Tag Archives: Author

Bachelor War Bread and Pony Love: Words from White Eagle

“Few towns can boast an Indian writer. This Gillette can do with impunity.” So began the editor of the Gillette News’ introduction of White Eagle to Gillette and ultimately the nation.

White Eagle, photo from his 1916 The Gillette Cook Book, reprinted by the Campbell County Historical Society ca 1965

White Eagle, photo from his 1916 The Gillette Cook Book, reprinted by the Campbell County Historical Society ca 1965

Shields Wright, known as White Eagle, was born in 1878 or 1879 to a Sioux couple “on [the] south fork of [the] Red River 4 miles from Eufaula, Oklahoma,” deep in the heart of Indian Country. Born deaf, the cards were stacked against him from the start, but his infirmity seems to have only made him more observant. He was taught to read and write and eventually could speak with some difficulty. At age 15, he left the reservation and struck out on his own.

During the summer of 1909, White Eagle found himself working on the range as a cowboy near Gillette, Wyoming. This was a life he loved, out on the plains with only cattle and his horse for company and plenty of time to think. And write. Like many cowboys, White Eagle had the heart of a poet.

This pamphlet of poems included "Indian Maiden Up-to-Date", "I Love You My Pony", "The Dog Supper", "Indians Lament" and "Indian Cow-Boy Song" (WSA P2007-11)

This pamphlet of poems included “Indian Maiden Up-to-Date”, “I Love You My Pony”, “The Dog Supper”, “Indians Lament” and “Indian Cow-Boy Song”
(WSA P2007-11)

Starting in August 1912, White Eagle became an infrequent contributor to the Gillette News. He was compensated for his work, which was often published on the front page. Sometimes he would offer his opinion on a topic, but more often it would be a poem. He later published a pamphlet of poems entitled “The Dog Supper and Other Poems” and sold them for a bit of pocket change. Though much of his work spoke about his life as a cowboy, he also wrote about his experience as a Native American walking between both the old and new West and the Native and White cultures.

The Wyoming Wind

O, Wyoming wind why this way
Of coming round so rough today?
You close my door with such a slam
You almost caught me in the jam.
You make me feel a bit afraid
You shake the roof so e’er-head
You startle me with your wild roar
As you go racing past my door.
Coming screeching across the land
You fill my eyes with dust and sand
You catch up mud in your mad race
And sling it roughly in my face
You snatch my hat with gusts wild
And have me chase it most a mile.
You whip in rags my one old coat
And blow my breath back down my throat.
You took my wash tub most to town
And left it sitting upside down
You take the moisture from my crop
And leave me wondering where you’ll stop.

— published in the Gillette News

Some time around 1916 White Eagle acquired a printing press of his own. His first endeavor was to publish a local cookbook. He asked local women to share their best recipes and often included a short biographical note about the contributor. He also added a few of his poems for color.

White Eagle on his horse, Red Bird, made quite a splash when he appeared on the streets of Chicago promoting the Custer Battlefield Highway in 1922. (WSA Sub Neg 285)

White Eagle on his horse, Red Bird, made quite a splash when he appeared on the streets of Chicago promoting the Custer Battlefield Highway in 1922.
(WSA Sub Neg 285)

In 1922, White Eagle rode the entire length of the Custer Battlefield Highway, from Sheridan to Omaha to promote the highway and encourage tourism. His horse, Red Bird, was provided by Sen. John B. Kendrick. From Omaha, he toured the East by train, stopping in Chicago, Detroit and Washington, DC. He met with General Custer’s widow and was interviewed by Cornelius Vanderbilt. When he returned to Wyoming, White Eagle published a piece in The Highway Magazine entitled “Good Roads Force the Passing of the “Old West” about his travels and his memories of the west as it was. His story was also written up in Popular Mechanics.

