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November 14, 2018 38 mins

Dr. Susan La Flesche Picotte was the first Native American woman to earn a medical degree. She lived at a time when a lot of change was happening in the United States as a whole, and among Native Americans and the Omaha tribe she was part of specifically. 

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Episode Transcript

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Speaker 1 (00:01):
Welcome to Stuff You Missed in History Class from how
Stuff Works dot Com. Hello, and welcome to the podcast.
I'm Tracy V. Wilson and I'm Holly Fry. Today we're
going to talk about Dr. Susan La Flesh Pecotte. She
was the first Native American woman to earn a medical degree.

(00:23):
She also lived at a time when there was a
lot of change happening in the United States as a
whole and among Native Americans and the Omaha tribe that
she was part of specifically, So in some ways, we're
kind of looking at the history of this time through
the story of her life. We're definitely not touching on everything,
but there's a lot that affected tribal life that we're
going to get into. Susan La Flesh was born on

(00:46):
June sixty five in what is now Nebraska. Her father
was Joseph la Flesh, also known as Iron Eye, and
her mother was his first wife, Mary Gail, also called
One Woman. The Lafle Bushes had four surviving daughters, Suzette, Susan, Rosalie,
and Marguerite. Joseph also had a son named Francis by

(01:08):
another wife. Both of Susan's grandmother's were native women. Her
father's father was a French Canadian trader, and her mother's
father was a U. S Army doctor. Susan's ancestors included
people from multiple indigenous peoples, including the Omaha, Iowa, and
Ponca tribes, and her father had grown up among several
different tribes and traveled extensively with his father when he

(01:31):
was young as well. But the family was enrolled as Omaha.
Joseph la Flesh had been adopted by Omaha chief big Elk,
who intended to name Joseph as his successor. When big
Elk died in eighteen fifties three, Joseph became one of
the tribes to principal chiefs and was ultimately its last
traditional chief. As I alluded to earlier, Susan grew up

(01:53):
during a time of huge transition for the Omaha and
for the other tribes and nations in that part of
North America. First contact between the Omaha and Europeans was
probably sometime in the mid late seventeen hundreds. By eighteen
fifty four, after a series of epidemics, wars, and treaties,
the Omaha had seeded a lot of their territory to

(02:13):
the United States. They were left with a reservation and
what's now northeastern Nebraska, and that was further reduced in
size in eighteen sixty five, which was the year that
Susan was born. Susan's father believed that the only way
the Omaha would survive in the face of all this
was to selectively adapt to white society while still retaining
as much Omaha culture and identity as possible. This outlook

(02:38):
was why big Elk had chosen him as his successor.
He also thought that the Omaha would be wiped out
if they didn't adapt, so Susan's parents believed strongly that
she and her siblings needed to learn to live with
and among white people so they could essentially form a
bridge between the Omaha and the white world. To that end,
Joseph and Mary la Flesh didn't give most of their

(03:00):
children traditional Omaha names, although Susan's oldest sister, Susette, was
known as Bright Eyes. They weren't given traditional tattoos or
piercings either, and although Susan had been born in a
tp during the summer Buffalo hunt, the family lived in
a frame house rather than in the earth lodges that
the Omaha had traditionally used since settling in the Missouri

(03:21):
River region. The La Flesh children also attended a Presbyterian
mission school on the reservation. Their parents had no formal
education themselves, and they didn't speak much English, but they
both stressed how critical it was for Susan and all
of her siblings to learn and do well. Their parents
spoke to them in Omaha and French, but among each other,

(03:42):
the siblings were expected to speak English. Susan started attending
the mission school when she was only three, but she
was there for a year before it was closed down
in the wake of Ulyss assess Grants peace policy. This
peace policy essentially replaced Indian agents with Christian missionaries. The
policy was based on the mindset that missionary work would

(04:04):
be less prone to corruption than the previous Indian agent system,
so when the Presbyterian missions school was replaced with a
Quaker day school, the La Flesh children attended that school instead.
Joseph la Flesh's decisions about how the Omaha could survive
were deeply controversial. The Omaha were divided into what was
known as the Young Men's Party, which supported the idea

