Northern Valley Beacon
Information, observations, and analysis from the James River valley on the Northern Plains-----
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Sunday, December 24, 2006
Tim Giago on Sen. Tim Johnson and his illness
Tim Giago again shows why the Lakota influence is so important in shaping the character of South Dakota. Here is his column on Tim Johnson:
You can take the entire population of South Dakota and put it into Albuquerque and just about break-even. In fact, South Dakota's population might come up a little short. While most of the rural counties in this state continue to lose population, the counties located on the nine Indian reservations in the state continue to grow.
The new jobs provided by the advent of Indian casinos are bringing the Indian people home, although on most of the reservations unemployment still hovers around 50 percent.
When Tim Johnson, D-S.D., ran for re-election against John Thune in 2002, the growing political acumen on the Indian reservations came sharply into play. As the vote tallies came to a conclusion and with only one major precinct still not reporting, Thune led Johnson by about 3,000 votes, and there are those who say that the champagne bottles were about to be pulled from the ice buckets.
The lonely, yet populous precinct yet to report was on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. The hearts of John Thune's supporters sank as the count came in and the Lakota voters overwhelmingly got behind Johnson and he squeaked out a 574-vote lead that held.
Although he has spent 10 years in the U.S. Senate, Tim Johnson was the quiet man that was hardly noticed on a national level. He did his job efficiently and without fanfare. He made it a point to seek out the Indian leadership in his home state and discuss the issues important to them. There is not one senator in Washington that has more knowledge about Indian affairs than Tim Johnson.
That is why it came as a frightening shock to nearly every Indian in the state when Johnson fell ill with bleeding in his brain recently. At the Lakota Nation Invitational Basketball Tournament, a 30-year-old annual event that brings nearly 10,000 Indians to Rapid City each December, the conversations of the people centered on the condition of Johnson.
One could not walk through the lobbies of any of the hotels and motels without observing Lakota people scanning the headline of the local daily newspaper that read, "Johnson Recovery Probable." Televisions situated in the lobbies were tuned to CNN or MSNBC to get the latest medical reports.People were talking about how Johnson got behind the Pya Wiconi Project (New Life) to bring fresh water to the reservations and about how he fought the Bush administration to get funds restored to the Indian Health Service.
While the people of South Dakota worried about Johnson's recovery and for the welfare of his wife, Barbara, and their children, the talking heads of the national media speculated about how the balance in the Senate would shake out in the event of Johnson's death or incapacitation. "They are like a bunch of vultures," said one elderly Lakota man.
I must say that I was appalled when I heard that a reporter from back East called the office of Republican governor of South Dakota Mike Rounds, and said, "I understand you have already picked a Republican to replace Sen. Johnson and I was wondering who it is?
South Dakotans may be considered out-of-touch or even a little backward, but at least we try to refrain from such acts of rudeness and inconsideration of people during their times of grief and concern. We are a small state where 10 percent to 12 percent of the total population is American Indian, but in times of tragedy and sorrow, we all come together as one. Let me just add that today all of our hopes and prayers, whether in Lakota or English, are for the quick and safe recovery of Tim Johnson, a man who never needed or wanted to be in the spotlight.
Tim Giago, an Oglala Lakota, is the founder and first president of the Native American Journalists Association. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Ben Franklin wrote The Bloggers Creed
The bird of dawning sings all night long
Thursday, December 21, 2006
Change of address
The Northern Valley Beacon is switching over to Beta format and will have this new address:http://northernvalleybeacon.blogspot.com/
Remembrance of woodsheds past
When I first moved to Aberdeen, I purchased a speculation house on Casper Ave. and did all those things one does to customize it. Among those things was the building of a large patio-deck area, a covered barbecue area, and a woodshed where I kept barbecuing and grilling equipment and a good supply of firewood for the two fireplaces in the house. That woodshed was the subject of an angry, raging telephone call from a neighbor woman.
She said my daughter was using the woodshed to contribute to the sexual delinquency of her son, as the child of a professor might be assumed to do, and if I did not do something about my woodshed, she was going to have the police do it.