Flowing his trip East, White Eagle’s writing disappear from the newspaper. There is a mention of his greeting Queen Marie of Romania in Washington State in 1926, but beyond that, his trail fades away. Perhaps he just rode off into the sunset.

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Writing an “Authentic” History of Wyoming: Charles G. Coutant

Wyoming historian Charles Giffin Coutant was born on October 16, 1840 in Rosendale, New York.  Orphaned at seven years old, he spent the next seven years on his uncle’s farm.  At the age of fourteen, he started his newspaper career as an office boy for a New York City publisher.  Eventually, Coutant became a roving reporter, writing about life in California for his New York audience in 1859, and visiting Mexico for the same purpose. He also covered Civil War events and military conflicts with Native Americans.  Coutant’s first marriage to Carrie (maiden name unknown) ended with her death in 1863, leaving him with their two children, Clarance and Wilbur.  Coutant married Mary Elizabeth Clark of Boston, Massachusetts on Christmas Day, 1867. They had six children: George, Walter, Charles, Laura, Georgia, and May.

Charles G. Coutant collected biographical information about many of Wyoming's prominent pioneers. He had planned to publish a three part History of Wyoming, but only completed the first volume.  (WSA Sub Neg 1692)

Charles G. Coutant collected biographical information about many of Wyoming’s prominent pioneers as well as the general history of the state. He had planned to publish a three part History of Wyoming, but only completed the first volume.
(WSA Sub Neg 1692, from History of Wyoming, Volume 1)

Moving west, Coutant continued his journalism career in Kansas, where he served as editor of a Topeka newspaper.  He originally came to Cheyenne in 1890.  After brief stays in Lander and Laramie, he returned to Cheyenne in 1899.  That same year, Coutant published the book, The History of Wyoming From the Earliest Known Discoveries, Volume I.  He did not complete the anticipated second and third volumes.

The title page of Coutant's History of Wyoming, Volume 1. He inscribed the book to "the memory of those pioneers, living and dead, who explored our mountains and valleys..." Coutant claimed in the preface that "it will be observed that, with a single exception, every account given is based upon authentic history; the exception being the chapter devoted to "Spanish Occupation"."

The title page of Coutant’s History of Wyoming, Volume 1. He inscribed the book to “the memory of those pioneers, living and dead, who explored our mountains and valleys…” Coutant claimed in the preface that “it will be observed that, with a single exception, every account given is based upon authentic history; the exception being the chapter devoted to “Spanish Occupation”.” This first, and only, 700+ page tome covered the pre-territorial period, from earliest exploration through about 1869.

Coutant was the Wyoming State Librarian from 1901 to 1905.  He also held the position of Secretary of the Wyoming Industrial Convention for four years.  After a lengthy visit to Alaska, Coutant relocated to Grants Pass, Oregon in 1908, where he edited the Daily Courier newspaper.  Coutant died at his home in Grants Pass on January 17, 1913.

H74-9, examples of notebooks 2

Examples of the biography notebooks Coutant kept while researching for his history book.
(WSA H74-9)

The Wyoming State Archives’ Coutant Collection consists of biographies and assorted Wyoming history material that was probably intended for the unfinished History of Wyoming volumes.  The majority of the collection dates from the late 1890s to the early 1900s. Topics include prominent citizens, Indian Wars, Army activity, early territorial settlement, county histories, ranching, and farming. The biographies include prominent citizens, primarily wealthy and influential men, from the territorial period to early statehood.  There is also correspondence to, from, and about Coutant.  This collection is a good source for genealogical research and social history and related photographs are also available.   A complete inventory of the collection is available in the State Archives reading room or here in the Rocky Mountain Online Archive (RMOA).

by Curtis Greubel, Wyoming State Imaging Center Supervisor

 

Coutant transcribed newspaper accounts and collected stories from locals while researching for his book.  (WSA H74-9)

Coutant transcribed newspaper accounts and collected stories from locals while researching for his subsequent books, which were never completed. 
(WSA H74-9)

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