As any reader of American Pictures knows, Jacob Holdt claims that the Indian woman Morningstar tried to seduce him just two days after the burial of her husband Frank Clearwater. In my heart I’ve always known the story to be a lie. An ugly sexual fantasy about the promiscuity of Indian women and Holdt’s own sexual irresistibility.
When confronted with my deeply held skepticism Jacob Holdt claimed that there was a photo of him from Rosebud, riding side by side with Morningstar in the hearse carrying her husbands body.
This I knew to be untrue. The funeral procession went from Frank Fools Crow’s property near Kyle on Pine Ridge to Henry Crow Dog’s property – Crow Dog’s Paradise – on Rosebud. Jacob Holdt did not arrive on Rosebud in a hearse but in a ordinary car, driven by a teacher cum journalist.
His name was David Bunnell and he took the picture and wrote the article in Shannon County News that is reprinted in Jacob Holdt’s book:
I had earlier contacted Mr. Bunnell, who went on to a very successful carrier as a publisher and author, and asked him about Jacob Holdt. He told me that he saw Holdt being released from custody at the border of Pine Ridge and that he from there gave Holdt a lift to Crow Dog’s Paradise.
Holdt (who had no lawful errand on the reservation) told Bunnell that he had been arrested by BIA-officers the night before and released from custody the same morning. He tried to enter Clearwater’s funeral procession from Kyle, but was arrested again by BIA-officers and now forcefully expelled from Pine Ridge. David Bunnell also told me that Holdt never mentioned anything about having visited Wounded Knee.
Mr. David Bunnell was the first to help me find an exact date for Holdt’s whereabouts during the Siege of Wounded Knee. An element I knew where crucial if one wanted to expose his lies.
Jacob Holdt also claimed to me that he had a photo of him and Morningstar, sitting together outside “their” tepee on Crow Dog’s Paradise. To me it didn’t really mattered. I knew he was lying about the core element in his story: that he had been intimate with Morningstar.
In early June I wrote the story Jacob Holdt lies about an Indian Woman (in Danish) about the many inconsistencies in his various stories about the widow of Frank Clearwater. Among other things I pointed out how Holdt had changed the names of Frank Clearwater and Morningstar to “Eastlake” and “Rosemary” in the American version of his book.
I showed in my post that Holdt’s various explanations for – among other things – these changes was highly implausible. I concluded:
I think that he in the American version of American Pictures falsified the names of the Clearwater-pair out of fear of being sued in the US for libel.
When Weekendavisen in the now famous interview confronted Jacob Holdt with my findings they also asked him about the Morningstar-story. Holdt showed the reporter the photo he had mentioned to me. In a mail I was asked by the paper “Do you now believe Holdt has met Morningstar?”
I answered that I didn’t know how Morningstar looked like. I also explained that it was not so much the claim that he had met her, I didn’t believe. An actual pallbearer at the funeral (Owen Luck) had confirmed that Holdt was present, taking pictures. What i didn’t believe was Holdt’s claim that he had been intimate with Frank Clearwater’s widow.
Weekendavisen printed the picture with the caption “Jacob Holdt and the Indian woman Morningstar in front of the honor-tepee where they spendt the night”, confirming Holdt’s story.
I got hold of the picture and another one of a young boy in the company of an Indian woman whom Jacob Holdt to Weekendavisen also had claimed were Morningstar. I began to study Holdt’s two pictures closely. The one with Holdt in front of the tepee (posing with a little gun) is somewhat blurry, but it became clear to me that it was not the same woman on the pictures. Weekendavisen had been duped.
(Or tried to cover up for Holdt. It seems that Weekendavisen was perfectly willing to let Jacob Holdt – a great humanitarian icon – off the hook. I was attacked as a nitpicker whose criticism was without much substance and Holdt’s many lies about his own importance was listed as gospel. Weekendavisen later gave Jacob Holdt a whole page to defend himself while my much shorter answer to the paper’s attack on me never was published.
However, acting editor Soeren K. Villemoes has since relentlessly attacked Holdt on Facebook – taking credit for a story I dug up.)