The problem was that I did not have any children at the time. A neighbor helped me solve what the woman was raging about. There was a group of children in the neighborhood around the age of five. A little girl down the street like to play dolls and the like on my patio. And no, I did not storm out in my pork pie hat and tell the kids to get out of my yard. Apparently, the children started to use my woodshed to play house and such, and, as children tend to do, began their studies of gynecological and genito-urinary phenomena. The little boy whose mother flew into such a hissy fit told of the goings-on, and mama went ballistic.
Other neighbors explained to the woman that I had no children, that I was seldom home during the play-time hours because of my duties as a professor and media advisor, and the household had other problems that diverted attention away from my backyard. The matter was solved with a padlock, which was a damned nuisance. The woman, who would neither speak to me or even look at me, responded to the neighbors that I might not have children but a professor could be expected to maintain a disorderly house of some kind to destroy the social fabric.
Once again, I find I have a virtual woodshed of ill repute. Todd Epp
claims I took him to the woodshed and stuck out my nasty little Ph.D. at him. Here we go again.
Ph.D.s inspire resentful attitudes. They appear to be something one finds in a Crackerjack box. Or ordered from Sears when it was still in the mail-order business. Or obtained by attending three week-end workshops offered by Nova University in Florida. To those of us who obtained them, they were a minimum credential for being a professor. To many folks, Ph.D.s are a contrived, personal affront. Old men in pork pie hats and trench coats stalk the streets and expose them to unwary innocents.
But the post below which moved Todd Epp to such effusive indignation was not, as he claims, a personal attack on him or anyone else. It was a commentary on how denial, denigration, and delusion have become dominant modes of presentation in mass communications. Our own country has assumed the techniques of Baghdad Bob in attempting to control the information the public receives. I noted that it is not only national leaders who use the technique, but that it affects local situations, too.
The South Dakota blogosquare is not exempt from the selective, motive-driven manipulation of facts. Without naming anyone personally, I cited some examples of where information is so wrapped in boastful self-promotion that the information is obscured and, in some cases, smothered by the verbal accoutrement that attends it.
I am not a great admirer of the media. News is seldom written and produced to provide the public with a clear, accurate, and carefully crafted accounting of what is going on in the world. News organizations are in the business of selling advertising and delivering an audience for that advertising. Hard news does not attract audiences. The old criteria of news value has metamorphosed into how stories can be dummied down to appeal to base appetites. Those criteria are audience, impact, proximity, timeliness, prominence, unusualness, and conflict. News production has gone from identifying those elements in individual events to making sure every "reality" occasion is charged with them.
The handling of Sen. Tim Johnson's health was one of those cases where prominence and timeliness would at one time have been the focus of the story. What happened to a prominent man and his progress would have been the emphasis. But today's news coverage requires full titillation of the audience, and that means that impact and conflict will have to be emphasized to raise as much controversy as possible.
I am now going to do the very thing that I find so objectionable. Here goes: what would have been a minor sidebar for the story became its major theme: what would happen to the U.S. Senate if Tim Johnson died or was rendered incapable of serving out his term. A simple little exposition on the procedures would have sufficed. But the buzzards saw that they could speculate about a change in Senate leadership complete with all the mud-wrestling nastiness and they took to circling the patient. Almost every news story took the shape of stating the latest information from the medical authorities and family with the larger part of the story being devoted to a repetition of the process of succession in the event of the Senator's demise. Speculations which were not even a remote eventuality based upon the information available became the news story. And in writing about the speculations, I am reinforcing them.
In decrying the media buzzards, blogs only re-emphasized this morbid ritual in what passes for news. While condemning the buzzard chatter, they reinforced its prominence in the story. I don't think the public has devolved so deeply into media-induced dementia that it needs to be told of the seriousness of Sen. Johnson's episode and the possible outcomes. But the media had its carrion squads standing by.
Blogs on rare occasions review journalism in a way that shows directions for improvement. Some more than others. But in general blogs with news pretenses work the opposite way. They take the failures of journalism and exacerbate them and amplify them. That is what happened with the Sen. Johnson story.
