Chief Buffalo Child Long Lance: The Glorious Imposter

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Red Deer Press, 1999 - Biography & Autobiography - 400 pages
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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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About the author (1999)

Donald B. Smith is a professor of Canadian history at the University of Calgary.

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