Chief Buffalo Child Long Lance


Chief Buffalo Child Long Lance : biography

December 1, 1890 – March 20, 1932

Historians have described Long Lance as a fraud, but he had Native American ancestry on both sides of his family (Croatan and Cherokee), he looked Indian, and he knew enough Cherokee to use it when being admitted to the Carlisle School. His representation was not all a pose. He was not of the Blackfoot tribe, but studied their traditions deeply while living on the Great Plains. In his Being and Becoming Indian: Biographical Studies of North American Frontiers, late 20th century historian James A. Clifton called Long "a sham" who "assumed the identity of an Indian", "an adopted ethnic identity pure and simple."

The story of Long Lance has provided late twentieth century authors with much to mull over in questions of personal and ethnic identity. Donald B. Smith, a history professor and biographer, described Long Lance as "pass[ing] as an Indian", but he confirmed Croatan ancestry on his mother’s side, and Cherokee ancestry on his father’s. He was Native American and black and white, but trying to claim a different heritage and escape from limitations imposed on his family in North Carolina. Smith noted that Long Lance was deeply involved in supporting Indian issues of the day and representing First Nations causes in Canada, as well as trying to best represent Native American traditions in the US. When Smith’s book was published in paperback in 2002, the title was changed to Chief Buffalo Child Long Lance: The Glorious Impostor (rather than "Impersonator".)

In her book Real Indians: Identity and the Survival of Native Americans (2003), Eva Marie Garroutte uses the controversy over Long Lance’s identity to introduce questions surrounding contested Indian identity and authenticity in United States culture.

Autobiography and fame

Cosmopolitan Book Company commissioned Long Lance’s autobiography as a boy’s adventure book on Indians. It published Long Lance in 1928, to quick success. In it, Long Lance claimed to have been born a Blackfoot, son of a chief, in Montana’s Sweetgrass Hills. He also said that he had been wounded eight times in the Great War and been promoted to the rank of captain.

The popular success of his book and the international press made him a major celebrity. The book became an international bestseller and was praised by literary critics and anthropologists., PhD dissertation, University of Victoria, 2008, p. 42, accessed 19 Apr 2009 Long Lance had already been writing and lecturing on the life of Plains Indians. His celebrity gave him more venues and caused him to be taken up as part of the New York party life. More significantly, he was the first American Indian admitted to the prominent Explorers’ Club in New York., accessed 18 Apr 2009

He received an average price of $100 for his speeches, a good price in those years. He endorsed a sport shoe for the B.F. Goodrich Company. A film magazine, Screenland, said, "Long Lance, one of the few real one-hundred-percent Americans, has had New York right in his pocket."

In 1929, Long Lance entered the film world, starring in the silent film The Silent Enemy: An Epic of the American Indian, which showed traditional ways of Ojibwa people. Hunger was portrayed as the major enemy in the hunting culture of northern Canada. He promoted the cause of Native Americans. The movie attempted to depict Indian tribal life more realistically than in previous films and was released in 1930. It was filmed in Quebec more than 40 miles from cities and used many First Nation and Native American actors and extras.


Long Lance returned to Canada as an acting sergeant in 1919, requesting discharge at Calgary, Alberta. He spent his next decade on the Plains, where he became deeply involved in learning about and representing Indian life. He worked as a journalist for the Calgary Herald. Canada had de facto segregation and a climate in which the government had discouraged black immigration from the US. "It is not surprising that in such a climate…Long Lance felt that he was safer, and that he could go further, by disavowing any connection, cultural or racial, to blackness.", PhD dissertation, University of Victoria, 2008, p.604, accessed 19 Apr 2009