(04:27):
of selective assimilation, and then the Chiefs Party instead advocated
maintaining Omaha culture and traditions as much as possible. The
neighborhood that Joseph la Flesh established on their reservation, dominated
by frame houses and individual farms, was nicknamed the Village
of make Believe White Men. When Susan was eight, she

(04:48):
had an experience that led to her desire to become
a doctor. She was helping to care for an Omaha
woman who was very ill, and they had asked the
agency doctor, who was white, to come and see her,
but after four messages sent to him, he still had
not arrived. So Susan sat with this woman as she died,
and later she said, quote, it was only an Indian

(05:10):
and it did not matter. The doctor preferred hunting for
prairie chickens rather than visiting the poor, suffering humanity. Of course,
this was not the only time she saw a need
for better healthcare on the reservation. As another example, her
father had a leg amputated after an untreated injury, but
it was what she kept returning to when she talked

(05:30):
about wanting to become a doctor. In eighteen seventy five,
when Susan was ten, her older sister Susette returned home
from studying at the Elizabeth Institute for Young Ladies in Elizabeth,
New Jersey. She wanted a job teaching at the reservation school,
but at first she was told that she wasn't eligible.
This started an uphill battle in which Suzette unearthed a

(05:52):
handbook saying that Native teachers were preferred, got permission to
leave the reservation to take an exam for a teaching certificate,
and was finally hired as the first Native teacher to
be employed on the Omaha Reservation. Suzette moved into a
house near the school, and her sisters moved in with
her so they could all be closer to the school
rather than walking about three miles each way every day.

(06:15):
Suzette was a huge influence on Susan's life as a sister,
a teacher, and an advocate for Native people's rights. When
Susan was twelve, Susette became an interpreter for Standing Bear,
who was the chief of the Ponca tribe, and that
is when Suzette became more widely known as Bright Eyes.
The Ponca had been guaranteed reservation land in what is

(06:36):
now Minnesota and South Dakota but in eighteen sixty eight
this territory became part of the Great Sioux Reservation Instead,
in eighteen seventy seven, the Ponca were forced into Indian
Territory and what's now Oklahoma, where they arrived in eighteen
seventy eight. This forced relocation was devastating, and nearly a
third of the Ponca died, including Standing Bear's son and

(07:00):
Nanuary of eighteen seventy nine, Standing Bear left the reservation
in Indian Territory without permission, intending to take his son's
body back to the Ponca Hoole Land to be buried.
He and the people who went with him were arrested
and this went to trial and Standing Bear versus Crook.
The court found in Standing Bear's favor and ruled that

(07:20):
he had quote the same inalienable right to life, liberty,
and the pursuit of happiness as the more fortunate white race.
This was a landmark ruling that established that Native Americans
were considered persons under the law. After this court ruling,
Standing Bear went on a speaking tour of the eastern
United States to campaign for Native people's rights, and it

(07:41):
was on this tour that Bright Eyes acted as his
interpreter and began her life long work advocating for Native
people's rights. In eighteen seventy nine, when she was fourteen,
Susan La Flesh left the Omaha Reservation with her younger sister, Marguerite,
to attend the Elizabeth Institute for Young Ladies, where Bright
Eyes had also studied. Three years later, she returned home again,

(08:03):
following in her older sister's footsteps, to teach, this time
at the Presbyterian Mission School on the reservation, which had
reopened while she was away. That year. Eighteen eighty two
brought more major changes to the Omaha, and we were
going to talk all about that after we first have
a sponsor break. From a teen eight two to eighteen

(08:28):
eighty four, Susan La Flesh was a teacher on the
Omaha Reservation and during that time, as I alluded to
before the break, once again the tribe underwent some major
changes relating to tribal lands. We talked before the break
about how the Ponca had been forced out of reservation
land that was supposed to be there's. This was mainly
due to a combination of mismanagement, error, and bureaucracy, but

