Sunday, 28 August 2011
Chief Buffalo Child Long Lance
'Long Lance', the autobiography of Chief Buffalo Child Long Lance, was published in 1928.
It was the story of a man who had been born the son of a Chief in the Native American Cherokee Nation in Montana in 1890.
Long Lance told of his time on the reservation as a child and his decision to join a travelling 'Wild West' show that passed by his home, seeing in it a chance to travel the world and explore in a way that a traditional tribal life never would.
Having spent some time on the road with the show Long Lance applied for a place at the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Pennsylvania.
This was the most prestigious school for Native Americans in the country but Long Lance excelled and qualified at the top of his class.
By 1915 he had also qualified from St. John's Military Academy in New York and appealed directly to the office of President Woodrow Wilson to be allowed to join West Point, the most prominent of the Military Academies and the institution from which the United States Army drew its Officer Class.
The President's Office duly endorsed him as a candidate but before he could enter Long Lance enlisted in the Canadian Expeditionary Force to allow himself to join the conflict in Europe without waiting for the United States to join the fray.
He returned home having been wounded eight times and promoted to the rank of Captain.
With his return Long Lance found himself drawn more to the cause of the rights of Native Americans and spent the next decade living among the Plains Indians and working as a journalist for the Calgary Herald highlighting the difficulties that Native Americans were facing with the new restrictions of reservation life.
By 1922 Long Lance was formally adopted as a Blackfoot Indian by the Kainai Nation and given the name 'Buffalo Child'.
National prominence came with his new status as a leading voice in the rights of Native Americans. A lucrative career as a speaker supplemented his income as a journalist as did an endorsement deal with a sportswear company and a prominent part in a feature film about Indian life.
However, the feature film, 'The Silent Enemy: An Epic of the American Indian', had employed a Native American advisor, Chauncey Yellow Robe, who was suspicious of Long Lance's credentials. He alerted William Chanler, a legal advisor on the film, who organised a more detailed investigation into the background of Chief Buffalo Child Long Lance.
What was uncovered was incredible.
It turned out that rather than being born on the plains of Montana, Long Lance was born Sylvester Clark Long in Winston-Salem, North Carolina and was not the son of an Indian Chief but was instead the son of a school janitor called Joseph S. Long.
On top of all this, not only was Joseph Long not an Indian Chief he wasn't even a Native American. He was Black.
Long had been honest in his autobiography when he described joining a Wild West show that passed by where he lived but having joined the show the owner mistook him for a Native American and employed him as such. Long did nothing to correct this assumption and instead immersed himself in the culture of the other Indians in the show and became a fluent Cherokee speaker. Realising that life as a Native American offered him far greater opportunities than life as an African American Long embraced his new identity and began to build his new life as Long Lance.
He had also embellished his military career and may have opted to join the Canadian Expeditionary Force rather than entering West Point fearing that the Academy may have uncovered the truth of his background when he applied to join.
Having made these revelations the creators of 'The Silent Enemy' realised that discrediting their star before the film was released would be ridiculous and so they tried to keep the true origin of Long Lance a secret but, almost inevitably, the truth began to leak out.
Abandoned by many of his former acquaintances Long Lance began to drink heavily and saw many of his formally lucrative contracts for endorsements and appearances dry up.
Irvin S. Cobb, a writer in New York who had counted Long Lance among his friends summed up the attitude of many who discovered the truth about his origins:
'To think we had him here in the house! We're so ashamed. We entertained a nigger...'
Chief Buffalo Child Long Lance was found dead in Los Angeles, California in March 1932.
He had died from a self-inflicted gunshot.
In his will he left all his remaining assets to St. Paul's Indian Residential School in Alberta, Canada.
In death, as in life, Long Lance remained dedicated to improving the lot of the Native American people...
Further investigation into his background found that his parents were both of ethnically mixed heritage with his Mother having some ancestry in the Croatan Nation and his Father partly descended from the Cherokee people.
Although his ethnicity was more African American than Native American Sylvester Long knew that the racial divisions of the United States of the time meant that he stood a better chance to make something of himself as an Indian than a Black man and the response of many of his 'friends' on the revelation of his 'true' racial identity says more for the flaws and hypocrisy of American society of the time than anything about the character of Long Lance himself...
Posted by Masal Bugduv at 05:19