Ishi in Three Centuries

By Karl Kroeber; Clifton Kroeber | Go to book overview

3
When the Demons Come
(Retro)Spectacle among the Savages

JACE WEAVER

The exact contrary of what is generally
believed is often the truth.
Jean de la Bruyère

Myths are wonderful – you can do anything
with them you want.
Siegel Schuster

This is the West, sir. When the legend
becomes fact, print the legend.
The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance

When I was a child, my family moved for a few years from Oklahoma to Columbia, Missouri. On the edge of town was a restaurant called Pete’s Steakhouse. While parents ate, children were entertained by an aged Indian. I say “entertained,” but for the most part, he simply sat in full regalia outside a tepee down the hill from the parking lot, silent and stoic while kids played around him. His name was William Red Fox, a Lakota from Pine Ridge. Once a year he would come to my school, Thomas Hart Benton Elementary, and talk about his life and Plains history and culture.

After we moved back to Oklahoma, Red Fox, as he liked to be called (adamantly maintaining that “William” was simply an accommodation to whites) was “discovered” by Johnny Carson and began appearing on the Tonight Show – probably through the agency of Cash Asher, a writer who became his amanuensis. In 1971 Red Fox published his autobiography with Asher’s assistance. The Memoirs of Chief Red Fox told a remarkable and emblematic story. Born in 1870, Red Fox heard the gunfire of the Battle of the Little Big Horn as a child. Sent to Carlisle, he eventually joined Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, appearing with it at the Columbian Exposition in 1893. He fought in the Spanish-American War and met Thomas Edison, Alexander Graham Bell, Jack London, and Will Rogers. He performed with Pawnee Bill and the Miller 101 Ranch and appeared in movies from Thomas Ince through the 1930s. He campaigned in Indian dress for the

-35-

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