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January 15, 2012

Chief Red Fox

by George Farias

[Publisher-Editor's Note: One never knows what kind of e-mail he will receive during the course of any given day.

[It was nearly eleven months ago now that a veterinarian on Long Island sent me a note inquiring if my father had been Dr. Albert Henry Martin Droleskey, which prompted my own article, One Man's Life Changed By Doctor Droleskey

[It was nearly two months ago that I received an e-mail with the subject line of "Hi, I'm Your Cousin, Scott Droleski." As will you will discover in an upcoming article that I have been meaning to write but has been postponed by many other projects, Scott Droleski is the great-grandson of Joseph Droleski, who was the brother of my own late great-grandfather, John Jacob Droleski. I never knew that my paternal great-grandfather had a brother! I only knew that he walked two miles to Saint Casimir's Church in Elmira, New York, to hear daily Mass offered and then two miles back home again every day until just about two weeks before he died at the age of ninety-seven in 1949. Mr. Scott Droleski informed me of that the name "Droleski (ky) (key)" is not the original name, that, evidently, an Irish priest in Scranton, Pennsylvania, did not know how to spell the name on a baptismal certificate, rendering "Zdrojewski" as "Droleski." I just never knew this at all, causing me to wonder yet again at the remarkable nature of the Providence of God.

[It was about a month before that, though, that I had received yet another unexpected e-mail in December of. 2011 from Mr. George Farias, who wrote to me about my late mother's father-by-adoption, the man who fashioned himself as "Chief Red Fox," but whose real origins did not correspond to the stories that he told in schools or in various television appearances or, most tragically, in the book he published in 1971 about his life, The Memoirs of Chief Red Fox. Although the Chief's true origins were not as he related them in his autobiography, he did perform for the Buffalo Bill Wild West Show and was a performer in silent films. He also appeared on the Chautauqua Circuit with William Jennings Bryan's daughter and a young fellow who was born in England under the name of Leslie Townes Hope, better known as "Bob" Hope.

[Mr. Farias had heard my grandfather, "The Chief," lecture at Saint Peter's School in Laredo, Texas, back in the 1940s, finding this site in an internet search of the Chief's name, which has appeared here eleven times in various articles, although none focused on him. Mr. Farias wrote to me to get more detail about the Chief's background, stating that he, a believing Catholic, was going to write up a story about him to be published in a newspaper in Texas. We have now corresponded a fair bit in the past three months. He has given me permission to publish his article about my grandfather-by-adoption.

[The article is very well-written. Mr. Farias grasped the essence of "The Chief," who, though not a Sioux Indian as he claimed, was a master showman (he had Johnny Carson in stitches after the end of an appearance on The Tonight Show in March of 1971) who had mastered the lifestyle, culture and traditions of the Indian people. Mr. Farias has been thorough in his review of my grandfather's life, warts and all, finishing his article a trenchant insight into the fact that "The Chief's" tall tales were used to good effect to highlight the plight of the Indian people, who had been victimized by the social-engineering and racism of the Protestants and Masons of the Federal government that sought to undermine and eradicate the great Catholic work of "Black Robes" such as Father Pierre-Jean De Smet, S.J., in the Nineteenth Century.

[I thank Mr. Farias for his great article about my mother's father-by-adoption and for the most kind permission he granted me to post it on this site.

[Please pray for Mr. Farias and for the repose of the soul of William Red Fox, aka William Humes.

[Sincerely yours in Christ the King and Mary our Immaculate Queen, Thomas A. Droleskey, Ph.D., Publisher-Editor]

One of the most endearing memories I have when I take frequent trips to my nostalgic youth was my encounter with a very unique individual known as Chief Red Fox. This happened during the time I attended St. Peter’s Parochial School in Laredo, Texas from 1945 to 1952 for my elementary and middle school years. St. Peter the Apostle Catholic Church was founded to provide religious services to English-speaking parishioners. It was built on the site of an old Catholic cemetery at the corner of Santa Maria and Matamoros streets. The church had a basement used for different functions and I remember going down there after my First Communion ceremony where we were served milk and cinnamon rolls.

