Saturday, January 02, 2016


Two Guns Whitecalf  (1872-1934) was famous for something he wasn’t.  In fact, he was so famous that his descendants are famous for being related to him.  His fame came from his resemblance to the Indian on the nickel, a claim that has been repeated, debunked, rationalized, and asserted again.  For years Ray Djuff, a Canadian author who lives in Calgary, has been working on a book that started out to be about Two Guns and gradually turned into a biographical research project about the whole family, so careful and detailed that even the women are involved.  (Usually the women are either waved off or left out.)

End of the Trail

The sculptor, Fraser, created another sculpture that has proven as famous as the nickel: “The End of the Trail.”  It is also politically contested because Native American activists see it as a portrait of defeat and they don’t feel defeated.  They feel the slumped man on an exhausted horse serves the purposes of guilty white people who need to assert their victory.  

Fraser said he did NOT use Two Guns as his model for the nickel and identified the person he did use, but also asserted that it was not a portrait, just informed by several models.  But the American public, prodded by media who love controversy, will not let the story die.  Once this audience gets an idea into their heads, no facts can change it, usually because it serves some emotional need, like the insistence that Obama is Islam, meant to demonize him without admitting any racial prejudice because religious prejudice is considered virtuous.
Two Guns Whitecalf

The American public is nuttier about religion than anything else except maybe sex or money, which they tend to confuse with religion.  One of Two Guns’ descendants, Old Jim Whitecalf was said to be over a hundred years old when I came to Browning in the Sixties.  Thus, he was assumed by outsiders to be a chief and to be a “medicine man” because of his name and his age.  Forget the hawk nose.  He didn't inherit that and some were of the opinion that he was not a chief, either.

"Piegan" is simply the name of the tribal subdivision that is in Montana.
Sometimes also called "Amskapi Pikuni", South Blackfeet

Two white men wrote books about Old Jim, trying to associate themselves as confidants and adopted sons.  One was Richard Lancaster (“Piegan”) and the other was Adolf Hungry Wolf.  These are not people I read about, but two men underfoot in Browning, earning dubious reputations.   They used our phone at Scriver Studio.  Lancaster was entirely scurrilous; he was a big handsome bully with a belligerent attitude and little regard for truth.   Some people think those are the marks of success, 

Adolf was living in the old tribal way (a cabin in wilderness with no running water or electricity) with Beverly, a second wife who was from an outstanding Canadian Blackfoot family and was a co-author as well as the mother of most of Adolf’s children.  So both these men were white, writing about Native Americans in the Sixties before it had become a Big Deal and Stealing Heritage and even “Causing our Children to Die of Poverty.”  Rather, they were simply using the American obsession with stereotypes to sell a book.  It was a 19th century model.  

Lancaster wrote no other book.  Adolf and his wife wrote shelves of books, some of them run off on a duplicating machine and stapled, then hand-sold.  At first they were like the Fifties tourist pamphlets about local novelties and crafts.  How to make a dance outfit and so on.  Check out Amazon.

The decades have proven that Lancaster was a kind of mooching madman, though his invented book is still read by the credulous. In contrast Hungry Wolf has single-handedly provided a resource of great importance and major value to the contemporary rez kids: a lifetime of research in four books of accumulated photos and reports which are now owned by the Browning Public Schools and sold through the Blackfeet Heritage Center.

This, of course, is quite apart from contributing to the tribe actual children and grandchildren who are smart and handsome.  (He had a little sideline in railroads but I’m not qualified to talk about those books.)  The media has not picked up on these authors.  They choose their victims according to journalistic personal prejudices and experiences, which are limited and not particularly high-toned.

I did know Old Jim Whitecalf slightly, and his son, Young Jim Whitecalf, whose name suggests some of the difficulties of doing Blackfeet genealogy: people repeat the names so you need dates, unless you know their second names or nicknames.  (Locals really enjoy nicknames and use them always.)  Bob knew both father and son pretty well, which did not improve his opinion of them, which was not romantic, mostly formed by small town politics — necessarily white.  Young Jim was in the high school band Bob taught.  The latter had a lot of respect for Two Guns, but was of the opinion that neither of the “Jims” was very productive.  Of course, by the century mark, one is doing well to sit up in a chair and Old Jim did that.  By now even young Jim is gone.  He was about my age, a few years older.

Cover of one of my POD books at
l to r:  my brother, Old Jim, my mother, and myself
photo taken about 1962.  I'll look for the original photo.

Adolf is a few years younger than me and showed up at North American Indian Days a couple of years after I came to Browning.  People come all the time because they “luuuuuve Indians”, and generally move on after all the drunks they have injudiciously befriended have become a burden.  It took a few years to understand that Adolf was different.  He really was signing on for life.  

He became good friends with Bob and a part of ceremonial life on both sides of the 49th parallel.  At first he was interested in material culture in the German way (He’s Austro-Hungarian by genetic family heritage) but then understood that in this oral culture, it is the ceremonial songs and dances that contain and illuminate the “religious” Blackfeet way, which is in the relationship to the land and animals.  

A cabinet photo card

He learned the songs, sat in the ceremonial circles, and encouraged old people to tell him stories and ideas.  He had a suitcase of photos, esp. the old kind they call “cabinet” pictures which are on a heavy cardboard backing and sometimes doubled for viewing in a stereoscope.  He’d go to a ceremony, wait until people were relaxed, then take the photos out to ask old people about them.   Who were these people?  What were they doing?  He wrote the names and information on the back.  These are what became his amazing four books, both the images and the stories.  

Adolf was an educated historian.  I never visited a library to read about Blackfeet that I didn’t see his name on the checkout cards.  (In those days it was not a security risk to check out a library book.)

He was not a shaman, though at Mike Swims Under’s funeral, he sang every song he’d ever learned -- which took hours.  That’s being a ceremonialist, not a shaman, though some said that Mike Swims Under was a shaman, a healer.  He lived on his allotment near Heart Butte and attended Christian ceremonies.  Outsiders knew little about him.  Why would they?

What's happening at the moment is a total rethinking of reservations BY THE ENROLLED, at least those not imitating whites who don’t vote and don’t want to “be involved” in their own government.  There are a growing number of thoughtful Blackfeet people who DO read and talk among themselves.  The Stick Game Arbor at the campground has become a shelter for on-going discussions.  The actual public presentations and voting is scheduled for two weeks from now.  The local newspaper, "The Glacier Reporter," is online and including information.

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