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Arthur Two Crows Yates Fuses Past and Present : Indian Lore, Stories Serve Dual Purpose

September 20, 1987|JOHN STRAUSS | Associated Press

EVANSVILLE, Ind. — Arthur Two Crows Yates was 8 years old when his grandfather, an Indian, became annoyed at the boy's inattention during a story.

"As a youngster growing up I had trouble paying attention," said Yates, who now passes along Native American lore in a presentation called "Ways of the Grandfather."

The two were walking along Wildcat Creek near Lafayette and Yates was watching a couple of birds in a tree instead of listening.

"It was at that time that he named me Two Crows," Yates said. "He was trying to teach me something."

Stories Have Purpose

Silas the Wolf Yates constantly used Cherokee and Miami Indian stories to teach his grandson about the family's heritage as well as lessons about good behavior. The younger Yates, who is now 47 and goes by his Indian name, says the stories can help educate modern youngsters as well.

A picture of Two Crows in his traditional Native American garb appears on "Wander Indiana" tourism posters and brochures distributed by the state. He also makes about 75 presentations annually, including visits to Fort Wayne, Brandenburg, Ky., and Van Wert, Ohio.

Two Crows brought his presentation of artifacts, dances and stories to Angel Mounds near Evansville for the state historical site's Native American Days festival recently.

Angel Mounds is a former Ohio River village just east of Evansville that was inhabited 900 years ago by the Mississippians, who built towns along the country's largest river and its tributaries.

The Mississippians were gone before the arrival of white settlers, who instead found mostly Potawatomis and Miamis in what is now Indiana, according to Raymond DeMallie, a professor of anthropology at Indiana University in Bloomington.

Those tribes began to sell their lands to the federal government in the 1780s, and most of those who remained behind were forcibly removed from Indiana by 1840 by military troops and resettled in Kansas and, later, Oklahoma.

About half of the Miamis managed to evade the troops, and many of today's Indians in the state are their descendants. According to the 1980 U.S. Census, 7,835 Indiana residents listed their ancestry as Native American.

"I think it's important (for Indians) to put away our bitterness about what happened before," said Two Crows, adding that he wants his stories to help educate modern Americans about the ways of the Indians, as well as teach youngsters the sort of lessons he learned as a child.

Native Garb

Two Crows wears a feathered headdress, beads and moccasins during his presentations. Dark makeup that forms a mask around his eyes and a spellbinding delivery that varies from a soft whisper to a booming shout complete the dramatic effect.

One story, about the two frog sisters, the snake and the beaver, has a dual message, he says. In the Cherokee tale the frog sisters spurn the affections of first the snake, then the beaver, telling each that he is too ugly.

The tears of the smitten beaver begin to fill the swamp and flood the home of the frog sisters, who are sucked into a whirlpool. The story teaches youngsters to be kind to others and to stay away from swift-moving water.

"I was told that story once when I made fun of a little girl," Two Crows said. "And I had to tell him (his grandfather) when I got the message of the story. And then he would say, 'Do you understand now?' "

The value of education is another message stressed by Two Crows, who received a degree in industrial arts in 1975 from Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah.

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