I am sorry. I find it the depth of self-absorbed absurdity to send obligatory best wishes to the Sen. and his family while keeping an overt and offensive death watch because it is more titillating than straigtforward medical reports. The well-wishing may be meant sincerely, but its context calls it into question.
The South Dakota blogs I alluded to--and not by name--happened to offer an occasion for tracing how a spurious speculation by an alleged physician on a very partisan blog got pulled into the "news" and perpetuated.
It would have been one thing for a columnist or blogger to do a piece on the informational dysfunction generated from the Johnson story. It is another to include that as part of the general news about the Senator's recovery.
To assess the real appeal of blogs, one need just review their comments sections. Some edit the comments. Others don't. But the comments illustrate with abundance that blogs do little to increase or enhance the quality of information and thought. The potential of the Internet is being compromised
Wednesday, December 20, 2006
When Baghdad Bob became Emperor of America (or it must be the water)
In 2003, when our troops invaded Iraq and moved relentlessly into Baghdad, our nation was fairly complacent because we had few casualties. And we had Baghdad Bob to provide the comic relief. Remember him? He is the Saddam public relations man who kept insisting that the Iraqi army was winning and that western press accounts of the advancing invasion were fabricated and false.
It turns out he became the consultant to the U.S. regime. First, we had the President and Vice President insisting that there were weapons of mass destruction and that Saddam Hussein was in league with Al Qaida. Then when it became apparent that our invasion had inspired an insurgency, military commanders insisted that there was no guerilla war taking place. As the death count ineluctably mounted toward the figure of 3,000 U.S. soldiers dead--which number we will most likely reach before year's end--and no evidence that Iraq's puppet democracy could exist without us pulling the strings, the administration insisted we were winning the war. And despite tens of thousands killed between the Sunnis and Shiites, and a million displaced, we have the insistence that there is no civil war in Iraq.
Baghdad Bob may have been a lousy minister of propaganda, but he sure was a good teacher. And Bush, Cheney and their skulking minions were sure good students. For a time, our nation lived a lie.
Baghdad Bob seems to have found work in South Dakota. Or he has imported some bottled Baghdad water here. The Three-Ds have infested South Dakota. They are Denial, Denigration, and Delusion. Along with flouride, the Three-Ds are additives to water, and the political portion of the South Dakota blogosphere, as they like to call themselves, are imbibing mightily.
They keep recycling news stories from the media about Sen. Johnson's health, and then crow and chortle over how superior they are performing compared with the media. I have checked the major news organizations for updates and found them timely, accurate, and, of course, free of the self-preening posturing. But the blogosquare keeps insisting that it is doing something the media is not.
There is a bonus. One blog posted a speculation by a man on one of the national dingbat blogs who claimed to be a neurologist or something of the kind. He suggested that the positive prognoses about Sen. Johnson may be wishful thinking and he provided a more dire prognosis. In the name of truth and accuracy. And in violation of the ethical rule adhered to by most physicians that it is okay to provide general background information on a medical condition, but one never speculates and never provides an expert diagnosis without having seen the patient, seen the patient's charts, examined the imaging of the portion of the body in question, and without obtaining the family's permission. But some blogs, as they are wont to do, circulated the dire prognosis with the usual self-acclaim for outperforming the press. And, of course, they all sent their best wishes to Sen. Johnson and his family. In these reports, they seem to have departed from Baghdad Bob's teachings. He always accentuated the positive--despite risking absurdity.
And then we have the poliblogs chortling with orgasmic glee over the fact that they have outperformed the press. Some even presume to offer a press review. For example, one criticized David Kranz's Argus Leader column for not rehashing the details of an e-mail that Sen. Klouchek sent to newspapers. Apparently, Baghdad Bob does not teach the distinction between a column and a news story. But that might be lost on polibloggers, anyway. And he certainly pays little heed to every journalism text that warns that certain factual accusations made in a quotation can still leave the medium liable for a lawsuit, even if the information is contained in a verified quotation. Some poliblogs do indeed outperform the press in certains acts of ignorance and self-stroking.
We are very critical of the press. We have participated in reviews that assert that South Dakota contains some of the worst news organizations in the nation and that they could not be worse. But when we said that, we hadn't experienced the poliblogs.
