James Garvie grew up on the Sisseton reservation in South Dakota. There, he attended a mission school where his success in the classroom was brought to the attention of Stephen Riggs. Then a lecturer at Beloit College, Riggs influenced sixteen-year-old Garvie to enroll in the school in 1878.
Under Riggs, Garvie translated Native stories, compiled a Dakota dictionary, and translated a number of books into Dakota for missionary purposes. Illness forced Garvie to end his education at Beloit early, and he returned to Sisseton in 1881.
During his time at Beloit, Garvie and other students carved their names into the side of Campbell Hall, which was then known as North College. It can still be seen today.
Two years later, Garvie joined the faculty at the Santee Normal Training School as the printing instructor. There, he joined his students in preserving Dakota knowledge for future generations.
Along with serving as the Santee reservation's YMCA president, Garvie also served as co-editor with Alfred Riggs for Iapi Oaye and The Word Carrier. He regularly contributed content to both newspapers, which served as platforms for him to advocate for Natives on a number of issues. In his articles, he passionately defended the rights of his people and sought to disprove harmful misconceptions and stereotypes.
At Santee, Garvie continued to translate work into the Dakota language.
Credit: Newberry Library
Garvie left Santee in 1900 to represent his people in front of Congress. Along with Charles and John Eastman, Garvie fought for the restoration of their people’s annuity payments following the Dakota War of 1862. In the following years, Garvie traveled to Washington, D.C. thirteen times to represent his tribe in front of Congress before finally securing the payments in 1924.
Not much is known about Garvie after the Santee claims case, as he would retire four years after its settlement. Moving with his wife and children to Yankton, South Dakota in 1928, he took on carpentry and wrote down his memoirs. He died there in 1931 at the age of sixty-nine.
Garvie with his family at Santee
Credit: Presbyterian Historical Society
Background Image: Illustration of the Santee Normal Training School, 1885
Credit: The University of Nebraska-Omaha