Several times during those years the basement was the setting for presentations by Chief Red Fox, a Native American, who dressed in all his regalia including an impressive feather headdress. Squatting on the floor and gathering all the children around him, he would chant, shake his rattles, beat his drums, and regale us with captivating stories of the Old West and fights between cowboys and Indians. Here was a living person who had experienced what I saw in the movies. I assumed he was a real Indian even though I knew that some Hollywood actors portrayed Indians.

In recent years, recalling these unique moments of my childhood, I began to look into the life of Chief Red Fox, who went by the full name of Chief William Red Fox. He said he lived from 1870 to 1976. I found that he had published his biography titled The Memoirs of Chief Red Fox and I wanted to know if he was genuine and if this was the same person I knew in Laredo. I did an Internet search and entered Chief Red Fox+Laredo on Google. Up popped a document for auction by Ira and Larry Goldberg Coins and Collectibles in Beverly Hills. California. The value of the document was listed from $2,500 to $3,500 but the bid would start at $ 600.

The auction description stated that Chief William Red Fox was Oglala Sioux whose Lakota name was Tokalu Luta, that he was part of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show for years and appeared in many films. To my surprise it also noted that his mother was the sister of Chief Crazy Horse. The document, it said, was an autographed manuscript, signed, 5 pages, written on stationery from the New Hamilton Hotel in Laredo, (1965). It was described as a handwritten account by Red Fox of the Battle of the Little Big Horn. I have included the document narrative unedited as he wrote it and in the words of the chief “as I remember it.”

The document, which contains numerous misspellings and capitalization errors, states in part, “I was six years and fourteen days old at the time of the Custer fight. As it was told to me by my father Chief Black Eagle and my mother White Swan, the sister of Chief Crazy Horse…we left Pine Ridge (Reservation) the eight day of May 1876. Arrived in Montana about June the fifth. My people expected trouble they divided up into three different villages. In case of attract they would not be caught in a trap. They knew Custer had left fort Lincoln for the Little Big Horn. Chief Gall and Chief Two-Moons sent word to my uncle Chief Crazy Horse that they were on their way to join him in case of trouble with Custer they hatted him for the killing of the fifty three old women men and children and for burning their village several years before, (This is a reference to the battle of the Washita River, Nov. 27, 1868) and he Raped Black Kettle fourteen year old daughter she gave birth to a boy who is known as Yellow Hawk that they claim is his son from that attract…“On Sunday Morning June 25th, 1876 Custer… divided his forces into four grupes send Reno to attack my people from the southwest of the Big Horn River. Benteen from the northeast. Godfry and McDugal with the supply train…he told them he would …make the attact at four oclock…. About 2PM…we heard shots fired later we were told that my father and Chief Standing Bear had blocked Captain Benteen form crossing the river. Ghost Dogs, and Crow King had blocked Reno and his men Stinking Bear had blocked Godfre and McDougal. “

“About 3 oclock Custer appeared and my uncle Crazy Horse rode out and then retreated like they were afraid. Custer came riding on then. Chief Gall came out to the left side of Custer and Two Moons and his Cheyenns came to the right of Custer. When Custer seen this he started his charge and then dismounted, placed his men on high grounds his horses placed under senteries the Indians made a curcle around him then rode their horses accross the circle kicking up durt (to) stampead his horses. Then the Indians made their attact. Custer bugle sounded for the sentries to bring up the horses but they had been killed his bugle sounded for retreat but..most of the men and horses were killed. Some said he was the last one to die but that not true. Captain Kegho was the last man to be killed and his horse Comanche was the only horse alive…my people said no one knows who killed (Custer) or when he fell. They say the battle lasted forty minutes..The Indians had better guns than the soldiers good horsemen knew the country and planed how to fight the battle…” Red Fox also reports that, years later, he spoke to the last white men to see Custer alive, John Martin Kenipe and Theadore Goldwin Kenipe, who had been left 20 miles away with some sick soldiers, and they told him that Custer had disobeyed orders and gone against the advice of his scouts, saying “he was not like Gen. Crook he would not retreat…” The dealer added that eight days earlier, on June 17, 1876, Crook had been forced to retreat when surprised by Crazy Horse and 500 warriors. The narrative ended here.

