Friday, January 26, 2024

White Sheiks and Flappers

First page of letter from Eastman to WahsburnPreparing for a visit from a delegation of the Osage Nation, we made a stunning discovery in our collection: a letter written in November, 1924, from the Osage reservation by Charles Eastman, Class of 1887, to Carl Washburn, Class of 1925. Eastman was a Dakota Sioux who became a physician after he left Dartmouth. He was a life-long advocate for Indigenous rights, and frequently acted as an intermediary between the U.S. Government and various tribal nations. In 1924, the Department of the Interior sent him to Oklahoma to report on the conditions of the Osage at the height of the oil boom.

His description mirrors the opening scenes of Killers of the Flower Moon. He describes the sudden influx of phenomenal wealth and its impact on the community. He is obsessed with the cars--limos everywhere and a car for every member of the family!

Black Gold letter excerpt

He also visits Rosa Hoots, the Osage woman who owned and cared for that year's Kentucky Derby winner, the aptly named "Black Gold." Then there is his concern with the predatory behavior he sees: dope dealers and bootleggers everywhere, and "white sheiks and flappers" trying to marry into Osage families for their wealth.

Part of what makes the letter so great is its informal nature. Eastman was writing to a young friend who he had helped to get into Dartmouth. This is not his official government report, but an opportunity for Eastman to express his own amazement and concerns. If you have seen the movie or read the book, you have to take a look at this letter.

To see it, ask for MS 924110.1.