Back to prior page

Chief John Big Tree / Chief Big Tree
(1875? - 1967)

(Courtesy of Sam Lawson)

Biographies note that Chief John Big Tree (1875? - 1967) was Seneca and his real name was Isaac Johnny John.

He briefly attended the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Carlisle, Pennsylvania in 1892 - 1893 (Olympic champion Jim Thorpe also attended Carlisle).

He was purported to be the one who posed for the Indian Head nickel ... and there's mention that he was one of several that posed for the coin ... and other reports indicate he was not involved in the coin pose at all.

Chief John Big Tree passed away on the Onandaga, New York, Indian Reservation in 1967. His film credits began circa 1915 and ended around 1950.

Chief Big Tree was the "Indian looking into the sky" in the opening credits of Tom Mix's THE MIRACLE RIDER (Mascot, 1935) serial. And he and his braves helped Hopalong Cassidy round up the no-goods in HILLS OF OLD WYOMING (Paramount, 1937).

In the opening pages to this section on Native Americans, I noted several other brief but memorable performances:

  • The ending of director John Ford's DRUMS ALONG THE MOHAWK (1939) has Henry Fonda, Claudette Colbert, and the settlers celebrating the defeat of John Carradine and the British soldiers. In the church, Chief John Big Tree (as 'Blue Back') appears at the pulpit, smiling, and wearing the eye patch that belonged to the defeated (and dead) John Carradine ... all in glorious Technicolor.

  • As Chief 'Pony That Walks', Chief John Big Tree has a great palaver with John Wayne (as 'Captain Nathan Brittles') in SHE WORE A YELLOW RIBBON (1949), and that John Ford directed film was one of Chief Big Tree's last film appearances.

In addition to DRUMS and YELLOW RIBBON, Big Tree appeared in three other films for director John Ford: A FIGHT FOR LOVE (Universal, 1919) with Harry Carey; THE IRON HORSE (Fox, 1924) with George O'Brien; and STAGECOACH (United Artists, 1939) with John Wayne.

And he had many uncredited background roles - for example, he's a porter in Frank Capra's LOST HORIZON (Columbia, 1937).

  Although some of the data is incomplete or inaccurate, the Internet Movie Database (IMDb) has information on Chief John Big Tree:

Wikipedia biography of Chief John Big Tree:

Carlisle Indian School student record on Isaac Johnny John:

Find A Grave notes that Chief John Big Tree (1877 - 1967) is interred at Onondaga Nation Cemetery, Indian Village, Onondaga County, New York:

(Courtesy of Les Adams)

Above is the 'Buffalo Nickel story' from the pressbook for RED FORK RANGE (Big 4, 1931) which starred Wally Wales.

(Courtesy of Les Adams)

Above center are George O'Brien and Janet Chandler with Chief John Big Tree on the left and Bill Hazlet/Chief Many Treaties on the right in a scene from THE GOLDEN WEST (Fox, 1932). Below is a crop of Chief John Big Tree from that photo.

Above - screen captures of Chief Big Tree in the opening credits and chapter intros in the Tom Mix serial, THE MIRACLE RIDER (Mascot, 1935).

(Courtesy of Les Adams)

Above from left to right are Gene Autry, Frankie Marvin, Allan Sears and Chief John Big Tree in the title lobby card for THE SINGING VAGABOND (Republic, 1935). And Gene on the right wearing buckskins. (To confirm, I re-watched the film ... and that's Chief John Big Tree.)

(Courtesy of Rob Mohr)

Chief John Big Tree as the Medicine Man in the serial CUSTER'S LAST STAND (Stage and Screen, 1936). He was billed as "Big Tree" in this. See below opening titles and credits from CUSTER.

(Courtesy of Rob Mohr)

(Courtesy of Ken Jones)

L-to-R are Chief John Big Tree, Gertrude Chorre, her son Sonny Chorre, leading lady Eleanor Hansen, and Charles Stevens.  The Chief is ordering that their captive be made comfortable in this scene from the Johnny Mack Brown cliffhanger, FLAMING FRONTIERS (Universal, 1938).

(Courtesy of Les Adams)

Monte Blue is center in this still from the serial HAWK OF THE WILDERNESS (Republic, 1938). Resting his chin on Monte's shoulder is Chief John Big Tree. Other players are unidentified.

(Courtesy of Les Adams)

Above is the cover of the pressbook for the Hopalong Cassidy adventure HILLS OF OLD WYOMING (Paramount, 1937) showing William Boyd and Chief John Big Tree. Chief Big Tree and his braves assist Hoppy in the villain roundup at the end.

Back to prior page