By Christopher Bulfinch for CoinWeek …..
(Editor’s note: The following article contains words and images that some collectors may find offensive. They are presented here to give the reader the historical context of this numismatic object and the scholarship that followed.)
On the eve of the 20th century, a portrait of a Native American appeared on the face of $5 Silver Certificates. This was the first time that a Native American was featured as the central subject on a piece of American paper money.
Collectors for more than a century have discussed the man, Ta-to’-ka-in’-yan-ka, or Running Antelope, and a lingering fascination exists among collectors today, evidenced by auction prices and column inches dedicated to him.
Coins magazine described the notes as “the high point in US paper money design” in 1978, while Coin World described the design as “the most familiar image of a Native American on a piece of U.S. paper money.” Heinz Tschachler, an Austrian professor of American Studies, described the portrait as “an icon of American nationalism.”
Native Americans had appeared on U.S. currency for centuries prior to the notes’ issuance in 1900, but the $5 Silver Certificate bearing Running Antelope’s portrait exists at a confluence of powerful historical forces.
An article appeared in the fourth quarterly edition of Paper Money released in 1967, the journal of the Society of Paper Money Collectors, entitled “A Tenderfoot Tracks Onepapa”. The piece’s author, George Traylor, speculated on the “perils of Indian hunting in 1967,” or “the ‘why’ of Running Antelope’s appearance on a Series 1899 $5 Silver Certificate.”
“Perhaps some conscience-stricken Senator, uncomfortably considering the 1890 massacre at Wounded Knee Creek, thought that a Sioux likeness on our regular currency might alleviate ‘the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune’ which had befallen our red brothers.
“Assuming this, or some similar premise, Running Antelope may have been chosen because of convenience or accessibility. Perhaps he was a guest in some Federal prison. How accessible can you get? Or maybe the Senator’s choice was a concession to the local Photographer’s Union. An Indian holding a peace pipe and wearing a peace medal certainly offered considerably less risk to the cameraman’s scalp than one with knife or tomahawk.”
Traylor’s account continues, lamenting the many misunderstandings surrounding Running Antelope’s appearance on the Silver Certificate and lauding the chief’s “manly appearance and ethnic reputation for virility.”
He concludes his article with a series of questions:
“Why was a Sioux selected, and why Tatokainyanka (Running Antelope) in particular? What were the features of his life and experience? Why was his the only Indian portrait to ever embellish a United States paper money issue? Was he a chief, or just another Indian?”
Traylor’s article, by its own admission speculative, gets a lot wrong. He correctly explains that “Onepapa” is a misnomer for Running Antelope and that Running Antelope’s appearance was a decision born of convenience. But other details are absent, replaced with ethnic chauvinism and a reiteration of the “vanishing Indian” trope.
Paper money collectors are not the only people wondering about Running Antelope’s appearance on the Silver Certificate. In his 2012 book The Inconvenient Indian, Thomas King, a Canadian and American indigenous rights activist, expresses in a chapter about indigenous peoples’ appearance on stamps and currency that he is “curious to know why Sitting Bull… or Crazy Horse or Geronimo or Chief Joseph or Osceola, weren’t immortalized as well. Perhaps one Indian was more than enough.”
The 1899 $5 Silver Certificate’s history is well worth examining, however, and more recent numismatists have explored Running Antelope’s story more fully.
Oddly, a better-researched account of the note’s background appeared in Paper Money two years after Traylor’s column. Their first quarterly issue published in 1969 provides a much more detailed analysis of the $5 note.
The Native American who appears on the note’s face is indeed Ta-to’-ka-in’-yan-ka (Americanized spellings vary), a Hunkpapa Lakota chief whose life spanned decades of western history and whose inclusion on the $5 Silver Certificate was a symbolically powerful decision that reflected the political and historical realities of the late 1890s. Running Antelope fits into a specific set of political priorities and meanings, and those meanings continue to be negotiated today.
Many stories are woven into the history of the Series 1899 $5 Silver Certificate, but the two most obvious ones are Running Antelope’s life and the development of Silver Certificates as a type of U.S. paper money. They play out over roughly the same span of years and, told together, reveal the complexity of Running Antelope’s life and illuminate some of the subtext of his appearance on the notes in 1899.
Ta-to’-ka-in’-yan-ka was born in South Dakota, near what today is known as Grand Forks, in 1821. His membership in the Hunkpapa Lakota tribe was actually the origin of the misidentification of his name; “Onepapa”, as he was often referred to by generations of paper money collectors is another spelling of “Hunkpapa”. The name also appears as “Oncpapa,” such as on Littleton Coin Co. ads selling the notes.
The Hunkpapa Lakota had occupied the Great Plains, ranging over the Northern Plains. European fur traders had introduced them to firearms and trade in the 18th century, and many of the Northern Plains tribes had become adept horse riders around this time as well.
Large-scale settlement of the region by Europeans or Americans did not begin until the middle of the 19th century, spurred largely by the California Gold Rush. By the time Running Antelope was born, a handful of trading posts had been established to serve the relatively small numbers of outsiders working their way towards the West Coast; this dynamic changed markedly by the middle of the 19th century.
The Gold Rush would prove transformational to U.S. coinage as it did to Indian policy. Silver prices rose, driven by a glut of western gold, and the Mint responded by lowering the weight of silver coins–an episode that highlights a clear drawback to having a bimetallic system. Thirsty for specie, Congress outlawed the circulation of world coinage, hoping to absorb some silver from the population. Settlers continued to pour west to the goldfields.
The increasing number of settlers led to intermittent clashes, leading to the First Treaty of Fort Laramie in 1851, which affirmed Indian claims to a huge swath of territory and allowed travelers heading west to travel safely. The Lakota were among the 30 tribes that signed the treaty. That same year, Running Antelope became one of four “shirtwearers” of the Hunkpapa, a leadership position in the tribe.
Spasms of violence shook the Plains and the West in the 1850s and ’60s, as some tribes accepted reservation life and allowed travelers to pass safely, while others chose to fight for their territory. In 1857, according to a retrospective account of an Army scout published in 1879 in The Bossier Banner, a Louisiana-based newspaper, Running Antelope had saved the scout’s life.
