We are gathering personal stories, and photos from folks who knew or met Indian Joe Davis, Chief White Eagle, Jr. in order to preserve his memory and share his remarkable story.
by Greta Hanson Maurer and Laura Amman
Locals who traveled the Beulah Highway from 1940-1966 were accustomed to seeing ‘Indian Joe’ on the porch of his adobe ‘lodge’ just west of Boggs Creek offering his arm in a friendly wave. If his striking appearance—two long braids below a deep-brimmed hat with a feather—didn’t make you stop and stare, then the purple Cadillac would. Some folks stopped to get to know him. Unsuspecting first-time visitors would enter a small one-room museum—dense with a dazzling collection of Native American and Wild West memorabilia—and only then realize they were in the presence of famed showman and lecturer Indian Joe Davis, also known as Chief White Eagle, Jr.
Joe Davis was born on January 23, 1880 in Genoa, NE where just three years prior the Pawnee Nation ceded their land to the U.S. government and moved to new ground, the Pawnee Indian Reservation in Oklahoma. (A lengthy article was printed in the Pueblo paper when Davis was 68 years old, it is well worth the read and referenced throughout this article, along with eight other sources!) The article simply states Davis’ father was Pawnee Chief White Eagle, and his mother’s name was Mary Yellow Horse
As a young man, Davis moved to Oklahoma where he met and married his first wife, Cora Red Bull. At that time, he worked as a cow puncher and a bronc buster in Oklahoma and Texas. Occasionally entering rodeos, he began a lifetime of travel.
By 1908, Davis’ talents as a gifted and athletic rider caught the attention of Col. Wm. F. Cody, famed soldier, bison hunter, and showman. Cody marketed his experience as a frontiersman through the extravagant production known as Buffalo Bill and his Wild West Show. Shortly thereafter, Indian Joe Davis joined the large troupe, as Chief White Eagle of Oklahoma’ Davis had found his calling. “Showman, magician, traveler, linguist, patriot, lecturer, diplomat and counselor, his ‘medicine for a half century has been strong, his star has shown bright.”
With a wide range of talents Davis would ride horses (or cattle), dance, perform tricks with a rope or lariat, and bringing to the people his story, the story of the noble ‘redskin’ and the conquest of the west. Not long after he started with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show the entourage visited Colorado Springs in August 1908. An Indian battle was depicted which involved horses, cattle and other ‘feats of horsemanship requiring the utmost skill.” He received $10 per week for his part in the grand affair.
When the show came to Madison Square Garden in New York in 1909, Buffalo Bill and Pawnee Bill combined to create an extravaganza that broke attendance records at the famed venue. Indian Joe Davis/Chief White Eagle, Jr. rode a bucking camel for a special show held for the Shriners. A superb athlete, Davis espoused clean living, and good condition, recalling once how he was kicked by a ‘Missouri Mule’ and quite literally left for dead; Davis awoke on a slab in the morgue.
Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show was seized in 1916 over a late loan payment, and sold at auction in Denver’s Overland Park. Always his own man, Davis struck out on his own, he had all his possessions, everything he needed to continue performances.
In 1918, Davis traveled to Washington, D.C. with the intention of joining the Army, the act itself served to showcase his patriotism, and connect with people. He was denied entry into the service because of his age; however, a letter that granted him ‘authority’ to entertain was known to be one of his prized possessions. “Davis took his act, funded by the YMCA, to schools, army camps, and hospitals, touting ‘Instructive and Educational’ shows.
Always reinventing the story and variety of his act, Davis placed a ‘help-wanted’ ad in an Altoona, PA paper in 1919. “Indian Joe Davis wants good Indian actress who can play the piano, sing or have some specialty.” Lillian ‘Red Wing’ St. Cyr answered Davis’ ad, and the pair performed before thousands of people of all ages, winning “deafening applause,” with rope tricks, magic tricks, and song, simultaneously lecturing on Indian customs during their well-planned vaudeville show. St. Cyr would earn the distinction of being the nation’s first native American film star later in her career. Not long after Chief Joe Davis’s Indian Village with the Mighty Doris Exposition was on the move. Davis next advertised a traveling circus that also featured Wild West performers.
