Indian Head Nickel
A little history about the Indian Head or Buffalo Head Nickel. Do you know who posed for the Indian portrait?
Many have claimed to be the Native American on the Indian Head Nickel
The Indian Head Nickel, also called the Buffalo Head Nickel was put into circulation in 1913 by the United States Mint. Designed by the sculpter James Earle Fraser the nickel was made from 75% copper and 25% nickel. President Theodore Roosevelt had wanted all of our coins to get a new look and there was much discussion about what should be on each coin. Fraser suggested that the nickel should have a totally American look. He felt that the American Bison or Buffalo was a good choice because it was so prevelant in the US. He also recognized that the First Peoples here were the Native Americans. So, he went to work on sculpting his submission for the new nickel.
Many think Wolf Robe Posed For The Nickel
Wolf Robe of the Southern Cheyenne is a popular choice for the face on the Indian Head Nickel. I must admit there is a strong resemblence.
Born some time around 1838, Wolf Robe was forced to leave the Plains and go to live on the Cheyenne and Arapaho Reservation in the 1870s. He was awarded the Benjamin Harrison Peace medal for his work with the Cherokee Commission in 1890.
Although he had been photographed by F A Rinehart in 1898 and by Lancy DeGill in 1909, it is unlikely that it is his face on the Indian Head Nickel. Wolf Robe passed away while in Okalahoma in 1910.
The image to the left is from the Native American Indians website. Child friendly site about Native Americans and members of the First Nations. 1400+ legends, 400+ agreements and treaties, 10,000+ pictures, free clipart, Seed Bead Earrings, Native American Jewelry, Possible Bags and more.
Was Chief Iron Tail the model for the Indian Head Nickel?
Chief Iron Tail has quite a story. He is the nephew of Black Elk and fought under Crazy Horse at the Battle of the Little Big Horn (Custer's Last Stand). Iron Tail followed Sitting Bull to Canada after the battle and later surrended to US forces and settled on the Pine Ridge Reservation.
Iron Tail eventually joined Buffalo Bill Cody's Wild West Show and was a very popular entertainer touring Europe and the Untied States.
While in Washington DC seeking some help for his people after Wounded Knee, Iron Tail is reported to have sit for James Earle Fraser as one of the models for the Indian Head Nickel.
The image to the right is also used by permission from
Which Native American Actually Posed For James Earle Fraser?
Over the years there has been much controversy over which Native American posed for James Earle Fraser when he sculpted his submission for the Indian Head nickel. Fraser explained that he had actually used a composite of several men to come up with the face in profile on the nickel. When pressed for who those Native Americans were, he named three:
- Iron Tail of the Oglala Sioux
- Two Moons of the Cheyenne
- Big Tree of the Kiowa
It does seem fitting that Fraser would use the features of more than one Native American to represent the First People of what became the United States. Not giving glory to one man but to many.
The Indian Head Nickel Was Minted For 25 Years
After 25 years of the United States Mint producing the Indian Head Nickel it was replaced with the Jefferson nickel. Although the nickel was popular it did not wear well in circulation. Often times the date wore off.
Many people collect the Indian Head or Buffalo Nickel today.
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