Apparently, an Army unit happened upon a large Hunkpapa camp and, unable to escape undetected, found themselves confronted by the tribe, Running Antelope among them. Running Antelope interceded on the Army’s behalf:
“He… cried out in a loud tone, ‘This is a fine day to die’… meaning he was ready to lay down his life for his friends.” Running Antelope tried to escort them away from the village as a fight broke out. Once the Army unit was out of danger, the account claims that Running Antelope made a point of returning to his people emptyhanded “in order that their people might see they had not saved the whites for the purpose of robbing them.”
In 1867, Running Antelope described his relationship to the American colonizers:
“Since the days when we first allied ourselves with the whites I have been faithful to them at all times and all places. The skin of my body is red but my flesh is white, since for many years I have eaten the bread of the whites.”
By all accounts, he took to reservation life in much the way the U.S. government would have wanted, becoming a farmer. Dozens of accounts published in government records and newspapers allude to Running Antelope’s skill as an orator.
A series of military defeats at the hands of Red Cloud, an Oglala Lakota war chief, prompted the United States to sign the Second Treaty of Fort Laramie, establishing the Great Sioux Reservation in 1868. Hunkpapa Lakota had fought alongside Red Cloud. Running Antelope was among the Sioux signatories of the Treaty, his signature aptly a running antelope. He received a peace medal featuring President Andrew Johnson’s likeness; years later, his visit to the next president would result in his likeness being featured on U.S. currency.
Despite Running Antelope’s acquiescence, not all Hunkpapa signed onto the treaty. Sitting Bull, a Hunkpapa leader who rose to prominence in 1866 resisting American incursions into Lakota territory, refused to sign. He eventually became the leader of all non-treaty Lakota (Lakota bands that had not signed the 1868 treaty) in 1869. He would lead Lakota in battle alongside another legendary Indian leader, Crazy Horse.
In 1872, Running Antelope was invited to Washington to meet President Ulysses S. Grant. During his visit to the capital, his photo was taken by Alexander Gardner, who had him sit for two photos, a profile and frontal shot.
Gardener, whose work included numerous images of Civil War battlefields and who worked as the official photographer for the Union-Pacific Railroad beginning in 1867, was born the same year as Running Antelope, 1821. Clad in traditional Hunkpapa garb, with three long feathers in his hair and a peace medal (allegedly the one he had received four years before), the image was archived in the Bureau of Ethnology, part of a collection of images of Indians in traditional tribal clothing (or what the photographers and researchers thought was traditional clothing).
Washington was not the only stop on Running Antelope’s eastern itinerary. He also visited St. Louis, Cincinnati, and New York. A 1921 article in the Saturday Evening Post that detailed Running Antelope and other Native Americans attending a party on Coney Island thrown by an opera singer, a veteran reporter claimed that the Native Americans traveled east “to bewail their wrongs.”
In the West, continued treaty violation led to more warfare, especially as white settlers poured into the Black Hills after gold was discovered in 1874, in violation of the 1868 Second Treaty of Fort Laramie. According to an 1874 article published in the Bismarck Tribune, Running Antelope had predicted the seizure of the Black Hills. Interestingly, the same article claimed that Running Antelope, along with other Native American leaders, “have done their level best to keep their young men home while Custer’s expedition has been out.” Running Antelope met with George Armstrong Custer in the summer of 1874.
The annihilation of Lieutenant Colonel Custer’s 7th Cavalry at the Little Bighorn in 1876 stoked government resolve to bring non-treaty Indian bands to heel. Sitting Bull and some non-treaty Hunkpapa fled into Canada in 1877.
The Hunkpapa were among the final tribes to be cordoned onto the reservations. After Sitting Bull fled the United States, taking his band north into what is today Saskatchewan, they eventually surrendered to the U.S. government in 1881. Interestingly, Running Antelope was in the party of Native Americans who met Sitting Bull and escorted him to the reservation after he surrendered.
Sitting Bull apparently disliked Running Antelope, “regard[ing] him as a fool because of his close cooperation with the tribe’s white adversaries.”
Native Americans on the reservation were encouraged (read: coerced) to become farmers, and by the 1880s, Running Antelope had attained another leadership position, that of district farmer. The Standing Rock Reservation was divided into 20 farming districts, each headed by a “district farmer” who oversaw the implementation of agricultural programs. Running Antelope was either a successful enough farmer or well-connected enough politically to secure the position. His name appears in countless newspaper articles from the 1870s to the 1920s, as well as an 1889 ledger of government employees, which listed him as a district farmer with a salary of $120.
His time on the reservation was not entirely peaceful, however. In 1878, he and a number of other Native Americans, angered by the conduct of their Indian agent, William T. Hughes, abducted the man and brought him down to the Missouri River, intending to row him to the other side. Hughes claimed the Indians meant to drown him, though Running Antelope denied this.
Hughes was not the only Indian Agent to run afoul of Running Antelope. When he tried to cancel Sioux religious ceremonies in the summer of 1880, another agent, Joseph A. Stephans, was almost pitched into the river as well. The territorial press lauded Running Antelope’s efforts, calling Stephan “a dirty old Catholic Dutchman,” laying blame for the dustup on the “selfish old agent.”
In 1882, Running Antelope is said to have participated in the last Great Buffalo Hunt. Decades of systematic extermination attempting to starve Plain tribes into submission had whittled the bison population down massively. That same year, Stephans described Running Antelope to the Dawes Senate Committee Investigation as a “politician Indian” remarking that he was “all soft soap and smoothness.” That he was tossed in the river was omitted.
Running Antelope was interviewed in 1883 by the Bismarck Tribune, which described him as “the silver-tongued orator of the Sioux nation.” The paper asked him about the extermination of the buffalo and he predicted grimly “if the present slaughter by the white men continues, buffalo will not last more than two years.”
