John Two Guns White Calf (1872-1934), shown above, may indeed be memorialized in a way few other Native Americans have been – on a piece of American money – the buffalo nickel to be specific. But then again….maybe not….there is a very interesting mystery. So sit down and pull up a mug of something to drink….
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.
Two Guns White Calf, also known as John Two Guns and John Whitecalf Two Guns, was also, in time, a Blackfoot chief. He provides one of the most readily recognizable images of a Native American in the world as impression of his portrait appears to appear on a coin, the Indian head nickel.
His visage was reportedly used along with those of John Big Tree (Seneca) and Iron Tail (Sioux) in James Earl Fraser’s composite design for the nickel. Notice the chief’s signature in the photo below taken by T.J. Hileman.
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 63 and was buried at Browning, Montana in a Catholic cemetery.
Chief Two Guns White Calf and the Indian-Head Nickel 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” (in his later years, he mostly said, “one other”).
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 Whitecalf? “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.”
Although he is widely remembered for his appearance on the buffalo head nickel, he was an emissary for his people as their Chief, in particular regarding the government’s unmet treaty agreements.
Chief White Calf (son of the first Chief White Calf) also went to Washington DC to collect monies owed to the Indians. Here’s what he had to say about the government’s delinquent payments:
“In the old days, when we made war on the other tribes, and conquered the land you [whites] later took away from us, our warriors carried a bow and two quivers full of arrows. In the old days my quivers held arrows, because in those times we fought with arrows. But nowadays one can no longer fight with arrows; nowadays one must fight with money, and you can clearly see that the quivers which should hold the money with which to fight for my people are empty.”
The Chief pulled his pants pockets inside out to show they were empty.
“If you want me to be able to fight then fill my empty quivers. Fill my empty quivers with money, and then I will be able to fight.”
Chief White Calf went to Washington D.C. and met with the Commissioner of Indian Affairs to get the money due the Blackfeet people, but the commissioner John Collier told him to go home and the check would be sent in due time. The Chief refused and told Collier he was “going to stay until he got the claim money due his people even if he had to die like his father Chief White Calf died in 1903 in the Presidents private chamber, fighting for tribal claims.”
Chief White Calf, the son, told Collier he would “take an old blanket and sleep in the streets and eat garbage” if he had to, but he would not leave without that money.
Then he said, “The whole world will know that two Chief White Calf’s died in Washington D.C. fighting for the rights of their people. The whole world will know that the old Chief White Calf and his son, the new Chief White Calf, both died right here in Washington D.C. I will do the same [as my father]. I will die here before I will turn around like a whipped dog and go home without the check.”
Commissioner Collier relented the next day and called the Chief to his office and handed him the check due the Blackfeet Indians.
*Another historian has indicated that the railway was the Great Northern Railway, but I cannot verify if only one or both were involved.
Update: Marilynn, the owner of this painting of Two Guns, originally owned by her father who lived in Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada and loaned to the Galt Museum for years has provided permission to include it in this article. This painting is believed to have been originally owned by Harold and Marie long, of Lethbridge, located in the Porcuppine Hills about 30 miles west of Fort Macleod, the same road as Head Smashed in Buffalo Jump.
What a great story,a tragic trail of broken promises and exploitation of a great people, I recently bought a photo of John Two Guns White Calf, his profile is faceing to the left,he has the shell ear rings as in the photo in your article,and also a bear claw necklace and other bead work. the photo is marked with his name as in your photo and Hileman 27,possibly the year it was taken. It will hang in my home in respect of John Two Guns White Calf and the Indian nation,Thanks !!
I have the same photo. Do you know how much it is worth? It was passed down to me by a relative.
The value of these pictures depends on the format.
A postcard of the Two Guns image you are describing can sell anywhere from $10 to $20. I just bought one for $8.
If the postcard has Two Guns’ pictographic signature (two stylized rifles and a buffalo calf), it can be worth $50 to $900, depending on the situation. I think I’ve mentioned previously that auction prices tend to be higher than if the card is sold by an individual or a dealer.
The same portrait of Two Guns was also produced as a lithographic print that was issued by the Great Northern Railway, and often features a copy of Two Guns’ signature as well as a copy of the signature of the photographer, Tomer Hileman. These are about 10 by 14 inches (roughly) and can sell from $50 to $250, depending on who is asking and the situation.
To have an original Hileman print of that same Two Guns image, with Hileman’s stamp on it, would be worth a couple of hundred dollars, I would imagine. Although if it fetched more, I wouldn’t be surprised. You seldom see them come up for sale, and I can’t remember the last time I saw one offered.
While going through old family stuff, we came across a letter to my late mother-in-law from Two Guns White Calf. The letter was dated 1928. It seems that when my mother-in-law was in school she had written a letter to Two Guns White Calf. He answered her letter and sent a large picture of himself (signed), a publication about Glacier National Park and a publication from Northern Pacific Railroad.
