Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Inspired by a Book: Guest Post by Jack Getze

Former newsman Jack Getze is Fiction Editor for Anthony-nominated Spinetingler Magazine, one of the internet's oldest websites for noir, crime and horror short stories. His screwball mysteries -- BIG NUMBERS, BIG MONEY, BIG MOJO, and BIG SHOES -- were published by Down and Out Books. His new thriller is THE BLACK KACHINA. His short stories have appeared online at A Twist of Noir, Beat to a Pulp, The Big Adios, and several anthologies.

Jack Getze:
Inspired by a Book

While researching The Black Kachina -- work spanning twenty years and two rows of my guest bedroom’s bookshelf -- I ran across the story of a special man named Charles Alexander Eastman and his book, The Soul of an Indian. Born in 1858 with the name Hakadah, later called Ohiyesa, finally renamed Charles, this awe-inspiring Native American spent the first fifteen years of his life living the nomadic, natural life of a Santee Sioux (or Dakota tribe) of southern Minnesota. Then Eastman went to college, graduated from Dartmouth, earned his medical degree at Boston University, became famous writing popular books, and served two U.S. Presidents.

If you haven’t read Soul of an Indian, you should. His spiritual ideas about nature not only gave heart and meaning to my novel’s half-breed character, Asdrubal Torres, they helped create a villain many readers will root for. I know I did. Even more personally, the book critically changed my view of the world.

The son of a mixed-race Sioux leader and an army officer’s daughter, Charles certainly experienced an unusual life. A few highlights:

As revenge against the white man for killing his father, the 15-year-old Ohiyesa was planning an attack when the supposedly dead father showed up to claim him.

When the U.S. Army killed several hundred Sioux at Wounded Knee, Eastman was one of the first physicians to treat victims on the battlefield.

President Theodore Roosevelt asked him to find a better way of protecting Native American property rights and land titles.

He served President Calvin Coolidge as an U.S. Indian Inspector.

Charles was one of three founders of an organization that became the Boy Scouts of America.

Toward the end of his writing and speaking life, he purchased land and lived alone in the woods.

It’s that last entry that helps explain my personal attachment, I think -- how Charles’ book, by delving into the spiritual side of man, nature, and what he calls “The Great Mystery” of the “Unseen and Eternal,” twisted my worldview. I’d never thought about nature the way Charles Eastman did, and I bet few of you have either. Basically, he saw nature (like all Native Americans, he said) as God. He didn’t believe in churches when he could worship on a mountain top or inside a virgin forest.

“One of the things that makes you feel good is to get out into nature,” he wrote. “Go walking, go hiking, go swimming in the ocean, or wherever you live, in a river or a lake, experience the beauty of America, experience how America is such a sacred place. Everywhere you go in this land, our people have been there and they have said, “This place is sacred.””

I won’t directly discuss religion or politics. Promise. But like many people, I love the beach and ocean for the sense of calm it gives. Until reading Eastman’s book, however, I never considered lakes and oceans might be a deity. I don’t think I do now either, but I obviously feel something of what Eastman wrote about when I’m alone in nature. I feel part of the living things around me. I sure did when I walked alone in the deserts and badlands around California’s Salton Sea for research on my novel. My attachment to nature was undeniable. The noisy talking of birds; the memories that might be in the rocks; the opposing gifts of wisdom and death provided by bark from an elephant tree: All of these ideas ended up in my story as the result of Eastman’s writings.

“The spirit of God is not breathed into humans alone,” he wrote in The Soul of an Indian. “We believe the spirit invades all creation and that every creature possesses a soul …”

What works for a tribe of hundreds might not work for millions, but I offer another Eastman quote, not as criticism of any economic system, but as an example of Native American ideas that influenced my novel’s character and perhaps myself. I’m still reading, still trying to understand everything Eastman suggested.

“It was our belief that the love of possessions is a weakness to be overcome,” Eastman wrote. “Children must early learn the beauty of generosity. They are taught to give what they prize most, that they may taste the happiness of giving.”

1 comment:

John Gordon said...

Thank you, Jack Getze, for the introduction to Charles Eastman! Such a wonderful shift of focus from today's obsessions. Hat tip to Janet Rudolph!