In addition to the systematic slaughter of the buffalo, the Dawes Act, passed in 1887, allowed the government to send surveyors to the reservations to parcel out the land among Native Americans. Each individual Native American or family on a reservation was given a parcel of land, allowing for the purchase of “surplus” land “advantageous for agricultural or grazing purposes” by non-tribal members. Running Antelope would eventually be involved in some of the resulting land purchases (or thefts).
Sitting Bull’s surrender would precipitate his death, as an altercation with Indian police at his home on the Grand River turned violent, and he was shot and killed on December 15, 1890. Running Antelope apparently attended his funeral.
Sitting Bull’s death led to the Wounded Knee Massacre, the event that George Traylor thought might have motivated the Bureau of Engraving and Printing (BEP) to include Running Antelope’s likeness on the $5 Silver Certificate. After Sitting Bull was shot, a number of his followers left Standing Rock to join with Spotted Elk at the Cheyenne River Reservation. Spotted Elk, with some of his own Miniconjou and 38 Hunkpapa left Cheyenne River to go to the Red Cloud Agency, but they were intercepted by the 7th Cavalry on Dec. 29, 1890. A scuffle with their prisoners prompted the 7th Cavalry to open fire, killing hundreds. The massacre is pointed to as the end of the “Indian Wars” and the closing of the frontier by some historians.
Coupled with the Dawes Act, Wounded Knee was a fatal blow to traditional Native American life. David Treuer, in his 2018 book The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee: Native America 1890 to the Present, describes the policymakers whose policies culminated with the Wounded Knee Massacre as “feckless, cruel, shortsighted, hypocritical, and shameful in their dealings with the original owners of the country… the ways of life that had evolved over thousands of years were gone.”
Running Antelope was not present at Wounded Knee and lived the rest of his life at Standing Rock. By 1892 he was in failing health. Running Antelope died near what is today the town of Little Eagle, South Dakota sometime between June 1896 and June 1897.
In his 1883 interview, Running Antelope stated plaintively “the Indians to whom the buffalo belong are poor; if they were allowed to kill the buffalo they would save every bit of the meat for their families. I have done the best I can for the white man and I do not see why the Great Father cannot do me the favor of stopping the whites from killing our game.”
Currency Policy and Gardener’s Photograph
U.S. currency policy changed dramatically apace of its Indian policy over Running Antelope’s lifetime, culminating in 1899 with the Silver Certificates that would bear his likeness.
In the 1860s, the economic stress of the Civil War consolidated federal authority over paper money issuance, as Demand Notes and United States Notes appeared during the conflict, radically altering the landscape of American paper money. While early Federal paper money did not feature Native Americans, later issues featured vignettes that very clearly articulated an ideology that would make use of Running Antelope’s likeness.
Between Running Antelope’s eastern travels and his meeting with Custer, American currency policy changed again. The Coinage Act of 1873, colorfully called the “Crime of ’73”, changed the weights of silver coins to bring them in line with the metric system, eliminated some redundant denominations, and, most controversially, demonetized silver. Agitation from western mining and banking interests, as well as farmers and others who sought the free coinage of silver, coalesced into the Free Silver Movement.
The Bland-Allison Act was passed in 1878, around the time that Running Antelope was threatening to pitch Indian agents into the river. Silver dollars were reintroduced, and the BEP started printing and issuing Silver Certificates, paper notes redeemable in silver.
Heedless of the unfolding events on the Plains, the Treasury and the BEP continued producing Silver Certificates. The passage of the Sherman Silver Purchase Act in 1890 expanded the government’s silver purchasing obligation, increasing production of silver dollars and silver certificates, as well as introducing Coin Notes, a short-lived series of notes produced in 1890-1891. These notes were the first to feature Philip Sheridan, one of Running Antelope’s immediate predecessors on the $5 Silver Certificate.
Sheridan was a Civil War general sent to the frontier in 1868 as punishment for zealously enforcing Reconstruction as the military governor of Texas and Louisiana, drawing the ire of the Johnson administration. A veteran of Indian wars in the Pacific Northwest in the 1850s, Sheridan had randomly hanged Indian warriors in those conflicts and brought that aggression west. He oversaw numerous campaigns between 1868 and 1876, pockmarked by brutality and atrocity.
In 1896, new Silver Certificates, the Educational Series, were introduced, precursors to the Series 1899 Silver Certificates of the same denomination. Two portraits appear on the Series 1896 $5 Silver Certificate’s back: Ulysses S. Grant appears at left (which is not particularly remarkable as former presidents, including Grant, had been appearing on paper money for a decade), and with his long service record and impeccable Indian-fighting credentials, Sheridan is not a surprising choice to adorn the note on the right; he is even said to have advocated awarding medals to buffalo hunters, emblazoned with a dead bison and a “discouraged Indian.”
The Educational series of notes, despite their attractive vignettes, proved short-lived. A new design was sought, and Running Antelope was selected as the central motif for the $5 denomination. Using the photos taken by Gardener in 1872, engraver George F.C. Smillie set about transferring Running Antelope’s likeness onto the $5 Silver Certificate in November 1899. In the course of the design process, Running Antelope’s headwear was radically changed.
The three-feathered headdress that Running Antelope sported during his photoshoot with Gardener was too tall to fit into the frame of the note’s face. Rather than select a new subject or have the three feathers exist outside the frame, Smillie found an image of a large, feathered warbonnet and had that superimposed over the existing headdress. The warbonnet that appears is often said to be of Pawnee origin, though scholars of Native American dress are not entirely sure.
Running Antelope is immortalized on U.S. currency in the garb of a Native American culture likely not his own.
A large Roman numeral “V” appears in the blue ink that denoted Silver Certificates to Running Antelope’s left, with a large Treasury Seal to his right. Lush borders on the note’s back enclose another “V”, surrounded by text explaining the laws governing the notes’ usage. The back was designed by Smillie as well.