Hello Harris Stein:
I’m working on a biography of Two Guns and I’d be interested to learn more about the letter Two Guns sent your mother-in-law. If you could contact me, I’d be most appreciative.
Is your book on Two Guns finished? I’d be interested in knowing more about him too.
The biography of Two Guns White Calf is taking longer than I anticipated.
If you have specific questions, I might be able to answer them.
For an overview of Two Guns life, you might read the article I wrote for Coins Magazine that deconstructs the connection between the buffalo nickel and Two Guns.
What a nice article. It was what I was looking for during my research of a picture I just purchased at a local estate sale. It’s the chief and was produced by the GNRy but I noticed the signature at the bottom of the print. Then I noticed your picture above with the same signature. Could this really be his signature? It’s done in pen at the bottom of this unusual print. Can you tell me what something like this might be worth? Thank you for the great article.
I have no clue.
Yes, that is Two Guns signature, but . . . Two Guns initially did not write English, so all the earliest signatures I’ve seen of his are an “X” accompanied by a thumb print, which was common at the time among Native Americans. The pictographic signature you see below the photo was a creation, done for Great Northern Railway publicity purposes. It initially did no look like that, but evolved from 1913 so that by early 1920s it took on the form you see on your image. How much of a say Two Guns had in its creation I do not know. I just know that each of the Blackfeet who worked for the Great Northern eventually had a pictographic signature which he or she used for publicity purposes, based on the individual’s name.
I have found only two documents that show Two Guns wrote his signature in a cursive hand. I suspect he was taught how to write his name by his daughter Mary, or his wife Susan, who had been married to a white man for 20 years before marrying Two Guns.
There are many documents that have the pictographic signature of Two Guns. Some are signed by him while others were either done with a stamp or an auto-pen. These latter documents were usually issued by the railway out of its head office on behalf of Two Guns, such as a press release from the Great Northern’s publicity department.
Most postcards and some portraits done of Two Guns were signed by him, but beware of forgeries. I have what I suspect to be one forged Two Guns signature and I’ve seen at least one other suspected forgery for sale on eBay. (A good indication is the color of the ink. Most ink from the fountain pen era will fade to a brown color. Darker ink should be viewed carefully, but should not be discounted.)
As to value, it’s variable. I’ve picked up a signed Two Guns photo for under $10. There’s one listed for sale on eBay for $10,000. Most run between $50 and $150. You will see some signed postcards at live auctions (not eBay, but held by auction companies) going for $500 plus to $1,500, but I rack that up to people with money and limited time to hunt out bargains. Given that the signatures of many historical celebrities don’t reach prices above $250 or $500, it’s hard to fathom that Two Guns’ signature should fetch more when he signed thousands of real photo postcards.
Just a further note. There is likely a second signature on the photo-print of Two Guns that you have. That would be of photographer T.J. Hileman of Kalispell, Mont. It is likely follow by ” ’27 “, indicating the image was signed in 1927. That was a busy year for Two Guns and fellow Blackfeet working for the railway, which took them to the “Fair of the Iron Horse” in Baltimore that fall to mark the 100th anniversary of the B&O Railroad. As many a one million people came out to the fair, where Two Guns and the Blackfeet appeared daily and signed thousands of postcards.
I forgot to add that while the pictographic signatures for Two Guns and the other Blackfeet are creations that the individuals did not use prior to their work for the Great Northern Railway, the signatures are based on the Blackfeet tradition of pictographic writing used on buffalo and other hides, sometimes teepees, and also seen in petroglyphs (carvings in soft stone). So in that sense the designs are authentic, although likely designed with help from personnel in the railway’s publicity department.
Hello Ray. I wonder if you have can come across a pic on the web with Two Guns, his wife, the wealthy American Van Laer Black and 2 KLM pilots Geysendorffer and Scholte (my grandfather) – during the early years of aviation (1927) and if you know anything about this meeting? I only have copies of 2 such photos – the other is of the same persons and other Blackfoot family members. I also have a nickel (indian head/buffalo) coin which I presume is from my grandfather’s meeting.
I did a quick check of my files and can find no reference to the meeting between the Blackfeet, Van Laer Black and the KLM pilots. I have a couple of photos of Two Guns with planes, but obviously not that particular meeting.
As the meeting took place in 1927, it was likely during the Blackfeet presence at the Fair of the Iron Horse just outside Baltimore in October. Black was on the board of the Baltimore Sun, so would have had access to the Blackfeet as the Great Northern Railway wanted to curry favor with the local press to get as much media publicity as possible. I do not have a full agenda for the Blackfeet during their stay in Baltimore during the Fair of the Iron Horse, but this sounds like an occasion to which the railway publicity people would have readily agreed.
I would appreciate seeing the photo you have with the Blackfeet. I might be able to determine the time and place, as well as individual Blackfeet shown.Contact me at rdjuff at shaw.ca
Two Guns was my Great Grandpa 🙂 He was the dad to my grandpa Willow White Calf & Willow had my grandma Marie White Calf, she married my grandpa Percy Bullchild, they had 5 children (1 being my mama) I love reading about my great grandpa, he was so famous. He loved the camera! Very handsome he was!!! 🙂
Fascinating possible connection to Two Guns. And, yes, he was very handsome. Definitely not shy of the camera.