(08:52):
it had raised concerns that something similar could happen to
the Omaha, especially in the face of the ongoing land
rush in that part of North Aerica, and that became
one of the motivations for a system of land allotment
among the Omaha. The basic idea was that the reservation
land would be divided up and apportioned to individual families
and individual people instead of being held collectively by the

(09:16):
Omaha tribe. These individual allotments would be held in trust
for twenty five years, and during that time the people
who had received them were supposed to demonstrate that they
had the means to keep up with it and to
support themselves. Then, after twenty five years, if they had
demonstrated that they were competent that was the term that
was used to describe this ability to keep up with

(09:36):
the land and to basically function, then the land would
be theirs to do with as they wished. In theory,
this would keep the Omaha from losing their land because
it would be owned by individual tribal members rather than
subject to treaties with the U. S Government, which did
not have the greatest history of being fair or being
upheld fairly, and it would also continue to encourage assimilation

(09:58):
with white American culture with the greater United States economy,
which was one of the goals of the Bureau of
Indian Affairs policy at that points to maybe a lesser extent,
one of the goals of tribal leadership at this point,
like we said earlier, and the idea of like selective
assimilation as a means for survival. So this whole idea

(10:18):
was put into practice in the Omaha Allotment Act of
eighteen eighty two, and that made the Omaha one of
the first indigenous tribes in the United States to receive
individual allotments of land. And this was once again extremely
controversial within the tribe. About a third of the tribe
were very vocally opposed to it. I mean, this was
a total shift and how they approached the idea of

(10:41):
the land that they were on. Joseph la Flesh was
in favor of it, was a huge advocate for it,
and about a quarter of the tribe supported him. Another
advocate of this idea of individual land apportionment was Alice
Cunningham Fletcher of the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology
at Harvard University. Fletcher had been living with and studying

(11:04):
the Omaha. Susan's half brother, Francis, had initially been one
of her informants during her ethnology work with the tribe,
later becoming her collaborator and an ethnologist in his own right.
The two of them wrote The Omaha Tribe together, which
was published in nineteen eleven and continues to be regarded
as one of the most important and comprehensive works on

(11:25):
Omaha history and culture. Ultimately, Francis La Flesh was something
of an adopted son to Alice Fletcher. They have the
whole other story that's beyond the scope of this podcast,
But the point is that there were advocates of this
whole system among the Omaha and among people who had
lived and worked with the Omaha. They genuinely thought that

(11:48):
this was going to be good for the tribe and
that it was for the best. But there were definitely
also other people advocating this whole system who were motivated
by greed and frankly racism. Once the reservation land had
been divided up and allotted out to the Omaha, the
unallotted land, basically land that was left over, would be

(12:09):
up for sale to anybody regardless of the motivation. Though,
this whole system of apportionment turned out to be just
disastrous for the Omaha. Some of the allotments were more
conducive to farming than others. A lot of people leased
their allotted land rather than farming it themselves, but they
didn't ever earn enough and rent to do much more

(12:29):
than just subsist. Leasing land often became the first step
to losing it. Once the land came out of trust,
community ties broke down, as work that had been done
collaboratively at one point was instead supposed to be done
by each individual farmer on their individual farm. All of
this combined with changes to laws regulating alcohol, and as

(12:50):
a consequence, alcoholism surged on the reservation. This whole process
would be repeated on a much greater scale, involving many
more tribes the DAWs Act of eighteen eighty seven, which
had similarly devastating results. In July of eighteen eighty three,
as this whole shift was happening, Alice Cunningham Fletcher became

(13:10):
very ill with what was described as inflammatory rheumatism, and
Susan La Flash was one of the people who took
care of her while she was sick. After being cared
for by Susan La Flesh, Fletcher encouraged her to go
back to school and study medicine. Since the Elizabeth Institute
for Young Ladies was more of a finishing school than
preparation for college, Susan's first step was to enroll at