The Series 1899 $5 Silver Certificate had a longer life than its Educational predecessor. Running Antelope, Pawnee headdress and all, remained on the note until 1923. Eleven different signature combinations exist, produced between fiscal years 1900 and 1926, though no notes were produced in fiscal years 1919 or 1920. Abraham Lincoln supplanted Running Antelope on the face of $5 Silver Certificates in 1923, his portrait within a thick black frame resembling a ship’s circular window, giving the pieces their nickname, “Porthole Notes”.
Why Was Running Antelope on the $5 Silver Certificate?
It is worth considering that the BEP had countless other Native American visages to choose from in the late 1890s. Red Cloud and a number of other chiefs had visited Washington in May 1872, and many of them sat for photos with Alexander Gardener. The Bureau of Ethnology had thousands of images of Native Americans in its archives. To return to King’s question (and Traylor’s before him): Why Running Antelope? Was he simply the most photogenic? Or did his life represent something that resonated with the authorities who issued the note?
Philip Deloria’s 1998 book Playing Indian describes American appropriation of Native American imagery and culture since the Revolution, and he specifically describes how Indian garb was used to “negotiate” different meanings and identities.
Americans had been “playing Indian” with coin and paper money design before the Union existed. In 1690, a Native American appeared on notes issued in Massachusetts Bay Colony, bills of credit denominated 5, 10, and 20 shillings, as well as 5 pounds. A crude depiction of a Native American appears, part of the colonial seal applied to the notes; the colonial seal can be traced to 1629.
Heinz Tschachler points out in a 2019 Numismatist article the unmistakable similarity between the Native American on the 1690 notes and the “Wildman”, a regular motif on early modern European coinage. The Wildman was a character of medieval European folklore, a link between mythological creatures of antiquity and “civilized” humans. His appearances on coinage share a number of common visual elements: long hair, muscular frame, and an uprooted tree used as a staff or club.
The similarities reveal a tendency in colonial thinking to situate unfamiliar people into a European cultural context. Native Americans were not understood as a discrete people but incarnations of this savage character. Tschachler elaborates on this dualistic thinking:
“[F]or Europeans of the early modern period, the Indians’ purported savagery or wildness was inherent. Racialized interpretations of savagery and its accompanying negative connotations made the Europeans see their mission as domesticating wildness and transforming it in their own image…”
Two tendencies important to understanding Running Antelope’s appearance on Silver Certificates arise out of this colonial context: the essentialization of Native Americans’ physical appearance and a fixation on “civilizing the savage.” The European colonists were disinterested in understanding and depicting Native Americans as they actually were and instead preferred a visual language comprehensible to themselves. In centuries to come, this tendency would manifest as a belief that Native Americans were naturally strong and “virile”, to borrow George Traylor’s 1967 comments and the appropriation and misuse of Native American cultural objects.
The original Massachusetts seal had a banner emanating from the Native American’s mouth that read “COME OVER HERE AND HELP US.” While this telling banner is absent on the seal applied to colonial notes in 1690, the sentiment remained.
Later paper money followed this trajectory, communicating themes about the nation’s direction and what the ideal role was for the Indian. Tschachler describes the inverse relationship between the presence of Native Americans in the lives of early United States citizens and their appearance on notes in a 2007 article. As Native Americans were displaced, vignettes featuring them became more common on Obsolete Banknotes. Numerous Obsolete Banknotes featured depictions of Native Americans, often looking on over scenes of “progress” like railroads and farms. Some feature moments of Native “enlightenment”, while others depict them quietly receding – the “Vanishing Indian” trope.
Federal paper money issues took up this symbolic heritage, culminating in Running Antelope’s outing on the Series 1899 $5 Silver Certificate.
Columbus’ arrival in the New World, De Soto exploring the Mississippi, the arrival of the Pilgrims, Pocahontas’ arrival in Europe as well as her baptism, all appear on U.S. notes beginning in the 1860s. Winfield Scott Hancock, another Civil War general who commanded U.S. forces in the West like Philip Sheridan, appears on notes as well. Dispossession, Christianizing, and “civilizing” of indigenous groups are clear themes, themes that Running Antelope’s eventual portrayal would map well onto.
Coin designs followed this same trajectory. Portraits featuring Native objects became an element of United States Mint products in 1854 when a depiction of Liberty with a Native American headdress appeared on the $1 and $3 gold pieces. This Indian Princess motif, a depiction of Liberty (generally read as white) in an Indian headdress, became very popular, with similar busts appearing on the obverses not only of the $1 and $3 gold piece, but the cent from 1859 to 1909 and the gold eagle from 1907 to 1933.
According to Deloria, American identity had always used Native Americans to define itself, but around the turn of the 20th century “expressions of unified American identity that came out of the revolutionary tradition were undermined by corporate monopolies, cutthroat competition, strikes and populist and reform movements. The result was a set of self-conscious attempts to salvage … an older, better, but unfortunately disappearing America.” Native American symbols and cultural objects and practices became a link to that past that helped many Americans work out identities for the new country and what those identities meant.
It’s also worth considering Running Antelope’s appearance on paper money in the context of the Silver Certificate and gold coinage. Michael O’Malley’s Face Value: The Entwined Histories of Money and Race in America (2012) explains that precious metal was widely conflated with race well into the 20th century by economists and consumers, and a hierarchy of metals existed in the minds of “goldbugs” that ran roughly parallel to the racial hierarchy they perceived in the world.
Use of gold as currency was a marker of “civilization” in their eyes, the natural product of a more highly evolved people; Social Darwinist rhetoric was frequently deployed to describe the gold standard.
“Goldbugs” thought that “gold formed the ‘natural’ money of the Anglo-Saxon races and that only ‘Pagan Asiatics’ and Latin Americans used silver,” according to O’Malley. Goldbugs had a similar distaste for paper money between the Civil War and the Great Depression and this, combined with their leeriness about silver as money, would have made Silver Certificates worthless, lesser money.
Many anti-paper money advocates coalesced around “Redeemer” ideology, a political movement in the South after the Civil War that sought to end Reconstruction and remove “carpetbaggers”. The term “carpetbagger” actually originates, according to O’Malley, with carpet valises carried by representatives of banks sent to put paper money into circulation during the Antebellum period. O’Malley elaborates that after the war, “Americans retreated into twin forms of essentialism: to a ferocious and unyielding racism and to a fantastic set of opinions about the … properties of gold … The absence of slavery required the gold standard and a renewed commitment to white supremacy.”
