Induction Category & YearHistorical 2014
Home TownRosebud, SD
Rosebud, SD
Black Hills National Cemetary

   James Emery
Champion of Excellence


James E. Emery has passed into

the history of South Dakota, but his legacy is very real and vibrant. Making the most of his humble beginnings amidst poverty and discrimination, leveraging his many natural talents and rare ability to form relationships, he preserved an invaluable part of the state's heritage as his permanent gift to South Dakota and the region. According to all written and oral reports from the memories of those who knew him, Emery was a humble man who overcame the

challenges in his life to forge a better life for his family.<o:p></o:p>

He was born on the Rosebud Indian Reservation on June 28, 1904, the first child of Robert H. Emery and Mary Jane Mclean-Emery. He had both Native American and European ancestry. His father was a white man, the son of a family that homesteaded in the Dakota Territory in 1882. His mother was from the McLean-Larvie families from the same area, and had about one-half Native American ancestry.


Emery attended the Rosebud and

Rapid City Indian Schools, going on to the Haskell Institute (now Haskell Indian Nations University) in Lawrence, Kansas. At Haskell, where he was named “White Eagle,” he worked in lieu of tuition and showed promise academically and in sports. He was a member of the Haskell two-mile relay team which broke a

Drake Relay record by 10 seconds.



However, there were plenty of

challenges to face and overcome. At that time speaking a native language was discouraged and punished in Native American education. It is fitting that one of Emery’s major contributions was saving his native language, recording on audio tape the history and heritage of Native Americans. He spoke Lakota (Sioux) all of his life.   Emery said his grandmother spoke Lakota to his grandfather, who spoke English to her at all times. They would converse this way all evening. Many times when they went to town to pick up the newspapers, he would read them to her in English, and she would interpret in Lakota for Native Americans who didn’t speak English. She could understand it,

but could not speak it. <o:p></o:p>


Emery said that he learned

English and Lakota at the same time. He could read Lakota and could write with both hands. Some doubted Emery's Native American heritage because of his light skin and blue eyes. But when he began conversing in Lakota, all doubt was removed. He also said he was saddened that many of the Native American elders of his time could not express themselves in English or Lakota. They had to use a combination. He said that they used English for a few words and then, in

order to express themselves, “they would switch over to Indian.” <o:p></o:p>


Hard work and education for a

purpose played an important role in Emery’s life. His desire to improve the lives of his family, while staying in contact with and helping those still on the reservations, remained a primary goal throughout his life. Along with the heritage he conveyed to his family and friends, he also worked hard to overcome

stereotypes commonly held regarding Native Americans. <o:p></o:p>


Emery combined his natural

gifts, great creativity and desire to succeed with education and had accomplishments in many areas. One of those endeavors that will continue to give back to Natives and non-Natives was his project of several decades, resulting in over three hundred hours of taping to record the culture, history, language and songs of Native Americanss. His earliest technology was an early record-making machine which recorded onto blank discs. He was given an old Edison cylinder phonograph, and he re-recorded some of those cylinders on his machines to preserve the oldest recording in his collection. Later, as technology became available, he used a reel-to-reel tape recorder to record the

important events of his people.<o:p></o:p>

Emery explained that when he went to the reservations, he

found authentic, historical, truthful people and events to record. “We have many songs,” he would say. Whenever a Native American sits down to a drum, many of the uninitiated think of an Native American song. “They are not all songs,” he explained. “I have these classified in titles and I have over three hundred titles.” He added, “I’m thinking of them in Indian and can’t translate them into English.” For example, the Omaha is a dance to honor Custer after they found out how famous he was. On one important recording, Emery interviewed the daughter of Walks Alone, a survivor of both The Battle of the Little Big Horn

and Wounded Knee. <o:p></o:p>


He placed his microphones in

front of many important people at events throughout South Dakota and surrounding states. At times, he made records for others in the community through the Sioux Indian Museum in Rapid City. Proceeds from sales of these records of special events helped fund his trips to reservations throughout the region. He attended numerous pow-wows and tribal activities. He had many requests from people in every walk of life. Camping out with his family, he devised a way to power his equipment using a generator when electricity was not



He recorded many events for historic purposes. Emery was

very proud of a recording of one of the survivors of the Battle of the Little Big Horn, Dewey Beard, and used it many times in presentations for groups. Emery said he tried to record across generations, and he recorded four generations of Red Cloud’s people singing the Chief Song. Another of his significant event recordings was the homecoming celebration for Olympic Gold Medal winner, Billy

Mills. <o:p></o:p>

Emery also served as master of ceremonies for many events on and off the reservation and was asked to speak about his activities numerous times to groups around the region. He often provided the public address system and speakers for events.


 James Emery left this world in

May 1979 as he lived in it – endeavoring to educate young people at the University of South Dakota while forging better relationships between Natives

and non-Natives in the state and region.



Nominated by James Emery & Mike Morgan <o:p></o:p>

Home Town (Rosebud, SD)
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