I mailed Jacob Holdt’s two pictures to Owen Luck who did remember seeing the boy in Crow Dog’s Paradise, but recognized neither of the women. I then mailed Holdt’s pictures to the American filmmaker Kevin McKiernan.
Like Owen Luck Mr. McKiernan is a bona fide veteran of Wounded Knee II. I saw him some years ago tell his story about how he met Frank Clearwater in the documentary We Shall Remain and last year read his written account.
Kevin McKiernan’s story is by far the most detailed depiction about the Clearwaters’ short stay in Wounded Knee in the body of writings about the standoff on Pine Ridge. About his meeting with the Clearwater-couple McKiernan writes:
Then I met Frank Clearwater, a 47-year-old Cherokee from North Carolina. Clearwater and his wife wanted so badly to be part of the uprising that they’d hitchhiked from the East Coast to South Dakota’s Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. By the time they arrived, the famous village was surrounded by hundreds of FBI agents and U.S.Marshals, and federal negotiators had vowed publicly to “starve out” the Indians. After a long hike through the reservation backcountry, the Clearwaters managed to penetrate the government cordon. I bumped into them outside the trading post. It was a cold night, and I told them where they could find some blankets.
Clearwater returned with the blankets and lit up a “ready-made” cigarette he’d bought in a store. It struck me right away that I hadn’t seen a store in nearly two months. He offered to share it with me and several Indians who were standing around. The occupiers had long ago run out of tobacco, and some people had resorted to smoking shavings from cherry bark. A store-bought cigarette was something special, and everyone gathered around. We passed the cigarette around in a circle, like a form of communion, until a long red ash could be seen in the dark. Then the newcomers walked up the hill to the little pine church to look for a place to sleep.
Frank Clearwater was mortally wounded the next day and flown to Rapid City with his wife.
Kevin McKiernan entered Wounded Knee on the twenty fourth day of the occupation and – like Owen Luck – stayed to the end. He became the reporter who stayed the longest inside the village.
When I first contacted Mr. McKiernan he had never heard of Jacob Holdt. He wouldn’t rule our that Holdt could have been in the village before he himself arrived. But Mr. McKiernan was certain that Jacob Holdt wasn’t in Wounded Knee while he was there.
(Jacob Holdt first sat foot on Pine Ridge on the sixty first day and admitted to Weekendavisen that he never was inside Wounded Knee. Later he made the most bizarre try at retracting, claiming to me that it had been too dark for him to see whether or not he was in the village.)
I now again contacted Kevin McKiernan and asked if he had met Morningstar. This he kindly confirmed and I send him Holdt’s pictures and asked him if they were of Morningstar.
Regarding the picture with the boy Mr. McKiernan’s reply was:
I don’t recognize either person in this photo.
Morningstar was a good deal older than the young woman depicted here.
About the blurry picture with Holdt posing outside a tepee with a woman, Kevin McKiernan replied:
I suppose this photo could be in some other time period, but the woman I saw was older and didn’t wear an Indian get-up.
This picture is the most central. Because if it in fact had been of Morningstar, it would have given some merit to Holdt’s claim about sleeping in an “honor tent” with her. But off cause it’s not a picture of a younger Morningstar. Holdt had it taken about two weeks after McKiernan met her in Wounded Knee.
The sad part of all this is that Jacob Holdt really did take a picture of Morningstar, grieving at Frank Clearwater’s grave. Possibly the only one in existence. A picture that any WK-historian would give his right arm to posses.
Jacob Holdt’s almost insane need to tell giant lies about himself must not overshadow the uniqueness of this picture. Just as it mustn’t overshadow the uniqueness of Holdt’s pictures of Popeye Jackson in company with (respectively) Sara Jane Moore and Sally Voye.
When the current scandal is behind us and Jacob Holdt’s status as a cultural icon forever damaged, his deserved place in history will be these few pictures.
Kevin McKiernan: What I Learned at Wounded Knee in Santa Barbara Independent, November 25, 2014. Kevin McKiernan is currently working on the documentary A Line In the Sand about Wounded Knee II. Find more about the project on his website.