Paper money, especially paper money that represented silver, was suspect in this paradigm.
This racialized skepticism about paper money and metals other than gold, in addition to a desire to appropriate Native culture and images, appears in the coverage of both the Series 1899 $5 Silver Certificate and gold coinage issues.
An article appeared in The New York Times on June 26, 1900, noting the appearance of the new Silver Certificates, which misidentified Running Antelope as “Red Jacket”. The article continues: “it was said freely in Wall Street circles that the Indian bills will prove particularly acceptable to Tammany men, although it was remarked facetiously that some of them are known to have no objection to any kind of bills.”
The snarky comment was directed at fraternal societies and political organizations that used Indian cultural symbols and garb, like Tammany Hall, the New York political machine. According to Deloria, “after the Revolution, different groups of Americans remade Indian Others, creating national and group identities that had meaning in the social and political contexts of the early Republic.” The New York Tammany Society specifically “used ‘the Indian’ in building a powerful political party with specific class and ethnic inflections.”
In other words, the appropriation of Native American culture and images for specific domestic political ends has a long history in America, and both the Times and the BEP likely understood some of the meanings of Indianness.
The Times’ article becomes even more interesting in the context of the relationship between precious metals and race. Implying that the “Tammany men” would accept “worthless” paper currency implicitly linked Indian identities (even faux-Indian identities adopted by white Americans) with paper money and silver.
“Playing Indian” was generally disinterested in the actual Native cultures they were appropriating, according to Deloria. Some organizations, like the Bureau of Ethnology, wanted images of actual Native Americans for posterity, and some early fraternal orders did try to capture Native culture and history “authentically”. By the late 19th century, however, “playing Indian” was more a matter of how white Americans thought Indians should look. If Running Antelope’s headdress did not fit the frame for the Silver Certificate’s face, another could be used, since what was important was the appearance of a Native American, rather than an accurate depiction of Native culture. As depictions of Native Americans became more common, increasing emphasis was placed on Indian subjects “looking the part”.
An episode from numismatic history that illuminates the relationship between precious metals, race, and Native American imagery is the inclusion of unambiguously Native portraits on gold quarter eagles and half eagles issued between 1908 and 1929. Though racial attitudes had not softened much in the almost two decades since Wounded Knee, it is doubly interesting that Native images (albeit created by white artists) were included on gold coinage, considering the centrality of gold in many economists’ definitions of value. Though the gold coins appeared almost a decade after Running Antelope’s outing on the Silver Certificate, writers at the time drew connections between the gold coins and Silver Certificates.
The gold quarter eagles and half eagles were designed by Bela Lyon Pratt. Pratt was a student of Augustus St. Gaudens, and designed sculptures for the Columbian and Pan-American Exhibitions and taught at the School of the Museum of Fine Art in Boston. He created an unusual recessed design, with an image of a Native American on the obverse and an eagle on the reverse.
Unsurprisingly, the Native American obverse proved controversial. According to the Red Book, “the artistry of the design was condemned loudly by some numismatists.”
The December 1908 edition of The Numismatist correctly predicted that “undoubtedly there will be strong differences of opinion as to whether the placing of a red Indians’ head on our coins is a good idea or not.” The same article described “this head with the strong characteristic virile features of our aboriginal race.” Again, the appearance of the Native American as strong and virile is emphasized.
The same concern for controversy was not expressed in 1899 when Running Antelope was selected for the face of Silver Certificate. The $5 Silver Certificates did eventually surface in the discussion about Native American images on gold coins in the first decade of the 20th century, however.
The first article of the February 1909 issue of The Numismatist detailed the debate about the new gold coins. Their coverage began with an address given by President Theodore Roosevelt lauding the designs, paying particular attention to the gold eagle featuring St. Gauden’s depiction of Liberty as a white woman wearing a Native American headdress:
“The Indian in his own way finely symbolizes freedom and a life of liberty. It is idle to insist that the head or figure of Liberty shall only appear in the hackneyed and conventional trappings which conventional and unoriginal minds have gradually grown to ascribe to her.”
Roosevelt mentioned Pratt’s coin only as an afterthought. He concluded:
“[I]t was eminently fitting that such a head should carry a very beautiful and a purely and characteristically American headdress.”
American identity was conflated with Native American identity. A white Liberty playing Indian was “eminently fitting.”
S.H. Chapman, a prominent numismatist, wrote a scathing response in The Numismatist, published immediately after Roosevelt’s address in the February 1909 issue. Though many of his criticisms were technical and concerned the design’s execution, he had this to say about the obverse portrait:
“[T]he head of the Indian is without artistic merit, and portrays an Indian who is emaciated, totally unlike the big, strong Indian chiefs as seen in real life.”
“[T]hese coins will be a disgrace to our country as a monument of our present ideas of art as applied to coinage… let us hope that its issue will not be continued and that it will be recalled and remelted.”
Chapman also raised concerns about hygiene and the coins’ recessed designs, arguing that dirt and disease would cling to the coins’ surfaces, calling them “the most unhygienic [coins] ever issued.”
He concluded his letter advocating for a committee of numismatists to review proposed coin designs arguing that, “we would be saved the mortification of seeing generally the worst designs accepted and the taste of our people degraded, instead of elevated, by the coinage passing through their hands.” A Native American portrait on a gold coin “degraded” both the coins and the public.
In the same article, The Numismatist published a response to Chapman from William Sturgis Bigelow, an adviser to President Roosevelt who had recommended Pratt’s design. According to Bigelow, “the head was taken from a recent photograph of an Indian whose health was excellent … Perhaps Mr. Chapman has in mind the fatter but less characteristic type of Indian sometimes seen on the reservations,” Bigelow responded to Chapman’s “emaciated Indian” comment.
