The Education of Clarence Three Stars


The Education of Clarence Three Stars

A Lakota American Life

Philip Burnham

336 pages
28 photographs, 1 illustration, 3 maps, index


May 2024


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May 2024


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About the Book

In The Education of Clarence Three Stars Philip Burnham tells the life story of the remarkable Packs the Dog, a member of the Minneconjou Lakotas who was born in 1864 east of the Black Hills. His father, Yellow Knife, died when the boy was five, and the family eventually enrolled at Pine Ridge Agency with the Oglalas under an uncle’s name, Three Stars. In 1879 Packs the Dog joined the first class of Indian students to be admitted to the Carlisle Indian Industrial School. An enthusiastic student, Clarence Three Stars, as he would come to be known, was one of five Lakota children who volunteered to stay at Carlisle after the three-year plan of instruction was finished—though he eventually left the school in frustration. Three Stars returned to Pine Ridge and married Jennie Dubray, another Carlisle veteran, and they had seven children.

The life of Lakota advocate Three Stars spanned a time of dramatic change for Native Americans, from the pre-reservation period through the Dawes Act of 1887 until just before the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934. Three Stars was a teacher, interpreter, catechist, lawyer, and politician who lived through the federal policy of American Indian assimilation in its many guises, including boarding school education, religious conversion, land allotment, and political reorganization. He used the fundamentals of his own boarding school education to advance the welfare of the Oglala Lakota people, even when his efforts were deemed threatening or subversive. His dedication to justice, learning, and self-governance informed a distinguished career of classroom excellence and political advocacy on his home reservation of Pine Ridge.

Author Bio

Philip Burnham is a retired associate professor of composition at George Mason University, a former reporter for Indian Country Today, and a freelance writer. He is the author of Indian Country, God’s Country: Native Americans and the National Parks and Song of Dewey Beard: Last Survivor of the Little Bighorn (Bison Books, 2014), winner of the 2015 Spur Award for Best Western Biography, among other books.


“As with his wonderful Song of Dewey Beard, Philip Burnham focuses on a single remarkable man, in this case Clarence Three Stars, boarding school graduate, educator, resolute advocate, and seat-of-the-pants lawyer, to trace the experience of the Lakota people as they grappled with the challenges faced after their confinement to reservations. Three Stars’s life is a vivid revelation of their story, one of determination and cultural courage, an underappreciated chapter in the American experience.”—Elliott West, author of Continental Reckoning: The American West in the Age of Expansion

“Clarence Three Stars left Pine Ridge and joined the first class to enter Carlisle Indian Industrial School and returned home to a strange and different place. Through the eyes of ‘one of Pratt’s boys’ and with engaging prose, Philip Burnham traces Three Stars’s pioneering journey in his own homeland as he readjusted and traversed the shifting reservation terrain that neither his cultural past nor Carlisle education fully prepared him for. In his search for his place in a new world, Three Stars became a government teacher, a store owner, a fee patent rancher, a Bennett County state’s attorney, a family man, and a leader for a new generation. Burnham tells his important story in this engaging tribal biography that is truly an important American epic.”—Richmond L. Clow, author of Spotted Tail: Warrior and Statesman

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
Prologue: High Forehead
1. The Iron Road
2. Agency Boy
3. School Days
4. Philadelphia
5. Coming Home
6. A Dubious Deal and Wounded Knee
7. Family and Tribe
8. The Teaching Life
9. A Place Called Pine Ridge
10. Lightning Creek
11. A Taste of the Law
12. The Pipe, the Cross, and the Eagle
13. Citizen Three Stars
14. Politics and the War Years
15. Canton
16. The Black Hills
17. The End of It All
Epilogue: A Hundred Years After

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