Monday, December 16, 2013

The Story of Bob Barker, the Rosebud Reservation and Highway 83

Mission, S.D, 1940. By John Vachon. LOC
As a chronicler of all things to do with Highway 83, I have a fairly good list of all the famous folks who came from the towns or cities along its 1,885 miles.
That comes to some 122 communities — depending on how you count them — so there are bound to be a few well-known actors, singers, athletes, politicians and war heroes hailing from these towns.
Some were born in a Highway 83 community but left at a young age, and probably have no emotional connection or memories about their birthplaces. Some were born and raised along the road, and lived there until they left to find their fame and fortune. Some were not born there, but spent formative years in these towns.
Such is the case with game show host and animal rights activist Bob Barker.
I only very recently discovered that Barker spent his childhood in Mission, South Dakota.
So I dutifully noted this on my calendar, and when his 90th birthday rolled around on Dec. 12, I wished him Happy Birthday on my Fans of U.S. Route 83 Facebook page, and noted that he was also one-eighth Lakota, which was stated on his Wikipedia page. 
This generated a lot of comments, especially on the Rosebud Sioux Tribe Facebook page, where I shared the posting. Some claimed that Barker was lying about being one-eighth Lakota.
People are right to question the accuracy of Wikipedia entries, although in my opinion, it has gotten better over the years.
But this got me to thinking.
Did Bob Barker ever write his memoirs? The answer was “yes.” Then, the next question, did my local library have a copy? The answer to that was also “yes,” and it wasn’t checked out. So I stopped by there on the way home from work the day of his birthday and grabbed a copy.
Priceless Memories, by Bob Barker, published in 2009, actually had quite a bit of it devoted to
Barker’s childhood spent in Mission, and a few other surprising connections to Highway 83 as well.
His mother, a schoolteacher, met his father Byron Barker, who was one-quarter Lakota, in White River, South Dakota, which is a Route 83 town just north of Rosebud.
His father got into the trade of stringing up power lines as the nation was expanding its electrical grids, so the young couple moved from town to town. Bob Barker was born in Washington state, Dec. 12, 1923.
Another connection: His father briefly worked in the Highway 83 terminus town of Brownsville, Texas. Barker was very young, but he has a strong memory of his time there when his parents took him out to the airfield to see Charles Lindberg.
When Bob was six, and the family was living in Missouri, Byron Barker passed away as a result of a work injury. This was in the Great Depression, and his mother couldn’t find work. Byron’s brother, who was living in Mission, secured a teaching job for her there.
That is how Bob Barker ended up on the Rosebud Reservation, spending nearly eight years of his childhood there during the worst of the Dust Bowl years and Great Depression.
According to the memoir, Barker has many fond memories of living in Mission. He went to a two-room school house which was about three-quarters white, and about one-quarter Lakota. Most of the Lakota students went to the nearby boarding school.
He played with kids of both races, and never felt any prejudice. This jives with interviews I have done over the years with adults who attended mixed white-Indian elementary schools as children. (The prejudice comes in the higher grades.)
One tidbit from the book is how his buddies would jump off the bridge from the road south of town into the creek during the summer to cool off. This is the road that would become U.S. Route 83.
Barker’s mother eventually married Louis Valandra, also a member of the tribe. They soon moved back to Missouri after Barker completed eighth-grade. Bob has a half-brother Kent, who would be one-quarter Lakota.
Some on Facebook whose families are connected to Barker/Valandra families said Bob Barker does not have any Indian blood, and he was lying about being one-eighth Lakota.
Well, all autobiographies must be taken with a grain of salt for reasons I don’t have to go into here. People leave out inconvenient facts, or embellish their lives.
However, someone on Wikipedia posted the 1930 Rosebud Indian Census. It denotes Bob Barker at age seven as being “Sioux” along with his father and other members of the Barker family. So being part Lakota was clearly something Bob Barker had been told by his family from a young age. It’s not something he is making up.
Blood quantum is an important issue among Native Americans.
Today, it means qualifying for certain benefits, and maybe even sharing in the proceeds of casinos.
Many over the last few decades when it became fashionable claimed to be Indians, but weren’t. These are the so-called “wannabes.” That certainly wasn’t the case in the 1930s when race mixing was not so acceptable. The Barker family in 1930 identified themselves as “Sioux.” Barker doesn’t mention in his autobiography which of his paternal grandparents were Lakota. Someone with access to the tribal records could probably settle the matter.
Reading between the lines, it is hard to see Barker as a “wannabe.”
While he has fond memories of his time in Mission, he doesn’t mention the name of the tribe, returning to the town to visit since he left, or share any stories about Indian culture such as attending powwows.
It is possible he didn’t encounter much of in the way of ceremonies as a child back then. Policies in the 1930s were to suppress Native American culture and languages. Or maybe he just didn’t write about them.
I’ve known people who were one-sixteenth Lakota, who embraced that part of their heritage, and others with as much Indian blood who didn’t give a hang about it. It’s more to do with attitude than blood quantum.
I don’t normally read game show host autobiographies (okay, I never have and may never read one again) but this one opened up a small window about life in a Highway 83 town — Mission, South Dakota — during the depths of the Depression and Dust Bowl years. So it was well worth seeking out.

