Dakota Datebook

Red Tomahawk and Hoover

Monday, October 20, 2003

Today marks the anniversary of President Hoover’s death in 1964. Thirty-five years earlier, Red Tomahawk, the man who killed one of the most famous Native Americans in history, left Standing Rock Reservation to visit the Hoover in Washington, D.C.

It was 1929, and Red Tomahawk, who lived at Cannonball, had become quite famous. His trip to Washington and other East Coast cities was a good-will visit on behalf of his people, and was found notable enough to be picked up by the national press.

Washington had seen many war heroes, but few had the record of Red Tomahawk, who engaged in many of the Indian wars in the latter half of the 1800s. The event that made him most famous, though, took place in 1890, when he was serving as Sergeant of Indian Police. Red Tomahawk took forty men and raided Chief Sitting Bull’s camp, where it was believed that Sitting Bull was preparing to lead his people into a serious uprising.

Red Tomahawk and his men faced 150 armed braves to arrest Sitting Bull, who resisted and called on his men to fight. Red Tomahawk shot the chief, and when the fighting was over, Sitting Bull, his son and six others were dead.

Red Tomahawk’s East Coast visit was at Summerall’s invitation. General Summerall, who was Hoover’s Army Chief of Staff, had visited Red Tomahawk in North Dakota the previous year, where he had been made an honorary member of the Sioux tribe and given the Indian title of High Star.

Red Tomahawk was by now 80 years old. He spoke no English, but curious politicians and socialites responded to his dignity and straight bearing. He was warmly welcomed in Washington, but newspaper accounts show that the attitudes toward Native Americans at the time were far from enlightened.

One Washington paper reported, “Chief Red Tomahawk of the Sioux tribe of Indians in North Dakota was in the capital today to make big whoopee with Chief General Charles Summerall… He will also pay his respects to Big Chief President Hoover at the White House and to that other noted Indian chief, Vice President Charles Curtis… He will be put up as General Summerall’s guest at one of the capital’s big teepee, the Carlton Hotel, and will be escorted about on his travels in the city by Lieutenant George G. Forster, aid to General Summerall.”

At the White House, Red Tomahawk was presented to President Hoover by North Dakota Senators Lynn Frazier and Gerald Nye. Dressed in his full regalia, the old man presented Hoover with a handsome, beaded-leather, tobacco pouch.

Of the Washington visit, one regional paper wrote, “Red Tomahawk’s trip is adding glory to Fort Yates and Sioux County. …the news (shows the) splendid impression the distinguished Indian is making; our historic home is gaining very favorable advertising. In fact, Sioux County as a whole is to be congratulated that it has Fort Yates within its borders. But above all, Red Tomahawk is making friends for the Indians. That such a fine upstanding character comes from their county is complimentary to the entire Sioux nation. The favorable publicity gained through him is of inestimable benefit to his people, and should be taken advantage of to their future welfare.”

Red Tomahawk died two years later, on August 7th, 1931. Yet, North Dakotans see images of him on a daily basis… the profile with Indian headdress that appears on our state highway signs, is that of Red Tomahawk.

Dakota Datebook written by Merry Helm

This text and audio may not be copied without securing prior permission from Prairie Public.

Dakota Datebook is a project of Prairie Public, in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, with funding from the North Dakota Humanities Council.

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