On September 30, 2013 I did a major revision to both the text and images in this blog posting to correspond with an article I wrote for Whispering Wind Magazine on the same topic (volume 42, #1, 2013). This posting also has additional images that space constraints would not allow in the published article.
Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) Participation in 19th Century Medicine Shows
On the back of a recently discovered image, the subjects are identified as “Running Antelope and family, Warm Spring Indians, from Galion, Ohio” (figure 1) (the Warm Spring Indian Reservation is located in Oregon). In at least one other image of Running Antelope and his family (figure 2), they are identified as Mohawks from Caughnawaga, (today called Kahnawake) near Montreal. Their clothing, which are idendical in both images, and the motifs depicted in their beadwork would also suggest that they are Mohawks. The inked note on the back of figure 1 is faded and it appears to be from the period; so why was this Iroquois family identified as Warm Spring Indians? The answer to this intriguing question is veiled in the history of patent medicines.
The story of patent medicines begins in seventeenth century England with the Crowns’ issue of a patent for Anderson’s Scots Pills. The inventor, a Scottish doctor named Patrick Anderson, claimed he got the recipe in Vienna. He subsequently relinquished the formula to his daughter who later conveyed it to a Dr. Thomas Weir, in 1686, who produced and sold the tonic as a laxative (Dary 2008:244).
English patent medicines found their way to the New World with the first colonists, but these early settlers soon discovered it was cheaper to make them here, rather than import them from Europe, so a home-spun, American patent medicine industry was born. This was facilitated by the fact that few Americans trusted doctors, many of whom still used implausible treatment methods such as purging and bloodletting. In a new country, with few trained doctors, self-medication for practically every illness known to man was a way of life that few questioned.
In 1715, a patent for distilling corn was issued to Thomas and Sybilla Masters. In addition to purifying the corn, their petition indicated that “…the said Corn so refined is also an Excellent Medicine in Consumptions & other Distempers” (Armstrong and Armstrong 1991:159). They received a license for the first “patent” or over-the-counter medicine in America and it had the distinction of being called Tuscarora Rice.
By the mid-nineteenth century most drug stores, many of which were owned and operated by doctors with questionable credentials, had generous supplies of elixirs on hand that claimed to cure ailments such as dysentery, malaria, small pox, yellow fever and consumption (tuberculosis of the lungs). This was the heyday for patent medicines in America and the countryside was replete with peddlers hawking remedies that claimed to cure virtually every ailment known to man. Between 1865 and 1900, hundreds of traveling salesmen were touring the country selling patent medicines. In an effort to attract crowds and spur interest in the sale of their products, they began providing entertainment with their offerings and the “medicine show” was born (figure 3 and 3a). They were a garish fusion of carnival-like entertainment and sales pitch. The pitchman was often surrounded by performers drawn from the circus, traveling theater troupes and minstrel shows. Before radio, movies and television, these medicine shows were a leading form of entertainment in both urban areas and remote towns across America. Alarmingly, they were also the foremost providers of health care.
Figure 3a – Cabinet card, 4.5 x 6.5 inches. Circa 1890. Displayed is the main tent of the Oregon Indian Medicine Company. No location indicated. Private collection.
Through most of their history, patent medicines enjoyed a free-flowing existence. No government agency required that medicine makers prove their tonics were effective or even safe. No law stopped them from listing on the labels or in advertisements whatever “cures” happened to be in fashion at the time, or required a list of ingredients or warnings on the labels (Armstrong and Armstrong 1991:160).