(13:34):
the Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute. The Hampton Institute had
been founded in eighteen sixty eight by General Samuel Armstrong.
It was initially created to educate formerly enslaved people after
the Civil War. It began also enrolling Native students in
eighteen seventy eight, with a goal of quote civilizing and
assimilating Native students. It's going to come up again later

(13:57):
in the episode, but we have a two part podcast
about the system of boarding schools that was used to
similar purpose, and this was basically the same idea but
for adults, and Susan arrived there in eighteen eighty four
at the age of nineteen. She graduated second in her
class on May twenty eight six and was also awarded

(14:18):
the Demorest Gold Medal for academic achievement. Hampton Institute's resident physician,
Martha Waldron, had encouraged La Flesh to study medicine at
the Women's Medical College of Pennsylvania, which had been established
in eighteen fifty. She applied and was accepted, but it
turned out that the school's scholarship fund had already been
allocated for the year and she did not have the

(14:39):
money to pay for her tuition. Alice Cunningham Fletcher helped
La Flesh get funding to attend medical school. One source
of funds was the Connecticut Indian Association, which was a
branch of the Women's National Indian Association. This association had
originally been formed as the Indian Committee of the Women's

(15:00):
Whole Mission Society, and it had been formed in response
to the removal of the Ponca tribe to Indian territory
that we talked about earlier in the show. Many of
the organization's members were former abolitionists, and their original mission
was to advocate for the United States to respect and
uphold its treaties with Native peoples, as well as quote
protection for Indians and their lands from the robberies and

(15:23):
horrors of enforced removals. By the time La Flesh was
trying to get funding for medical school, the Connecticut Indian
Association's mission had shifted a little bit. Their overall goal
was the recognition of Native people as having full and
equal human rights, but also in such a way that
they would ultimately be Christianized and assimilated into white society.

(15:45):
They did a lot of petitioning, holding public meetings and lectures,
distributing educational materials, and establishing missions. When it came to
La Flesh's education, the Connecticut Indian Association raised funds among
its members. The also appealed for donations through the Hartford Current.
The Current printed several letters related to this fundraising effort.

(16:07):
One was from General Armstrong, and that letter described La
Flesh as quote a level headed, earnest, capable Christian woman
quite equal to medical studies. Another letter was from La
Flesh herself, and it's said, in part quote, I feel
that as a physician I can do a great deal
more than as a mere teacher. For the home is
the foundation of all things for the Indians, and my

(16:29):
work I hope will be chiefly in the homes of
my people. These funds were supplemented with money from the U.
S Office of Indian Affairs. The office granted La Flesh
a hundred and sixty seven dollars a year, the same
amount that it subsidized for students at one of the
Indian boarding schools. As Tracy mentioned earlier, UH we talked

(16:50):
about these schools in our Our Fork Show two parter.
UH that again was meant to Christianize Native students and
get them away instead from their native culture. And this
funding from the Office of Indian Affairs made La Flesh
the first student to receive federal aid to go to college.
Susan La Flesh started medical school in October of eighteen

(17:11):
eighty six, and her relationship with the Connecticut Indian Association
continued throughout that time and after her time in med school,
she referred to them as her second Connecticut mother's. La
Flesh enjoyed and excelled at her medical studies, and she
persevered after the death of her father on September twenty
three eight. She graduated as valedictorian on March fourteenth of

(17:34):
eighteen eighty nine, making her the first Native American woman
to earn a medical degree in the United States. She
went on a speaking tour of several other branches of
the National Women's Indian Association, basically to recruit other women
to the same cause as her Connecticut mother's, and then
after spending a few months finishing an internship in Philadelphia,

(17:55):
she returned home to the Omaha Reservation to begin working
as a doctor. It's talk about her time as a
doctor after a sponsor break. When Susan the Flesh returned
to the Omaha Reservation, she was initially hired as the
doctor for the reservations boarding school. She was paid a

