By Kristin M. Youngbull
University of Oklahoma Press (2015)
Review by Paul McKenzie-Jones
Kristin Youngbull’s treatment of Brummett Echohawk is a fascinating study of a deceptively complex Pawnee and American hero. The book, Brummett Echohawk: Pawnee Thunderbird and Artist, is a complicated, but eloquently written, and well-researched study of Echohawk that celebrates the man and his many achievements. Youngbull also paints Echohawk as a man of seeming contradictions, who succeeded against the odds in the disparate worlds of modern warfare and creative artistry, as a decorated WWII hero and a successful artist, writer, and speaker in the postwar era.
Within these disparate worlds of Echohawk’s chosen professions were also the competing, or contested worldviews of his Pawnee heritage and American identity. Woven throughout the book is the Pawnee motivation of becoming Chaticks-Si-Chaticks—men of men—that made Echohawk such a dedicated soldier, comrade, and friend, returning to the frontline after each of three injuries serious enough for him to have been honorably discharged if he had so chosen. Indeed, according to Youngblood, it was the proud Pawnee and family tradition of serving the U.S. military, descended from the original bearer of the name, which drove Echohawk to become such a decorated warrior.
Within this portrait of Echohawk the warrior is another, somewhat conflicting portrait of Echohawk the artist and writer. Here also the book offers a contrast of its own. While the coverage of Echohawk’s motivations as a warrior and a patriot are extraordinarily detailed, the discussion of his life after war, as an artist and writer, is less so, making the contrast in lifestyle all the more stark. Even here though, one aspect of Echohawk’s psyche that is abundant throughout the book is his desire to succeed no matter what situation he found himself in. This is exemplified by the many roads he travelled to achieve success as an artist, actor, and writer—from detailing his 51 rejections before his first commercial success with Planters Peanuts, to appearing as Sitting Bull in a play before the 25th anniversary of the Karl May Theater in Germany, to a series of syndicated humorous commentaries on the absurdity of popular images of American Indians in the dominant culture.
Youngbull portrays Echohawk as a man of unflinching dedication to his Pawnee heritage and identity, his duty as an American soldier, his family and friends, and his gift as an artist and writer. And perhaps most importantly, Youngbull paints a portrait of understated yet overwhelming heroism that began in the 1800s with the beginning of the family name and continued with the life of a warrior artist who was truly deserving of the prestige that the name still carries, in Oklahoma, Indian Country, and the wider world.
Paul McKenzie-Jones, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of Native American studies at Montana State University Northern and author of Clyde Warrior: Community, Tradition, and Red Power.