Biographical information on Victor Daniels is confusing, and the following is my summation of what has been generally reported in various books, articles, and such:
Daniels was born April 12, 1899 in Muskogee, Oklahoma, and was the oldest of nine children and a full-blooded Cherokee. Supposedly, he received his public schooling in Texas and Arizona, and studied (mining?) for two years at the University of Arizona. Prior to entering films, he worked on cattle ranches, was a mining foreman, a guide, boxer, rodeo performer, and even did a tour performing Indian songs and dances. Daniels entered films as a stunt man around 1929, and doubled for many of the top stars.
However, this kind of reporting on Hollywood film personalities was often incorrect or exaggerated, and may have been developed more for the benefit of the studios than the performer.
In checking the background of Victor Daniels, I have been able to determine/not determine the following:
• In May, 1998, the Office of the Registrar at the University of Arizona kindly checked their databases which contain student names back to the initial opening of the school. They were unable to find any attendance record for Victor Daniels ... and they did check several spelling variations.
• In mid-June, 1998, I obtained a copy of Daniels' death certificate from the Ventura County Recorder (California). Under the first name/last name field on the death certificate is: Chief Thunder Cloud AKA Victor Daniels; no middle name is listed. Date and birth place is April 12, 1899 in Oklahoma. Daniels' father is listed as "Joseph Mahawa", but there is no entry for his mother's name. Time/date of passing is 3:25 a.m., December 1, 1955 at the General Hospital, Ventura County, California. The name of Daniels' wife is listed as Frances (Daniels married Frances Courtright in 1933). Their home address is listed as: Corrigan Ranch, Route 1, Santa Susanna, California. The death certificate also notes that Daniels was in the hospital for thirteen days, and died soon after November 30, 1955 surgery for stomach cancer.
• Thinking that Daniels may have registered at the University of Arizona using his father's surname, I asked the Registrar in mid-June to re-check their student database for a last name of "Mahawa" or "Mahewa". Again, there were no matches.
• I had hopes that we would be able to obtain more on Daniels' birth place and Cherokee lineage. Martha Redus is an expert in Cherokee Indian genealogy and has the "Cherokee Cousins" website. Martha volunteered to see if she could find any information on Daniels. She checked records at the National Archives branch in Atlanta, and looked for Daniels in the index to the 1900 US census of Indian Territory (eastern Oklahoma) and Oklahoma Territory (western Oklahoma) as well as the 1910 US census of Oklahoma (which became a state in 1907). She also checked the Dawes Roll and the Miller Roll. Martha was unable to find any reference to the elusive Victor Daniels / Chief Thunder Cloud.
Martha referred me to a Cherokee expert located in Tulsa, Oklahoma and his e-mail response to me says (quote) " ... I have not been able to find any information in Cherokee records on Victor DANIELS. There are many DANIELS in the Cherokee Nation, however. My guess is that he is of another tribe, rather than Cherokee, at least his enrollment."
Sad to report that Cherokee Indian genealogy expert Martha Redus passed away on June 3, 2002.
• My opinion follows on the issue of whether Victor Daniels was or was not Cherokee. Back in those ol' days of Hollywood westerns, the production people simply wanted "Indians" whenever they had a film requiring those roles. And those "Indians" could be real or players with makeup. At that time, no one cared whether a person playing an Indian role was Cherokee or from another tribe ... all they had to do is "look/act the part". Thus, there would be no reason for Daniels to fib about his Cherokee lineage since that would not be important to his film bosses ... all they wanted was an "Indian", and he fit that bill. However, we'll probably never confirm that Daniels was Cherokee.
• In late July, 1998, western film fan Minard Coons visited my website, and we exchanged some e-mails. He was friends with Ray "Crash" Corrigan and Max Terhune, and both of these western performers had been members of Republic's Three Mesquiteers and Monogram's Range Busters. Additionally, Corrigan was the owner of the Corriganville movie ranch, where thousands of films and TV shows were made (like the Range Busters' films, the Columbia JUNGLE JIM series and TV shows such as SKY KING and THE ADVENTURES OF RIN TIN TIN).