In our house, we are boiling all the water. And I swear I just saw Baghdad Bob ringing a bell outside of Wal-Mart.
Saturday, December 16, 2006
Using the Internet constructively
Professor colleagues of mine at NSU (I hold emeritus rank), Ken Blanchard and Jon Schaff, have provided some fine information in regard to Abraham Lincoln. We share an admiration and high appraisals of him based upon what he actually did and said. He represents what a person of humble and unprivileged origins can do in America--and I don't think any of us would suggest that some of his actions are above criticism.
Professor Schaff addresses the point of people making significant scholarly and artisitic contributions, even though they do not hold the formal credentials. In particular, he cites the superb work of Shelby Foote on the Civil War. Shelby Foote was featured in Ken Burns' documentary.
In that regard, I add that the most comprehensive Internet site on the Civil War is maintained at Dakota State University in Madison. The person who has put it together is Jim Janke, who is not a professional historian. He does have a number of those letters after his name which cause some offense in the populist climate. He has a Ph.D. in chemistry. However, his professorial rank at DWU is in the field of business and finance. Still, he produces a Civil War resource that is invaluable to scholars and re-enactors alike. I give the whole address of his site following:http://homepages.dsu.edu/jankej/civilwar/civilwar.htm
Ken Blanchard thinks I am a bit testy in my statement that watching the re-enactments of the Lincoln-Douglas Debates on C-Span made me ponder the fact that people stood for three or more hours to listen to the debates with extended and elaborated arguments in contrast to the reductive quips that pass for discourse on blogs. Ken makes the point that the debates were the only show in town back then. I would like to expand a bit on the mental climate in which the debates were held in Illinois between the Black Hawk War in 1832 and the Civil War.
The early settlers in Illinois were not a particularly savory lot. Society was held in a state of fear by a group that observers of the time called "butcher knife boys." They wore sharpened butcher knives in their belts and were quick to brandish and use them on anyone to whom they took offense. An early governor of Illinois noted that any politician who wanted to be elected had to have the endorsement of these men. They were part of the rough river men and migrants from the South who engaged in face-ripping fights for the sport.
At the time Lincoln was starting his political career, the voting was done orally in large meetings. One observer of that political climate stated that the butcher knife crowd voted loudly and "not infrequently."
In his riding of the legal circuit and political appearances, Lincoln had the abilitiy to mollify and gain the support of these people. The Lincoln-Douglas Debates were a huge change in the politics of the time. The one at Ottawa brought 12,000 people to a town of 10,000.
I need to add that the towns of Ottawa, Galesburg, and Freeport were major stations on the Underground Railroad, which was running extra trains at the time of the debates. In the midst of frontier lawlessness and belligerence, people were beginning to clamor for a society that promoted freedom, equality, and justice. They were getting tired of gangs like the Banditti of the Prairie who intimidated and preyed on the people of the region, and they saw a politics of learned persuasion as the preferred option.
I am of the opinion that Internet resources can be used to restore some of that regard for real discussion and deliberation to a political system that has been reduced by 30-second sound bites. We may have arrived at that time. I don't know.
I have not been able to devote much attention to the Internet stuff in recent weeks, but will be addressing the issue with some work that is in process.
But I must say, I appreciate the exchanges on Abraham Lincoln. Just as one can't have too many trumpet players, one can't study him enough.
Thursday, December 14, 2006
Rest easy and get well, Tim. The troops are rallying.
Tim Johnson has never missed an opportunity to meet and talk with his constituents. He is one of the hardest working senators, one of incredible integrity, and a man who makes "politician" an honorable and respected word.
He and his family have set standards for what it is to be an American. His current illness is not the first time they have been thrust into the public spotlight by adversity.
Barbara Johnson is a breast cancer survivor who has become an advocate for prevention and early diagnosis and has taken the message of good will, hope, and courage throughout the world. She went to China to share her experience and recovery with women in that country.
Their son was among the first airborne troops in Afghanistan when we decided to hunt down Al Qaeda.