In 1933, Davis briefly returned to Oklahoma to attend the funeral of his wife. He married for the second time in 1935 to Effie Marshall, despite his busy life on the road crisscrossing the country from one performance to the other. He met ‘the greats’ in his wide career, a cast of characters that range from entertainers to heroes, including the likes of Will Rogers, Geronimo, Jim Thorpe, and General MacArthur.
“Indian Joe Davis, or Chief White Eagle a Pawnee Indian gave a most interesting program at the Dixie theater Wednesday night. Indian Joe holds a medal as the best Indian rider and roper in the United States.”
“Indian Joe put on a program of Indian dances, sleight-of-hand mysteries, rope tricks and bugle blowing using two bugles at once. He talked on Indian lore and physical culture. His display of Indian curios including treaties between the government and the Indians, are most interesting and instructive.”
“Those who saw his show thought they got their money’s worth.”
By 1940, and in the ‘sundown of his life’ Indian Joe Davis moved to 20 acres on the ‘Beulah Star Route’ , having ‘chosen historic ground to pass his days before he makes the last journey to join his fathers in the eternal Happy Hunting Ground.” There is speculation that Indian Joe may well have been pitched the property several years earlier by the Pueblo Chamber of Commerce, a 1936 study considered the possibility of bringing an Indian colony to the Beulah Highway to attract tourists.
Located on spot that was known as the Old Pop Bone place, Davis built two small structures side by side, one was his home, and the other his museum, built for his extensive lifetime collection, “mementos, souvenirs, testimonials, relics—originals of Indian treaties and state papers, that some day may become the prized possession of historical societies and the government. On the walls and in cabinets are his ornamented and brightly painted buckskins and headdresses, the proud feather of the eagle from which Indian legend has it the red man’s chief derives invincibility.”
Sadly, when Indian Joe Davis passed away from pneumonia on Dec. 31, 1966 at the age of 86, his collection disappeared. Those close to him at the time suggest his well-known collection was stolen when Davis went into the hospital for the last time. Exactly who took the contents from the little museum 65 years ago will likely always remain a mystery; however, two of the precious contents of his collection have been located.
Classified as ‘extremely rare,’ one of Davis’ medals is a Harrison silver (one of only five known to exist) minted with reliefs of George Washington and the words ‘Peace and Friendship’ and an inscription on the thin edge,“Indian Joe Davis, White Eagle, Jr.” This Peace Medal found its way to the Daniel B. Dyer collection at the Kansas City Public Library, later purchased by American sportscaster Chris Schenkel, and finally purchased by Nebraska State Historical Society in 1990 at auction, where it resides, today.
The ‘Prairie Presentation Pipe Tomahawk’ is inscribed ‘Presented To White Eagle Jr. Joe Davis, Watomie Indians of Kansas, U.S.A.’. The 19-1/2” tomahawk was last seen in public in February 2013 at a Skinner’s auction in Boston for American Indian and Ethnographic Arts, Joe’s tomahawk/peace pipe sold for $8,610 to an unknown collector.
Luckily, a remarkable collection of photos still remains to tell the story of Indian Joe Davis, each precious image captures a facet of his talents and personas. In particular, one portrait (middle photo shown above) shows Indian Joe Davis in traditional clothing and full headdress surrounded by the tools of his trade, including the peace medal and tomahawk peace pipe—proof and celebration of his life’s work.
Buried in the Mountain View Cemetery in Pueblo, CO, a deteriorating metal grave-marker understates the truly talented and classy act that was Indian Joe Davis.
For more photos and references, visit: thebeulahnewspaper.com! To share your memories and photos of Indian Joe Davis email, firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks to Jane Anne Boyer for compiling many of the references used in the article.
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