Chief Iron Tail (1842-May 29, 1916) Oglala Lakota

Chief Iron Tail (1842-May 29, 1916), was an Oglala Lakota Chief and a star performer with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West. Iron Tail was one of the most famous Native American celebrities of the late 19th and early 20th centuries and a popular subject for professional photographers.

Iron Tail

Iron Tail is notable in American history for his distinctive profile on the Buffalo nickel or Indian Head nickel of 1913 to 1938.

Siŋté Máza was the chief’s tribal name. Asked why the white people call him Iron Tail, he said that when he was a baby his mother saw a band of warriors chasing a herd of buffalo. In one of their hunts, their tails where standing straight up, like shafts of steel. Thereafter, she called him Siŋté Máza.

Iron Tail was not a war chief and there is no remarkable record of him as a fighter. He was not a medicine man or conjuror, but a wise counselor and diplomat, always dignified, quiet and never given to boasting.

He seldom made a speech and cared nothing for gaudy regalia. In this respect he always had a smile and was fond of children, horses and friends.

Chief Iron Tail was an international personality and appeared as the lead with Buffalo Bill at the Champs-Élysées in Paris, France and the Colosseum in Rome, Italy.

In France as in England, Buffalo Bill and Iron Tail were loved by the aristocracy. Iron Tail was one of Buffalo Bill’s best friends and they hunted elk and bighorn together on annual trips.

Iron Tail continued to travel with Buffalo Bill until 1913, and then the Miller Brothers 101 Ranch Wild West, until his death in 1916.

Early in the twentieth century, Iron Tail’s distinctive profile became well known across the United States as one of three models for the five-cent coin Buffalo nickel or Indian Head nickel. The popular coin was introduced in 1913, showcasing the native beauty of the American West. 

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[…] of the great need for a new food supply for his people, the Chief called a council […]

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