Chief Buffalo Child Long Lance

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Chief Buffalo Child Long Lance : biography

December 1, 1890 – March 20, 1932

Chief Buffalo Child Long Lance (December 1, 1890 – March 20, 1932), born Sylvester Clark Long, was an American journalist, writer and actor from Winston-Salem, North Carolina who became internationally prominent as a spokesman for Indian causes. He became famous following publication of his bestselling autobiography, purportedly based on his experience as the son of a Blackfoot chief. He was the first American Indian admitted to the Explorers Club in New York City. After his tribal claims were found to be false, Long Lance was dropped by social circles. He was of mixed Lumbee, Cherokee, white and black heritage, at a time when Southern society imposed binary divisions of black and white in a racially segregated society.


After the controversy surrounding his identity, California socialite Anita Baldwin took Long Lance as a bodyguard on her trip to Europe. Because of his behavior, Baldwin abandoned him in New York. For a time, he fell in love with dancer Elisabeth Clapp but refused to marry her. In 1931, he returned to Baldwin. In 1932, Long Lance was found dead in Baldwin’s home in Los Angeles, California from a gunshot. His death was ruled a suicide.

In death Long Lance continued his support of Indian causes, as he left his assets to St. Paul’s Indian Residential School in Southern Alberta. Most of his papers were willed to his friend, Canon S.H. Middleton. They were acquired, along with the Middleton papers, by J. Zeiffle, a dealer who sold the papers to the Glenbow Museum in Calgary, Canada in 1968., Archives, Glenbow Museum, accessed 19 Apr 2009

Early life and education

Long had ambitions that were larger than what he saw of his future in Winston, where his father Joseph S. Long was a janitor in the school system, and his family was classified as black. Long was of mixed Lumbee and white ancestry on his mother Sally Carson Long’s side, and mixed Cherokee, white and black ancestry on his father’s. In that segregated, binary society, blacks had limited opportunities., Manitoba Library Association, accessed 18 Apr 2009 Long first left North Carolina to work as an Indian in a "Wild West Show". Here he had a chance to learn from Cherokee elders. He continued to build on his Indian ancestry "to avoid the confines of racialism in the South and to secure a community of his choice.", in Re-placing America: Conversations and Contestations, ed. Ruth Hsu, Cynthia Franklin, and Suzanne Kosanke, Honolulu: University of Hawai’i and the East-West Center, 2000, p. 74, accessed 20 Apr 2009

In 1909, Long applied as a half-Cherokee to gain admittance to the Carlisle Indian Industrial School and was accepted, partly because of his ability to speak Cherokee. He reduced his age to get admission and the chance for a good education., American Library Association,, accessed 18 Apr 2009 He graduated in 1912 at the top of his class, which included other prominent young Native Americans, such as Jim Thorpe and Robert Geronimo, a son of the famous Apache warrior.

Long entered the St. John’s and Manlius Military academies in Manlius, New York with a full musical scholarship, based on his performance at the Carlisle School., Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 9 Oct 1914, accessed 19 Apr 2009 He graduated in 1915. At that stage, he had begun to call himself Long Lance and had earned the nickname "chief" as the only Native American in his class. He decided to try for the West Point, and appealed to President Woodrow Wilson, whose office endorsed his application. He began there, but left in 1916 to enlist in the Canadian Expeditionary Force in Montreal (237th Battalion, CEF) and was shipped to France to fight in World War I. After being wounded twice, he was transferred to a desk job.


An Indian advisor to the film crew, Chauncey Yellow Robe, became suspicious of Long Lance and alerted the studio legal advisor. Long Lance could not explain his heritage to their satisfaction, and rumors began to circulate. An investigation revealed that his father had not been a Blackfoot chief, but a school janitor in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.Donald B. Smith, Chief Buffalo Child Long Lance: The Glorious Impersonator, Red Deer Press, 1999, pp.243-244 Some neighbors from his home town testified that they thought his background may have included African ancestry, which meant by southern racial standards, he was black. Although the studio did not publicize its investigation, the accusations led many of his socialite acquaintances to abandon Long Lance. Author Irvin S. Cobb, a native of Kentucky active in New York, is reported to have lamented, "We’re so ashamed! We entertained a nigger!"