Education: Indian John Part 2

Even whether Indian John was a Native American at all remains a matter of considerable dispute. Cecil Roberts, who was a apprentice to Indian John in the herbalist’s later years, said Indian John was born near Millersburg in Holmes County, Ohio, March 12, 1832. His parents were of American birth. His mother was a half Blackfeet Indian and half French and his father was Pennsylvania Dutch. But others call his mother a full blood Crow squaw, or state that Derringer was three fourths Indian and had Sioux ancestors. Yet another version of his story describes him as a white child, born near Lawrence, Kansas. As if Derringer’s mixed ancestry was not enough to explain, his later interest in Native herbal medicine, all accounts of his early life also include a version of his chlidhood abduction by Indians. Some say this happened near Rulo, Nebraska, or perhaps in his infancy near Lawrence, where his parents were murdered by the Sioux or Kiowa band that stole him. Yet other accounts say that his capture occurred near Fort Laramie in Wyoming. However, all agree that it was during his captivity that Derringer, was first exposed to the healing techniques he practiced in later life. Some accounts indicate that he was given an Indian foster mother to a medicine man of the tribe. These tutors recognized and nurtured special powers they noted in the boy. He was called “The Talking Crow” because of his unusually keen sight and hearing and an exceptional ability to catch the scent of a man or game before they came into sight. Cecil Roger version of Derringer story states that he did not learn herbal medicine until after he was released from captivity. Then Jacob Derringer knowing what he had lost by not learning the medicine of the Indians, went to learn the medicine trade from a medicine man near Topeka, Kansas. There were four learning, with Jacob as one. It took them four years to learn it. In such an apprenticeship, Derringer would have learned the ceremonial as well as the practical aspects of Native American herbal medicine. A traditional medicine man had to know the characteristics and habits of prairie plants, their geographic distribution and the appropriate times for gathering them, as well as specific techniques for preserving, preparing, and properly applying them for medicinal use. In contrast to the surgical, technological approach to medicine that developed in white society in response to the terrible injuries of the Civil War battlefields, Native medicine emphasized harmony with natural world. It was a broadly ecological view of healing properties of plants with deep cultural and spiritual meaning for the Plains tribe.
Part 3 tomorrow as I told the kids.


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