These shows were fueled by advertisements that contained unproven claims and the use of scare-tactics was common. One particular ad for Ka-ton-ka, a blood, kidney, liver and stomach medicine, included a long checklist of symptoms for kidney disease such as: “an unusual desire to urinate at night; appetite alternately ravenous and meager; acid, bitter taste, with furred tongue in the morning; intense pain, upon sudden excitement, in the small of the back; indescribable crawling feeling up and down the back with extreme nervous irritability; annoying and perplexing loss of memory, even of common things,” were among the twenty-two manifestations included in the advertisement. It went on to state that “any number of the above symptoms, which too long neglected, will certainly terminate in Bright’s disease… (described by modern medicine as acute or chronic nephritis). Delay, therefore, in removing the above symptoms is exceedingly dangerous. They are the commonest order, and their very commonness encourages fatal neglect” (Edwards 1884:32).
Every print medium was used to promote the company’s products such as trade cards (figure 4), handbills, posters, newspapers, magazines, etc. A late nineteenth century handbill for Dr. S. P. Townshend’s extract of Sarsaparilla reinforced the notion that no embellishment or distortion of the facts was too farfetched; no statements about benefits or cures too outrageous. It claimed that his tonic was “The wonder blessing of the age and the most extraordinary medicine in the world!” It unabashedly went on to describe how
The great beauty of the superiority of this Sarsaparilla over all other medicines is, that while it eradicates the disease, it invigorates the body… It not only purifies the whole system and strengthens the person, but creates new, pure and rich blood; a power possessed by no other medicine, it has performed within the last three years, more than 150,000 cures of severe cases of disease; at least 20,000 were considered incurable (Armstrong and Armstrong 1991:166).
Americans wholeheartedly believed that Indians had a deep knowledge of natural medicine and were skilled in its use.
One facet of the infatuation with the Romantic West reflected that Indian life illustrated by Longfellow in “Hiawatha.” As a Child of Nature, the American Indian was Learned in Nature’s Secrets, fathoming mysterious herbs and roots, capable, through Nature’s Direction, of controlling disease and thereby leading a ridiculously healthy existence (Clark and Clark 1971:vii).
Populations in the East in particular, believed in the efficacy of Indian medicines and unscrupulous promoters capitalized on this. Firms that incorporated an Indian theme in their medicine shows had the most success.
Company representatives had to present at least the perception of authenticity in merchandising their products, especially if they were hawking purported “Indian Medicines.” Non-Indian enactors who performed in these events had to look and dress like Indians as many popular products had indigenous or Native American sounding names. Products such as Allen’s Indian Blood Corrector, Dr. Seneca’s Gall Remedy, Dr. Roger’s Indian Fever Cure, Aztec Pile Cure and Dr. Kilmer’s Indian Cough Cure Consumption Oil claimed to ameliorate cancer, syphilis, kidney disease and a host of other ailments. These were just a few of the thousands of remedies that were offered for sale with names that implied they were an indigenous cure for practically any illness known to man.
The medicine shows were the forerunners of the Wild West shows and The Kickapoo Indian Medicine Company and the Oregon Indian Medicine Company were two of the largest. They chose a different approach to selling and took the medicine shows to another level by including actual Native performers who were paid, on average, $30 a month for their services (figure 5). Native people were employed by these outfits to demonstrate Indian life which gave the company’s patent medicines an air of authenticity. Many product advertisements claimed that their “medicines” were “MADE BY INDIANS; USED BY INDIANS, AND SOLD BY INDIANS.”
One of the founders of the Kickapoo Indian Medicine Company, Texas Jack Bigelow, claimed to have been nursed back to health, from a deadly prairie fever, by a medicine prepared by the Native family that found him. He alleged that they shared the formula with him for a remedy that was made from rare ingredients that were difficult to acquire and hard to prepare. In reality, Bigelow’s Segwa tonic was simply a mixture of mundane herbs, roots, aloe, baking soda, sugar and of course alcohol (a primary ingredient in many patent medicines), all purchased from a pharmaceutical firm. It wasn’t the ingredients that made this tonic famous; it was the promotion and the patent medicine companies were very good at this.
Figure 6 – Small pamphlet advertising the products of the Kickapoo Medicine company. An illustration of the fictional “Bright Eyes” appears on the cover. Private collection.
