Published on January 11, 2013 by Amy
Luther Standing Bear, was born ca. 1868 on the Pine Ridge Reservation to an Oglala Lakota family. His family named him Ota K’Te – Plenty Kill, but he later took his father’s first name as his surname. Raised in a traditional manner, Standing Bear learned how to hunt buffalo with his father until, at the age of 11, he was sent to Carlisle Indian Industrial School, a federal boarding school for Native American children in Pennsylvania, and became a member of the school’s first graduating class.
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After graduating from Carlisle, Standing Bear opened a dry goods store on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, where he organized public meetings to discuss treaties and current events. In 1902, he also joined Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show as an interpreter, chaperon, and performer with his wife. Recognized as a skillful horseback rider and dancer, Standing Bear was asked to perform solo for King Edward VII in England.
After returning to Pine Ridge, Standing Bear was chosen as chief of his tribe. However, because of his fame as a performer with the Wild West Show, he was recruited by motion picture companies to act in films in 1912. Relocating to California, Standing Bear served as a consultant to the director Thomas Ince and starred in early Western films such as White Oak (Artcraft, 1921), Cyclone of the Saddle (Weiss/Superior, 1935) and Union Pacific (Paramount, 1939).
Standing Bear published several books during his lifetime to educate the public about Lakota culture and government policies toward his people. Standing Bear’s first book, My People, the Sioux (1928), is primarily an autobiography highlighting his youth, Carlisle years, the Ghost Dance, and Wild West Show experiences.
My Indian Boyhood (1931), written for an adolescent audience, is also autobiographical. Land of the Spotted Eagle (1933), perhaps his most important book, is an ethnographic description of traditional Sioux life and customs, criticizing whites’ efforts to “make over” the Indian into the likeness of the white race. Standing Bear also collected versions of his tribe’s tales and legends, publishing them in Stories of the Sioux (1934).
Standing Bear died in 1939 while working on the set of Union Pacific during a flu epidemic and is buried in Los Angeles, California.