To the glittering world of New York society in the 1920s, Chief Buffalo Child Long Lance was a presidential appointee to West Point, war hero, movie star, aviator, socialite, journalist, best-selling author, and Indian advocate and activist - a full-blooded Blackfoot chief who captured the imagination of North America with the story of his life and the plight of his people.
But Long Lance was really Sylvester Long, born into slavery of mixed blood parents in the American south. His youth was spent behind the colour barrier, and he resented the restrictions that slavery imposed. He discovered, however, that he could pass as an Indian, which opened the door to education. From there he used his "Indian ancestry" to gain entry into a military college and, in an audacious move, to request a Presidential appointment to West Point – claiming to be a full-blooded Cherokee from Oklahoma.
Fearing that extensive media coverage of his appointment would uncover his lies, he fled the United States to serve with Canadians during World War I. He returned to work as a reporter at the Calgary Herald, where he became genuinely interested in the plight of reserve Indians. The tragedy of their surrender to reservation life resonated deeply with his own experience as a slave in the American south.
But discovery of his true past dogged him repeatedly and eventually drove him to alcohol and despair. He died by his own hand in 1932. The story of this glorious impostor rises above his deceptions to become a true history of racial injustice, which played a significant role in driving this brilliant young man toward his tragic end.
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Donald B. Smith is a Red Deer Press author.From Booklist:
Glorious would well describe this book as well as its subject, but it is no impostor. It's the real thing--a historical treatise that reads like a novel. Although intensely scholarly, it is terrifically suspenseful and profoundly revealing of the character of Buffalo Child Long Lance. Moreover, it is a gripping story, that of a young man of indeterminate ancestry--Cherokee, certainly, but possibly black in part and quite a bit white, too--who was born in poverty in turn-of-the-last-century North Carolina. Brilliant, vigorous, extremely handsome, he escaped the economic and social confines of his community by reinventing himself. His deception started small. He lied about his age to gain admission to an important Indian school. Once that goal was achieved, he began editing his life more seriously and kept at it for the rest of his days. He was, indubitably, brilliant--a compelling writer and a commanding presence. But he wasn't a chief of the Canadian Plains Indians, as he presented himself at the height of his fame. His tribal affiliation and his name shifted whenever truth began to peek out from behind the latest version of him. For quite a while, he successfully outran his lies, becoming a movie star and the first American Indian admitted to the prominent Explorers' Club before things all came tumbling down. Smith's gripping examination of one man's drawn-out end run around racism reports a real American tragedy and is itself a fine example of the literary American tragedy. Patricia Monaghan
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