkly enigmatic mystical portrayals found in some Native biographies catering to the reader who feeds off romanticism, not appreciating the greater richness of the realities.  The result is a narrative of change and continuity over time, with side trips to historical facts, from Beard's own experiences to those of his descendants." 

 

--Nancy Gillis, Nebraska State Historical Society