Bigelow seems to have been unaware of the widespread starvation on many reservations at the time, though had he known, his image of the Indian likely would not have changed. Actual Indian visages wracked with hunger did not, apparently, fit his conception of Indian appearance.
Bigelow’s response to Chapman’s hygiene charge demonstrates the association between gold and social hierarchy described by O’Malley: “the question of hygiene has more relation to silver coins than gold, as they find their way into dirtier pockets.” Whose pockets were dirtier isn’t specified, but silver (and Silver Certificates) were not for the clean, according to Bigelow.
Hollow Horn Bear
The published debate about the new Native American-adorned gold coins directly referenced the Series 1899 $5 Silver Certificates. Another misidentification of Running Antelope appeared in the February 1909 edition of The Numismatist. Referencing the new quarter eagle and half eagle designs, an article entitled “Living Indians Portrayed on Money” explained that the portrait on the Series 1899 $ Silver Certificate “is said to be that of a well-known Sioux chief, Hollow Horn Bear. He is regarded as a fine specimen of his race, and is noted as having made a great speech in Congress in 1889.” Hollow Horn Bear was a real Sioux leader who did address Congress in 1889, he just was not the Native American who appeared on the Silver Certificate in 1899.
Hollow Horn Bear’s life paralleled Running Antelope’s in a number of ways. Born in the early 1850s, Hollow Horn Bear served as a scout for the U.S. Army beginning around 1874. He had previously “fought the whiteman wherever he could find them in Wyoming and Montana,” according to a historical marker in South Dakota erected in 1962. Hollow Horn Bear served as a “Police Captain” on the Rosebud Reservation sometime beginning around 1881. He arrested Crow Dog, who had murdered Spotted Tail, an event that precipitated the landmark Supreme Court case Ex parte Crow Dog that gave federal courts jurisdiction in cases on reservations.
He was also “the chief Indian orator and negotiator” during the Sioux Land Commission in 1889. He apparently represented his people in a number of other negotiations, and an 1895 New York Times article described his “excellent record” of service to the U.S. government. He also rode in Theodore Roosevelt’s inaugural parade in 1905, and Woodrow Wilson’s in 1913.
The Numismatist was not the only periodical to mistake Hollow Horn Bear for Running Antelope. The Aberdeen Democrat of Aberdeen, SD reported in its February 5, 1909 edition on an annuity payment apparently made in Series 1899 $5 Silver Certificates. Like many of the numismatic tracts before it, the article spends quite a bit of time on Hollow Horn Bear’s appearance: “Hollow Horn Bear is reputed to be the handsomest and most typical Indian in the country… the connoisseurs in Indian beauty regarded him as the finest Indian now extant.”
The article continues:
“[I]n addition to being beautiful, Hollow Horn Bear is long with the ‘white man’s game,’ as he calls the art of conversation. In truth, he has most white men lashed securely to the bowsprit, and the sinking head on, when it comes to the art of talk. He comes every once in a while to talk a few hundred thousand out of the stony-hearted bureau of Indian affairs.”
The article explained that the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) was “holding out on his tribe some $300,000 of money which the tribe thinks ought to be distributed to minor children… Hollow Horn Bear hopes to take home about 50,000 copies of his picture on the $5 certificates.”
It is unclear what form the payment took, or if it was ever paid out, but the Aberdeen Democrat’s decision to cast Hollow Horn Bear as a wily smooth-talker trying to defraud the government is interesting since the record of fraud in the BIA almost always went in the other direction. Again, Hollow Horn Bear is mistaken for Running Antelope as the subject of the notes’ portrait. Both men were lauded as skilled orators, and they were both Sioux, but they were members of different tribes; Hollow Horn Bear was Brulé Lakota whereas Running Antelope was Hunkpapa Lakota. Their distinct tribes and cultures did not seem to matter to the audience familiar with the notes; both men were Native Americans and were skilled orators. Who they were did not seem to matter.
Hollow Horn Bear was also inaccurately attributed as the subject of the $5 Silver Certificate in an obituary published in The National Magazine in 1913. He had contracted pneumonia at the opening ceremony for the National American Indian Memorial and riding in Wilson’s inaugural parade. The New York Times announcement could not resist commenting on the appearance of the Native Americans to march in Wilson’s parade, describing the “tall, bronzed Indians from the west…”
Hollow Horn Bear would appear on stamps and military payment certificates, but he did not appear on $5 Silver Certificates between 1899-1922.
The myth of Hollow Horn Bear as the subject of the Series 1899 $5 Silver Certificate continues today. Hollow Horn Bear’s Wikipedia page currently claims that “a number of sources report Hollow Horn Bear as the basis for a US five-dollar bill,” citing The Numismatist’s article.
A Particular Look
Rhetoric used in The Numismatist’s exchange (and the Aberdeen Democrat article) communicates a racialized essentialism about Native Americans’ appearance. According to the numismatic experts of the day, there was a particular “look” that depictions of Native Americans should have, and Pratt’s design fell short of depicting their “manly appearance” and virility”. Though Running Antelope and the Series 1899 $5 Silver Certificate only figured into the discussion peripherally, it is telling that the editors of The Numismatist saw fit to include a brief reference to the Silver Certificates. Their coverage of the gold coins and Silver Certificates demonstrates the connection many numismatists of the day might have drawn between the issues.
Running Antelope and the gold quarter eagle, half eagle, and eagle all existed in the same symbolic ecosystem and served similar purposes for the consumers who might have encountered the currency they appeared on. Little regard was paid to the actual identity of the Native Americans depicted, so long as they exhibited the qualities the (white) creators and audience expected.
Running Antelope fits neatly into this ecosystem, not just in appearance but behavior. He epitomized what American politicians and military leaders had claimed to want for indigenous peoples for more than a century: life as settled farmers. His history of peacemaking and accommodation of white/American expansion made him a non-threatening example of Indians’ potential for assimilation. Co-opting his likeness onto a currency that many Americans considered illegitimate and “lesser” did not present a serious risk to hard money advocates’ sensibilities about gold, value, and race.
