Van Wert's Poignant Reminder of a National Tragedy

By Eric Olson

March 14, 2014 Updated Mar 14, 2014 at 7:25 AM EDT

VAN WERT, OH (21Alive)-His name is David Humphreys Miller from Van Wert, Ohio…Hollywood movie actor, historian and artist. And though he appeared in dozens of westerns including classics like ‘Stagecoach’ and ‘How The West Was Won’…it’s Millers work with paint and canvas that’s truly remarkable.

Van Wert’s Wassenberg Art Center features an exhibit of David Humphreys Miller’s portraits of Native Americans. Very special Native Americans. While still a Van Wert High School student Miller traveled to South Dakota’s Pine Ridge Indian Reservation…interviewed the survivors of the 1876 Battle of the Little Big Horn in which army general George Armstrong Custer, an arrogant, ambitious and reckless man, managed to get himself and 270 of his soldiers slaughtered by the Native Americans he was trying to wipe out. No American soldiers survived the battle known as ‘Custer’s Last Stand’ but plenty of Native Americans did…men like Chief Joseph High Eagle, a Big Horn survivor…this is Birdhorse, a Crow warrior and cousin of one of Custer’s scouts. And this is Joseph White Cow Bull, the warrior who killed George Armstrong Custer. David Humphreys Miller would later write about the shocking living conditions at the Pine Ridge Reservation. They are still shocking.

“Riddled with gangs, poverty,” says Wassenberg Art Center director Hope Wallace. “Alcoholism is like 70 percent, infant mortality rate is off the charts, you wouldn’t even imagine that mortality rate here in the United States for infants. And they’re still being trampled over just like we did back in 1876.”

The United States treatment of Native Americans remains a tragedy and national disgrace. These poignant images by a favorite son of Van Wert, Ohio remind us that efforts to exterminate the original Americans failed…but it appears our beloved country hasn’t given up trying. Eric Olson, out in 21 Country.

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