Dear Dr. Neihardt:

I am taking the liberty of writing to you partly on my own initiative and partly at the suggestion of your son Sigurd. Your daughter-in-law also suggested that I should send you a letter. They may have alerted you.

For I am the Rueben Nelson, who called your son, Sigurd, on Monday afternoon, August 29th, and who had such a fine conversation with Sigurd's wife that evening. The telephone call was prompted by my having been thrilled by the story appearing in the Arizona Republic's Sunday edition, for August 28th, with the headline "When Indian Holy Man, Poet Meet."

Thrilled, that is, to find that the "saga singer" of the Mountain Men, the Fur Trade, the Shining Mountains, and the Big Muddy — the mighty Missouri — was still active — still a vital "swimmer" in that "stream of day and today experience" which becomes the history and "saga stuff" of tomorrow!

Years ago in South Dakota when looking at the Jennewein's snap shots of you with them at the Hugh Glass Monument, little did I think that someday I would have an opportunity to write to the author of "Black Elk Speaks," "The River and I," "The Song of Three Friends," and "The Song of Hugh Glass," "John G. Neihardt!" How old Fred Jennewein and his son, J. Leonard, could say your name and talk about you-making yoru name "roll"-invoking images of saga subject Mountain men like Hugh Glass and Jedediah Smith!

It was my privilege to know Fred Jennewein the last ten years of his long and eventful life. his son and I have been close friends for over 20 years. J. Leonard teaches at Dakota Wesleyan University, Mitchell, South Dakota, with courses in Middle Border Culture, western history, and creative writing. (Sounds like the Neihardt influence again!) We have made many trips into the "west river" country and have worked together on a number of research projects for the Frontier Life Museum at Mitchell of which Leonard is also the Curator.

One of our best trips was a four day affair during which we surveyed a number of historic sites; participated in the dedication of the camp where Ben Ash's party sighted the Black Hills when laying out the Bismark Trail; scouted out sites on the Cheyenne, Moreau, and Grand Rivers; visited the Dad Lemmon country; and, most importantly, secured photographs of the Hugh Glass Monument and the "buffalo graveyard" sites before they were flooded by the Shadehill Reservoir on the Grand River.

As I read the August 28th article, I was prompted to get out my 1942 edition of the Modern Reader's Series of your Three Friends and Hugh Glass songs, and to review the introductions, prefaces, and notes contained therein — oh, of course, there was quite a little "browsing" among the familiar lines too! This review revealed two startling coincidences.

These were: (1) On the night before - August 27th, I had finished reading Norma Lorre Goodrich's "Myths of the Hero," The Orion Press, New York 1962, which discusses "Shah Namah," "Ramayanna," "Beowolf," "The Niebingheld," "Chanson de Rollanz," "Aeneas," "The Cid," etc., much in the same vein that you did in your 1915 Preface to "The Song of Hugh Glass"; and (2) The fact that I seem to almost paraphrase your 1915 thoughts in my Preface to "Little Nels and The Partner," a small booklet which I had published in September 1965!

While I have read your other books from Jennewein's library, the only copy of your work that I own is the Modern Readers' Series cited above. However, after learning from Sigurd that the Bison Press have republished several of your works, I went down to the book store Wednesday and ordered "Black Elk Speaks" and "The Cycle of the West." I have needed these for my collection for a long time.

In the early 1940's, it was my privilege to meet Black Elk on two occasions at Manderson, South Dakota. He consented to the brief interviews and for me to take a picture (but from a considerable distance) only because I was presented as a friend of his grandson — Ben Black Elk Jr. and brought greetings to him from his grandson. We talked through an interpreter. In November 1947, my last official action as I was leaving the War Department was to reemploye Ben Henry Black Ellk Jr. . upon his return from military furlough. This took considerable "job engineering" because he was handicapped from serious wounds received in the Battle of the Bulge. he lost one arm and for a long time it seemed he would loose a leg too. Fortunately, his legs were saved but with functional limitation.

My relics and/or mementos of Black Elk are rather limited, being, in addition to the above mentioned picture and interview notes, a sculpture plaque by E. A. Sullivan — a head and shoulders profile - which appears to me to be a good likeness of Black Elk as I remember him about 1945 — Sullivan did the carving in 1939 as the first of a 12 plaque series entitled "The Immortals of the Plains" (as far as I have been able to learn this one was the only one completed); a ceremonial device, which is supposed to have belonged to Black Elk, made with two buffalo horns attached to a shaft covered with heavily headed buckskin and further ornamented with an eagle feather attached by a sinew string; and a copy of the August 20, 1950 AP news release reporting his death at Manderson on August 18, 1950.

From 1942 though 1947 while with the War Department and later in 1953 through 1957 with the Bureau of Indian Affairs, I traveled extensively on the Indian Reservations of North and South Dakota, Nebraska, Wyoming, and Montana and was granted an unusual opportunity to become well acquainted with the Plains Indians, to learn of their customs and culture, their glorious past (which I agree with you was an "epic quality"), their potential for the future, and to count as friends a host of Indian men and women at all levels of development and acculturation.