Stew Magnuson is the author of The Last American Highway: A Journey Through Time Down U.S. Route 83: The Dakotas, and  The Last American Highway: Nebraska Kansas Oklahoma edition. Both are available online or in museums, bookstores and gift shops on Hwy 83, including Soldier Woman Gallery in Mission, SD, and Plains Trading in Valentine, NE.

To join the Fans of U.S. Route 83 group on Facebook, CLICK HERE. And check out the U.S. Route 83 Travel page at  Contact Stew Magnuson at stewmag (a)


  1. All my life I watched Bob a small could you NOT know!!? My Mom, Grammah all my aunties...we watched him. I think his appealing and genuine diplomatic kindness, in that old way...the tone of his voice...those teeth...his thick head of hair and TAN that never faded...was all a dead give away!! What a nice man...I loved Bob Barker...and I am proud that he is Lakota!! Thank you for your piece on him... He deserves good words... I always noticed when one of his contestants were from some very Indigenous Island or place. You could see how he acknowledged if they were like Anties he had... The people should be proud to claim him... I am!! even though I am from another Nation...

  2. Stew, 'c'mon. What the fuck kind of racism is that? Referring to the issues that have to do with our people. That's white entitlement. I am angry, as a Sicangu Lakota because Blood quantum is an important issue among Native Americans.
    Today, it means qualifying for certain benefits, and maybe even sharing in the proceeds of casinos." Doesn't quite sit well with me. Issues having to do with our blood quantum is that it is a colonial fucking mentality, this pedigree minded consciousness came from the inbreeding European nations were exemplifying. This is a source of division for us because we end up attacking our own. We end up excluding eachother. We have the *Identity* as a Indigenous Nation. Not a Color.

    This article goes out to potentially a million people or more who knows.

    Please Google and understand "what it means to be a white ally for natives" and then re-write this article where it needs editing. I was the first freshmen in the senior journalism class of my high-school since eleven years prior to my enrollment. Harrison High School, Colo. Springs. CO. Foster Boarding School Care.

    I just ask you that you don't portray the Indigenous people of the northern hemisphere in Turtle Island (and Ecuador) to be a blunt minded people whose concerns as a nation are limited to a lower level of consciousness or understanding that is limited to capitalistic modes of colonized thinking.

    Bob Barker was born to the womb of a white woman, ("white" is an elitist sourced colonial construct that has been implemented to erase identity in order to conform those underneath that false premise to become organic human cogs working to further a structure of foreign system that I can literally write "well written" volumes on that subject alone.)
    Therefore he was born to that other Nation. This natural intuitive understanding can also be explained through genetics, trust me(or do non patriarchal biased research, IDGAF).

    Bob Barker has genes, yes, but identity and acceptance is a culture as well as genes.

    He is one eigth Lakota, that's dope.

    He is white with Lakota blood and distant communal origins.

    He acknowledges this

    I personally acknowledge that.

    Please re-edit this article.

    My name is Leo Cordier, you can find me on Facebook.

    I don't like all that showy loud stuff. I just want you to honor the integrity of my people.

    If not... C'mon Stew... You should know exactly how we can swarm on a situation collectively nationwide.

    That would be a toxix-ego complex dysfunctional situation for both of us... And for what? I may be able to gain some sort of social credit for calling upon a warparty. Been there, done that.