The Kickapoo’s founders even created a brand for themselves in the form of an Indian princess by the name of Bright Eyes (figure 6).
Healy and Bigelow were masters of image and promotion. As devotees of the great Barnum, they followed many of his practices, such as decorating every inch of the building and adopting a mascot. Unlike Jumbo [Barnum’s elephant], the Kickapoo mascot required no upkeep – she was fictional. Her name was Little Bright Eyes, an Indian princess who appeared in the company’s literature. Healy and Bigelow played the exotica card for all it was worth, publishing countless ads, pamphlets, and magazines built around the romantic Indian who was in perfect harmony with the environment, never got an illness he couldn’t cure, and was the physical and spiritual superior of the white man (Anderson 2000:63).
The fictional Bright Eyes no doubt spurred real life counterparts (figure 7). In this image of a group of Mohawks, both women have the name Bright Eyes beaded along the bottom of their dresses. In a circa 1894 image from the Library of Congress collection and illustrated in Trading Identities, by art historian Ruth Phillips, a similarly dressed woman is posing with a troupe of Mohawk entertainers from the St. Regis [Mohawk] Indian Show Company. Phillips writes that
the photograph documents the semiotic complexity characteristic of clothing worn in touristic performances. While the crown-like headdress worn by the woman refers to the standard Indian princess image, the prominent tree of life on the skirt pictures and preserves a key symbol of Iroquois cosmology and oral traditions (Phillips 1998:15).
In both photographs, the women are wearing comparable dresses that have a variation of the “tree of life” motif, and in at least one other photograph of the Bright Eyes troupe, they are identified as Mohawks.
Figure 7 – Cabinet card, 4.5 x 6.5 inches. Possibly a group of Akwesasne Mohawk entertainers from the Saint Regis Indian Show Company. Both women have “Bright Eyes” beaded along the bottom of their dresses. Private collection.
Healy and Bigelow were accomplished promoters and they got the greatest showman of their day, Buffalo Bill, to endorse their most famous product. He was quoted in advertisements claiming “Kickapoo Indian Sagwa... is the only remedy the Indians ever use, and has been known to them for ages. An Indian would as soon be without his horse, his gun or blanket as without Sagwa,”
The Bigelow Society indicates that the Kickapoo Indian Medicine Company
claimed over eight hundred employees by the late 1880's. Alas, the actual Indians were never Kickapoos but primarily Eastern tribes like the Iroquois and tribes from the West like the Sioux, Blackfoot, and Cherokee. A few were hired from reservations, as was done by Cody, and some were enticed away from Buffalo Bill's Wild West.
Company representatives traveled ahead of the show to a target city, with advance publicity, to stir up interest in an upcoming event. Rallies were held in front of drug stores to promote the company’s products and special displays were set up in store windows with posters and a sampling of the company’s remedies. There were usually Indians on hand at these events to ensure the authenticity of the company’s products (figure 8). In this image, a young Indian family is standing before Hurds Pharmacy in Fairfield, Maine. Behind them is a display of Indian beadwork, suspended across the storefront window, perhaps offered for sale as a way for them to earn extra income? There is also a poster for the Kickapoo tonic, Segwa in the lower right hand corner of the window.
Once a show came to town, a typical performance ran for about two hours and it didn’t follow any particular format (figure 9).
On the bill could be displays of marksmanship, broad ethnic comedy steeped in rough stereotypes, magic, stunts and acrobatics, dancing, or perhaps a strongman. Entertainments would make up about two thirds of the show. The performers worked on a stage with a runway into the crowd and a canvas backdrop with painted scenes of nature and life among the Native Americans. On the lip of the stage might be glass jars with repulsive-looking tapeworms suspended in clear liquid. The huge worms, said to be removed from prominent local citizens, were actually purchased from stockyards. Tapeworm expellers–need it be said?–were big sellers (Armstrong and Armstrong 1991:177).