Among these were such as: (I'm listing 25 or 30 who readily come to mind in hope that we might find some mutual acquaintances) Ben Riefel, whom I first met as a "boss" farmer, former Area Director and presently in Congress; Robert Bennett, whom I worked with in Aberdeen, now the National Head of the BIA; William Fire Thunder, many times elected President Ogalala Tribal Council, a fine orator; Andrew Standing Soldier, and Oscar Howe, artists; the Broken Rope, Yellow Hair, Hollow Horn Bear, McLaughlin, and Archambeau families; Moses Two Bulls; Henry Standing Bear; John Black Bear; Denver Tion; George Red Elk; George One Star, Ben American Horse; Henry Fontenelle; Mr. and Mrs. John Bergen; Harold Shunk; John Under the Baggage; Pete Blue Arm; John Running Antelope; John Hart, an ancient Mandan, whom I heard have give an authentic "coup count" in 1953 at Elbow Woods; Francis Red Tomahawk, whose father was Sgt. Red Tomahawk, one of the Indian Policemen who killed Sitting Bull; George Jensen, whom I hired so many times I once made his application from memory; Eddie Herman, rodeo announcer and would be writer; Jake Herman, rodeo clown and supposed author of Potatoe Creek Echoes; "Bat" Rogers, special agent, descendent of "Little Bat" famous scout; Mrs. Whirlwind Horse, educator; Mary Short Bull, whose grandfather was one of those sent to check on Wovoka; Grandma Clemeau, who told me how she came up river as a bride of 16 from St. Louis in 1856 and how the keel boats were "cordelled"; Esther Horne, who has been accepted by some national organization as a direct descendant of Sacagawea; Edward Owl King, who still carried in his hip a rifle slug which he received as a five year old boy at Wounded knee; Dewey Beard, sometimes called Iron Hail, who was in both the Custer and Wounded Knee fights as a warrior; James Mesteth, who as a boy of five found Dewey Beard in a tumbled down cabin several miles fromt he Wounded Knee battleground three days after the battle- Dewey who was shot though both legs and had other wounds had somehow crawled that far - Jim's father hid Dewey in a load of hay and hauled him up to Manderson where Two Sticks' Dog Soldiers took him to a secret camp and nursed him back to health; One Bull (I might be wrong on this name) he was the son of either Left Hand Bull or One Bull who were nephews of Sitting Bull, he was a baby in the camp on the Little Big Horn having been born in April 1876, Stanley Vestal indentifies him in the fly-leaf dedication to a personally autographed copy of Vestal's Sitting Bull, which was One Bull's prized possession; and last but by no means least, that grand old man from Huron, South Dakota, John Claymore, whose father was saved from being hung at Manakatos after the Little Crow uprising only by the intervention of President Lincoln, whose parents after release from Fort Sully so firmly set their feet on the "white man's road" that John has told me how he used to hide under the buggy seats with the white kids at Greenwood because he was afraid of those "wild Indians" from across the Missouri, only 27 years (in 1917) after Wounded Knee John was running a bank at Broadland, South Dakota, he was repeatedly elected to public office, for over 25 years he served as Secretary and Treasurer of the Huron Board of Education, Bear's Rib, who was set up by "White Hat" Harney as Chief of all the Sioux, died in the arms of John's great, great graandfather when he was assasinated at Fort Pierre.

In view of the above you can perhaps understand why an amateur like myself would be excited to learn that there might be a possibility to make contact with an "old pro" like yourself. I'm somewhat like a kid "ridin' drag" getting a chance to "learn a bit" from the top hand "ridin' point." This becomes more apparent when you consider my plan to devote full time to research and writing in the field of western history when I retire from federal service. I hope to make "people" of history "live" by showing how much we have in common; and to develope the theory that those peoples who have been the most successful or have made the greatest contributions during those periods of "up-rooting" or "casting loose" from established ways of life - I believe you have used "heroic periods" to describe the times I mean — are possessed of common basic qualitities of character and methods of approach to the unknown, which should be subject to identitification and to cultivation in others.

It is my contention that today we have a great need to recognize, to identify, and to find ways to cultivate these characteristics if we are to make the next two steps in what you in 1915 called "the Aryan migration." A race migration which you noted had moved "from the Euphates eastward to India and westward to our own Pacific Coast." In the "two steps" — which are (1) launching into space, oceanic, and interplanetory exploration, each raising the possibility of residence under new and unknown environmental conditions; and (2) one which is more mental and philosophical, the coping with the social frontiers of our times, Step two, while lacking to some degree the physical aspects of a "frontier," will still require, in my opinion, the full application of "epic qualities" in our daily lives if success is to be assured.

Who will be the Jed Smiths, the Black Elks, and the "brigade members," the Mountain Men, if you please, of the Atomic Age? I say it is well that we study the work of such as Neihardt, the saga maker, the singing herald of our most recent heroic period! Thus, may we more readily recognize the "heroes" as they arise, and encourage those tendencies in ourselves and others which tend to assure the qualities of character and ways of living which will become "saga stuff."

But, no! You are a busy man and I fear that I am imposing! Thank you for anytime you can give this initial letter and for the knowledge, pleasure, and inspiration your writings have given me.

I am looking forward to meeting your son and his wife. The work they are doing with your writings, music, and tapes is another area of interest dear to my heart.

When you visit Phoenix again I would so like to meet with you to personally compare notes, and — well, heck — to "just talk" about those days of "daring do" — to wonder if the "buffalo berries" are ripe above the Grand — to check if you have anything on York — did he die in 1831 or 32 or could Jim Beckworth, The King of the Crows, have been really York — ah, yes — when one is bound "Away! Beyond the Wide Missouri" time rolls forward and back with equal ease and no one can control it!

Also, I would like for you to hear an hour long taped interview that I made in 1962 with a Mr. Robert C. Olsen at Fort Whipple Arizona. Mr. Norman who was then 93 years of age claimed to have participated in the Wounded Knee battle — his story while so far unverified certainly has me ^about to believe it — I've worked on confirmation since 1962 and it's "slow going" — nothing to refute it either. The tape was a project for the Archives at Dakota Wesleyan University and Frontier Life Museum. It has been established that Mr. Norman was in fact one of the last survivors of the Sioux Wars. He died at the age of 95. His voice at 93 sounds younger than mine at 50 in 1962!

Well, as the old trapper's used to say, "That's how this child's stick floats."


Rueben H. Nelson
Rueben H. Nelson