    We don't need that.

    Please re-edit your article. It just needs a few sentences here and there to be changed.

    Please keep in mind that the emotions you felt when I was saying different variations of "fuck", is White Fragility, and it is a very real thing. We just ask you that you face that, and understand that my expression as a Turtle Island Indigenous person is entirely valid... Considering the still continuing oppression that began since first interaction with the Taino Nation ckkkriztover kkkolambuz experienced in 1492.

    The Africans treated us better WAY BEFORE that point in time.

    (Turtle Island was known and recorded in the great libraries of Alexandria)

    You can delete this comment afterwards.

    Or keep it. We make slight mistakes, who cares. Acknowledge Turtle Island Indigenous in a better perception...

    ...or hell will come in a internet and local sourced social warparty.


    I was happy to read this article by the way.

    Hope to conversation, Wes.

    -Wawokiya Oyate Wichasha.

  3. Bob Barker has pineal descent from a tribal member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe of SD. This fact renders him for eligibility for enrollment. His brother is a Vallandra, a prominent Rosebud family name, it appears that NBon is absolutely Lakota. I have older relatives from Bob's generations who still refer to themselves as Sioux. That generation was treated rather badly and were forced to acculturate into mainstream society or opportunities toward class advancement were denied. It surprises me in the least that our relative, Bob Barker, knows little about his personal family history. He rose to the status of assimilated American icon. Bob Barker is a self-made man. The ability to overcome the obstacles placed before him show the virtues of perseverance, strength, wisdom, generosity and courage. Theses virtues are the foundation of everything Sicangu Lakota. His status and fame show a rare example of positive upward mobility in American society and a strength in character while maintaining and valuing humility. Plus, he gave away a lot of cars, and rescued quite a few 4 leggeds. I accept Bob Barker and acknowledge Bob as a relative. Hetchetu yelo, Hau Mitakuye Oyasin. (So be it! We are All related)

    1. Hey there, I loved your comment. My grandmother was assimilated. I am 1/8th, but no solid ties to any tribe, although I believe it's exactly this area, of North Dakota, where my grandmother comes from. But we have no clue, because she was age 4, when assimilation occurred. Basically what my understanding is... that CPS, attacked First Nations People & immigrants, removing children from tribes, and forcing them into Boarding Schools. So then she lost all ties to her family. So fast forward to my siblings & I. We deal spiritually, with natural healing abilities & visions... but we never grew up around legit people who understood what we were living. It transpires into drug abuse & other just cut off from familial DNA, issues. So it's like, very confused feelings. First, government knows all of us, they know exactly what DNA we come from. So we're tagged as children & messed with. I've done a lot of Warriors of the Rainbow, research. I just feel that's now, and it's talking about when all of everyone realizes, we're all relatives... then we empower ourselves as a whole, and take leadership away, from those harming everyone. It's just hard too, as a child who has several lines of Ancestry, but growing up feeling confused & alone. Intuitively, we understand we belong somewhere with others... but not in the current US systems. It literally flubbed up everything.

  4. Darn,I wish we could edit. My previous post has typos.

  5. Holay!!! Internet War Party by Leo Cordier (french name)
    Sounds like swarm of mosquitos Haha
    Quanah Parker was HALF white, so will you write an internet attack on his "Indianess"?
    Blood Quantum, and the environment your family raise you in are not your choice.
    Who you are is a result of upbringing, and genes, and not just skin color genes.
    Give Bob a break, his formulative years are what brought his success, while he might not have portrayed himself Native, the way he carried himself is due to his background.
    Would you expect Bob Barker to act like Iron Eyes Cody?
    Cody was fullblood ITALIAN, but went to his grave claiming Cherokee & Cree.
    Oh, but old timers said Cody had "an Indian spririt".
    Nobody checked Cody's BLOOD QUANTUM.
    Hmmm... Bob Barker, not just an Average White Man.
    Thank you.
    I must hold Internet War Council now.

  6. Must say Bob Barker would be an awesome Powwow MC !!! Weeee- Chaaaaa!

  7. Hey Bob, my grandson is part Lakota. He wants to know if your still alive? I told him I thought so. He said then it was a death hoax? Apparently he saw something online that said you died. We are watching the Price is Right. He doesn't like the new host. Wants you back!