I have found only one living direct descendant of Two Guns and I’m afraid it is not the line you mention. However, the Bullchilds are, to my knowledge, related to Two Guns indirectly. The father of Susan,Two Guns’ second wife, was Good Medicine, and I believe Good Medicine had a brother named Bullchild.
Adding to possible confusion is the fact there were two Percy Bullchilds on the Blackfeet reservation at the same time, one born in 1916, son of George Bullchild, and an earlier Percy Bullchild born about 1881 who adopted the Bullchild name.
Please don’t take what I say as gospel truth. Here’s a link to Blackfeet reservation census starting in 1890 that might help you in your quest for information about the Bullchilds and Two Guns.
I’ve gone through it and drawn my own conclusions, but you may come to another conclusion, which I’d be curious to hear about.
Good luck with your research.
Hi, Wendy. Do you know if John Two Guns White Calf (1872-1934) had a son named John White Calf? My late aunt (1931-2021) told me about visiting our Blackfeet relative “uncle Johnny White Calf” in Browning when she was a young girl. Thank you.
I have obtained a great photograph of the blackfeet and blood indian delegation to B&O century pageant with President coolidge sept., 17, 1927. It was taken by Frank Scherer on the front lawn of the white house with coolidge, the chief of indian affairs at the time and 39 members of the tribe. One of them is definitely Two Guns. Any interesting history about this event?
Have my own copy of that image, or similar ones taken by other press photographers there at the time. Two Guns is fifth person on the right from President Coolidge, who is wearing the light-colored suit. Two Guns is not wearing a headdress and has his hands clasped in front of him. Earlier in the day the president and his wife were given a tour of the William Crooks train and cars that pulled the old cars the native delegation had ridden on from St. Paul, on their way to the B&O Railroad centennial just outside Baltimore. Some 3,000 people also took a tour of the train during its stop in Washington. That day the natives had a luncheon at the National Press Club. Later, they attended a ballgame between the Washington Senators and the Cleveland Indians. I believe the Senators shut out the Indians 3-0.
ray, in the early 50’s when i was very young i was at my grandmothers home and she had some old encyclopedias. I cant remember World Book or Britanica or what they were, but they had the story of Chief 2 guns Whitecalf and his portrait on the nickle.
I remember that fact my entire life. Yes it was in an encyclopedia.
Good luck and thanks for continuing your research to commemorate Americas great people
As I’ve mentioned, it was accepted wisdom that Two Guns was a model for the coin and that “fact” was erroneously published and republished many times over the decades, even by reputable sources. The Great Northern Railway’s publicity claim that it was Two Guns on the coin has definitely stuck, unquestioned, in the popular imagination.
You may find an article I wrote on the subject for Coins Magazine interesting, as it details how the railway was able to pull the wool over everyone’s eyes.
Hi Ray~ Based on all the confusion about the model for the 1913 nickel, how do the Blackfeet feel about the issue today? Do they acknowledge it to be based on Two Guns? Or do they refuse to comment? I’m working on a fictional middle grade novel with a reference to Two Guns and would want to be accurate to their current opinion. I have other questions regarding Blackfeet and wonder if you could direct me to a reliable source. Thank you!
You might want to contact the Blackfeet studies department at Blackfeet Community College and see if one of the instructors would like to talk/correspond with you about your writing and questions you have about the Blackfeet. These are some of the most knowledgeable people about the history of the tribe and reservation.
As for thoughts of the Blackfeet on the buffalo nickel-Two Guns matter, I would imagine those who know about the association probably would believe he was a model for the figure on the coin, as that’s been the general opinion for decades.
I’d hazard that the majority of Blackfeet or reservation residents (not all are Blackfeet) don’t know and I’m not sure they care. The coin has been out of circulation for decades.Younger people may never have seen it.
Some members of Two Guns’ wife’s family are quite adamant that he is portrayed on the coin. These are the children Susan had in her marriage before Two Guns, Two Guns’ step-children (if you can call them that as they were mostly adults by the time Two Guns and Susan got together). Susan and Two Guns had no children together. One of Susan’s descendents is quite angry at me for questioning the link between Two Guns and the coin.
Two Guns’ only direct living descendent, whom I’ve met, knows only what he’s been told by others, which is that they believe it is Two Guns on the coin or that he was a model for it.
One of the last living Blackfeet who was around in 1912 and knew Two Guns then, believed he was a model for the coin. The account this person gives is, unfortunately, riddled with errors and unreliable. She died in 1990.
Thank you very much
I believe that is my great great grandfather. My paternal grandfather used to tell us his grandfather was chief of the blackfoot tribe. How can I find out if he is related to me? This would be amazing to find out!
