Red Fox James Travels Through Iowa... Seeks Recognition of Native Peoples

Editor's Note: The language used in this posting are quotes from that time.

Red Fox James at the White House in 1915

Red Fox James at the White House in 1915

In February and March of 1914, papers across the nation including the LeGrand Reporter and the Traer Star Clipper ran the following syndicated article:


LeGrand Reporter February 27, 1914

Rev. Red Fox James PH D. D. D., also known as Red Fox Skiuhushu, was of Native American decent. His mother was likely from the Blackfoot tribe, his father was Welch. His mother may have been from the Blood Tribe. Depending on what source you read, he was born sometime between 1884 and 1890, likely on the Blood Indian Reserve in Alberta, Canada. He was born Francis Fox James and later as an adult changed his name to Red Fox James. Like Chief Red Fox who has previously been profiled on this blog, James Red Fox, he was educated at the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania. According to one writer, he was also known as Reverend St. James, Francis Fox James, Rev. Barnabas Skiuhushu, and the Rev. Dr. Barnabas, Ph.D., Arch-Herio Monk.

In March of 1914, when he was about 25, he along with Mortimer Dreamer a.k.a. Sitting Eagle, left Leavenworth where they had been residing reportedly so that Dreamer could get medical treatment and went to the Crow Indian Reservation in Montana. Records indicate they left Billings on March 31 carrying a letter from the governor of that state which they intended to deliver to President Wilson in Washington D.C. Although the news release above misses the point, the mission had two goals. While it is true that one of the goals was to advocate for completion of the Lincoln Highway (U.S.30) which was the first transcontinental highway in the United States. More importantly for Red Fox James was to advocate with governors along the route and then with Wilson for a new national holiday which he referred to as "Indian Day". Red Fox James was also an ardent supporter of the YMCA, advocating for government support of these organizations on the reservations, citizenship for native peoples and also woman's rights, especially the right to vote.

Marshalltown Evening Reporter July 19, 1914

Marshalltown Evening Reporter July 19, 1914

James and Sitting Eagle slowly made their way across the United States following the Lincoln Highway. They sent word ahead of their impending arrival and commercial clubs as well as schools and other organizations set up events where James would speak and present a 50 slide picture show of Native American customs. He also provided equestrian demonstrations. His partner would portray the cowboy image of the West including trick riding and roping. Newspapers chronicled their journey as they made his way across the country.

James Red Fox performing an demonstration on his journey to the White House

James Red Fox performing an demonstration on his journey to the White House

We pick up their journey through Iowa on July 2, 1914, when the Missouri Valley Times provided an update. Due to Dreamer's illness, by the time they entered Iowa, Sitting Eagle had been replaced by Charles Benedict. Benedict served as pilot. He was a cowboy from the Big Horn area and provided trick riding and roping.

Several state newspapers recorded these events. For a modern-day reader these can be difficult to read as they reinforce stereotypes and are condescending in nature but they p rovide a picture of both Mr. James and also people's attitudes about aboriginal people during that era. We found reports from the following towns, although there are likely many more: Missouri Valley, Jefferson, Ames, Cedar Rapids, Clinton, Logan, Boone, Des Moines, State Center, Dewitt , Carroll, Denison, Marshalltown and Tama.

Some of the reports are very short but others like this one from State Center are more expansive. In Jefferson, Iowa, James complained to the editor of the newspaper that his visit was poorly received and questioned if this was due to him being a native American. The editor fired back at him in an editorial which defended the people there with being busy attending to their own affairs out of necessity and for no other reason.

State Center Visit

Different writers have contradictory reports of his visits to the White House. The White House Historical Association's Facebook page says that on December 17, 1914, he was introduced to President Wilson by Senator Thomas J. Walsh of Montana and presented him with a petition signed by 24 governors and mayors for the establishment of October 12th as "Indian Day" where he was quoted as saying, “The American Indian deserves the national consideration of the people of the United States". According to the same source he returned to the White House again in February 1915 to advocate for the citizenship of native peoples which did not occur until 1924.

Indigenous Peoples Day

Although no federal response occurred as a result of his trip, a few states subsequently created their own versions of American Indian day, the first being New York, which began officially celebrating American Indian Day in 1916. Illinois followed in 1919. In 2009, Congress passed and the President signed legislation that established the Friday immediately following Thanksgiving Day of each year as “Native American Heritage Day.” Last year, on October 8, 2021, the president signed a presidential proclamation declaring October 11, 2021, as Indigenous Peoples' Day, formally recognizing this as a national holiday.

Shortly after his 1914 trip to Washington, James organized the first Indian Boy Scout troop in America at the United States Indian School in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. In 1915, he became an ordained minister. In 1923 he was appointed superintendent of a new "Indian School" in Minneapolis with children coming from surrounding states to attend. His life course after this date is obscured in history but his legacy is still felt.

Red Fox James at White House

Red Fox James at the White House in 1915 with pennants collected from his journey

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