The Johnson family has has taken leadership in the struggles that that threaten humankind and our democracy. We know Tim will put the determination and fight into his recovery that he and his family have shown in the past.
Our best thoughts and prayers are with him and his family. And our encouragement and appreciation go to his staff as they carry on the important work of Tim's office in South Dakota. In Aberdeen, they are Sharon, Katy, and Tonya. It's like neighbors helping a farmer with his harvest when he falls ill. It's how we insure that someone's work counts and is carried forward. Our honor is in our efforts to help and take up as much of Tim's burden as possible so that he can recover knowing that his work is acknowledged, appreciated, and being carried forward until he returns to lead us once again.
Saturday, December 09, 2006
What would Lincoln do?
We live in a time when Abraham Lincoln's presence is obvious. He is the lead subject of a national magazine edition. Bloggers, as happened in South Dakota this past week, post on him and discuss him almost as much as they discuss each other. Scholarly web sites are filled with lively exchanges of information about him. There is a reason.
Whenever our country reaches a time when political hostilities threaten to divide the people into warring camps, our own Civil War is invoked. The nation survived it, and we ask how, and we are ultimately led to Abraham Lincoln.
No major figure in American history was as vilified or made fun of as much as Abraham Lincoln. And no American figure has received as much analytical attention as Lincoln. The continuing fascination with and relevance of Lincoln comes from his unpretentious and ordinary manhood. He had only about a year of formal schooling, he had his share of failures, he said some intemperate things (one of which led him to a duel which he was talked out of at the last minute), and he was plagued by depression and doubt. But he is a demonstration of what a person of undistinguished origins can accomplish. And 150 years of constant scholarship, analysis, and criticism have distilled the essential character of Lincoln from the dross that swirls around any American who reaches distinction. Lincoln had all the attributes that can drive a person, but he also had a unique intellect and character. What distinguishes Lincoln is that through all the vilification and denunciation and assassinaiton plots against him, he was without malice. Historian Richard Hofstadter in American Political Tradition
sums up this quality and why it is so pertinent to our own time:
Lincoln's rage for personal success, his external and worldly ambition, was quieted when he entered the White House, and he was at last left alone to reckon with himself. To be confronted with the fruits of his victory only to find that it meant choosing between life and death for others was immensely sobering.... In one of his rare moments of self-revelation he is reported to have said: "Now I don't know what the soul is, but whatever it is, I know that it can humble itself."...Lincoln's utter lack of personal malice during these years, his humane detachment, his tragic sense of life has no parallel in political history....Lincoln was moved by the wounded and dying men, moved as no one in a place of power can afford to be....For him it was impossible to drift into the habitual callousness of the sort of officialdom that sees men only as pawns to be shifted here and there and "expended" at the will of others. It was a symbolic thing that his office was so constantly open, that he made himself more accessible than any other chief executive in our history. ...Is it possible to recall anyone else in modern history who could exercise so
much power and yet feel so slightly the private corruption that goes with it? Here, perhaps, is the best measure of Lincoln's personal eminence in the human calendar--that he was chastened and not intoxicated by power.
Carl Sandburg captures a moment of that personal eminence in his biography of Lincoln. Lincoln insisted on visiting the sick and wounded soldiers during the Civil War. On one occasion an army doctor told him he did not want to venture into one of the hospital tents because rebel prisoners were in it. "That is just where I want to go," said Lincoln, and he went from cot to cot shaking hands with the prisoners. When he reached the bed of a Confederate colonel, the man said, "Mr. President, do you know to whom you offer your hand?" Lincoln said, "I do not." The colonel said, Well, you offer it to a Confederate colonel who has fought you as hard as he could for four years." And Lincoln said, "Well, I hope a Confederate colonel will not refuse me his hand." And the colonel clasped Lincoln's hand in both of his as they exchanged respect and admiration.
