Song of Dewey Beard: Last Survivor of the Little Bighorn
University of Nebraska Press, 2014
In this thoroughly researched biography, Burnham charts a life “as big and bold and astonishing as a Dakota sky in full summer.” His subject, Dewey Beard, was a member of the Lakota nation whose life spanned almost a century. He was present at both Little Bighorn and Wounded Knee, where he lost half his family. Burnham recounts not only the long and engaging life of Dewey Beard, but also the twists and turns involved in recording such a story—including the legacy of the land and the ongoing struggles of the Lakota in South Dakota as seen through the eyes of elderly interviewees who knew this legendary man.
Indeed, there was more to Beard’s life than his status as a former warrior. He was friends with Sitting Bull and a nephew of Crazy Horse who toured with Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West show and appeared as an extra in Western movies well into his 90s. He even reenacted his time at Wounded Knee on film in 1913.
Beard was also a tireless advocate for the rights of his people, demanding reparations for Wounded Knee and the return of land that had been taken by the government during World War II. Using a mixture of biography, cultural study, and journalism, Burnham captures the story of what one interviewee called a “forever person” whose remarkable life showcases the poignant history of the Native American experience in the 19th, 20th, and even 21st centuries.
Burnham is an assistant professor of composition at George Mason University and a former reporter for Indian Country Today. He is the author of So Far from Dixie: Confederates in Yankee Prisons and Indian Country, God’s Country: Native Americans and the National Parks.