Harvard Independent
December 1, 1910

[No other artist in the country has enjoyed the opportunities experienced by Mr. E. A. Burbank, now a resident of Los Angeles - the painter of Indian portraits, to meet face to face, and on their own ground, the once noted Indian chiefs America, now so rapidly passing away. For the last twenty years Mr. Burbank has journeyed from camp to camp among the aborigines of the northwest and southwest, painting successively all the great warriors whose prowess has made their names famous in frontier history. It is, therefore, with considerable pride that The Graphic calls attention to a series of articles from Mr. Burbank's pen describing his personal interviews, with these once-powerful war chiefs, and illustrated by portraits from life, redrawn in pencil especially for the Graphic, from his original studies. First in this notable galaxy was a picture and story of Red Cloud, the famous Ogallalla (sic) Sioux, succeeded by Chief Joseph of the Nez Perces and Chief Blue Horse of the Sioux tribe.] Editor.

E. A. Burbank Timeline Image - Chief Black-Coyote
Chief Black-Coyote
(Note: Image was not included in original story)
Oil on canvas
Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, DC

Famous War Chiefs I Have Known and Painted

By E. A. Burbank

Chief Black Coyote

Chief Black Coyote lived a few miles from Darlington, Okla. To see him and hear him talk is to receive the impression that he is the most important of all American Indians. He is the proudest and most dignified Indian I have ever met. He was very anxious that I should paint his portrait in his full chief costume, with his face painted.

Several of his children had succumbed to sickness, and, in accordance with an Indian custom, Black Coyote fasted for several days, in which he dreamed that a spirit came to him and told him that if he would cut seventy pieces of flesh from his body and offer them to the sun, the remaining children would be spared to him. Spartan-like, the Indian took a knife and from his flesh cut the seventy pieces, though at the time weak from fasting. He said the Death Spirit sought no more of his children.

At the time he posed for me the wounds were healed, but the sears were there, and he painted each cicatrice red representing blood. This same chief was the one chosen by his tribe and others, to go to the north many years ago to meet the Indian Messiah, and consult with the Sioux in regard to the Ghost dance, and then return to teach, it to his people. The Indian firmly believed an Indian Messiah was to come. This was in 1889-90, when Sitting Bull was leading the Ghost Dance out on Grand river in North Dakota and his followers worked themselves into a frenzy of excitement over the report that the whites would be buried under a I gradual shower of dirt, but the Messiah would come in time to save the Indians and take them to the happy hunting grounds, where game should be plentiful and there was no winter, but eternal sunshine and warmth, and that all their old Indian friends who had departed, would return to them. When the white pop1e remonstrated with Black Coyote about going, telling him there was nothing in this Messiah craze, he replied: A long, long time ago you white people believed that the earth would be covered with water and a white man who believed in it made a big boat and he and a few others were saved.

Black Coyote is strongly impressed with an idea of his own importance, and after a visit to Washington, where he had been the observed of all observers, commented upon, written about and gazed at, he was so swelled with pride that he disdained to talk with other Indians, even calling the attention of the few white people of the agency to the fact that he was a noted personage while at Washington. On his way back, a railroad conductor had given him a badge, which Black Coyote wore with an air that said plainly: Big Injun, heap great at Washington. His chagrin was humorous, and he did not conceal his disgust when I explained to him that a conductor was not of the greatest importance off his train, hardly ranking next to senators, whom be had seen at the capital. After this the conductor?s badge was worn no more, nor could anyone get him to tell why he had discarded that emblem.

At one time Black Coyote had received from Uncle Sam $800, in payment for his share of tribal lands sold. He immediately bought himself a fine carriage, a good team of horses, and a new set of harnesses. Moreover, he hired a negro to act as his coachman, who sat in state and took care of his master's proud possessions. Black Coyote lived in a tepee, and it was an amusing contrast to note his fine carriage, which stood out in all weather nearby. He paid the colored gentleman good wages until the $800 was gone, then the coachman lost his job.

Nothing worried Black Coyote; he was always contented and happy and full of fun, even when he was broke. One day he came into my studio, when I was writing a letter. He said, Why don't you send telegram? I explained that it was too expensive. O, no, he exclaimed, we send telegram, go quick; pretty soon me go El Reno, get telegram from Washington from McKinney, (President McKinley). McKinney good man, heap smart man; he friend of mine; me see him in Washington; heap talk with him.

Black Coyote once visited a nice (sic) plant [NOTE: an ice plant], and when shown a fire in one room and ice in another, he said: White man heap smarter than God, God man ice in winter, but white man make ice in summer.

Upon seeing a mail bag for the first time, he observed: White man dam fool; he put iron lock on leather bag.

One day a white man came along riding a bicycle, the first one Black Coyote had seen, whereupon he remarked, White man heap lazy, he walk sitting down.

When he sat to me for a portrait, be brought with him an Indian friend to help him in his toilet. This assistant sat directly back of me, so he could see all that was going on and post Black Coyote as to what part of the picture, I was painting. If it happened to b where there were any wrinkles in the drapery, he would tell Black Coyote who would at once smooth out the folds much to my annoyance.

In the, morning when he came to my studio, he would ask me if I had made my medicine yet, and if it was good, strong medicine, as he said he was a big chief and I would have to have heap, strong medicine to obtain a picture of him.

The agent at Darlington at that time had white hair, which he had dyed black, a piece of vanity of which the Indians were cognizant. The agent issued orders that no Indians should be admitted to the office to talk business with him with their faces painted. One day Black Coyote entered the forbidden precincts with his face painted, and the agent quickly ordered him out, telling him to go and wash his face. Quick as a flash, Black Coyote retorted, All right, but you go and wash your hair. It was a fitting rebuke.

Whether or not Black Coyote succeeded in joining Sitting Bull in the north I cannot say, I know he was greatly impressed by the reports that reached Oklahoma of the ghost dancing led by the big Sioux medicine man, but attempts to introduce the weird ceremonial dance among the Arapahoes were promptly frustrated by the agent, who interposed strong objections. Black Coyote firmly believed in the invulnerability of the ghost shirts worn by the dancers, and boasted that the bullets of the white man could not penetrate them. But when news came of the engagement at Wounded Knee and the killing of scores at Indian braves, whose frozen bodies, clad in ghost shirts, were found after the battle, his faith received a shock. He had heard of the Sioux warrior inviting the soldiers at Grand River, following the death of Sitting Bull, to fire at him, and their inability to reach the mark he attributed to the fact that the daring fellow wore his ghost shirt. Truth is, the soldiers were cold, their aim poor, and the Sioux at so great a distance that the possibilities of a hit were slim. His escape, however, was sufficient evidence to his comrades that the ghost shirt was all that Sitting Bull claimed for it. But for the poor marksmanship on Grand River, the affair at Wounded Knee might not have occurred. Black Coyote was extremely anxious to obtain a ghost shirt and offered several ponies in exchange for one. But that was before the fight at Wounded Knee. After that disastrous episode, his ardor cooled. When I asked him about the ghost shirts he abruptly changed the subject.