I might be able to help. I have mapped out most of the White Calf family and can possibly find where your paternal grandfather may tie in.
Write me at rdjuff at shaw.ca and we can go over some of the details.
I can also tell you about some resources that would be of help so you can independently confirm the information and check for yourself.
Following the celebration in Baltimore, the train carrying Two Guns White Chief and the tribal delegation, stopped in Oxford, Ohio. A townswoman, now deceased, talked about being a small child accompanying her mother as ladies of the town went on board the train with sandwiches and drinks (possibly lemonade) for the travelers. The Chief and a young woman interpreter, “White Dawn” I believe, walked with townspeople to the nearby gazebo on the campus of Oxford College for Women where the the mayor of the town presented the Chief with the keys to the city.
Photographs of the occasion are housed in the Walter Havighurst Special Collections and Archives, Miami University, Oxford, Ohio.
Hello Frances McClure:
Yes, I’ve seen the photo of Two Guns and “Princess Dawn Mist,” who was really Irene Goss, a mixed blood Blackfeet woman. Several lovely lasses on the reservation got to play the role of Princess Dawn Mist, including Irene’s sister and before them Daisy Norris. There is no royalty among the Blackfeet, so no such prince and princess titles are used in real life. The name Princess Dawn Mist was a fabrication of the Great Northern Railway’s advertising department, which would bequeath it to a comely maiden for publicity tours. She was naturally a magnet for reporters and photographers due to her beauty and ability to speak English.
That was gracious of the ladies of Oxford to take sandwiches and drinks to the Blackfeet on the train. On some trips the Blackfeet had to fend for themselves, making their own beds and meals, plus sweeping out the train car in which they were riding to an event. Generally the Blackfeet hired for these trips were not allowed to mix with other riders on the trains, nor permitted to take meals in the dining car. I’m sure the refreshments would have been welcomed.
I have the post card, photo that has shown up on the internet. It is # 9524-Chief Two Guns White
Calf, Glacier National Park., small C in a circle and Hileman.
On the back side, a John E. Curtiss from Lincoln, NE is attending a convention at the park.
Content in message, it is to Mrs. John E. Curtiss, 1717 Jay St. Lincoln. It is postmarked from the
park August 29, the mark has a flag and a 1 cent stamp. It says: “Dear Brownie-Wednesday noon
and convention moving along on schedule, Very hot, too warm for a coat, but the nights sure
do cool off.The Indian on the other side is the one picked by President Roosevelt to go on the
Bull Moose Nickel. I got him to personally inscribe his signature in two sign language. Look
closely and you will find the two guns and calf. Ha. Some artist, eh? Not much to write about
except, hope it’s cool. Love, John E”
The signature is two upside down guns with barrells down and a crude looking calf
Hello Bernadette Cunningham:
That’s a wonderful postcard you’ve obtained. The image was taken by Kalispell photographer Tomer Hileman in late 1924 or early 1925 and issued as a postcard for about a decade.
The author is mistaken is saying President Teddy Roosevelt picked Two Guns for the buffalo nickel, but that is typical of the mythology surrounding the old five-cent piece. Roosevelt was out of office when the coin came out.
I’m intrigued by the signature, which you say has two “upside down guns with the barrels down” and a crude looking calf. I’m trying to figure out if the card was signed upside down, thus the signature is upside down to the photo. If the signature is right-side up but the guns point down, that’s possibly a very unusual signature and a variation I can say I’ve never seen before.
If you would be willing to send me a scan of the card or signature, I’d appreciate the opportunity to study it. You can reach me at: rdjuff at shaw.ca.
Ray, did White Calf also go by White Buffalo? My great-great grandmother was Natawista from the Blood Tribe, Canada. She was married to Alexander Culbertson, whose first wife was from the White Buffalo family. I believe White Buffalo was Piegan. I could never find anything on him.
Hello G Culbertson:
To the best of may knowledge, neither Two Guns nor any of his relatives used the White Buffalo name. Both Two Guns, his brother James and their father all went by the family name of White Calf.
I checked several census for the Blackfeet tribe in Montana, including the 1907-08 census as well as the 1897-98 census, and found no reference to a White Buffalo family on the reservation. White Dog, White Calf, White Grass, White Horse Rider, White Horses, White Man, White Quiver, White Tail and White Woman, but no White Buffalo.
I’m told by Blackfeet speakers that White Calf is derived from Onistapoka, and one expert said the English translation would make more sense as Calf Child than White Calf, but that traditionally the name has always been White Calf on both sides of the border. There were White Calfs among both the Blackfeet (American Piegan) and Blood Tribe in Canada. Historian Hugh Dempsey has written about the Canadian White Calf.
You own last name, Culbertson, is equally famous and I can understand your desire to learn more about your family history.
I regret that I’ve no real information to offer in your search for information about Alexander Culbertson’s first wife and the White Buffalo family. An earlier search of Blackfeet census records may turn up something.