Another aspect of that man and that time that reflects on what we may becoming is the Lincoln-Douglas debates. In the late summer and early fall of 1994, C-Span sponsored re-enactments of the debates at the seven localities in Illinois where they were held. Four of those sites were in the coverage area of the newspaper I worked for, and I had visited those sites many years before with a sense of their being hallowed ground. Then when the C-Span series of recreations was planned, a higher education institution with which I was associated offered credit in history, political science, and rhetorical studies to students who wanted to do independent study. I was privileged to work with some students in communicaitons and rhetorical studies to develop study plans. The re-enactments were preceded by 90-minute previews of each debate.
In the debates, the first debater was given an hour to make his case, the second debater was given an hour and a half to respond, and the first debater was then given a half hour for rebuttal. The debates themselves took about three hours. The sites of the seven debates are shown on the map to the right.
I found it strangely pleasant to sit before the television for those Saturday afternoons in 1994 and see my home state and contemplate how thousands and thousands of people would gather for three hours and listen to the extended arguments and comments of politicians. I think now how this contasts with the reductive and distorting quips that pass for political commentary on blogs.
But those Saturday afternoons were well spent because I had the chance to participate in the study of those debates with students who were exploring the essential character of America and why this democracy, which people like Thomas Carlyle thought was an absurdity, succeeded.
The videos of those re-enactments are available from C-Span, and my colleagues inform me they are available at about $40 a debate at this time.
It may well be true that the kind of discourse which provided the impetus behind our nation's emergence from its darkest hour is no longer relevant to our time. But some of us will still look to Lincoln, not out of hero worship, but for the highly refined and tested knowledge of what it took for America to avoid disintegration and to survive 146 years ago.
Thursday, December 07, 2006
Saving President Lincoln
[This is reprinted from an academic web site.
President Lincoln is the subject of much commentary of late. Some of it enhances the appreciation for him. Some misinforms.
I am a native of Illinois. I grew up in a home where two objects of reverence were on prominent display in the living room. One was a large edition of the King James Version of the Bible in which the family history was maintained. The other was a bust of Abraham Lincoln.
Both of my parents were schooled in Illinois and well indoctrinated in Lincoln history and lore . Working people of Illinois had a special regard for Lincoln. I remember a family vacation to New Salem and Springfield to see Lincoln's home and tomb. We dressed in our Sunday finest to denote the proper respect accorded to Lincoln. He is an important intellectual touchstone for me.
Lincoln is the su
bject of the lead article for the Dec. 4 edition of U.S. News & World Report. Lincoln was mentioned yesterday on a number of web pages and blogs, including Todd Epp's
, which has a headline asking if Lincoln is the great emancipator or executioner. The occasion is that December 6, 1863, is the day Lincoln signed an order for the execution of 39 eastern Sioux who participated in the the Sioux Uprising of 1862. Todd provides a link to an expanded account of Lincoln's role in ordering the executions, which gives the full background, but some of it is in error.
Lincoln was in attendance at national tragedies which get the "most" designation. He gave the Gettysburg Address after a battle in which the most
Americans were killed. The Sioux uprising of 1862 was one in which the most
settlers--350--were massacred. And he signed that execution order for 38 Sioux to be hung, the most
people to be killed in one mass execution. One of the original 39 was eventually pardoned.
In response to the uprising, Lincoln sent Gen. Pope to Minnesota to handle the matter militarily. This account is from David Herbert Donald's Lincoln
. Pope did not like Lincoln, but switched his animosity from the President to the Sioux. He said, "It is my purpose utterly to exterminate the Sioux..." He arrested 1,500 Sioux men, women, and children and covened a military commission to try them. Lincoln sent a Dept. of Interior official (who later became Secretary) to Minnesota to investigate the problems and he consulted with Episcopal Bishop Henry B. Whipple. He soon learned that the Sioux were responding to fraud and embezzlement by the Indian agents. Pope's commissions came up with a list of 303 Sioux who were found guilty and to be executed. Lincoln ordered Pope not to stage any executions without the President's express order.
After consulting with his cabinet agencies on how to proceed, Lincoln ordered the records of the 303 Sioux to be sent to him. He went through the record of each condemned Sioux to sort out those who were guilty of the crimes of murder and rape from those who participated in the uprising. He ended up with the list of 39 men, which he wrote out in his own hand.
