Self-Declared Indian Chief Sylvester Long

Chief Buffalo Child Long Lance, circa 1908. Image from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and courtesy of the Georgia State University Library.On December 1, 1890, Sylvester Long, who would live most of his life as a self-described Indian chief named Buffalo Child Long Lance, was born in Winston. Though his parents claimed mixed Indian ancestry, neither had proof of their lineage since they had both been born into slavery. The family was, in the standards of the then-segregated South, labeled “colored.”

Long ran away with a circus twice in his youth. The second time he joined the Wild West Show, where he met a Cherokee Indian who taught him words and phrases of the tribe’s native language. Long used his knowledge of the Cherokee language to trick admissions officers at the Carlisle Indian Residential School in Pennsylvania.  He later attended a military school where he began to use the name Sylvester Long Lance and his classmates dubbed him “Chief.”

Long served in the Canadian military during World War I, and by the time he returned, he styled himself a Plains Indian, first Blackfoot and later Blood. A noted journalist, author and actor, he was one of the most famous Indians in North America in the 1920s. He even designed a running shoe based on moccasins.

After learning his deception had been made public in 1932, he committed suicide.

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