(18:18):
salary of five hundred dollars, which was a fraction of
what male doctors and similar positions were being paid. The
Connecticut Indian Association supplemented this by also making her their
medical missionary, so they paid her an additional two hundred
and fifty dollars a year, and they also bought her
surgical tools for her. At first, some of her patients
didn't entirely trust her. She spoke English, and she had

(18:41):
spent years away from the reservation being educated by and
with white people. She had also been a devout Christian
since her early years at a mission school on the reservation.
But she quickly demonstrated that she was a competent, capable, compassionate,
and dedicated doctor. Soon she was known as Doctor Sue,
and adult patients were asking to see her, even though

(19:02):
she was only supposed to be treating the children at
the school. In January of eighteen ninety, the Omaha Agency's
white doctor resigned, in part because all of his patients
were asking to see Dr. Sue instead. La Flesh was
appointed as the official Bureau of Indian Affairs physician for
the entire Omaha Agency, and this made her the first
woman to be appointed to one of these positions and

(19:24):
one of the first Native people. She was responsible for
the health and wellness of more than twelve hundred people
for the next four years. They were spread out over
more than thirteen hundred square miles or thirty three square
collameters of territory. She was only twenty four. She did
exactly as she said she hoped to do in that

(19:44):
letter that had been published in the Hartford Current. She
visited patients in their homes, seeing to their health and wellness.
She treated illnesses and injuries, assisted with complicated deliveries, and
counseled people on their health and hygiene. The fall in
winter of eight eight ninety two and influenza epidemic struck

(20:05):
and she saw more than six hundred patients, often traveling
on foot or by horse and buggy in temperatures that
were well below zero degrees fahrenheit that's minus eighteen celsius.
She also campaigned aggressively for temperance over her lifetime. Laws
related to the sale of alcohol on reservations or to

(20:25):
Native people changed a number of times. Her father had
also campaigned for temperance before she was born and while
she was young, including establishing an Omaha police force to
try to cut down on bootlegging. She really saw alcoholism
as a huge, huge problem on the reservation, and she
campaigned stridently for prohibition. She also did a lot of

(20:45):
work that wasn't strictly related to medicine. She settled disputes,
she offered financial advice, and she just generally counseled people.
She helped patients who didn't read or write English with
correspondence and legal matters, and when people didn't understand the
terms of their land allotment, she helped to explain it.
She was part doctor, part teacher, part social worker, and

(21:08):
part mediator, something that continued the whole time she practiced medicine.
A lot of people describe her as having sort of
one foot in each world where she was able to
make all of these connections with people on the reservation.
Because she spoke Omaha fluently, she spoke other native languages
as well while also speaking English, and she was able

(21:28):
to do what her father had wanted for his children
to do, which was to form this bridge. But then
in La Flesh's mother got seriously ill. Susan had been
struggling with her own health. She had a series of
chronic and sometimes severe illnesses. She had ongoing issues with
neck pain, earaches, and headaches which might have been caused

(21:48):
by osteomyelitis. Susan made several requests to be allowed time
off to take care of her mother, and these were
repeatedly denied, and she finally resigned as the agency doctor
so that she could take care of her mother. On October,
and while caring for her mother, Susan La Flesh met
Henry Pocott. His brother Charles had married her sister Marguerite,

(22:11):
and Henry had come to help on their farm while
Charles was sick and dying. Susan and Henry started a
relationship and they got married on June. This was a
surprise to a lot of people in Susan's life and
not necessarily a welcome one to all of them. She
had often called herself an old maid. When the Connecticut

(22:32):
Indian Association had agreed to help pay for her medical education,
she had promised them that she would put off marriage
and dedicate herself to her medical practice. And even before
she had accepted their help with tuition, she had really
felt that marriage would get in the way of her
plans to become a doctor, and returned to her community
to practice medicine. This had led her to break off
a relationship with a young man named Thomas Kinney Copy

(22:55):
or t I, who she had met at Hampton Institute.
Susan and Henry were all so very different. Susan was
the daughter of an Omaha chief and a doctor. Henry
was yanked in Sue, and he had very little formal
education and a limited ability to read and write. But
Susan had fallen in love with him, and in the
face of her mother's illness and the deaths of t

(23:16):
I and her sister's husband, she seems to have just
decided that life was simply too short. The Connecticut Indian
Association responded to the news of her engagement and her
wedding with concerned kind of in air quotes letters, along
with a write up in their newsletter that read, in
part quote, since her health and home restrictions do not
permit her longer engagement in actual medical practice, we must

(23:40):
bury any regret at our loss and trust that her bright,
intelligent spirit will shed its light upon the new life
and surroundings opening before her. But Susan La Flesh Piccott
did not stay away from medical practice for long. She
and her mother both recovered, and she and Henry moved
to an allotment of land they secured in Bancroft, Nebraska.

(24:00):
Susan set up a medical office in their home, and
she left a lantern in the window at night so
patients could find her whenever they needed her. She also
became the Omaha Reservation Field Matron, which was a Bureau
of Indian Affairs position sort of like a mobile home
economics teacher. Field Matrons, who also included both Anglo and
Native women, were part of the Bureau of Indian Affairs

(24:23):
efforts to assimilate the native population, so they taught Victorians
so called civilized methods of homemaking to women in Native communities.
Susan and Henry had two children together, Pierre and Carol,
and when they were babies, Susan took them on house
calls with her because by this point many of her
patients refused to see any other doctor. When the children

(24:44):
got older, she sent them to Nebraska Military Academy because
she wanted them to have the same sort of education
that she did, which she thought would allow them to
live in the white world. During her time in private practice,
Becott spent as much time advocating for public health on
the Omaha Servation as she did treating individual patients. She
campaigned for tuberculosis prevention, temperance, house flack control, and getting

(25:07):
rid of common cups at pumps and other water sources.
Health reformers elsewhere in the United States were also campaigning
for these basic things, but Pecott was doing this basically
all by herself. She was really at the forefront of
the idea of public health among Native communities. In nineteen
o three, Susan's sister, Suzette now Suzette Laflesh Tibbles died,

(25:32):
and then in nineteen o five, Henry Pocott died at
the age of forty five. He had tuberculosis, which was
worsened by alcoholism. Susan was just forty before her husband's death.
Susan the Flesh Pacott had typically worked from the assumption
that the federal government and it's Indian agents were at
least trying to operate with Native people's best interests in mind.

(25:54):
I mean, you can tell from what she's done in
her life so far that she agreed with her father
and the idea that there needed to be some selective assimilation.
And she seems to have just sort of thought that
people were trying to work with everyone's best interests. But
that opinion really started to shift after her husband's death.
One reason was that he had left their children and inheritance,

(26:18):
but government officials were trying to give a distant male
relative control over it while trying to get control of
her son's money. She wrote a letter saying, quote, it
is strange that I, a mother and one who has
worked hard to support herself and children and bitterly opposed
to whiskey in any form, should be denied the right
to care for her children's money, and it should be

(26:39):
given into the care of a man who is a
hard drinker, and who has seen these children only once
in his life, and who resides in another state. Some
of her other opinions were shifting as well. As we
said earlier, Susan was a devout Christian and her father
had converted to Christianity during his time as chief as well.

(26:59):
Joseph of Flesh had made it a point not to
proselytize and not to discourage traditional Omaha ceremonies and observances
like he wanted the Omaha to retain as much of
their cultural identity as possible, and Susan had mostly done
the same, but she had definitely talked about things like
temperance from a very Christian viewpoint. So when the religious

(27:19):
use of payote started to become more popular among the Omaha,
at first, Pacott was vocally against it, but that changed
after her husband's death, especially as she began to hear
from people that payotism had helped them to give up
alcohol and to reconnect with their traditional beliefs and practices.
She ultimately advocated against laws outlawing payote use, especially in

(27:43):
the context of Native American religion. In nineteen o nine,
the Department of the Interior made a number of new
policies that related to the Omaha without actually consulting the
Omaha on any of them. One was that they consolidated
the Omaha and Winnebago agencys, and that gave agency doctors
and other officials a lot more territory and people to

(28:05):
try to cover. Pacott wrote a number of letters explaining
the strain that this merger would put on the people
who were working in these agencies. They also revisited the
trust period that had been outlined in the Omaha Allotment
Act of two. That twenty five year trust period was expiring,
which meant that people who had been on their land

(28:26):
for twenty five years were supposed to be evaluated for
their competence, and if they were competent, the land was
supposed to be theirs. Competence under this definition included things
like self sufficiency and the ability to speak English. But
instead of starting the evaluation process, the government added ten
more years to the timeline across the board. Dr Pacott

(28:47):
was selected to lead the Omaha Tribal delegation to Washington,
d C. To try to address all of these policies
and issues. Her mother had died that year. She was
also very ill, and so she had started off not
by planning to go in person, but by writing a
lot of letters to government officials, but when people told
her they were going to carry her bodily to the

(29:08):
train if she didn't go herself, she went to Washington
in person with the delegation. She and three other members
of the delegation spent about three weeks there, including appearing
before the Secretary of the Interior and the United States
Attorney General. A big focus of the meeting was the
land allotment. In one meeting, Pacott said quote, we have
suffered enough from your experiments. We are weary of hardships,

(29:31):
needlessly endured. We have been practically robbed of our rights
by the government. Therefore, in the name of justice and humanity,
and because we want to become a self reliant, independent,
self sustaining people, we ask for a more liberal interpretation
of the law. So, in one way this delegation was successful.
The Competency Commission did reverse that decision to just add

(29:54):
a blanket ten years to the trust period across the board,
But in another way it wasn't. Government was once again
under huge pressure from people who wanted to be able
to buy the land in question, and local governments were
really eager for the land to be released because that
would make it part of the local tax base. So
instead of actually examining the competence of all the people

(30:17):
who had been allotted land, the Competency Commission just approved
the release of hundreds of allotments, including ones that belonged
to people who had specifically said they were not ready.
This was once again disastrous, and over the next five years,
the vast majority of people who had received land allotments
lost their land. In Pacott completed a project that had

(30:41):
been a lifelong dream. She opened a hospital in Walt Hill, Nebraska.
This was the first hospital on a reservation that wasn't
funded by government money. Pacott used her own money and
raised the money she didn't have herself. In addition to
general patient wards, the hospital also had a maternity ward
and an operating room. But sadly, Susan La Flesh Picott

(31:04):
didn't live very long after her hospital was opened. She
had been having trouble with pain in her head, neck
and ears for years. We talked about it earlier on
the show, and this pain got cyclically worse. She also
progressively lost her hearing, and in nineteen fourteen she had
a series of operations which did alleviate some of the pain.
But also revealed that she probably had bone cancer. Doctors

(31:27):
tried every treatment they could think of, including using a
radium pellet that was sent by Marie Curie on request
from Susan's brother in law. Susan La Flesh Piccott died
on September eighteenth, nineteen fifteen. Her funeral was conducted by
three Presbyterian ministers, with an Omaha elder giving the final prayer.
She was buried next to her late husband. She was

(31:49):
only fifty when she died, so this is an incredible
amount that she was able to accomplish in a relatively
short life. The hospital she established continued to operate until
the ninety forties, and the building still exists today. It's
on the National Register of Historic Places. A large scale
fundraising effort started in early eighteen to try to restore

(32:11):
and preserve the building, and the Omaha tribe are included
in the preservation efforts. In late June of eighteen, it
was named one of the United states eleven most Endangered
Historic Places by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and
Pocott Elementary School in Omaha is also named for her.
There's also a really lovely documentary called Medicine Woman, which

(32:34):
weaves Susan La flesh picott story with the stories of
a group of Omaha, Lakota and Navajo women who have
become doctors and surgeons and healers. And one of the
things that they talk about is how Susan La flesh
Picott has become a role model and an inspiration for
young Native women, both for people who want to go
into healthcare and wellness and then also just in terms