Minard confirmed that Chief Thunder Cloud was one of the Hollywood screen veterans who were performing/helping at Corriganville when it was open to the public. Max Terhune was another that worked there. This is the reason that the death certificate of Daniels has a Corrigan Ranch home address (since he lived on the Corriganville premises). Later, make sure you visit the Trail Blazers and Corriganville Movie Ranch sections on the Old Corral.
Minard searched through his extensive picture collection and found the following action scene from one of the staged shoot-em-ups that entertained audiences at the Corriganville movie ranch.
|On it's own, this fight scene isn't important ... but when you enlarge the small sign hanging off the roof directly above the hitchin' post, you find "CHIEF THUNDERCLOUD'S PICTURES Here".|
This further confirms that Victor Daniels worked for Ray "Crash" Corrigan and Corriganville where he operated the photo shop and sold Indian memorabilia, pictures, etc. In early December, 1998, Ed Phillips sent me an e-mail. He had talked to some of the folks that used to work at Corriganville and confirmed that Daniels ran the photo shop and lived on the movie ranch.
(Courtesy of Minard Coons)
• In early July, 1998, I sent a US Mail letter to Tommy Corrigan (Ray Corrigan's son), who owns a restaurant in California. I asked whether he had any remembrances or pictures of Daniels working at the movie ranch. However, that letter went un-answered.
• In March, 1999, Larry Blanks and I connected via e-mail. Larry's buddy, Clarence Schwab, visited Corriganville as a child and has some pictures of Chief Thunder Cloud working at Corriganville. One of the photos is below, and shows Ray "Crash" Corrigan and his pal Chief Thunder Cloud corralling the bank robbers in one of the action-packed shows that were staged for the visitors at the movie ranch. Date of this photo is probably around 1953.
(Courtesy of Clarence Schwab and Larry Blanks)
• Norman George lives in Oklahoma and e-mailed with some info on Victor Daniels in October, 1999: "... can confirm a few things for you. We lived in Ventura County (Oxnard) from 1952 until I began my military career in 1963. I have many fond memories of weekend visits to Corriganville in Chatsworth. I recall one visit (I was only about 7 years old at the time) when my Grandfather, a full-blood Seneca Indian (born 1862?) was with us. This would have been around 1953. Gramps was way up there in age, but didn't act or appear more than late 50s - early 60s. I did go to the photo concession that Victor Daniels was running there at the time and got an autographed photo of him. Later in the day, Thunder Cloud closed his concession temporarily to go to the western saloon (it was fully operational then) and have a cold beer. He spied Gramps. Both knew they had something in common and they sat together for quite some time, talking. It was so long ago, I cannot remember all that was said, but I do remember distinctly Daniels stating that he was Cherokee, with some German, Scotch, and Irish in his background ... so not full blooded Cherokee Indian. This could be the nature of the problem in tracing his Cherokee heritage. My Grandfather was full blood Seneca, yet I have encountered MANY problems tracing his heritage, since, unlike depicted in movies and novels, the Indians did travel from tribe to tribe ... my Gramps having lived with the Menomonee and Cheyenne among others at various times."
|On the left is a mini-bio of Daniels that I found in March, 1999 while rummaging through some movie pressbooks. This one is from a copy of the pressbook for THE LONE RANGER RIDES AGAIN (Republic, 1939) serial.|
Other biographies have have Daniels as Cherokee, but this pressbook biography states his Muscogee tribe heritage. It also includes a mention of his time at the University of Arizona, (and which we were unable to find any records on him from that school). If he did attend the University of Arizona at Tucson, he did so under a different name.
How much of this is true versus studio publicity ... I dunno.
|The mystery continues! In June, 1999, I obtained a copy of Daniels' application for a Social Security number (under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)).|
He applied in 1937 and lists himself as Cherokee with a birth place of Arizona.
Click HERE to see a larger version of that Social Security application.
The Family Search website (free) and Ancestry.com (subscription) have information on Victor Daniels: