Thursday, September 13, 2012
Frank Zahn is a well-known name in North Dakota’s history. Zahn, also called Chief Flying Cloud, was born on May 4, 1890, to William Zahn, a man who served under Reno in Custer’s 7th Cavalry, and to an Indian Princess, Kezewin Flying Cloud, who was related to Sitting Bull. William Zahn had a trading post on the Standing Rock Reservation, and Frank Zahn was born in a tipi there.
As a result of his mixed heritage, Zahn was of two worlds, part of the living history unfolding on the Dakota plains. In an article published on this date in 1963 in the Mandan Pioneer, Zahn said he grew up on the reservation, one of only a few of “mixed blood.” He didn’t feel his peers resented him in any way, and stated, “They couldn’t have, because I could lick any one of them.”
Zahn went to a non-reservation school, Riggs Institute in Flandreau, S.D., and then to college at Carlisle Indian College in Pennsylvania. He enjoyed this school very much, even befriending a man named Jim Thorpe, who would go on to become an Olympic athlete. A few years later, Zahn attended Aakers Business College in Fargo.
After graduation, Zahn took on many jobs and duties. He served in World War I as an interpreter, as he was skilled in the Teton and Yanktonaii Indian dialects, as well as in English and German. Later, he was appointed Chief Judge of the Court of Indian Offenses, Bureau of Indian Affairs, for both North and South Dakota.
That wasn’t all. Zahn also wrote a column for the Fort Yates newspaper and collaborated with others in writing books. He was in three movies produced during the 1940s, playing the leading Indian Chief in “They Died With Their Boots On.” He was also a concert violinist and an artist. In fact, after his death, a friend of his published some of Zahn’s sketches, stating, “Frank Zahn may be the Charlie Russell of the Indians, though there is no hint of imitation in his brilliant pen and ink sketches.”
And Zahn raised five children with his wife Gladys, a white woman who also was “a devoted worker among the Indians.”
Five children and a lifetime of careers later, the judge and his wife agreed that life was grand—though, Zahn said with some humor, “If there’s any little ruckus, I just show her the picture of the Custer massacre…you know, where the Indians scalped the whites?”
Dakota Datebook written by Sarah Walker
Mandan Pioneer, Friday, September 13, 1963
The Bismarck Tribune, October 14, 1967
Hettinger County Herald, Thursday, December 18, 1941
Bismarck Tribune, July 5, 1966