Chief Silver Tongue – Oscar Norton

One just never knows what’s going to turn up in the WWI draft registrations.  In the Missouri registrations, there was a very confusing entry.  Indexed by Ancestry under the surname of Tongue, a man is listed as Chief Silver Oscar Tongue Norton.  Obviously, I HAD to look at the original, and I found:

So we see that Chief Silver Tongue was in reality Oscar Norton, born in 1880.  In 1918 when he registered, he was living in Kansas City at a hotel and was a singer that obviously went under the stage name of Chief Silver Tongue.  Seems to be a fitting name for him.

You can purchase the postcard shown above from http://www.historyforsale.com/html/prodetails.asp?documentid=156758&start=49&page=153 who also provides the following information:

CHIEF SILVER TONGUE
Color postcard in long head dress, signed on verso.
Photograph signed on verso: “Chief Silver Tongue”. Color, 3½x5½. Captioned in lower margin. Dated (unknown hand): March 30, 1951. It is difficult to separate fact from legend in regard to Chief Silver Tongue, aka Oscar Norton, a fine tenor singer who starred in the Indian Ceremony at the Dells of Wisconsin for many years. Was he of Sioux origins, or, as he told a Florida reporter when he retired to that state, a Houpa Indian from northern California? Did he hold a law degree, as he often told onlookers who treated him condescendingly? He was married to prominent stage actress Corona Riccardo until her death in 1917. This fascinating Native American merits further research.

A papoose carrier attributed to Silver Tongue was sold by an antique dealer.

http://www.maineantiquedigest.com/stories/index.html?id=3059

The auction item is described as follows:

“Native American beaded papoose carrier in blue and red wool, mounted over a buckskin-covered backboard, and trimmed with glass beads, buckskin fringe, and brass bells. Affixed to it was a tag that read, “Flathead Indian Papoose Carrier bought from Chief Silver Tongue (Hoopa), who bought it from Chief Yellow Hair (Flathead). It was used to carry little Chief Silver Tongue.” Apparently as late as the 1950’s there was a Chief Silver Tongue, a.k.a. Oscar Norton, who identified himself as a Sioux or a Hoopa from northern California. The papoose carrier sold well north of the $2500/3500 estimate for $7187.50.”

On March 2 1964, the St. Petersburg Times reported Chief Silver Tongue’s death at age 82.

“Chief Silver Tongue, 82, billed as the World’s Most Famous Indian Tenor died yesterday at his home, 3920 Fifth Avenue, N.

A Hopi (sic) Indian chief from California, he had been a winter resident of St. Petersburg for 33 years.

The chief, Oscar Norton, was born in Blue Lake, California.  For 30 summers he was the featured soloist at Stand Rock Indian Ceremonial in Wisconsin Dells, Wis.

A graduate of Oregon Law School, Chief Silver tongue practiced law in that state a short time before beginning his singing career.  He has given concerns all over the nation, in Canada and at the NY World’s Fair, featuring Indian and religious songs.  Since the fair he had been associated with the Winnebagos Tribe.

Surviving are a wife, Lilia J., a son Thomas O. Norton, Summitt City, CA and a granddaughter Miss Bonnie Norton, St. Petersburg.”

His namesake son who is listed as his contact in his 1918 draft registration must have predeceased him.

He told something more about his life in an interview printed in the Evening Independent, a St. Petersburg, Fl. newspaper on November 21, 1947.  He says that he never used his English name, Oscar Norton except when in school.  His native name, given to him at age 6, was “boy with the ringing voice.”  He was a member of the Houpa tribe’s Thunder clan, and his stage name of “Chief Silver Tongue” reflects his native name.  He grew up on the family dairy farm on the edge of the Houpa Indian reservation in Oregon.  He attended the largest Methodist Church in Portland, Oregon where he began singing.  He said that he attended California grammer and high schools and an Indian trade school in Chemawa, Oregon.  He then attended law school in Oregon and clerked for the S. T. Richardson law firm, but preferred vaudeville and left after a short time for the life of performing.

Checking the 1880 and 1900 census, I don’t find him listed, but if his family did not use English names, he would be impossible to find.  We also don’t know if he was living in California or Oregon.

In any case, Chief Silver Tongue, also known as Oscar Norton, was a colorful person.  I can’t help but wonder if any of his performances were ever recorded.

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About robertajestes

Scientist, author, genetic genealogist. Documenting Native Heritage through contemporaneous records and DNA.
This entry was posted in Hupa, Winnebago. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Chief Silver Tongue – Oscar Norton

  1. george says:

    I recently aquired a photgraph that is 14 x 8.5 inches and was told it might be Chief Silver Tounge. Would you mind having a look at it for me to confirm it. This picture is rather old.

  2. Candace says:

    I was told recently they Chief Silver Tongue may be my grandfather… I wonder how I could find out if it is true…. My father looks VERY much like him!
    Apparently my grandmother and her had a “thing” but I have no proof.

  3. John says:

    I came across your site while looking up Corona Riccardo, who was the Chief’s wife. She died in 1917. Perhaps looking at the 1910 census (Kansas City is a good start), will bring more info to light.

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