John Fire Lame Deer

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John Fire Lame Deer
John Fire Lame Deer.jpg
Born Tȟáȟča Hušté
Rosebud Indian Reservation
Died 1976
Nationality American Indian
Other names John Fire

John Fire Lame Deer (in Lakota Tȟáȟča Hušté; 1903–1976, also known as Lame Deer, John Fire, John (Fire) Lame Deer and later The Old Man) was a Lakota holy man, member of the Heyoka society, grandson of the Miniconjou head man Lame Deer, and father of Archie Fire Lame Deer.

John Fire Lame Deer was a Mineconju-Lakota Sioux born on the Rosebud Indian Reservation. His father was Silas Fire Let-Them-Have-Enough. His mother was Sally Red Blanket. He lived and learned with his grandparents until he was 6 or 7, after which he was placed in a day school near the family until age fourteen. He was then sent to a boarding school, one of many run by the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs for Indian youth. These schools were designed to “civilize” the Native Americans after their forced settlement on reservations.

Lame Deer's life as a young man was rough and wild; he traveled the rodeo circuit as a rider and later as a rodeo clown. According to his personal account, he drank, gambled, womanized, and once went on a several-day-long car theft and drinking binge. Eventually, he happened upon the house where the original peace pipe given to the Lakota by White Buffalo Calf Woman was kept; much to his surprise, the keeper of the pipe told Lame Deer she had been waiting for him for some time. This served as a turning point in Lame Deer's life. He settled down and began his life as a wicasha wakan (“medicine man”, or more accurately, “holy man”).

Making his home at the Pine Ridge Reservation and traveling around the country, Lame Deer became known both among the Lakota and to the American public at a time when indigenous culture and spirituality were going through a period of rebirth and the psychedelic movement of the 1960s had yet to disintegrate. He often participated in American Indian Movement events, including sit-ins at the Black Hills, land legally belonging to the Lakota that had been taken back by the United States government after the discovery of gold. The Black Hills are considered to be the axis mundi or center of the world to the Lakota Indians.

Lame Deer, Seeker of Visions[edit]

Lame Deer related an account of his life and Sioux life and culture to Richard Erdoes, the author of many books on Native Americans. Other well known Sioux such as Pete Catches also took part in this account. In 1972, a book drawn from this account, Lame Deer, Seeker of Visions, was published by Simon & Schuster in 1972. The book was the first collaboration between John Fire Lame Deer and Richard Erdoes, an artist who, with his family, developed many intimate and mutually respectful relationships with many members of various Native Nations tribes. Notable here is that Erdoes's recorded interviews with Lame Deer, conducted as research for Lame Deer, Seeker of Visions, are part of the Richard Erdoes Papers at the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University.

This book talks about Lame Deer's later life, and how he was a keeper of native American customs. He decided that he wanted to be a teacher and a healer, so he spent his remaining life fulfilling that goal. He also goes into a lot of detail on the ceremonies involved with the healing he performed. He gives examples of different medicines which include: Elk Dreamers, Elk medicine men, Bear medicine men, along with Buffalo, Coyote, and Badger medicine men. Lame Deer gives his opinion on a lot of different medicines and voices which ones he deems to work best.[1]

Lame Deer was a Heyokah only for a short time, according to his own words in Lame Deer, Seeker of Visions. The book's plot finds its cohesiveness in the Native ritual tradition on which Lame Deer leans. In fact, it is his embrace of the holy rituals of the venerable Lakota sacred tradition that adds depth and significance to Tȟáȟča Hušté's previously uproarious life. In an ongoing effort to cultivate his power, Lame Deer follows different paths, enduring hard times and immense pain along some of them, yet considers every experience as an empowering and instructive step. Above all, he learns that the interrelationship between human life and the universe is at its core a sacred union.[2]

What makes this book particularly valuable in the eyes of Native and non-Native reviewers alike is John (Fire) Lame Deer's open and frank review of his life, his openness about his experiences practicing as a wicasa wakan, and the integrity with which he has conducted his life journey from adventurous and rebellious younger man to respected healer, counselor, mentor, and way-shower. This autobiography is a privileged look into the life and teachings of an accomplished Lakota holy man.


  1. ^ Erdoes, R. (1972). Lame Deer, seeker of visions,. New York: Simon and Schuster
  2. ^ Rice, Julian (Spring 1994). "A Ventriloquy of Anthros: Densmore, Dorsey, Lame Deer and Erdoes". American Indian Quarterly 18 (2): 169–196. JSTOR 1185245. Retrieved 12 October 2013. 


  • Lame Deer, John (Fire), and Richard Erdoes. Lame Deer, Seeker of Visions. Simon and Schuster, New York, New York, 1972. Paperback ISBN 0-671-55392-5