The Memoirs of Chief Red Fox was published in 1971 by McGraw Hill Book Company with an introduction by Cash Asher. Asher taught creative writing at Del Mar College in Corpus Christi, Texas, and one of his pupils was Red Fox’s son, William Woodrow Red Fox, who knew Asher had an affiliation with the American Indian Defense Association. William Woodrow mentioned to Asher that his father, then ninety eight years old, had filled fourteen Big Chief school tablets with notes about the Indians, comments on their relations with the white man, and biographical information about his own life. He asked Asher if he would read and review the notes with a view to have them published. Asher was intrigued by the invitation and found that the penciled writings in the memory books were legible, factually accurate, and at times, eloquent.

Asher said in the book’s foreword that he first met Chief Red Fox in December 1969, when the Chief came to Corpus Christi for his annual month’s vacation. They smoked a peace pipe together as they discussed further details of his life to augment his notebooks. Thus, Asher became fascinated with the patriarch whose mind he said was like a golden file cabinet crammed with wisdom, conditioned by philosophy, guided by perception, and inspired by interpretation. Red Fox, Asher noted, had a warm strong handshake, and they comprehended each other with instant intuition. Red Fox put his arm across Asher’s shoulder and admitted him into the personal universe where he dwelled. The rapport of the two men is evident in this masterful retelling of a purported journey of a hundred years from the wilds of America to the supersonic age.

The first chapters of the book describe the idyllic life and superstitions of the Sioux. Red Fox said he was born in a teepee on the Pine Ridge Reservation in the Dakota Territory on June 11, 1870. His mother’s name was “New Waw” meaning White Swan.” His father’s name was “Wan-Ble-Sapa” which translates into “ Black Eagle.” He was called “To-Ka-Lu-Lu-Ta” or “Red Fox.” He said he was usually awake in time to see the sun rise. If the weather was warm he went down to the river that flowed near their village and dipped water out of his hands for a drink then plunged into it. The river came down out of the hills, ferrying leaves, blossoms and driftwood. Fish could be seen in the pools formed over the rapids over which it rippled. Birds nested and flew among the banks, and a coon or fox would be spotted as eagles flew overhead. He said there were never enough hours in a day to exhaust the pleasure of seeing every living creature.

The Sioux believed that the Great Spirit lived in the Black Hills, so named because the slopes were covered with thick pine forests that appear black when seen from the plains. The Thunder Bird would hover above the high peaks conjuring rain, snow and storms. The Indians viewed the sun as the greatest symbol of the spirit and always placed the opening of their teepees toward the east, where it first appeared in the morning. The springs that gushed from the cliffs and formed into pools were considered the tears of The Great Spirit. Red Fox said everything he knew as a child had passed away, leaving the world empty of their arts and culture. The blood of 20,000,000 buffalo was spilled onto the Western plains and the vast primeval forest cut down. The buffalo supplied food, clothing, implements, chips for fuel, and countless other uses for which the Indian depended on for survival. The Sioux had a deep love of family. They killed only what they needed for food and never punished their children by whipping or beating them.

Red Fox goes on to describe the struggles and battles of the Indians as they fought the encroaching white man noting that some of this history was described to him by others, such as the Massacre at Wounded Knee that occurred when he was twenty years old. Slowly, the peaceful life of the tribes gave way to the land and gold-hungry hordes that invaded and took Indian lands including their sacred places. In a very readable and entertaining narrative, as edited by Asher, the chief competently describes a people and their culture that was slowly and painfully vanishing.

Three months after the Battle of the Little Big Horn, Red Fox was sent to a boarding school on the Sioux Reservation 200 miles from home where he learned English and was educated about the Christian God. Later with other Sioux youngsters he boarded a train to Kansas City that would take him to the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania. During the summer months of his last four years at Carlisle, he became a sailor on the high seas. He sailed on a barkentine, the Josephine, as a cabin boy at $3.00 a month. He later sailed on other ships that took him into ports from Maine to the West Indies. Back home he was hired as an interpreter at the Standing Rock Reservation at Fort Yates and after training went to Washington to serve in the same capacity for the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

