Ruth Holmes Whitehead,
Tracking Doctor Lonecloud: Showman to Legend Keeper
(Goose Lane, 2002)

Tracking Doctor Lonecloud: Showman to Legend Keeper is a combination of a biography and the legends and stories dictated by the man in his own words. The first 47 pages are about his life. The other 122 pages are his memoir -- mostly Mi'kmaw stories.

This is a biography of a man surrounded by fame, flamboyance and mystery. Even his name is matter for controversy, including several forms in Canada and the United States: Germain (Jerry) Bartlett Alexis, Jerry Luxcey, Lexey or Luzzie; Haselmah or Selmah or Slme'n Laksi; Jeremiah Bartlett; Doctor Lonecloud, Lone Cloud or Lone-cloud. The bottom line is that the man profiled in Tracking Doctor Lonecloud stated: "I was a showman!"

Jerry Lonecloud was born in Belfast, Maine, on 4 July 1854. His parents were both Nova Scotia Mi'kmaq, and he was taught the native ways from his earliest childhood. He learned the stories and folklore, herbalism and medicine, and ceremonies. When he was 14, he lost both parents and was left to care for his two younger brothers and a sister. This began his life on the road.

He went to work for Healey & Bigelow's Wild West Show and adopted the stage name "Lone Cloud." Later, he quit and formed his own traveling show. Primarily, he peddled tonics, elixirs and lotions but, at that time, the traveling medicine shows were expected to provide entertainment. Thus, he collected and recited Native American legends and stories.

When Lonecloud returned to Nova Scotia, he became a leader among his people and an advocate for them. He rose through their ranks to become chief and chief medicine man of the Halifax County Mi'kmaq. During his later years, he worked closely with the Provincial Museum of Nova Scotia to record Mi'kmaw culture. He brought almost 200 items to the museum and dictated his memoirs to journalist Clara Dennis. He passed away on 16 April 1930.

This is interesting reading, especially Lonecloud's memoir. It is almost comical that he had started using the expected white man's terminology to refer to Indian things and his English certainly reveals the era of his life. Many of his stories are amazing. For example, the moose will always feed to windward, then turn to the left and bed down to leeward so he can smell his enemies coming. He offers many observations on the natural world, mixed in with the traditional folklore and stories. From creation stories to why the ant freezes in winter, he provides an entertaining look at the beliefs of his people.

I enjoyed Tracking Doctor Lonecloud. Once you get past his biography, you cannot put it down and it goes by before you realize it. You will surely learn a few things and likely be surprised a couple of times. This is really a nice read.

review by
Alicia Karen Elkins

26 July 2008

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