On the post card I have from a posting awhile back, everything I stated is so. I even
checked on the residents that lived at the address at that time, Mrs. John E Curtiss and
that’s who owned the house in Lincoln, NE. Her husband was at the convention and sent her the card. However, the barrels of the two guns are pointed up and not down.
I have been a post card collector for many years and know that this is not a reproduction. It’s been fun reading all of the postings on this site. Bernadette
Thank you, Ray, for your response. Good luck on all your endeavors.
Hello G Culbertson:
I was looking through some books that I have about the Blackfeet and came across a couple of references to White Buffalo that might be helpful.
In Andrew Graybill’s book The Red and the White, about the Clarke family, there’s a reference on pages 44-45 to a Piegan warrior called White Buffalo, dating back to the visit of German aristocrat Prince Maximilian to the west. That might be one route for more information about White Buffalo, as that would seem to be a relative (possibly the father) of Alexander Culbertson’s first wife..
I notice that in several books, Culbertson’s second wife is referred to variously as from the Piegan and/or Blood tribes. I don’t think some early writers were careful or knowledgeable about the distinctions between various tribes of the Blackfoot confederacy. So while White Buffalo is referred to as a Piegan man, the name might be associated with the Blood or Kainai tribe. I’m not familiar with all the family names of the Kainai and have no census records to which to refer, but it may be worth checking out.
Possibly another line of checking, in John Ewers’s book The Piikani Blackfeet, on page 165 there’s a reference to a Sarcee (Tsue T’ina) chief called White Buffalo. The Tsuu T’ina are often counted as part of the Blackfoot confederacy, and that may be another angle for you to pursue.
I mention these possible leads as ideas to pursue in your quest. I hope something turns up for you.
I have a quick question. I buy estates quite often, which leads to some amazing finds equivalent to a treasure hunt…….that’s successful. Lol. It also can be frustrating at times. Anyway, I was wondering if you have any idea when the first side portrait of Two Guns was recognized? I know his photo was done in 1927, and there are a multitude of reproduced painting of his iconic profile recreated by many artists. Yet, is there knowledge of the first oil on canvas date wise? I ask this because I recently aquired a beautiful oil on canvas signed Dan D. Millan 1922′. I’m am a big time antique furniture and art collector, so to my trained eye, Everything from the canvas and the ancient frame it’s stretched over date checks. If you can email me @firstname.lastname@example.org I can send pics. I’m not sure if I’ll remember to get back on this site or if I’ll be notified.
I wish I knew more about him as I found out that he is my 5th great uncle I got the Buffalo nickle with him on it I wish I could learn more all these is very interesting
Definitely take the time to read through this thread, as there’s quite a bit of information contained in it on Two Guns.
You might enjoy the article I wrote about Two Guns and the buffalo nickel. See it at:
If there was something specific you wanted to know about Two Guns, I could try to answer it.
I’m curious to know through what family connection you’re related to Two Guns. You can contact me at rdjuff at shaw.ca with specific inquiries and/or a description of your link to Two Guns.
Hi my name is Virginia twoguns I am trying to figure out who he is in my family… I also am a whitecalf…this was so cool to come across.. he looks exactly like my uncle.
I guess the question to ask is whether your family is from the Blackfeet tribe of Montana or another tribe.
There was, at one point, two groups of White Calfs on the Blackfeet reservation that were unrelated to one another, although having the same name. One line of White Calfs came from Canada and were members of the Blood Tribe, or Kainai, if I recall correctly.
The other line of White Calfs were Blackfeet, and it is from them that Two Guns, or Two Guns White Calf, is descended.
Two Guns was also known as John White Calf, which is the same name as one of the other White Calfs. It can lead to some confusion, as their ages are about the same and their spouses have similar names, Mary. They lived on different parts of the reservation.
Two Guns, of buffalo nickel fame, resided most of his life at Starr School on the Blackfeet reservation. Two Guns’ allotment was just south of Starr School.
The other fellow, John White Calf, lived elsewhere on the reservation, much farther south on his allotment.
I mention all of this because if you can trace your lineage to the Blackfeet reservation, you may be connected to either of the White Calf lines.
Additionally, I know that there are some people with the White Calf name among the Sioux (sorry, I don’t the proper name of the particular branch of the tribe) and, to the best of my knowledge, they have no close affiliation with either of the White Calfs on the Blackfeet reservation.
All of what I’ve mentioned is available online, should you scour through annual census records for the Blackfeet tribe in Montana.
Note that Two Guns, of buffalo nickel fame, is listed as Two Guns in the early census records, and not by the name by which he was later known, Two Guns White Calf.
White Calf was his father’s name, and appended to Two Guns’ name by Euro-Americans and the Great Northern Railway, the latter for publicity purposes.
John White Calf shows up as John White Calf.
Have fun checking it out.
When the train returned back West from the Fair of the Iron Horse in 1927, the tribe stopped in Bellaire, Ohio. Chief John White Calf and his delegation performed tribal dances in the City Park and met with the town Mayor. I have photographs taken by my Grandmother of these events, including the Steam Locomotive, the Chief and his Blackfoot tribe in the town Park with the Town Mayor, his young wife or femail member of the tribe, and a closeup photo of the Chief which shows the large “Buffalo Nickel” which hung around his neck.
