Chief Red Fox is Dead, A History of Native Americans Since 1945

Nov 15th, 1996 | By | Category: 8-3: Ceremony, Media Reviews

by James J. Rawls
Harcourt Brace, 1996

Review by Greg Gagnon

The most neglected area of American Indian studies is the contemporary survey. Chief Red Fox Is Dead is an attempt to navigate the flotsam to bring readers to current (since 1945) American Indian history. Veteran text writer James Rawls provides a solid synthesis of contemporary history.

We are repeatedly told by numerous writers that Indians are misrepresented because they are either noble savages or merely savages. Rawls chose his title in an attempt to “symbolize that unreal Indian of the past…. Let us leave Chief Red Fox in that mythological, thrilling, and comforting past.” Naturally I dashed out and found out who Chief Red Fox was; I expected to find that he was somewhat like Running Bear who, in the song, loved Little White Dove or even like Chief Thunder Thud of “Howdy Doody” fame.

Red Chief’s reality contradicted the stereotypes, as is often the case in a field regularly inundated by metaphor. Unexpectedly, Red Fox was a fascinating Oglala Lakota whose memoirs reveal the kind of man we all admire and should emulate (The Memoirs of Chief Red Fox, McGraw Hill, 1971). His life included the Little Big Horn, Carlisle, the merchant marine, Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Shows, interpreting for the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and movies.

In his memoirs, Red Fox eloquently explained the problems faced by Indians: racism, alcohol, resource expropriation, urban and reservation squalor, and much of what we designate colonialism. He does not dwell on wrongs. He does emphasize the cultural pride and balance that most of us hope that the new generations will have. Significantly, the copyright is in his name. Ironically, this man whom Rawls selected to symbolize the unreality of Indian images is a fine role model. This illustrates problems inherent in writing about Native American history where images are informed by formulaic symbolism.

Chief Red Fox Is Dead is an excellent introduction to American Indian history. Its major theme is “survival and balance” of American Indians as political and cultural societies and nations. A combination of topical and chronological organization enhances its utility as a text for current events courses. This writer was pleased by the attention to individuals so tribal college students will be able to learn the names of Indian and non-Indian contributors to our history. Non-Indian students will have a primer. Another strength is an annotated bibliography. Its 263 pages will not overload students, leaving teachers with the opportunity to include other readings.

With any luck, Harcourt Brace will continue to revise this work, which in 1996, is current on court cases, casino issues, and federal policy. In a few years this book will be obsolete. Until then, Chief Red Fox Is Dead fills a need, and this writer’s students will be reading it next semester.

Greg Gagnon (Ojibwa) is a history instructor at Oglala Lakota College.


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