In another cabinet card that depicts Iroquois performers in these medicine shows, the seated child on the right is holding a box containing a bottle of Kickapoo Segwa, the company’s most popular patent medicine (figure 9a). It’s hard to see in the image but the box has the word SEGWA across the top. I’ve often wondered if these old photos were done as advertisement for the Wild West and Medicine show promoters because images like these gave them at least an air of authenticity since they had real Indians working for them. This also suggested to their patrons that their patent medicines were authentic as well and made by the Indians, a totally fabricated notion of course.
There were star performers on the Medicine Show circuit. One such individual was Nevada Ned Oliver. As the manager and head scout of the Kickapoo Indian Medicine Company he was usually seen wearing buckskins, a fancy, wide-brimmed hat and long hair. During a typical performance he would introduce the company’s troupe of Indians to the crowd, and it was reported that they would acknowledge him with nothing more than a grunt. When the final Indian appeared on stage, he delivered an oration, in his Native language, which Nevada Ned interpreted. Typically, Ned’s translation described how the Indian medicine they were offering to the crowd had saved the lives of untold numbers of Native people. After the sales pitch was delivered, the Indians would move about the crowd to sell the company’s remedy.
Nevada Ned Oliver once admitted that he had never been within 2000 miles of Nevada. In addition to his job as show manager, he was also a trick shot and in his spare time he wrote crime novels.
Oliver was also honest enough to laugh at himself. As the manager (Indian agent) of the Kickapoo show, Oliver was supposed to translate the speeches, given in various Native American languages… But, as he later wrote, “what the brave actually said, I never knew, but I had reason to fear that it was not the noble discourse of my translation…” (Armstrong and Armstrong 1991:180).
Quite a few nineteenth century photographs have survived that depict Native people who were involved in these medicine shows and in many of them the subjects are Iroquois (figures 10 and 11).
Figure 10 – Cabinet card, 4.5 x 6.5 inches. Circa 1890. The subjects are identified on the back as Mohawks. Photographer: A. B. Comstock, Waverly, New York. Private collection.
The 1892 New York State census indicated that the use of traditional medicine practices among the Iroquois had almost disappeared by this date and that many were now involved in the medicine shows.
The days of the old “medicine man” have passed away. Young men from each of the reservations including Chief Philip T. Johnson, of Tuscarora, are “travelling men” for so-called Indian medicines, and make themselves welcomed and successful through the prestige of their Indian character and good address (Donaldson 1892:50).
This same statistical study also listed 20 Mohawks from Akwesasne as traveling show men and no doubt there were many more from Kahnawake, in Canada, who were not included in the New York census.
Not only were the Iroquois performing in the medicine shows, but some of them were involved in the direct sales of these medicines. The Department of Indian Affairs in Ottawa, Canada, reported that the Mohawk from Kahnawake were “engaged in the extensive manufacture of beadwork … [and] in 1903 several residents of Caughnawaga were making good profit by selling patent medicines in Canada and the United States” (Department of Indian Affairs 1967:19).
|Figure 12 – Circa 1890 advertising photograph for the patent medicine Ka-Ton-ka. 4.5 x 6.5 inches. Portrait of Chi-la-kaw, Wounded Wolf, an Iroquois working for the Oregon Indian Medicine Company. Both sides shown. Private collection.|
Another interesting image from the same period (figure 12) holds the key to the significance of many of these old images. The subject, identified as Chi-la-Kaw, is wearing an Iroquois style yoke or collar and his headpiece has Mohawk elements to it yet he is posing for the Oregon Indian Medicine Company which was located just a short distance from Seneca Reservation in Salamanca, New York.
