I’ve always been interested in Native Americans – from my childhood days in front of the TV watching movies like Fort Apache to more recent times when I wrote a book about one of their tribes.
The Choctaw, a tribe that had suffered terrible hardships and thousands of deaths on their forced removal from their lands in Mississippi to Oklahoma, decided to help the Irish people during our Famine in the 1840s. Their generosity to a nation located thousands of miles away across an ocean always impressed me and fuelled my interest in their own lifestyles
So, it was with a sense of real pleasure that I learned from The Daily Mail of how one Native American, left unloved in an unmarked grave for over one hundred years has finally been reunited with his homeland.
Albert Afraid of Hawk, an Oglala Sioux who died aged just 20 while touring with Buffalo Bill and his Congress of Rough Riders, was recently returned to a South Dakota reservation for reburial with full Lakota honours.
History buff Bob Young uncovered records of the death at a Connecticut hospital after a bout of food poisoning. Young pieced the details together and contacted Afraid of Hawk’s family members.
Afraid of Hawk was born in 1879, the third of seven children of Emil Afraid of Hawk and his wife, White Mountain. His brother Richard, managed to survive the Wounded Knee Massacre in 1890.
Afraid of Hawk joined Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show in 1898. He apparently sent money back to relatives on the Pine Ridge reservation while performing with the show. Two years later, though, he was dead, poisoned from eating bad corn.
In August, family members traveled to Connecticut from their homes 1,700 miles away in South Dakota to witness the disinterment of Albert’s remains. Some of his relatives had been searching for information about him for decades.
Buffalo Bill’s show ran for 39 years up to the early 1900s and was the most exciting and glamorous the world had ever seen. It performed in front of royalty and heads of state all over the world. ‘Bill’, whose name was William F. Cody, regularly employed about 50 Native Americans – mostly Lakota.
The shows were exciting affairs and included sharpshooters such as Annie Oakley, and performances depicting cowboys against Indians. Cody encouraged Native American performers to retain their language, rituals and beliefs but then portrayed them as blood thirsty savages attacking innocent white settlers.
One of the most famous Native American’s of them all – Sitting Bull – also teamed up with Buffalo Bill’s show, where he was a huge draw and made a small fortune selling his autograph and posing for photographs.
It is sad to see how low Native Americans were brought at the hands of white men. However, it is heartening that one of their number is getting the respect he deserves. Afraid of Hawk is now back in the bosom of his people after a lonely separation that lasted 112 years. May he rest in peace.