THE BLOG
08/25/2014 04:39 pm ET Updated Oct 25, 2014

A Farewell to My Friend Eugene Long Soldier

Notes from Indian Country
By Tim Giago (Nanwica Kciji)
© Native Sun News
August 25, 2014

My childhood friend Eugene Long Soldier died last week. He was one of the more fortunate Lakota who lived to the age of 80.

For a lot of reasons too numerous to enumerate in this column the average life span of most Lakota men is about 55. We have a saying that goes, "If a Lakota man can make it to 60, he will live a long life."

I want to write a farewell to my friend Eugene. I remember him as being one of the really nice guys. We were classmates at the Holy Rosary Indian Mission boarding school on the Pine Ridge Reservation in the 1940s.

Eugene loved to play soldier and when some thoughtful soul shipped boxes of World War I surplus clothing to the Mission one of the first to dress up in the uniforms down to the leggings was Eugene. He used a marker of indelible ink to paint the rank of sergeant on the sleeves of his shirt. Perhaps this was a harbinger of his service later in life as a United States Marine.

We lived at the Mission school nine months of the year. We slept in dormitories, went to church seven days a week and twice on Sunday. We formed company ranks and marched to most of our activities. We ate in a large dining room and so we were more than prepared for a life in the military by the time we graduated.

We also formed small cliques in order to face the day. In my group one could always find the Garnett brothers, Heavy and Frosty, Lloyd Little Wolf or Ziggy, and of course, most of the time there was Eugene Long Soldier and his little brother "Spud Head."

I got a call from Eugene's younger brother Verdell last week. He wanted me to come to the funeral on the reservation and say a eulogy for Eugene, but odd circumstances prevented me from driving those 100 miles: My pickup broke down and had to go to the garage and my wife's car also went into the garage. What bad timing for our vehicles to quit on us.

But circumstances will not prevent me from writing about my friend.

At the Mission school the educators were Jesuit priests. The principal of the school was named Father Edwards. Eugene called him "Eddie Boy" behind his back. Well, "Eddie Boy" caught Eugene doing something that broke the rules and in front of all the boys, he beat Eugene with a leather strap so viciously that he limped away after the assault. He never cried or screamed out during the beating; which was odd because some of us watching the strapping had tears in our eyes.

Eugene proved his toughness on another occasion. He and I were singled out for something we did not do. This time our accuser was a Jesuit prefect named John Bryde. He later went on to become a priest, but quit the order, got married and became a professor at the University of South Dakota. He is now deceased.

Mr. Bryde told Eugene to bend over and he proceeded to whip him with a leather strap. I recall that Eugene looked directly into my eyes and never shed a tear. So when it came to my turn I took the beating and stared into Eugene's eyes and bit my tongue, but like my friend, I never let out a whimper.

I never called him Gene, it was always Eugene. He had a wonderful laugh and very seldom did I see him angry. In the dining hall we had captains at every table and Eugene was my lieutenant. One day we got a new boy straight from one of the outlying districts of the reservation. He did not speak English yet, but only Lakota. One day he had to go to the restroom and we were trained to raise a hand to get permission. He raised his hand and said, "Pee to." The boy's name was Aloysius Black Tail Deer and from that moment on his name became "P-2" because that's the moniker Eugene gave him.

After his service in the Marines, Eugene returned to the Pine Ridge Reservation and moved to the community of Wanbli (Eagle). The last time I saw him was at "Spud Head's" funeral several years ago, but like so many of us who lived through the acculturation programs of the Church and government in the 1940s, we both stayed true to ourselves and returned to the spirituality of the Lakota. Eugene Long Soldier is now on his journey to the Spirit World. Maybe he'll meet up with the great Lakota leader Gerald One Feather who also passed away last week

(Tim Giago is editor and publisher of the Native Sun News. He was the founder of the Native American Journalists Association and its first president. He can be reached at editor@nsweekly.com)