Learning the White Man's Ways

THE LEDGERBOOK OF THOMAS BLUE EAGLE By Jewel H. Grutman and Gay Matthaei; Thomasson-Grant Inc., 72 pp., $17.95

FOR an eight-year-old Sioux Indian boy named Blue Eagle, his whole life centered on Two Painted Horse, a pony given to him by his father.

``Two Painted Horse was my very best friend,'' says Blue Eagle in a colorful ledgerbook written and drawn to resemble the Indian ledgerbooks of the late 1800s.

``The Ledgerbook of Thomas Blue Eagle'' is fiction, but the story is typical of the experiences an Indian boy might have had in those days. And the drawings are simple, energetic, and direct - just like a real ledgerbook.

Before the arrival of the white man in the plains area of North America, Indians did not have written languages or paper. Many of their drawings were either scratched on canyon walls or painted on buffalo hide. Stories were told around campfires.

But the white man brought ledgerbooks. These are vertical books with lined pages and columns for keeping records of money transactions. Many Indians used the books for drawing pictures of their horses, battles, and daily life.

In this ledgerbook, Thomas Blue Eagle lives in a tribe that hunts buffalo for all their needs. ``We were the people of the buffalo,'' says Blue Eagle as he rides his horse and lives in a tepee made of buffalo hide. His tribe follows the buffalo herds, moving with them as the seasons change.

Indians find a spiritual connection to the outdoors, and to the ways they are provided with food, water, and animals. Indians also think dreams are important and learn from them.

After escaping from an attack on his tribe by Crow Indians, Blue Eagle has a vision (a sudden insight or clarity) in which he thinks he is an eagle. Eventually, he returns to his family as Thomas Blue Eagle.

``All our eyes were wet with happiness and my heart was full of thankfulness,'' he says when he is back with his family.

But as more and more white men come across the plains in covered wagons, most of the buffalos are killed, and the land is taken from the Indians in wars and battles.

Blue Eagle's father agrees to have him sent to a school in Carlisle, Pa., where young Indians are taught to read and write English. But the real purpose of the school was to completely change Indians, to make them just like the white man, because at the time Indians were thought to be inferior. At the school, ``Thomas'' is added to Blue Eagle's name.

Blue Eagle's braids are cut; he no longer wears Indian clothing but must wear a dark-blue uniform and shoes. He is forbidden to speak his Indian language. He misses Two Painted Horse, but is allowed to keep a single Indian item, his parfleche, a container made from buffalo hide.

The real Carlisle Indian School existed from 1879 to 1918. For most young Indians it was a grim and mean environment. They were cut off from their Indian ways and treated harshly.

Even though the teachers and officials thought they were doing what was best for the Indians, many Indians died there.

In the ledgerbook, Blue Eagle stays for six years. He plays football, learns how to use tools, and learns to read and write. One night he has a knife fight with a rival Indian, but is healed of a wound using Indian ways.

Before he goes home to Two Painted Horse, he writes, ``I have learned the white man's ways, as my father wished.... I have also learned that the white man does not see with the eyes in his heart.'' `Kidspace' is a place on The Home Forum pages where kids can find stories that will spark imaginations, entertain with a tall tale, explain how things work, or describe a real-life event. These articles appear twice a month, usually on Tuesdays.

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