A new opportunity presented itself when Colonel William Frederick “Buffalo Bill” Cody came to the Pine Ridge Reservation to recruit Indians for his Wild West Show and hired Red Fox as an interpreter and to take charge of the Indians. Buffalo Bill’s shows were wildly successful playing not only in the United States but Europe as well. Nat Buntline, a writer, did much to popularize Buffalo Bill and the exciting drama of the Old West. Red Fox describes the many famous people that he met in his travels with the show including Theodore Roosevelt, Thomas Edison, Alexander Graham Bell, Will Rogers, Kaiser Wilhelm, and Jack London. In one show, Edward the Seventh, King of England, decided to join the show as a passenger in a stagecoach with Buffalo Bill. The Indians attacked and swiftly dispatched Buffalo Bill. It was Red Fox who was given the role of “scalping” the king. When he dragged the king out of the coach the crowd recognized him and gasped. Red Fox stopped for a second to accentuate the attack then brought the rubber tomahawk down on the king’s balding head. While in England Red Fox visited the grave of Pocahontas, the first American to become a Lady of England. She is buried in the Church of England’s graveyard at Crews.

As Buffalo Bill’s shows were coming to an end, Red Fox received an offer from Thomas H. Ince, a motion pictures director who asked him to gather a group of Indians and Mexicans to play in a series of Western movies he was planning to produce. This led to appearances of the chief in ten films with Ince, mostly holdups and war scenes, where Red Fox was part of the action. The first picture was War on the Plains. He then accepted an offer to join Selig Studios in Chicago. A second role materialized in When the Heart Calls followed by nine pictures with Bronco Billy and Gilbert Anderson. From there Warner Brothers beckoned, and he appeared in five films including Daughters of the Tribe. The next invitation came from William S. Hart’s firm, Triangle Production Company. As a supporting actor, Red Fox acted with the likes of Alan Hale, Richard Dix, William Powell, and Jack Holt.

In later years Red Fox joined the Chautauqua Circuit out of Bloomington, Illinois, which was owned by Billy Sunday and Ruth Bryan, daughter of William Jennings Bryan. The circuit was initiated to train Sunday school teachers, evolving into a forum for inspirational and motivational lectures. It developed later into a full vaudeville program with Broadway hits, opera, and variety acts. In the then very popular vaudeville circuit many later film actors like Bob Hope perfected their techniques and honed their skills. Although he was not successful in this work, it prepared Red Fox to be an ambassador of goodwill for a large corporation. He does not mention the name of the corporation in his book. In this capacity he lectured in many schools and conferences of Girl and Boy Scouts. As a result he was interviewed on television, radio, and newspapers in the United States, Canada, Europe, and the Hawaiian Islands.

Because of these experiences, Red Fox became an ardent advocate for the American Indian. In 1917 he went to Washington to call on Secretary of War Newton D. Baker to offer the services of Indians in World War I. He was given the opportunity in 1924 to address a joint session of Congress appealing to Congress to grant tribesmen citizenship rights and for the need to reform the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Baker agreed to accept any Indians between the ages of twenty-one to forty-five. The record shows that 17,330 Indians served in the World War I. On numerous occasions and through contact with various officials, he pressed for better treatment and recognition of the needs of Indians.

After reading his memoirs, I became more impressed with the life of this exceptional individual in American history; However, I wondered if he was a Sioux chieftain and if his story was real. To find out I e-mailed the Pine Ridge Reservation asking them to confirm the birth date of Red Fox and the names of his parents. After three attempts and no response, I thought, either, they cannot find the record and his file, or, his tale of his origins was fabricated. I read several biographies of Chief Crazy Horse and nowhere was there a mention of a sister named White Swan. I did find the name of an Indian named Black Eagle but nothing pointed to the fact that this was his father.

I went back to the Internet and again entered Chief Red Fox in the search icon. This time I got several references and one appeared interesting. It was the website titled Christ of Chaos of Dr. Thomas A. Droleskey, the publisher-editor of numerous profound articles on the Catholic faith. The article that came up in reference to Red Fox was one titled, Taking Advice From The Fuller Brush Man, a critique of Billy Graham. Dr. Droleskey opened the article by stating, “My late mother, Norma Florence Red Fox Droleskey, was never properly catechized in the faith. Adopted as an infant by a vaudevillian performer who claimed falsely, to be a Sioux Indian chieftain, my mother led a rather itinerant existence throughout much of her early childhood and into her adolescence before her father-by-adoption, “Chief William Red Fox,” settled in Corpus Christi, Texas which is where he would spend the remaining forty years of his life and where my mother’s (and father’s) mortal remains are buried.” It seemed that my suspicions were finally confirmed.

