Native Americans have contributed many achievements, accomplishments and talents to our great nation. This year under the Wagoner Administration, the DAR has focused on Native American “Indian firsts.” I would like to share some of these with you in the next few weeks.
1st Oscar Winner: Buffy St. Marie (Cree) – By her early 20’s, the Saskatchewan born and New England raised songwriter/singer was performing throughout the world. After the release of her first album, Billboard voted her Best New Artist of 1964. Later she became a cast member of Sesame Street. In 1982 she received an Oscar for Achievement in Music (Original Song) along with Jack Nitzche for composing the music for the song “Up Where We Belong,” from An Officer and a Gentleman.
1st Prima Ballerina: Maria Tall Chief (Osage) – Named Betty Marie Tall Chief at birth in Fairfax, OK in 1925, Tall Chief attended her first ballet lesson when she was three and soon began serious study with European teachers. She made her debut performance at 15 at the Hollywood Bowl. AT 17, she began dancing as the featured soloist with the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo and then danced for the New York City Ballet from 1947-1960. She danced with the American Ballet Theater until 1965, when she retired from dancing to direct and teach. In 1981, she founded the City Ballet of Chicago. Two of her most famous roles are the Sugar Plum Fairy in the Nutcracker Suite and the title role in Firebird.
1st (and only) Vice President of the U.S.: Charles Curtis (Kaw/Osage) –
Born ca.1860 in Kansas, Charles Curtis worked as a horse racing jockey and newspaper reporter when he was a teenager. Then he studied law in an attorney’s office and was admitted to the Kansas bar when he was 21. After serving in state politics, he was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1907 and became the first Kansas Senator to serve as Republican Majority Leader. In 1928, he was elected to serve with Herbert Hoover as Vice-President of the United States.
1st Major League Baseball Player: Louis Frances Sockalexis (Penobscot) – As a young man Sockalexis attended Holy Cross College in Worchester, Mass., where he batted .444 in two seasons. When his coach moved to Notre Dame, Sockalexis transferred to that school. A year later in 1897, a scout spotted him and signed him as an outfielder for the National League’s Cleveland Spiders. His first time at bat for the team, about 20 years after Custer’s defeat at Little Big Horn, he was jeered and taunted by a crowd. Sockalexis hit the ball out of the park. During his first pro season he stole 16 bases in 66 games and hit .338. Sportswriters began calling the Spiders the Cleveland Indians because of his accomplishments. In 1915 the team officially changed its name to the Cleveland Indians.