“Conversations with the Sioux”

One of the pleasures of working in this Josephy Library is coming across material that is relevant today, and that might have been hidden from view for years or decades. So, on and off since Alvin Josephy’s death—almost 20 years ago!—I have poked at a story he told me about a project he had undertaken that did not result in a book.

Alvin said that he had been commissioned to do a piece on the Sioux (In the early 1980s “Sioux” was still the widely used term embracing the several tribes of Lakota, Dakota, and Nakota speakers) for National Geographic. As I recall, there were editorial changes at the magazine, and differences of opinion on length of the proposed article. Alvin told me that he received a “kill fee” for the unpublished article and that he then wanted to turn his first, longer version into a book. It never happened. The archives at U of Oregon’s Knight Library list a letter from Alvin’s agent to a publisher, but no response.

Nevertheless, we have tracked down the research for this project to the Newberry Library in Chicago, and it is a remarkable trove of recordings done in 1982 and 83. What follows is Alvin’s introduction/explanation of the project and the cassette tapes he donated to the Newberry, and a link to the Newberry collection. I list most of the interviewees—there was confusion on some of the titles, spellings, etc.—and give a link to the Newberry collection page. You should be able to click immediately to the page, and right to individual interviews—listed on the right-hand side of the page. These recordings are now 40 years old, and many of the interviewees have undoubtedly passed. But their words—and significant history of the people and the state of affairs in the early 1980s—are still with us, at the Newberry.

“Conversations with the Sioux, 1982-1983”
Josephy’s Explanatory note:
“In 1982, I was asked by the National Geographic Magazine to write an article on the Sioux Indians, covering all of their reservations, their history, culture, and leading figures of the past, as well as their present-day status and problems. During 1982 and 1983, I visited almost every Sioux reservation in Montana, North and South Dakota, Minnesota, and Nebraska, interviewing hundreds of men and women of all ages and representing all aspects of modern-day Sioux life. Other interview were conducted with urban and off-reservation Sioux in such places as Oakland, Los Angeles, Rapid City, Pierre, and Tucson. With the permission of the interviewees, I taped my conversations with about 70 of the subjects. Those tapes run, in all, about 40 hours and contain the interviewee’s biographical and historical material, as well as their observations, experiences, views, perceptions, etc. Almost all facets of contemporary Sioux life are covered—economic, political, social, spiritual, educational, health, judicial problems, federal and state relations, restoring the broken hoop, and so forth. Drawing on these interviews, I submitted an article of almost 50,000 words to National Geographic. To my dismay, the magazine had space for only 6,000 words. In the final draft, almost nothing remained from any of these taped conversations—only an occasional single sentence quotation. Indeed, most of the interviewees were not even mentioned in the honed-down article. The material on the tapes is so rich in history and in contemporary Sioux perceptions and points of view that it ought not to be lost. In large measure, they provide a cross-section of the Sioux people and their life in 1982-83.”

A list of some of the interviewees:

Albert White Hat, Carl Waln, Ray Baird, Louis Antonie, George Allen Sr., Donald Rose, Jerry Flute, Roger Bordeaus, Selo Dorothy Black Crow, Leonard Crow, Mary La Croix, Arthur P La Croix, Russell Means, Birgil Kills Straight, Leo Vocu, Ann Larsen, Julian Brown, Sam Allen, Dr. Donald Ross, Norman Crooks, Mary Louise Defender, Harriet Sky, Edsel Little Sky, Roger Ironclad, David Archibald, Father Hobbs, Mile Yellowhair, Gerald Clifford, Alvina Alberts, Victor Michael Lancelotta, Leslie Jack, Robert Fast Horse-Grey Eagle, Harold Shrunk, Dr. Arthur Zimigo, Ivan Bouget, Beatrice Medicine, Randy White, Vine Deloria, Jr., Tim Giago, Judge Guerve, Mario Gonzalez, Judge Rosebud Guerve, Dr. Gary Coates, A. Whirlwind Horse, Henry Bowker, Harold Shruke, R. Lee White, Ember Savilla, Morgan Garreau.

Link to the Newberry Library Sioux Interviews collection page:


Photo by Heyn; Sioux Indians 1899.

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