The Oregon Indian Medicine Company was founded by Colonel Thomas Augustus Edwards who was born in 1832 in Saugerties, New York. By his twenty-third birthday, he was already on a career in the entertainment business when he became the manager for the Spaulding and Roger's Circus. At the outbreak of the Civil War, he was hired by the government to track down blockade runners. He was captured and held prisoner for a time and carried out a daring escape. Towards the end of the war, he became a government scout and in 1866, during the Snake War, he travelled to Oregon. It was on this campaign that he met the Cayuse scout, Donald McKay (figure 13).
It was in Oregon that Edwards learned about Indian medicine through Dr. William C. McKay, one of four sons of Alexander McKay… McKay was a physician to the Indians. His brother, Donald McKay was a prominent scout and Indian fighter. Both men had Indian wives. Both McKays returned east with Colonel Edwards about 1874, taking with them a party of Warm Spring Indians. Edwards and the Indians toured Europe and then New England demonstrating Indian skills and customs. In 1876 he took the Indian show to the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia. It was there that he began selling Indian medicines (Dary 2008:259).
In a circa 1888 advertising booklet for the Oregon Indian Medicine Company (OIMC) titled Luk-Cay-Oti – Spotted Wolf, one page is devoted to their celebrated manager, along with a general description of the origins of his company and the preparation of its products.
Figure 13 - Stereoview (circa 1873) of Donald McKay, captain of the Warm Spring Indian scouts during the Modoc War (1872-1873). Photographer: Louis Heller, Yreka, California. Private collection.
Warm Spring Indian Show
Col. Edwards has seen much of frontier life, and is perhaps the best posted man on Indian life, Indian customs and habits in this country. He has been the Manager of the Lava Bed Heroes since 1876; and their great success in selling their Medicines is largely due to his skilful and energetic management…The Warm Spring Indians never employ white performers to give their exhibitions. By this one feature alone the public can know the imitators. The standing figure of Donald McKay is on every bottle of Ka-Ton-Ka, printed in colors on a white wrapper. The ingredients of Ka-Ton-Ka are all gathered by the Warm Spring Indians in Oregon and Washington Territory. They prepare them in their own peculiar manner; and no druggist can duplicate that simple Indian preparation from his extensive stock of drugs, and all his experience and knowledge combined. If the white people could only enjoy the splendid heath of the Indian, what a happy race they would be; what money they could save in doctor’s bills, and what misery they would avoid (Edwards c1888:5).
The OIMC was originally based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and their principal cure-all was a tonic called Ka-ton-ka. In 1882, the company moved to Corry, Pennsylvania and was in full operation by 1885.
Edwards claimed his business partners in this venture were the McKays from the Warm Spring Reservation, in Oregon. Donald McKay worked for both the US Army and the Bureau of Indian Affairs as the captain of the Warm Spring scouts during the Modoc War (1872-73). His success in this endeavor earned him a good deal of publicity and fame with the public. He eventually left his life as a government scout and embarked on a career in both the Medicine shows and Wild West shows. McKay’s step-mother, Isabelle Montour, was Iroquois and during the 1880s, he and his wife (Susan) and daughter (Minnie) toured the country promoting products for Edwards and the Oregon Indian Medicine Company.
Edwards took advantage of McKay’s notoriety and used the old Indian scout’s likeness in many of the company’s advertisements. Although their operation was not as extensive as that of the Kickapoo Indian Medicine Company, they did have several shows touring the country at the same time.
Around 1888, Edwards published a list of the Indians that toured with him in his medicine shows.
Names of the Indians Comprising this Troupe.
Donald McKay’s Heroes of the Lava Beds. Indian Warriors, Indian Squaws, Indian Papooses, Indian Braves, Indian Interpreters, Indian Children, Indian Trailers [Trackers], Indian Scouts. Chief American Horse, Tribal Chief. Ae-Le-Ta or Dove Wing and Papoose. Scar-Face Bear, Great War Chief. Spotted Wolf, Pawnee Athlete. Ka-Kos-Ka, Medicine Man. Swift Runner, over 80 years old. Oc-A-La, Good Woman. Kaw-Sha-Gans, Red Wild Cat. Red Leaves, Half Breed Interpreter. Fluttering Willow, the Mother Squaw. Sul-Te-Wan, Bright Sun. Wi-Ne-Mah, Mountain Bird. These Indians have been traveling twelve years, two years of which they spent in Europe. Their Entertainments consists of the Manners, Habits, Customs, and Ceremonies of a Race of People once powerful, now nearly extinct (Edwards c1888:7).
