Holy White Man
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Years after Doctor Valentine McGillycuddy had ended his career as an Indian Agent on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, and after the massacre which has become known as "Wounded Knee," Red Cloud, Chief of the Ogalla Sioux Tribe, addressed the doctor as "Wasicu Wakan," which literally means Holy White Man. Red Cloud was referring to the very positive relationship between the former Indian Agent and the Lakota people on the Pine Ridge Reservation.
Valentine McGillycuddy was a humanist. A man who believed in the equality of people, no matter what their ethnicity. Those qualities were obvious to the Native American people of the time and to call a person "Wakan" was one of the highest praises that could be bestowed on anyone.
But Doctor McGillycuddy' s connection with the Native people of southwestern South Dakota went far deeper than his treatment of the people on the reservation. When Lakota warrior Crazy Horse was mortally wounded while being taken prisoner in September 1877, the good doctor did everything in his power to save the man's life. The physician treated Crazy Horse's wounds and kept the warrior in his own office, refusing to allow the fort's commander to remove the Native American to die in the guard house.
For the seven years that Valentine McGillycuddy served as the Indian Agent on Pine Ridge, he gained a reputation for honesty and fairness, treating the native people with respect and compassion. Because of this, the doctor was criticized for refusing to steal food, clothing and other provisions meant for the Indians.
When Grover Cleveland assumed office, the new President was convinced by politically ambitious opponents of McGillycuddy to replace the doctor and end his humane treatment of the Native Americans under his charge.
Doctor Valentine McGillycuddy went on to live a long and fruitful life after his time on the Reservation. He was appointed South Dakota's Surgeon General, was named President of a bank, he organized the first electrical power company in the Black Hills, he became President of the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology and was at one time Mayor of Rapid City, South Dakota.
Doctor McGillycuddy spent many years in the Black Hills and was always known as one of those people of high moral character because of the way he treated Native Americans and all others who touched his life. He died in 1939 at the age of 90.
In The Moment
Interview with Gary Enright, Director, 1881 Courthouse Museum, Custer
Host: Lori Walsh