This is a photo of Russell Means shaking my hand at Rice Media Center April 20, 2001.
I think his full name was “Mean to his Horses.” He came to my class to speak about Indians and movies. A contract had already been agreed upon that required coffee be supplied him during the session…”lawsuit hot!”
A full-blood Lakota warrior, Means towered above me. Briefly, I imagined the last horrific moments of Custer’s men at the Little Bighorn who might have encountered such a person in hand to hand combat.
Talking about Hollywood westerns with Means was an equally fierce experience. I was quickly through the looking glass and forced to view the world from his point of view. History as genocide rather than Manifest Destiny. Heroes like Boone, Crockett and Kit Carson were reduced to a word…”killers.” Indian killers, rapers, land thieves, degenerates but doing God’s great work.
Means had little respect for the movies he had acted in considering them exploitation pieces and also lacking authenticity. “Leather in Summer!” was his derisive chant when describing how Hollywood insisted on dressing Indians in buckskins no matter the location or season. He did enjoy playing the Chief in Disney’s cartoon Pocahontas and also his character as a wise Indian in Oliver Stone’s Natural Born Killers.
His greatest achievement it seems to me was his stand at Wounded Knee against the United States of America in 1973. A leader of the American Indian Movement (AIM) he survived an armed insurrection against the US Government. I asked him what he had hoped to achieve at Wounded Knee and he replied, “I expected to be killed.”
Means was not killed but spent time in prison and also acted in movies. Some call him a self promoter while others saw him as a great American Indian leader.
Means could be entertaining but he had a dark angry side that threatened violence. He described himself as an extraordinary man and I guess he probably was.