I e-mailed Dr. Droleskey about my interest and my work in progress on his grandfather-by-adoption and requested any personal information he could provide me to complete my article. I did not expect a prompt reply but no sooner had I sent my message than I received a detailed response with factual information about his family and the career of Chief Red Fox. He noted that that he had also received an e-mail recently from a veterinarian on Long Island who had been influenced by his late father, Dr. Albert Henry Martin Droleskey, who had been a veterinarian in Queens Village, New York form 1946 to 1972. His father later embarked on a second career as the administrator of the meat inspection program for the Texas Department of Public Health. He was based in Harlingen and made many trips to Laredo and the Rio Grande Valley to supervise his field inspectors.

Dr. Thomas A. Droleskey received his Bachelor of Arts, Master of Arts, and Doctor of Philosophy degrees, all in political science, from St. John’s University, in Jamaica, New York, the University of Notre Dame, and the State University of New York, respectively. He taught in numerous colleges and universities including the C.W. Post Campus of Long Island University in Brookville, New York. As a member of the state Right to Life Party he was the party’s candidate for Lieutenant Governor of New York in 1986. He has lectured extensively around the country for the last twenty years, and he now devotes his time to lectures and writes his articles in his words, “in behalf of the Social Reign of Christ the King and Mary our Queen.”

Dr. Droleskey reported that his adoptive grandfather was born William Humes in Baltimore, Maryland on June 11, 1884. His father, Louis, was a bricklayer and his mother, Emma, was a homemaker. At age fourteen William ran away from home to join the Merchant Marine in the Spanish- American War. After his discharge he joined the Buffalo Bill Wild West Circus in Sarasota, Florida. Dr. Droleskey notes that this is where the chief mastered the lifestyle, culture, language, and history of the Sioux Indians and adopted the stage persona of “Chief Red Fox.” He toured with the show for many years then entered a career in silent films. During this time he married a woman named Maude, whose maiden name is unknown, whereupon he adopted a boy naming him William Woodrow and in 1921 adopted twins named at birth as Maxine and Max Coomer, renaming them Norma, after his own sister, and Louis, his brother. Norma, born March 6, 1921, was Dr. Droleskey’s mother. William Woodrow, who had approached Mr. Asher about publishing the chief’s memoirs, is 92 years old as of this writing and still lives in Corpus Christi.

The Chief and Maude separated in the late 1920s after his years of vagabond travels and the Chautauqua Circuit. While he was touring Ohio he married a second time to a woman named Georgia, and they settled with the children in the middle 1930s in Corpus Christi whereupon he embarked upon his career as a lecturer in schools and as a spokesman for Rath Meats, which is how he came into prominence in the 1950s on some television programs. Norma joined the WACS in 1943, settling in Baltimore, Maryland after the war and went to live with Emma Humes, the chief’s widowed mother. When Emma died in 1947 she moved in with Mildred Humes, the widow of the chief’s brother, and her aunt-by-adoption, Norma Humes. During her stay there she met Dr. Droleskey’s father when he was studying veterinary medicine at the then-named Agricultural and Mechanical College of Texas at a time when she was dating his brother. They were married in New York on June 2, 1951.

Interestingly, Dr. Droleskey still has ties to Texas A&M University. His brother lives in College Station, Texas. He is Veterinary Microbiologist Dr. Robert Edward Droleskey, USDA, ARS, with the Southern Plains Agricultural Research Center. His wife is Dr. Suzanne Droleskey, Vice President for International Operations at Texas A&M University. This intrigued me as I attended Texas A&M College in 1956-1957, during the heralded football era of Paul “Bear” Bryant. My two brothers, Chris Farias and Frank X. Farias, both graduated from there in their undergraduate programs, Chris in May, 1963, in Civil Engineering and Frank in May, 1969, in Finance. The Aggie connection and the brotherhood of this great university made this story all the more fascinating.

Until the middle sixties, the chief worked for Rath Meats at which point he became employed by Wilson Meats. He made his first appearance on the Tonight Show in 1966 impressing Johnny Carson. After his memoirs were published, Dr. Droleskey took the Chief to various studios for interviews again with Carson, and later with David Frost, Merv Griffin, Mike Douglas, and Virginia Graham, among others.

