Eugene Buechel was born in Germany in 1874. After studying in Germany and the Netherlands he entered the Jesuit Order in 1897. He came to the United States in 1900 to continue his studies in Wisconsin. In 1902 his superiors sent him to St. Francis Mission on the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota, where he worked as an educator at the boarding school and a teacher of religion and music while also studying Lakota language and culture. From 1904 - 1906 he studied theology in Missouri before being ordained as a priest. Buechel returned to South Dakota in 1907 as a teacher at Holy Rosary Mission School on the Pine Ridge Reservation and served as its superior from 1908 - 1916. In 1916 Buechel returned to St. Francis as its superior for six years. He was assigned to Holy Rosary again from 1926 - 1929 and then returned to St. Francis, spending his remaining years there until his death in 1954.
Wanbli Sapa, or Black Eagle, as Father Buechel was named by the Lakota people, learned the Lakota language and translated a number of church texts into Lakota and wrote a Lakota grammar. His file of almost 30,000 Lakota works with translations was published in 1970 as a Lakota-English dictionary. Buechel also developed one of the finest collections of Lakota art. The collection is housed in the Buechel Memorial Lakota Museum at St. Francis.
As an avid photographer, he left over 2,300 documented negatives and prints of the Rosebud and Pine Ridge people to St. Francis Mission. The collection represents one of the most important historical and sociological records in the state. The images in the South Dakota Art Museum's collection are from this collection of negatives. The photographs were printed from Father Buechel’s negatives by David Wing of San Diego, CA, in 1974, as a part of the Grossmont College Summer Photography Workshop. They were given to the South Dakota Art Museum in 1984 by St. Francis Mission in memory of Les Helgeland, former editor of the Yankton Press and Dakotan, friend of the Mission and a trustee of the South Dakota Art Museum.
"Sam Spotted War Bonnet and Family"
1929; printed, 1974
photograph on paper
Gift of St. Francis Mission in memory of Les Helgeland
Thumbnail images of Eugene Beuchel photographs in the South Dakota Art Museum's collection. Watch this space for larger images.