In Which We Celebrate Luther Standing Bear

Today we celebrate the Lakota Chief Óta Kté (“Plenty Kill”), also known as Matȟó Nážiŋ (or “Standing Bear”) (1869-1939) — not to be confused with the Ponca leader Macunajin (also translated as Standing Bear, who lived c. 1829-1908).

Luther Standing Bear is significant for having been born early enough to have been brought up in the traditional ways of his people, but also living long enough to master modern modes of communication so he could tell that story and advocate for his people. Raised on the Spotted Tail Agency in what was then Dakota Territory, he was one of the first students at the Carylse Indian Industrial School in Pennsylvania, where he was considered a model pupil. In his young adulthood he lived for a time on the reservation, ranching, working in his father’s general store, and acting for a time as a school principal.

Standing Bear worked a couple of seasons with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West, but was nearly killed in a train accident in 1903. He later worked at the Miller Brothers 101 Ranch. In 1912, Thomas Ince hired him as a consultant on western films. He first stepped before the camera himself in the 1916 version of Ramona. Another dozen films followed include White Oak (1921) with William S. Hart, The Santa Fe Trail (1930) and The Conquering Horde (1931) with Richard Arlen, Massacre (1934) with Richard Barthelmess, Laughing Boy (1934) with Ramon Novarro and Lupe Velez, the serial The Miracle Rider (1935) with Tom Mix, and Fighting Pioneers (1935) with Rex Bell. In 1936 he became the first leader of the Indian Actors Association. He also wrote the influential books My People the Sioux (1928), Land of the Spotted Eagle (1933), and Stories of the Sioux (1934). He died of influenza while on the set of his last film Union Pacific (1939).

For more on show biz history, please see No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, and for more on early film read  Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube.