Monday, November 20, 2023

Rosebud Yellow Robe

Rosebud Yellow Robe was a half Lakota Sioux educator, writer, and folklorist who spent a good portion of the 20th Century educating children about Native American folklore through her books, storytelling, and even performances. She appeared on both radio and television. She was also linked to two classic movies.

Rosebud Yellow Robe was born on February 26 1907 in Rapid City, South Dakota. Her father was Chauncey Yellow Robe, who was also a lecturer, educator and Native American activist. Her mother was Lillian Belle Sprenger, who had been a volunteer nurse at the Rapid City Indian School. She was of Swiss German descent. Rosebud Yellow Robe was named for the Rosebud Indian Reservation in South Dakota. Rosebud's father taught her and her sisters the traditions of the Lakota. She and her sisters attended the public schools in Rapid City rather than the Indian School, which tended to focus more on vocational training. Rosebud Yellow Robe graduated from the  University of South Dakota in Vermillion, South Dakota, one of the first Native Americans to do so.

It was on August 4 1927 that President Calvin Coolidge was adopted into the Sioux tribe to recognize his support of the Indian Citizenship Act of 1924 in a ceremony that was presided over by Chauncey Yellow Robe and his daughter Rosebud. The event received a good deal of press coverage, with much of the media attention concentrated on Rosebud herself. She actually received offers from theatrical and film agents. Cecil B. DeMille tried to convince her to take the lead role in his film Ramona, but she refused. The part was ultimately played by Mexican actress Dolores Del Rio.

While Rosebud Yellow Robe accepted no theatrical or movie roles, President Coolidge's visit did spark in her an interest in the theatre. When she was 22 she moved to New York City. There she created a dance routine which included authentic Native American costume, which she performed at hotels and theatres. She would go on to start educating people about Native American culture and folklore. Among the many venues in which Rosebud Yellow Robe had presentations was the American Museum of Natural History.

As part of her effort to educate people about Native Americans, Rosebud Yellow Robe also worked as the Director of the Indian Village at Jones Beach State Park in Long Island, New York. Every summer from 1930 to 1950 she taught children and others about Native Americans. In the 1930s she also worked at CBS Broadcast Centre in New York City. Orson Welles was working at CBS at the same time. Many have theorized that Orson Welles named the famous sled in Citizen Kane (1941) for Rosebud.

While it is not certain whether or not the sled Rosebud was named for Rosebud Yellow Robe, she did have a strong link to another classic film. In 1950 Twentieth Century Fox hired Rosebud to promote their new movie Broken Arrow, which centred upon Tom Jeffords and Cochise. On the publicity tour for Broken Arrow (1950), Rosebud criticized the portrayal of American Indians in the movies and on radio, and she also debunked the myth of the "Indian princess." If she had an opinion on white actors playing American Indians in the film ( Cochise is portrayed by Jeff Chandler), she never said anything.  It was also during the 1950s that Rosebud appeared on various NBC children's programs.

Rosebud Yellow Robe also wrote two children's books on Native Americans. An Album of the American Indian, published in 1969, looked the day to day life of seven different tribes prior to the arrival of Europeans. Her second book, Tonweya and the Eagles, and other Lakota Indian Tales, published in 1979, adapted folk tales told to her as a child by her father. 

Rosebud Yellow Robe is an important figure in the history of Native Americans. At a time when stereotypes of American Indians were rampant in movies, on the radio, in comic books, and later on television, she sought to educate people on the reality of Native Americans. What is more, she took her campaign to educate the general public about American Indians to multiple media. She lectured on the stage. She appeared on radio and on television. And, of course, she educated thousands of children in her twenty years at the Indian Village. If Hollywood eventually began portraying the indigenous peoples of North America more accurately, it was probably due in a large part to Rosebud Yellow Robe.

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