Pope said that if the entire list of 303 were not executed, the people of Minnesota would massacre all the Indians in the territory in revenge. Governor Ramsey also threatened that if they were not all executed, the people would extract private revenge. The resentment against Lincoln and his cabinet among the people of Minnesota cost the Republicans votes in the election of 1864 and Ramsey told him he could have won with a larger majority if he had hanged more Indians. Lincoln replied, "I could not afford to hang men for votes."
As a professor who teaches American literature and has a specialty in American Indian literature, I have come across the array of attitudes regarding Lincoln's handling of the execution order. Most people acknowledge the fact that Lincoln reprieved 264 men who were listed for execution by personally reviewing the cases and sanctioning the hanging of the eventual 38 who had committed heinous crimes. He also called the corrupt officials whose actions fomented the uprising into account. Some people, including members of the Sioux nation, castigate Lincoln for authorizing the execution of any Indians. On the other hand, many Dakota people, disapproved of the atrocities committed during the uprising and thought those who committed them had violated sacrosanct tribal rules. Participants in the uprising were recruited as Army scouts and helped control the renegade bands that roamed through the Dakota territory.
An account of the aftermath of the uprising is provided by one of South Dakota's first authors, Charles Alexander Eastman, a Dakota. As a boy, Eastman had been sent to Canada to live with his grandmother and keep him out of the conflicts surrounding Sitting Bull and the Sioux in the U.S. His father was one of the Sioux sentenced to death and then imprisoned at Davenport, Iowa. He was then pardoned by Lincoln. After homesteading near Flandreau, S.D., his father walked to Canada to get his son, who he took back to the U.S., entered him into the Indian Normal School at Flandreau, then sent him to Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois, and then to Dartmouth and Boston University, where Eastman obtain a doctor's degree in medicine. Eastman was the physician in attendance at the Wounded Knee Massacre.
While people may disagree over the actions in response to the Sioux uprising, Lincoln brought a degree of diligence and integrity to the matter that angered people on both sides. He admitted having little knowledge and experience with Indian issues, but he tried to sort out the circumstances in a way that that adhered to the concepts of equality, liberty, honesty, and justice.
Lincoln was a literary man. He distrusted novels, biographies, and histories, but he had a compelling interest in the structure and resources of the English language and in the use of rhetoric as an intellectual and moral reference. He could quote prodigiously from the Bible and Shakespeare, and could recite poetry from Robert Burns and Oliver Wendell Holmes from memory. He saw the compression and precision of the language of poetry as hugely powerful, and he was drawn to poems that contained a story. He studied and admired the work of Thomas Paine. And he loved the theater, which was where he spent his last conscious moments, and the opera, and studied how the power and force of drama could be brought to bear on the genres of discourse.
The literary profession has allowed itself to be marginalized into the interpretation of imaginative literature--fiction and poetry-- to the point that it has left the literary analysis of written and oral rhetoric to other discplines. Consequently, there is little literary scholarship on Lincoln published in recent times. Two recent books, one written by a theologian and another by a historian, offer extended studies of two of Lincoln's most important speeches. One is Lincoln's Greatest Speech: The Second Inaugural
by Ronald C. White (Simon & Schuster, 2002), and the one featured in this week's U.S. News is The Gettysburg Gospel: The Lincoln Speech That Nobody Knew
by Gabor Boritt (Simon & Schuster, 2006). That is not to say that literary scholars have abandoned Lincoln's work as a rich subject worth studying. Professors at regional colleges keep the literary work alive. At the annual meeting of the Society for the Study of Midwestern Literature, papers from Millikin University at Decatur, the former Sangamon State University in Springfield (its absorption into the U. of Illinois is a sad story of how little tolerance there is for innovative education), the U. of Illinois--Chicago Circle, Knox College in Galesburg, and Grinnell College in Iowa have kept the Lincoln literary studies going in the past decade. But English programs have largely been reduced to service tutorials in spelling, punctuation, and the trivial aspects of grammar.
The problem with the Internet and blogging is that it sets tabloid journalism, if one can call it journalism, as the standard for writing and discussion. We literary scholars need to reassert our discipline to see if we can't save President Lincoln from the tabloids.