(32:55):
of self determination, perseverance um. According to the PBS website,
this documentary is going to be re airing on PBS
and November. I don't know the specific date or whether
it will have passed by the time this episode is out.
You can also find it online. But I really I'm
very fascinated by Susan A. Flesh Picott because it's she

(33:17):
occupied the whole, like one foot in each world. Description
that a lot of people have used of her applies
not just to the fact of the fact that she
went to medical school and she had like a formal
education and was also the daughter of a chief, but
also the fact that, like the way she approached the

(33:38):
world was sort of about trying to carve out a
place for herself and for the Greater Omaha tribe while
still trying to survive in a world that was not
really conducive to a lot of more traditional tribal beliefs
and practices and observances. So she's kind of a complicated

(33:58):
and fascinating figure that way. Well, And I wonder what
it must have been like for her to have, for
quite some time put her trust in what she believed
to be the good intentions of people, yeah, in the
government and that she was working with, and then to
realize that that trust was not necessarily given always to
the correct people. Yeah. And you can tell in some

(34:21):
of her writing that the older she got and the
more experience that she had dealing directly with like a
government agents and policy and that kind of stuff, she
you can tell that she was sort of loose, like
she had been so patient and she she was reaching
the end of her patients for some of those elements
of what was going on in the world that she

(34:43):
was living in. But seriously, like, still, what an accomplishment
to start your own hospital at the age of I
think forty eight when she finished the hospital. So I
gotta get right to work on that if I'm going
to do anything close to I would know rechieve anything
close to it. So, uh, do you have any listener

(35:04):
mail maybe with people that have achieved similarly great things?
I have almost the opposite. I we have gotten a
lot of notes um about one specific article, and rather
than reading any of the individual notes, because all of
them are basically say have you seen this article? Uh?
It is an article about Sir Walter Raleigh's head which

(35:24):
came out I think four days after our episode on
Sir Walter Raleigh, and we talked at the end of
that episode about his beheading and about how his head
was supposedly given to his widow in a bag and
how she kept it with her for many years, and
how some elements of that seem a little far fetched
to me. But it's in so many different sources that
it seems like maybe that really did happen, and it

(35:47):
is not some sort of historical myth. Uh. And it
is an article that's been reported in a lot of
different sources about how a red silk velvet bag has
been found in the attic of West Sleep Palace, which
was the former home of Sir Walter Raleigh's son, and
there h is conjecture slash hypothesis that this might be

(36:10):
the very bag that Sir Walter, Raleigh's widow used to
carry around his embombed head. UM. Like I said that,
these articles started appearing about four days after UM this
episode came out, and they all seemed to quote the
same couple of experts, one of whom are like, well,
I don't know if this is really the bag, but

(36:32):
the fact that Raleigh's son lived here and we have
these historical references the bag seems like maybe it could
be the bag. UM. And then there's also a historian
who's like, this is definitely not the bag, because almost
every source say that it is a leather bag and
not a silk bag. So U there is a bag

(36:55):
that may or may not have held the head of
Sir wal to Raleigh. UM, and the people quoted in
all the news articles are divided over how likely they
think that is. So I think by the time this
episode comes comes out, UM, that like that will have
fallen off of the news cycle and it will be
too late for folks to know. Yes, we know about

(37:16):
the bag, but now we do. UM. So, if you
would like to write to us about this or any
other podcast or history podcast at how stuffworks dot com.
We are all over social media at missed in the History.
That is where you can find our Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest
and Instagram. Uh. You can come to our website, which

(37:37):
is missed in History dot com, where you will find
show notes for all the episodes that Polly and I
have worked on together in a searchable archive of every
episode ever. And you can listen and subscribe to our
podcast on Apple Podcasts, Google podcast, the I Heart Radio app,
and anywhere else do you like to find podcasts. For

(37:58):
more on this and thousands of us their topics, visit
how staff works dot com. M

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