Caroline Weldon was a 19th-century artist and activist with the National Indian Defense Association. Weldon became confidante and private secretary to Sitting Bull during the time when Plains Indians had adopted the Ghost Dance movement.
Early life and education
Caroline Weldon was born Susanna Carolina Faesch on 4 December 1844 in Kleinhüningen, Canton Basel, Switzerland. Her father was Johann Lukas Faesch, a career Swiss mercenary military officer serving in a Swiss regiment in France; her mother was Anna Maria Barbara, née Marti. She arrived in America in 1852 at the age of 8 years, together with her mother, settling in Brooklyn, Kings County, New York. That year, her mother was remarried to the exiled German revolutionary, Dr. Karl Heinrich Valentiny who ran a medical practice in Brooklyn. In Brooklyn, New York on 30 May 1866 Susanna Carolina Faesch was married to Dr. Bernhard Claudius Schlatter, a physician and fellow Swiss. The marriage ended in divorce a few years later. Thereafter, she met and married Richard Weldon who would eventually abandon her.
Weldon became an artist and married twice in New York. After her divorce from Schlatter and later also from Weldon, she became committed to the cause of Native Americans, especially the Lakota Indians in the Dakota Territory. She became an activist with the National Indian Defense Association.
In 1889 she traveled to Standing Rock Indian Reservation. She volunteered to assist Chief Sitting Bull of the Lakota, who did not write English. She wrote letters to the US government trying to argue his cause. Her activities caused much criticism, especially as she lived with the chief and his three wives. The US Indian Agent James McLaughlin complained about her.
Weldon also painted four portraits of the chief. One is now held by the North Dakota Historical Society.
After the death of Sitting Bull on 15 December 1890 and the ensuing Massacre of Wounded Knee the following 29 December, for which she was blamed in the press as having agitated the Indians, Caroline Weldon returned to Brooklyn, NY where she would live the remainder of her life. Weldon died in her Brooklyn apartment, alone and obscure on 15 March 1921. Cause of death was accidental third degree burns from a candle to her face and body. She was interred at the Valentiny family plot at Green Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, NY - Lot 13387, Section 41.
In popular culture
The poet and playwright Derek Walcott refers to Weldon and her life in his play The Ghost Dance and in his epic poem Omeros. He features Native American history together with that of the demise of the Native Arawak people in St. Lucia, in the Caribbean.
- Pollack, Eileen. Woman Walking Ahead: In Search of Catherine Weldon and Sitting Bull. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2002