Many of the same names appeared in a late-nineteenth century advertisement that was posted in the Altoona Tribune, an Altoona, Pennsylvania newspaper (figure 14). The ad was taken out by the Oregon Indian Medicine Company to advertise the upcoming appearance of the Warm Spring Indians in Altoona. The announcement indicated that the Indians would perform at the Opera House and their Indian medicine men would be curing patrons, free of charge. The Indian’s were presumably doing this with the company’s patent medicines. A number of the Indians listed in the Altoona advertisements were Iroquois as I will point out below.
In 1886, Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show played on Staten Island, in New York and the Oglala chief American Horse (figure 15) had replaced Sitting Bull as the Indian star of the show. That winter Buffalo Bill’s troupe also performed at Madison Square Garden (Scarangella McNenly 2012:25). The Altoona Opera House advertisement indicates that American Horse would be appearing in Altoona and the Luk-Cay-Oti booklet mentions that he was a member of the Oregon Indian Medicine Company. Did Colonel Edwards somehow entice American Horse to leave Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show to perform in his medicine show? It’s not likely. As the Oregon Indian Medicine Company grew, Edwards hired more Native entertainers and his company’s proximity to the Seneca Reservation, in Salamanca, New York may have provided a ready resource of Iroquois representatives or a gateway to other Iroquois reservations.
During this period, the entertainment business played an important role in the lives of many Native people as it provided them with another means to earn a living. It was also important for another reason; the Wild West and Medicine shows were a way for Native people to maintain many of their traditions. The Office of Indian Affairs (OIA) together with Indian schools such as Carlisle (as well as the church run residential schools in Canada), discouraged Indian participation in these events because they believed the shows were counterproductive to their assimilation efforts. Show promoters on the other hand encouraged these performances as they were good for business. For the Indians, it was a way to openly engage in their traditional dances and ceremonies, thereby overtly circumventing the work of the churches and the OIA. Kahnawake Mohawks in particular had a good deal of experience in the entertainment business and show recruiters sought them out because “people there were well suited to the industry and participated willingly” (Scarangella McNenly 2012:104-105).
Chi-la-Kaw, pictured on the advertising card in figure 12, is listed on the Opera House advertisement. Dove Wing, a sharpshooter from Kahnawake, is also slated to appear. In the Luk-Cay-Oti booklet she is described as
…one of the prominent features of this show… Her voice is a marvel. She produces those sweet, plaintive, melodious cadences, so peculiar to her race. When the troupe are singing their – wild and weird songs – the voice of Dove Wing can be heard like the rippling of water, soothing and modifying the wild tones into musical harmony (Edwards c1888:13).
Dove Wing is pictured in several nineteenth century cabinet cards and in at least two of them she is depicted with American Horse and Scar Face Bear (figure 16 and 17).
Figure 16 – Cabinet Card, 4.5 x 6.5 inches. Circa 1890. Depicted from left to right: Scar Face Bear, American Horse and Dove Wing, Mohawks from Kahnawake. Photographer: Smith and Hodson, St. Mary’s, Ohio. Private collection.
She was American Horse’s wife (Edwards c1888:1) and in both images she is wearing the same under dress with the identical border design along the bottom and her facial features are identical. The American Horse she is depicted with clearly not the same chief who participated in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show (figure 15).
The American Horse that Dove Wing is depicted with is the Mohawk deer clan chief Angus Montour. Other identified images of him confirm this. Considering his promotional skills, it’s quite possible that Col. Edwards gave Angus Montour the name American Horse so that he could take advantage of the Oglala chief’s notoriety.
