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The day in 1880 when a Cheyenne lectured in Bluffton

Bluffton News: "He talked from the Indian standpoint"

Imagine attending a lecture in Bluffton presented by a 19-year-old Cheyenne speaking from the point of view of native Americans in 1880. The presentation made an impression on the Bluffton News editor. We can only wonder what other views were formed as a result of the Star visit.

Our history books called it the Battle of Little Bighorn.

Native Americans called it the Battle of the Greasy Grass.

Whichever it was, it became an American history landmark angering white Americans, confirming images of native Americans as wild and savage.

With that background imagine attending a lecture in Bluffton presented by a Cheyenne speaking from the point of view of native Americans just four years after the battle.

That battle occurred in 1876. The lecture, by a 19-year-old native American, who we only know as “Star,” took place in Bluffton in 1880.

Little is known about how the Cheyenne came to Bluffton.

Who invited Star?

How did arrive here and where did he stay?

How was he dressed?

How many persons attended his presentation?

What was the audience reaction?

Was he traveling on his own, or was he on tour through an agency?

Hearing a native American give a lecture was a first for Bluffton residents. Previously locals’ only interactions with native Americans was when traveling groups passed through town setting up a camp in what was Schmidt’s field on what is today Vine Street.

According to early Bluffton stories, these “Indians” performed dances, sold merchandise, stayed a short time, then packed and traveled elsewhere. Combine this to Little Bighorn/Greasy Grass, and Star’s presentation becomes even more unusual.

Reading The News version of the event, viewers recognize an editor impressed with the speaker. A story appearing in the Nov. 11, 1880, Bluffton News describes the lecture and it follows:

Lecture by an Indian

Star, a young Indian of the Cheyenne tribe, lectured at Keim’s Hall, on Thursday evening last, on the recent troubles between the various tribes of Indians and the U.S. government.

He talked from the Indian standpoint, and seemed to think the great draw back to the project of civilizing the redman, is the fact that the government does not keep her treaties inviolate; that she marks off a reservation for the Indian, and allows the Indian to remain there just as long as no gold or fertile soil is discovered, but the discovery of either is the signal for his removal to a more remote and barren region.

Again, Star complained loudly of the unfair dealings of the Indian agents sent by the government, and as proof, called attention to the fact that a man needed an “Indian Agency” only a few years to enrich himself.

Star speaks good English, and deals with his subject in a cool intelligent manner, far above what we would be led to expect from a young Indian 19 years old, who had attended a mission school irregularly five years only.

He is endeavoring to gain a sufficient sum by lecturing to enable him to complete his education, when he will go among his own people to carry to them the civilization of the white man.

His purposes are noble, and he should receive the support of all who desire the Indian raised from his present degraded condition.

More background

In 1880 Bluffton, with a population of around 1,200 had no municipal water or power plants. The Bluffton News was four years old. No streets were paved, the town hall was not yet built and the village business district existed in “lower Main Street,” which was the area surrounding today’s Ect Shop. Central Mennonite College didn’t arrive until 1899.

Although not explained, it is probable that Star’s stop in Bluffton was while he traveled on the Lake Erie and Western Railroad, which arrived here in 1872. He may have given his talk also in Lima and Findlay.

Keim Hall, where Star made his presentation, provided a place to hold programs in the growing village, existing before the town hall and Herr Opera House, which is today’s Black Lab.

For example, in December, 1880 “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” was performed at Keim’s Hall. In 1882 the Robert Hamilton Post, No. 26, held its meetings there. Hamilton was a Pandora resident killed in the Revolutionary War.

Located in what today in the part of the Etc Cetera Shop on North Main Street, an 1880 map shows the Hall’s location.

What became of Star? We do not know. We do know that by the 1880s, the U.S. operated 60 schools for 6,200 Indian students, including reservation day schools and reservation boarding schools.

The boarding school system carried out a policy toward native Americans. It forcibly abducted children as young as four from their homes and enrolled them in church- and government-run boarding schools, often far-removed from their tribes and families.

A first for Bluffton

Without a doubt Star’s presentation in 1880 was a first for Bluffton. It set the stage for more “firsts” as the community’s list of presenters offering various views on issues of the day became a regular feature of our community.

The presentation made an impression on the Bluffton News editor. We can only wonder what other views were formed as a result of the Star visit.

The Nov. 11, 1880, Bluffton News article

1880 Bluffton map showing the location of Keim's Hall. It was on the corner of Washington and Main Street.



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