FRANK FOOLS CROW
While digging into research for my WIP (tentatively titled ONLY IN MY DREAMS), a friend of mine who is part Cherokee and practices Native American traditions recommended that I read about Fools Crow, a Lakota Shaman. She loaned me her book FOOLS CROW, WISDOM AND POWER written by Thomas E. Mails. I am so impressed by this Lakota Shaman, his philosophy, thoughts, and deeds, I decided to write my Sweethearts of the West blog about him.
Frank Fools Crow, a Lakota Medicine Man, was born in 1891 in Kyle, South Dakota near Porcupine Creek on Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota on either June 24 or 27 between 1890 and 1892. Just a note here: I named my lead character Kyle (who is working to become a shaman) in my WIP before I read Frank Fools Crow was born in Kyle, South Dakota. An amazing coincidence. Just sayin’…
His father, also named Fools Crow, but often called Eagle Bear, was the Porcupine District leader. Spoon Hunter, Fools Crow’s mother, died four days after giving birth to him. She was the daughter of Porcupine Tail, for whom the community was named. Knife Chief, his paternal grandfather, fought with warriors who defeated Custer at the Battle of Little Big Horn, and his great–grandfather, Holds the Eagle, was a medicine man and holy man, or Wičháša Wakȟáŋ. His father, aunt, and stepmother, Emily Big Road, raised him in the traditional ways. Fools Crow did not attend "the white man's school" because his father did not approve, and, therefore, he did not speak fluent English.
In his younger years, Fools Crow traveled around the United States with the Buffalo Bill Cody's Buffalo Bill's Wild West show. But for most of his life, he served his people as a medicine man, healer, and teacher. It surprises me when I see the Native Americans who participated in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show. I just thought they wouldn’t want to be a part of a show that may not be a true portrayal of them.
I was surprised to find he had married. Maybe I just didn't consider marriage for a Medicine Man, sort of like being a Catholic priest. Fools Crow’s first wife, Fannie Afraid of Hawk, died in 1954. His second wife, Kate, died in October 1988.
He was a greatly respected Oglala Lakota civic and religious leader often called 'Grandfather' or 'Grandpa Frank' and was a nephew of Black Elk, also a famous Shaman. Fools Crow worked to preserve Lakota traditions, including the Sun Dance and yuwipi ceremonies. I particularly liked that he supported Lakota sovereignty and treaty rights, and was a leader of the traditional faction during the armed standoff at Wounded Knee in February 1973.
Fools Crow leading his people at Wounded Knee
The standoff at Wounded Knee lasted 71 days until an agreement was reached between federal officials and a Lakota delegation, which included Fools Crow. Hank Adams, the personal representative of the President, arrived with an agreement to the proposal that the chiefs had sent to the White House on May 3. Adams handed a letter through a barbed–wire fence to Fools Crow. The letter asked for the occupation of the village to come to an end. Fools Crow and the other leaders accepted the proposal, which stated that the White House would send representatives to Pine Ridge to discuss a treaty in the third week of May and would “get tough” on Dick Wilson, the unscrupulous chairman of the reservation, a heavy drinker who encouraged harassment of traditional ceremonies and selling Lakota lands for which he profited. Fools Crow and the other chiefs delivered the letter to the AIM leaders and told them that he believed that it was time to end it.
Fools Crow spoke at a congressional hearing on June 16 and 17, 1973, following the conclusion of the Wounded Knee occupation. As was his way, he only spoke in Lakota and used an interpreter, Matthew King, to translate for him. He gave his reasons for the occupation, the main reason being the removal of Dick Wilson. Senator George McGovern said that he would try to remove Wilson, but was not sure if he had the power to do so. Fools Crow asserted that McGovern had promised earlier to remove Dick Wilson, yet the violence continued. Lakota people were killed in gunfire including children. The fatalities saddened everyone and convinced Grandpa Fools Crow and the other elders that there had been enough death. “Since we were too few to fight and too many to die”, Fools Crow asked the Wounded Knee leaders to try to find a peaceful resolution.
Promises were made by the government to the Lakota, but history has repeated itself because, once again, the government of the United States of America lied and those promises were not kept.
Though his courageous fight for his people show his character, this is not the reason why I have come to admire Fools Crow; it is his spirit and noble quest to do what is right as well as keep the traditions of the Lakota alive that make me think so highly of him.
Here is an example of his spiritual devotion when he spoke (in Lakota) the opening prayer to the United States Senate in Washington, D.C. on September 5, 1975 to discuss the 1868 Treaty, sovereignty, and the continuing violence and civil rights violations.