I’d be curious to see some of the pictures you have of the Blackfeet and Two Guns in the park in Bellaire, Ohio. I have two sets of images of Two Guns on this trip and can’t identify the location, so your images may help me do that.
If you wish to reply to me directly, drop me an e-mail at rjduff at shaw.ca. I write “at” to reduce unwanted e-mails.
I’m still trying to track where that large copy of the buffalo nickel came from. Unconfirmed reports attribute it to the U.S. Mint, which supposedly presented it to Two Guns. That, however, is doubtful for a number of reasons. I’m beginning to think it was created by the Great Northern Railway and given to Two Guns for this trip to add veracity to the claim that he was a model for the nickel. As I’ve said before, all the evidence indicates Two Guns could not have been a model for the nickel.
You may call me at 740-676-2743
You know I don’t know you but my family is the direct decendency of chief 2 guns whitecalf, I would not jump the gun of publishing my grand father history unless you directly communicate with my family. My grandmother was last grand child he raised and theirs alot of confusion that surrounds his history, and maybe we should talk!
I’d be glad to hear from you and to learn about your connection to Two Guns.
You can reach me at rdjuff at shaw.ca
To whom it may concern…There is a newspaper clipping of Chief Two Guns Whitecalf and President Coolidge presenting the Indian head medallion to him. I personally know the family and dated his great grandson in college. I have seen the newspaper clipping. It would give further proof of this story. Thank You.
I have found no evidence to show that President Coolidge presented an Indian head medallion to Two Guns at the meeting at the White House.
I have photos of Two Guns before his arrival September 17, 1927, in Washington where he is wearing the medallion. I have pictures of him in Chicago on September 10 wearing the medallion and the Great Northern Railway issued a postcard of the group headed to the Fair of the Iron Horse Horse in Philadelphia where you can also see the medallion around Two Guns’ neck. That photo was taken around September 8.
My suspicion is the medallion was created at the request of the Great Northern Railway and given to Two Guns as part of its promotional effort. I’m still trying to track down the paperwork to verify that suspicion.
A close study of the medallion shows it is a crude copy of the buffalo nickel coin, not the work of an engraver from the U.S. Mint, which adds to my belief it was created in-house by one of the Great Northern’s shop workers.
Two Guns’ participation in the tour almost never happened as it was opposed by the reservation agent for reasons only obliquely referred to in correspondence. The Great Northern appealed to the agent to change his mind, in part citing the fact a lot of publicity material had already been put out that Two Guns would be on the tour and the railway didn’t want to back down on its word.
This seems at odds with the insinuation that the president was awaiting the arrival of Two Guns and the other Blackfeet and Blood/Kainai tribal members to present Two Guns with a medallion.
I’ve found no evidence to indicate the White House or Bureau of Indian Affairs intervened to ensure Two Guns participate in the tour or that there was a planned meeting at the White House due to the anticipated presentation of a medallion.
Why would a medallion be give to Two Guns if he was not directly involved in one way or another with the nickel?….I only know what I was told by a family member who is no longer alive. Her daughter and two sons are living however.
Your question about the link between Two Guns and the buffalo nickel hits at the heart of the matter. Quite bluntly, it was a fabricated link on the part of the Great Northern Railway.
It started with no less than the president of the railway himself, Louis Hill.
A few days after the buffalo nickel was released in 1913, Louis Hill happened to go to the bank, got the coin in change and remarked on it to one of his publicists at the railway. Hill sent the publicist a memo saying: “Get up a story on the new ‘See America First’ Glacier Park Nickle, with the profile of White Calf.”
That was the beginning of what I call the “big nickel lie.”
The whole purpose of tying Two Guns to the nickel was to create publicity for the railway’s new hotel developments in Glacier National Park. Nothing else.
Here are a few supporting thoughts to consider.
If Two Guns had been a model for the Native American portrayed on the nickel, you would have thought he would have been invited to the Feb. 22, 1913, ceremony in New York at which the coin was issued. Instead, the Blackfeet elder Mountain Chief attended on behalf of the tribe.
In fact, as I recall, neither of the two acknowledged inspirations for the image on the coin attended the ceremony.
The designer of the coin, James Earle Fraser, wrote years later that the image on the coin “is a type rather than a portrait. Before the nickel was made I had done several portraits of Indians, among those Iron Tail, Two Moons and one or two others, and probably got characteristics from those men in the head of the coin, but my purpose was not to make a portrait but a type.”
Fraser added: “I have never seen Two Guns Whitecalf nor used him in any way. . . . I can easily understand how he was mistaken in thinking that he posed for me.”
The fact that Fraser could not remember the names of the “one or two others” is what left the door open for the Great Northern Railway to make the suggestion that it was Two Guns on the coin.