Dr. Droleskey was concerned that the chief had not separated fact from fiction in his book. In the early morning of March 10, 1972, he was listening to WOR-AM radio when he heard announcer Harry Hennessey proclaim “Another Scandal Rocks McGraw HILL.” This was just days after Clifford Irving admitted that his Autobiography of Howard Hughes was a hoax. The New York Times had started a five-part series, written by Henry Raymont, that dissected the chief’s claims without ever coming to reveal his true identity. Raymont noted that there was no record of Red Fox becoming a Sioux chief. Raymont also discovered that a large number of words in the “memoirs” had been lifted from a 1939 book on the Wounded Knee Massacre written by James H. McGregor. Dr. Droleskey said the chief’s reputation was eviscerated, and the talk show hosts who once admired him, began to make him the butt of their jokes. It was not until 1975 that an Indian woman in Texas, Evelyn Silvertooth, befriended Red Fox and took him to schools to perform his shows again.

Nonetheless, William Humes, a.k.a “Chief Red Fox,” did master the ways of the Sioux and became, in his disguise, a great spokesman and champion for the American Indian. No doubt, that in his day, he brought much needed attention to their plight and neglect. The treatment of Native Americans is a stain in the history of the United States with treaties and promises broken, and treatment as bad as that endured by black slaves in what amounted to a virtual program of ethnic cleansing. Other Americans to this day seem to show no remorse over this tragedy. The San Antonio Express-News on Monday February 14, 2011, published an Associated Press article by Nomaan Merchant titled, “In nation's poorest county, every day survival is a struggle, ” subtitled, “Isolated location just one barrier to creating jobs.” The article reported that Ziebach County, S.D. is America’s poorest county where sixty percent of people live at or below the poverty line. The county is home to 2,500 residents, most of them Cheyenne River Sioux Indians. The Cheyenne River Indian Reservation, created in 1889, has no casino, no oil reserves, and no available natural resources. A project on the Missouri River caused flooding washing away more than 10,000 acres of Indian Land. The sufferings of these people is heart-wrenching.

In a dimly-lit subterranean Catholic Church meeting hall in Laredo, Texas in the late 40s and 50s, Chief Red Fox had many impressionable school youngsters mesmerized by the great verbal canvas that he painted about the Old West. I do not remember any of his specific words. My sister, Maria F. Rollin, recalls that Red Fox made his grand entrance by stating, “I came in on my pony, my Poni-ac (Pontiac).” While my memory has faded over time, I do remember that his tales were as vivid as any seen on film, and in his talks one could smell the pine forests, hear an eagle screech and the splashing sound of fish jumping in a limpid brook. If one closed one’s eyes, one could hear, in his theatrics, the thundering hoof beats of the great buffalo herds, the whoops of native hunters slinging arrows at their valuable prey, and the smell of gunpowder from the blazing guns of “Yellow Hair, ” George Armstrong Custer, and his troops, about to perish for their foolish misadventure. I recall a famous epic painting of Custer’s Last Stand that hung at the Laredo Boy’s Club whose artist I do not recall; however, every detail seemed to be there as the chief, a consummate showman, described it in his evocative presentations.

Any Native American writer would do well to read The Memoirs of Chief Red Fox. Perhaps it would help improve their own narratives by reviewing the impassioned words of a man who not only mastered the way of the Sioux, but he also described their life in an enlightened fashion far better than any other book I have read about the First Americans. I propose that William Humes can be forgiven for his tall tales, his identity crisis, and his less than accurate biography, for he left a great legacy to the many people he touched. Besides my father, he was the one person who developed in me a great love for American history, and I am sure he did the same to many persons like myself. Chief Red Fox died on March 1, 1976 at the age of 91. He is buried in Seaside Memorial Cemetery in Corpus Christ, Texas.


[Thomas Droleskey yet again: This is a superb color photograph that I found online of my y maternal grandfather-by-adoption, "Chief Red Fox, born in Baltimore, Maryland, on June 11, 1884, and died in Corpus Christi, Texas, on March 1, 1976--the same day father my father's great-uncle, John Droleskey, who was my late paternal grandfather's brother, died in New Hartford, New York.]



© Copyright 2021, George Farias. All rights reserved.