Fools Crow’s translated Prayer:
“In the presence of this house, Grandfather, Wakan-Tanka, and from the direction where the sun sets, and from the direction of cleansing power, and from the direction of the rising, and from the direction of the middle of the day. Grandfather, Wakan-Tanka, Grandmother, the Earth who hears everything, Grandmother, because you are woman, for this reason you are kind, I come to you this day to tell you to love the red men, and watch over them, and give these young men the understanding because, Grandmother, from you comes the good things, good things that are beyond our eyes to see have been blessed in our midst, for this reason I make my supplication known to you again.
Give us a blessing so that our words and actions be one in unity, and that we be able to listen to each other, in so doing, we shall with good heart walk hand in hand to face the future.
In the presence of the outside, we are thankful for many blessings. I make my prayer for all people, the children, the women and the men. I pray that no harm will come to them, and that on the great island, there be no war, that there be no ill feelings among us. From this day on may we walk hand in hand. So be it.”
Unfortunately, during the same morning as this prayer, the FBI staged a massive paramilitary raid on the property of Leonard Crow Dog, who said "We shall never sell our sacred Black Hills."
On September 10, 1976, Fools Crow delivered a lengthy speech to the Congressional Subcommittee on Interior and Insular Affairs. The speech, entitled the Joint Statement of Chief Frank Fools Crow and Frank Kills Enemy on Behalf of the Traditional Lakota Treaty Council Before Honorable Lloyd Meads Sub–Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs, was a plea for the return of the Black Hills to his people. Later, the speech was printed up in poster form and widely disseminated over the reservations.
Even in recent events the government has attempted to betray the Lakota by trying to permit an fracked oil pipeline to run through the sovereign lands of the Lakota in South Dakota.
For all the betrayal, the lies, and the violence visited upon Fools Crow and his people, Frank Fools Crow has kept his kind and loving spirit.
Here is a short quote from Fools Crow’s speech at the end of Wounded Knee:
“Survival of the world depends on our sharing what we have, and working together. If we do not, the whole world will die, first the planet, and next the people.”
Fools Crow died on November 27, 1989 near Kyle, SD. He is believed to have been 99 years old. He spent his entire life in the service of his people and as an advocate for the traditional ways and wisdom of the Lakota.
With the help of writer Thomas E. Mails, he produced two books about his life and work titled: Fools Crow in 1979, and Fools Crow: Wisdom and Power in 1990.
The Wise Words of Frank Fools Crow
Sarah J. McNeal is a multi-published author of several genres including time travel, paranormal, western and historical fiction. She is a retired ER and Critical Care nurse who lives in North Carolina with her four-legged children, Lily, the Golden Retriever and Liberty, the cat. Besides her devotion to writing, she also has a great love of music and plays several instruments including violin, bagpipes, guitar and harmonica. Her books and short stories may be found at Prairie Rose Publications and its imprints Painted Pony Books, and Fire Star Press. She welcomes you to her website and social media:
References, books, and quotes for this article:
Fools Crow, University of Nebraska Press, 1979, 1990 ISBN 978-0-8032-8174-5
Fools Crow: Wisdom and Power, Council Oak Books, 1990, 2002; ISBN 978-1-57178-104-8
Anderson et al., Voices from Wounded Knee 1973 (Akwesasne Notes, 1974) ISBN 978-0-914-83801-2
Ward Churchill and Jim Vander Wall, Agents of Repression (South End Press, 1988,'02) ISBN 0-89608-646-1
Thomas E. Mails, Fools Crow (University of Nebraska Press, 1979,'90) ISBN 978-0-8032-8174-5
Peter Matthiessen, In the Spirit of Crazy Horse (Viking Penguin, 1983,'92) ISBN 978-014014456-7
Russell Means, Where White Men Fear to Tread (St. Martin's Press, 1995) ISBN 978-031214761-7
New York Times Obituary, "Frank Fools Crow, a Sioux Tribal Leader", printed 29 November 1989 *
Paul Chaat Smith and Robert Allen Warrior, Like a Hurricane: The Indian Movement from Alcatraz to Wounded Knee (The New Press, 1997) ISBN 978-1-56584-402-5
Luther Standing Bear, Land of the Spotted Eagle (Houghton Mifflin Company, 1933) ISBN 978-0-8032-9333-5
Steve Talbot, Roots of Oppression: The American Indian Question (International Publishers, 1981) ISBN 978-071780591-4