And nobody questioned the matter for nearly 20 years, by which time the “big nickel lie” was so well established Fraser’s denial that Two Guns was the model really never stuck.
Which is why I believe so many people with ties to the Blackfeet reservation and Two Guns still believe Two Guns was the model for the coin. Even people who were involved with Two Guns were unlikely fully aware of the truth.
I suspect the family member who talked to you about Two Guns would fall into that category, of having been misled by the railway’s publicity effort. It was very masterful, and is what I intend to explain in full in the book on which I’m working. Your relative is not alone; I know of other people related to Two Guns who similarly believe he was the model for the coin.
How much Two Guns was told, how much he knew and whether he just played along, I don’t know. I can only speculate. It certainly provided him a lot of publicity that he likely would never have had without the intervention of the railway, and in some measure the tie to the coin provided him with a good life, while it lasted.
So glad to hear from you and to relay some of this information.
If you wish to contact me, we can discuss more of this in detail.
I realize in all my remarks above I didn’t get to the point you raised, which is why was the ceremony held at the White House with the president involving Two Guns and the troupe of Native Americans who accompanied him?
The short answer is for the promotional value.
The more detailed answer is it helped cement the authenticity of the railway’s claim that Two Guns was the model for the buffalo nickel.
The timing of the visit was just before the Fair of the Iron Horse, held in Baltimore in October 1927.
The Blackfeet and members of the Blood/Kainai Tribe from Alberta had been on a whistle stop promotional campaign from the west to the east, riding in reproduction antique rail cars pulled by the railway’s historic William Crook’s steam locomotive. The Great Northern train and Natives were to appear daily at the month-long Fair of the Iron Horse, marking the 100th anniversary of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad.
This was a huge promotional opportunity for the railway, as the number of people to attend the fair was expected to be enormous. In fact, attendance numbered more than 1.3 million, exceeding expectations.
As a promotional tool to interest tourists in coming to Glacier to tour the park and see the Blackfeet, the Great Northern could not have asked for more. The number of people who saw the Blackfeet in the daily parade of progress and then visited their tipi village on the fair grounds was tens of thousands a day, more than any previous promotional tour the railway had undertaken with the Natives.
Two Guns was, due to his likeness to the image on the nickel, a major theme of the Great Northern Railway’s advertising efforts, and the medal he wore throughout the trip was meant to emphasize the connection and his importance. Putting him on display with the other Natives was a big deal for Easterners, who seldom got to see “real Indians” in their traditional regalia. During the fair the Natives handed out a type of business card that urged fair attendees to “visit us in Glacier.”
And that’s the core of what the whole effort was about, to promote travel on the Great Northern Railway to tour its facilities in Glacier Park, Montana.
The stop at the White House was one of the highlights of the whistle stop campaign. Exactly how it was organized, I’ve yet to fully discover, although I have some circumstantial evidence of how railway officials used their friendship with elected politicians to arrange it.
As I said earlier, the railway ran an incredibly sophisticated promotional campaign that exploited every opportunity to gain name recognition for itself and its operations. The Blackfeet were simply a cog in that mighty advertising effort, usually in the know and well instructed on their role. .
Hi Ray Duff,
I have always been told that I am somehow related to “Chief White Calf” of the Blackfeet, somehow related to Two Guns from Starr School as well. I see you mention in a previous post that you have mapped out the White Calf family tree and I was wondering if you would share some info about that with me?
I’m not at home at the moment so can’t access my records.
Please provide me with an email and we can discuss the possibilities when I’m back.
I have a painting of him passed down to me by my Father. 🙂
That’s a wonderful legacy, Marilynn.
Is the painting original or a copy of one done of Two Guns, such as reproductions done of artist Winold Reiss’s works that were used for Great Northern Railway calendars?
It is an original of some sort on canvas & framed, which I haven’t taken apart as yet. On the back of the frame is written ” Two Guns ” by Percy Painted Woman Blood Reserve. It hung in the Galt Museum in Lethbridge Alberta at one time. I just went to take a photo of it for you & my camera battery is dead. Will post later.
I’ll be most interested to see the painting, when you get a chance to take a photo of it.
I was at the Galt earlier this summer and an archivist kindly showed me several paintings of Two Guns in the museum’s collection.
Do you know if Percy Painted Woman went by another name? Such as Percy Creighton? I ask only because I’m familiar with the latter and, as I recall, he had interactions with Two Guns, so would have known his subject if he was the artist.
Photos can’t be posted in links, but you two can exchange e-mail information or send me the photo of the painting if you want me to post it in the article. – Roberta
I have no idea Ray., but it is possible that his name could have been changed to that. I am going to try & send Roberta Estes the photos taken of it & hope she will post it. Have a great day!
I recently ran across across an item about Percy Plainswoman that gives me a bit of insight into him and his art.
The item appeared on a Facebook Group posting called “You grew up in Lethbridge if you remember . . .”