Simultaneously, his appearance on the Series 1899 $5 Silver certificate evoked the nation’s recent frontier past. The BEP could “play Indian” without elevating an image of indigenous resistance.
Just as many white Americans were dealing with an identity crisis brought on by modernity, Running Antelope (and Pratt’s Native American obverse) presented a contemporary view of Native “culture”, allowing viewers to retreat to a “simpler” time (and reinforcing racial hierarchy) while not challenging the morality of American imperialism. Tschachler’s 2007 article explains that “by displaying Native Americans as ‘exotic people,’ the superiority of white civilization is foregrounded and reinforced.”
In 1922, towards the end of the Series 1899 $5 Silver Certificate’s run, an article about Running Antelope ran in numerous newspapers across the country. Under the title “Stories of Great Indians – Running Antelope’s Views of Indian Agents”, Elmo Scott Watson, an Illinois journalism professor, shared an account of Running Antelope’s 1874 meeting with Custer. Watson makes a series of seemingly contradictory claims that, almost accidentally, offer a portrait of how white Americans perceived Running Antelope and many other Native American leaders.
Watson begins by asserting that Running Antelope and a band of Sioux had come to Custer to beg for food and “[accused] all Indian agents of dishonesty.” Watson describes the dinner after the council:
“Impressive as the old chief was while speaking in a council, he was not so admirable as a table companion. After gorging himself on everything in sight, he emptied the plates and swept the remains of the feast from the very noses of the headmen, into the folds of his robe. Then he belted it at his waist, making a capricious haversack, grunted his appreciation for the hospitality and stalked from the room.”
The narrative then pivots dramatically. “Although Running Antelope had not learned table manners… in the teepees of his fathers, he was a first-class fighting man.” The article then details an 1856 war with the Arikara in which Running Antelope claimed to have taken part. The piece concludes reflecting admiringly on “a record of systemic homicide which doubtless gave him as great a reputation among his tribesmen for being a warrior as he enjoyed among the whites as an orator.” War-making is for Indians, according to Watson; oration is for the whites.
In Watson’s account, Running Antelope is both a glutton and a warrior, helpless to feed his people but with formidable martial prowess. The piece seems to lament the decline of a great warrior (and, by extension, the warrior’s society), celebrates violence between Indians, and pays no heed to the “systemic homicide” heaped on indigenous people by the benevolent benefactor Custer and the nation he represented. There is some hand-wringing about the dishonesty of Indian agents, but Watson is less interested in the source of the greater tragedy that had befallen his subject than he is on the qualities that made Running Antelope “a great Indian.” Many of Watson’s comments reflected how the audience (for the Series 1899 $5 Silver Certificates almost as much as the article) would have perceived Running Antelope.
Philip Sheridan might have thought that the only good Indian was a dead Indian, but the BEP seemed to have found an Indian good enough for Silver Certificates.
However well-assimilated he was, Running Antelope seemed to have regretted his acquiescence to American colonization in later life.
Forrest W. Daniel ends his 1969 account of Running Antelope’s life by sharing that, in 1888, a Federal commission visited Standing Rock to discuss the purchase of some reservation land under the terms of the Dawes Act. Daniel paraphrases what Running Antelope is said to have told the commissioners, likening his history with the government to a fine cow:
“Many years ago the great father wanted a piece of our land and he called his children to the Minnesota River; he had there a very pretty calf which he proposed to exchange for Indian lands. We loved the calf very much and we gave up our lands but we did not get the calf. When the great father wanted more of our land he called us down to Yankton. The calf had grown up to be a very fine heifer and he offered to exchange the heifer for the lands he wanted; we agreed and the great father got the land but we did not get the heifer. Then came a time when he wanted more of our land and he called us to Laramie; the heifer was now a splendid cow; she had fine horns and soft eyes; her sides were round and fat and she gave much milk. We loved her very much and when the great father offered the great cow for our land we again agreed, but the great father got the land and we did not get the cow. Now you have driven the old critter over here, and her tail is frozen off, her horns are broken and she is dried up and gives no milk and we think we do not care to trade.”
Unbeknownst to him when he died, Running Antelope’s dealings with the government were not yet done. His photo, taken on a trip whose purpose was “to bewail [government] wrongs,” was unearthed from the Bureau of Ethnology, modified according to the BEP’s aesthetic sensibilities, and applied to a currency considered worthless by many. Yearning for an identity to make sense of the changing parameters of what it meant to be American, images of Native Americans were deployed to take audiences back to a “simpler time”. In this indigenous antiquarian frame, Running Antelope was a powerful and effective symbol, deployed at a particular moment to evoke certain feelings while not threatening the premises of America’s imperial project or the underlying assumptions that girded its monetary system.
Running Antelope’s likeness continues to have symbolic value today, and that symbolism has translated into high auction prices and popularity for the notes. The Series 1899 $5 Silver Certificate was ranked number 10 in The 100 Greatest American Currency Notes.
Highly sought after by U.S. paper money collectors, Series 1899 $5 Silver Certificates appear frequently at auction and can bring in high prices, especially for notes with low or unusual serial numbers, replacement notes, or examples with significant errors. Even common, circulated notes routinely sell for hundreds of dollars. These high prices prompted Thomas King, the activist author who wondered about the absence of other Native American leaders on currency, to remark “I really wanted one for the wall of my office until I found that, in good condition, the bill can cost thousands of dollars.”
As Coin World put it in 1994, it is “one of the most popular notes among collectors of US paper money and consequently is expensive.”
Recent auction results bear this conclusion out. In January of this year, an example certified Gem New 66 PPQ by PCGS sold for $6,600, while another example in the same grade sold in April 2018 for the same amount. An example graded Gem New 67 PPQ by PCGS sold in August 2017 for $22,912.50. Evidently, Running Antelope’s likeness commands a premium to modern collectors.
Littleton Coin Co. sells the notes on their site, with their listing describing the “beautiful and historic note” as “the only series of U.S. notes to feature a Native American as its main theme” and “An issue no collector should be without!”