Scar Face Bear, who is wearing a wide-brimmed hat in figure 16, is also depicted in figure 18 wearing the same hat. The Luk-Cay-Oti booklet describes him as a Warm Spring Indian.
Scar Faced Bear, hero of the Lava Beds, [his exploits in the Modoc War are described in the Luk-cay-oti booklet although they are not presently verifiable ] is a Warm Spring Indian. While he is ignorant of the lore learned from books, he has learned much from the great teacher, Nature, and in plain forest and mountain craft he is unexcelled. He is an unerring shot, a splendid trailer [tracker], a good horseman, and possessed of an abundance of that cool courage so essential to an Indian. In the course of his career he has passed through adventures of the most startling and hazardous description, though he rarely speaks about himself, and what we have learned of his history was gleaned by dint of much questioning in conversations around the camp-fire. Physically he is a splendid specimen of manhood. His body is covered with scars received in battle; he is tall, broad-shouldered, deep-chested, and as strong as a mountain lion (Edwards c1888:18).
Even though he is described as a Warm Spring Indian on the back of figure 18, in reality, Scar Face Bear was also a Mohawk entertainer from Kahnawake and he has descendents that are living there today.
Along with American Horse, Chi-la-Kaw and Dove Wing, the Altoona Opera House advertisement also list’s Kaw-shaw-gan, (the Red Wild Cat). The Luk-Cay-Oti booklet has a fanciful and perhaps somewhat apocryphal characterization of him.
Kaw-Shaw-Gance or Red Wild Cat.
Kaw-Shaw-Gance, or Red Wild Cat, is a full blooded Indian of the Warm Spring tribe of Indians, whose reservation is located in Crook County, Oregon. He was one of the seventy-one who were employed by the Government to conquer the Modocs in 1873. He distinguished himself as a warrior, brave, fearless and persevering. The conquering of Capt. Jack and his hostile band was due to the courage, cunning and subtlety of Warm Spring Indian scouts. Red Wild Cat was foremost in his zeal and ambition to show the soldiers what stuff he was made of, and he received personal recognition from Gen. Davis, to whom he turned over some of the prisoners that he had captured. He has been traveling with the Indians, introducing their Indian Ka-Ton-Ka for several years. He is a valuable exponent of the rights of the Indians, and represents manners, habits and customs of his race. He exhibits in his appearance on the stage the characteristics that distinguished him during the Modoc war – bravery, dash and courage (Edwards c1888:10).
The following narrative describes the birth of the character Red Wild Cat and reveals that he was not a Warm Spring Indian as Edwards claimed but rather an Iroquois. In an 1889 account of the exploits of William Glazier, John Owens writes that:
At one time he [Glazier] joined another eccentric character named Tom Lolar, an Indian of the Seneca tribe, whose lands in the long ago of Indian history bordered the blue waters of Lake Seneca in central New York. This peculiar pair proceeded to electrify certain rural communities in their immediate neighborhood with huge posters, announcing that on a given night:
Kaw-shaw-gan-ce, or The Red Wild Cat, The Great Chief of the Walaitipu Indians, now traveling for the benefit of his tribe, proposes to exhibit to an enlightened public the trophies won by his braves, in their battles with other ferocious tribes beyond the Rocky Mountains, and the Great Chief will likewise give an exhibition of the WAR DANCES OF HIS NATION.
Accordingly, upon the night in question, Tom Lolar, as “Kaw-shaw-gan-ce,” and Henry Glazier as ticket agent, reaped such an excellent harvest that the latter concluded to start a “live Indian” upon his own account (Owens 1889:51).