You can find it at: https://www.facebook.com/groups/176035222467365/
A posting there by Bruce Haig includes some information about Percy and shows images of his artwork. In one picture, I noticed six paintings of Two Guns White Calf.
Given that Percy was apparently born in 1895, the images could have been painted while Two Guns was alive (he died in 1934), but they all look like they are based on Tomer Hileman photographs of Two Guns rather than a live sitting.
The Facebook posting indicates that “Two Gun” was the Blackfoot name for Percy, but I have no knowledge about that.
Now that I see this artwork in the Facebook posting, I have seen what I believe is one such painting in the Galt Museum collection in Lethbridge that may have been done by Percy, when I was shown paintings in a storage area last summer. The person showing me around knew of my interest in Two Guns White Calf, thus the tour to see that painting and a couple of other related images.
You might want to check out that “You grew up in Lethbridge” Facebook site to see the Percy Plainswoman posting and whether that offers any insight for you.
I bid at auction on a lamp that turns out to have a picture of Chief White Calf on it. Very Old and interesting. It was thought to have been commissioned by Buffalo Bill. Could this be possible? I have researched and can find not a single thing on about it.
I’m aware that Two Guns’ image was used on at least one lamp, but know nothing about it other than it appears to be a homemade versus a factory-produced item created in any quantity.
I have photos of that homemade lamp featuring an image of Two Guns. The image is a profile line drawing and he is facing to the right. Surrounding the image are a bunch of backwards swastikas impressed into the body of the lamp.
Two Guns name is spelled out and there is a representation of his pictographic signature along with the word “Oki,” which is “hello” in Blackfeet.
As I said, I wish I could tell you more about the one I saw, but I know nothing regarding it or any other lamps like it that might have been made.
Possibly what I have described is the item you were bidding on. I hope you’re successful. It’s an unusual and collectible item.
I am looking for the parents of my greatgrandma owllooking born in 1876 she married in 1896.Delea Clark 989 8176339
I am looking for the parents of my greatgrandma owllooking born in 1876 she married in 1896.Delea Clark 989 8176339
I am looking for the parents of my greatgrandma owllooking born in 1876 she married in 1896.Delea Clark 989 8176339 she married james blood he was a blackfoot .
I have only one question:
What was the amount on the check and how did the Chief cash it?
Hello, Aydin Torun:
I think you are referring to the introductory remarks to this posting made by Roberta Estes in which James White Calf has a confrontation with John Collier. Possibly Roberta will reply at length on this.
In Richard Lancaster’s book Piegan, about James White Calf, a similar confrontation is described on Page 265. You might want to check it out.
This is not an area I’ve researched in any great detail, but I believe it refers to what the Blackfeet called “the Big Claim,” regarding common hunting grounds taken without treaty or compensation by the U.S. government. A lawsuit regarding this was filed against the federal government in the mid-1920s.
If the information I have is correct, the matter was settled in 1936 and each tribal member got $85, with the tribe itself holding back an amount of the total settlement for future use of the tribe.
There was a bank in Browning at the time that many Blackfeet used to handle their personal finances, so would have been available for cashing checks.
I hope this helps. Roberta Estes may have more and better information.
Ray, I recently purchased a what I believe is a enhanced photo of Two guns White Calf at a small local auction. I have spent many hours searching and I can not find a image the same as this one I have. I was really hoping to find the artist but no luck so far. I would love for you to see it and tell me what you may know and if it helps you that’s good too!
I would be delighted to take a look at the photo. Send a copy to rdjuff at shaw.ca.
The fact you mention it is “enhanced” has me intrigued. I’ve seen a couple of instances where artists have taken an original photographic image of Two Guns and made it their own, so I’m really curious to see what this artist has done.
It’s a question mark as to whether I can tell you anything more about it, but am glad to share whatever I might discover or recognize.
I tried using rdjuff at shaw .ca and it wouldn’t work said no such address. Is there another way I can send pics to you?
Ray it’s been awhile, I’d still love for you to look at my picture,but I was unable to get your site to work for me. Is there another way I can send it to you?
Glad to hear from you again.
How about if you send me a simple e-mail, with no photo attached, to this address: email@example.com. Let’s see if that gets through.
If it doesn’t, we’ll figure it out from there.
Ok I will try it now.
I must not be doing something correctly, I tried it with Google and Facebook and it shows no such address. I am not very good with the computer.
On Fri, Feb 18, 2022, 9:48 AM Native Heritage Project wrote:
> Ray Djuff commented: “Hello, Mary: Glad to hear from you again. How about > if you send me a simple e-mail, with no photo attached, to this address: > firstname.lastname@example.org. Let’s see if that gets through. If it doesn’t, we’ll > figure it out from there.” >
Two Guns white calf is my great great grandfather
I am working on a book about Two Guns’ relationship with the Great Northern Railway. I have done a genealogy on much of the White Calf family, and met relatives and descendants to talk to them about their relative.
I would be interested in talking to you about your connection to Two Guns.
You can reach me at rdjuff at shaw.ca