In 1977, the BEP issued convention souvenirs for the ANA World’s Fair of Money that featured the face of the Series 1899 $5 Silver Certificate. The back of the note was featured on a similar card issued at the International Paper Money Show in 1988. In 2001, the U.S. Mint included a replica 1899 $5 Silver Certificate produced by the BEP with examples of the 2001-D American Buffalo silver dollar. The set also included a stamp depicting Red Cloud that was issued in 1987. The sets sold out within a week.
It also appears on magnets.
The Numismatist sanguinely remarked in 2013 that “for many years, connoisseurs of large size United States paper money have eagerly sought the Series 1899 $5 Silver Certificate … collectors do not tire of the dignified image of the chief … even if it is not accurately portrayed.”
Over the course of decades, many paper money collectors traded stories about the “handsome” Indian on the face of the Series 1899 $5 Silver Certificate, and those stories are another chapter in a long and freighted history. Collector forums abound with discussion about the pieces, with people sharing examples from their collections. Auction catalogs constantly laud the beauty and historicity of the notes. Column inches continue to be devoted to the notes in numismatic publications, often correcting past misidentifications.
The meaning of Running Antelope’s particular history and all of its freighted symbolic power will continue to live on in private collections, numismatic publications, and anywhere that the $5 Silver Certificate appears.
* * *
 Coins: The Magazine of Coin Collecting, Oct., 1978, pg. 69-70.
 Bill Gibbs, “Running Antelope”, Coin World, Oct., 20, 1997, pg. 86.
 Heinz Tschachler, “From ‘Wildman’ to ‘True Native American’”, ANA Journal: Advanced Studies in Numismatics Vol. 2, No. 1 (Spring, 2007), pg. 20.
 George Traylor, “A Tenderfoot Tracks Onepapa”, Paper Money, Vol. 6, No. 4, pg. 106.
 Thomas King, The Inconvenient Indian (Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press, 2013), pg. 38.
 Forest W. Daniel, “Running Antelope – Misnamed Onepapa”, Paper Money, Vol. 8, No. 1, pg. 4.
 David Treuer, The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee: Native America 1890-Present (New York, Riverhead Books, 2019), pg. 88-89.
 Treur, 92.
 Treur, 90.
 Robert M. Utley, Sitting Bull: The Life and Times of an American Patriot, (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2014), pg. 251.
 “ADVENTURES OF A SCOUT: Interesting Stories of Indian Adventure by One of Custer’s Scount,” The Bossier Banner, March 6, 1879.
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 Peter Cozzens, The Earth is Weeping: The Epic Story of the Indian Wars for the American West, (New York: Vintage Books, 2016), pg. 192.
 Chester S. Lord, “Coney Island in the Seventies,” The Saturday Evening Post, 1921.
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 “Official Register of the United States Containing A List of the Officers and Employees in the Civil, Military, and Naval Service on the First of July, 1889; Together with List of Vessels Belonging to the United States,” Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C., 1889.
 “FURTHER ALLEGED IRREGULARITIES: Investigation at Standing Rock of General Carlin’s Charges Against Agent Hughes,” Daily Press and Dakotaian, July 27, 1878.
 “WHY IS THIS THUS?: An Investigation at Standing Rock Agency Wanted,” The Bismarck Tribune, July 9, 1880.
 Forrest W. Daniel, “Running Antelope – Misnamed Onepapa”, Paper Money, Vol. 8, No. 1, pg. 9, Jan. 1969.
 “THE SIOUX VISITORS: An Interview with Running Antelope, the Orator,” The Bismarck Tribune, February 16, 1883.
 David Treuer, The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee: Native America 1890-Present (New York, Riverhead Books, 2019), pg. 145.
 Treuer, 96.
 “THE SIOUX VISITORS: An Interview with Running Antelope, the Orator,” The Bismarck Tribune, February 16, 1883.
 Peter Cozzens, The Earth is Weeping: The Epic Story of the Indian Wars for the American West, (New York: Vintage Books, 2016), pg. 84.
 Roy Morris Jr., Sheridan: The Life and Wars of General Phil Sheridan, (New York: Crown Publishing Group, 1992), pg. 342-343.
 Philip J. Deloria, Playing Indian, (New Haven, Yale University Press, 1998), p. 5.
 Heinz Tschachler, “The Wildman in the New World,” The Numismatist, September, 2019, pg. 39.
 Tschachler, 41.
 Tschachler, 42-43.
 Heinz Tschachler, “From ‘Wildman’ to ‘True Native American’: Images of American Indians on paper money,” ANA Journal, 2, No. 1, (Spring, 2007), pg. 9-10.
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 O’Malley, 84.
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 Deloria, 187.
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 C.B. Nelson, “South Dakota State Historical Markers,” South Dakota State Historical Society, April 2017.
 Dan L. Thrapp, The Encyclopedia of Frontier Biography, (Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 1991), pg. 671.
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 Heinz Tschachler, “From ‘Wildman’ to ‘True Native American’”, ANA Journal: Advanced Studies in Numismatics Vol. 2, No. 1 (Spring, 2007), pg. 20.
 Watson, Elmo Scott. “Stories of Great Indians: Running Antelope’s Views of the Honesty of Agents.” The Bolivar Democrat. June 24, 1922.
 Forrest W. Daniel, “Running Antelope – Misnamed Onepapa.” Paper Money, 1969.
 Q. David Bowers and David Sundman, The 100 Greatest American Currency Notes, (Atlanta: Whitman Publishing, 2006), pg. 38.
 Thomas King, The Inconvenient Indian (Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press, 2013), pg. 38.
 Gene Hessler, “Design features of MPCs appear on other notes,” Coin World, March 28, 1994, pg. 38.
 Paul Gilkes, “American Buffalo set sells out,” Coin World, July 2, 2001, pg. 1.
 Andy Smith, “Artistic License,” The Numismatist, September, 2013, pg. 23.
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———. “From ‘Wildman’ to ‘True Native American’: Images of American Indians on Paper Money.” ANA Journal 2, no. 1 (2007): 9–21.
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