Tom Lolar no doubt invented Kaw-Shaw-Gance for the purpose of entertaining audiences and the financial remuneration that ensued. Col. Edwards alleged that he participated in the Modoc War and the capture of Captain Jack but that is presently unverifiable. He was most likely the individual described as the Warm Spring Kaw-Shaw-Gance on the Altoona Opera House advertisement and in the Luk-Cay-Oti booklet. Edwards did this no doubt to bolster his case that all of his entertainers were from out west and therefore more exotic than if he claimed they were from a local tribe. In an engraving of Kaw-Shaw-Gance in the Luk-Cay-Oti booklet, his attire has many Iroquois elements to it, including a jacket that is quite similar to the one on the man in figure 11, complete with beaded collar and cuffs in the Iroquois style (Edwards c1888:10).
Prairie Flower, (figure 19) is not listed in the Luk-Cay-Oti booklet but she is featured in the Altoona Opera House advertisement. Louisa Stump (born in 1868; died in the 1940s), aka Prairie Flower, aka Texas Lillie, was a Mohawk from Kahnawake. She was a sharpshooter who worked with several Wild West and Medicine Shows during her entertainment career, among them Buffalo Bill’s and the Kiowa Medicine and Vaudeville Company of Steamburg, New York, which was located just a short distance from the Seneca Reservation in Salamanca. She was married to Louis Belmont Newell, aka Rolling Thunder, that at least one source identifies as Wabanaki.
The photographic and written record indicates that entire Indian families worked and travelled together in both the Medicine Shows and Wild West shows. Native performers, photographed in their best regalia, were making statements of their identity, even if these images were taken to promote the company and convey an air of authenticity on the medicine shows and their patent medicines.
So this brings us back to the original Mohawk image of Running Antelope and his family (figure 1). Why were they identified as Warm Spring Indians? It’s clear that they, along with many other Iroquois, were working for the Oregon Indian Medicine Company. It’s not likely the general public had a personal interest in the specific tribal origin of the company’s representatives; their interest was in the company’s patent medicines and the entertainment value of their shows. Since the company’s advertisements always claimed their representatives were Warm Spring Indians, the public more than likely regarded all the Indians that worked for them as such, hence the note on the back.
In a letter by Donald McKay to his half-brother Dr. William McKay in Oregon, he admits that whenever he encountered people asking about the veracity and efficacy of the company’s Indian medicines that
I tel them that you git the old wemen to gather the ruts [roots] and dry it and you send it to me and they all think it so (Clark 1971:xiv).
Perhaps the most revealing comment about the efficacy of patent medicines comes from the founder of the Oregon Indian Medicine Company himself. In his later years, Col. Edwards, “with creaking joints, maneuvered himself in a barber chair,” when a local resident of Corry, Pennsylvania asked: “Why not take some of your own medicine?” The old colonel replied: “That ain’t made to take. It’s made to sell” (Clark 1971:xix).
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c1888 Luk-Cay-Oti - Spotted Wolf. An advertising booklet published by the Oregon Indian Medicine Company, Corry, PA.
1997 Indian Bottles and Brands. Published by the author.
Owens, John Algernon
1889 Sword and Pen; or Ventures and Adventures of Willard Glazier (the Soldier-Author) in War and Literature: Comprising Incidences and Reminiscences of his Childhood; his Checkered Life as a Student and Teacher; and his Remarkable Career as a Soldier and Author; Embracing also the Story of his Unprecedented Journey from Ocean to Ocean on Horseback; and an Account of his Discovery of the True Source of the Mississippi River, and Canoe Voyage Thence to the Gulf of Mexico. P.W. Ziegler & Company, Publishers. Philadelphia.
Phillips, Ruth B.
1998 Trading Identities – The Souvenir in Native North American Art from the Northeast, 1700-1900. University of Washington Press, Seattle and London. McGill-Queen’s University Press, Montreal and Kingston.
Scarangella McNelly, Linda
2012 Native Performers in Wild West Shows from Buffalo Bill to Euro Disney. University of Oklahoma Press.