Two Guns White Calf ~ Blackfoot

Published on February 7, 2011 by Casey

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Two Guns White Calf
Two Guns White Calf

Two Guns White Calf 1872-1934. Also known as John Two Guns and John Whitecalf Two Guns, this Blackfoot chief provided one of the most readily recognizable images of a Native American in the world after an impression of his portrait appeared on a common coin, the Indian head nickel.

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Two Guns White Calf was born near Fort Benton, Montana, son of White Calf, who was known as the last chief of the Pikuni Blackfoot. His visage was used along with those of John Big Tree (Seneca) and IRON TAIL (Sioux) in James Earl Fraser’s composite design for the nickel. After the coin’s release around the turn of the century, Two Guns White Calf became a fixture at Glacier National Park, where he posed with tourists. He also acted as a publicity spokesman for the Northern Pacific Railroad, whose public relations staff came up with the name “Two Guns White Calf”. He died of pneumonia at the age of sixty-three and was buried in a Catholic cemetery at Browning, Montana. Chief Two Guns White Calf and the Indian-Head Nickel The story below was summarized from “Twisted Tails”, by numismatist Robert R. Van Ryzin, Krause Publications, 1995. John Two Guns was born in 1871 and adopted at an early age by White Calf, a prominent warrior chief who was responsible for many of the Blackfoot Tribe’s treaties.

After the death of White Calf in 1902, Two Guns became a tribal leader. When Two Guns first saw the buffalo/indian-head nickel (released in 1913) he was convinced that it was his own likeness on the coin. However, the sculptor, James Earle Fraser, always insisted that the head was a composite of several models. He specifically named Two Moons (a Cheyenne) and Iron Tail (a Lakota Sioux) and “one or two others”.

The Great Northern Railroad, always interested in promoting tourism to its Glacier Park Hotels and passenger traffic on its trains, sought to encourage the idea that Two Guns was the model. The argument raged from 1913 to the death of both figures in 1934 and continues to resurface even now. The question would seem to have been put to rest by a letter from Fraser to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs in 1931, in which he denied ever having seen Two Guns. But Charles Bevard, an auctioneer who had come into possession of a number of Two Guns’ personal effects which led him into extensive historical research on the subject, suspected that the US Government wanted Fraser to “discredit” Two Guns as a coin model because they were afraid of the great influence he had on the tribes.The Chief headed a secret organization known as the Mad Dog Society which was attempting to preserve Blackfoot Heritage. Traditional Indian dances such as the Sun Dance and the Ghost Dance, which had been banned, were again being performed after American Indians received blanket citizenship in 1924. Bevard believed that the US Government feared that Chief Two Guns, like his father, might again take the fierce Blackfoot warriors on the warpath in an attempt to regain their land. Others pointed out that if Fraser had never been able to remember the third model, how could he be certain that it wasn’t Two Guns White Calf?

    “If he wasn’t a model for the Buffalo nickel, he was [still] the most famous Indian in the 20th century”,

Bevard said,

    “….He had a relationship with non-indians, anyone from presidents on down, and he did a lot of great things for Indians and he was quite the statesman, and, if nothing else, he should be remembered for that.”

Source: angelfire

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