Indian Head Nickel

by bev-owens

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.

Is Wolf Robe The Face On The Indian Head Nickel?

Wolf Robe of the Southern Cheyene
Wolf Robe of the Southern Cheyene

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

Native American Indians

Chief Iron Tail

of the Oglala Sioux
Iron Tail Of The Oglala Sioux
Iron Tail Of The Oglala Sioux

Big Tree Of the Kiowa Is Said To Have Been A Model For The Indian Head Nickel

Big Tree A Kiowa Sub-Chief
Big Tree A Kiowa Sub-Chief

Two Moons Of The Cheyenne

was named as a model for the nickel
Two Moons Of The Cheyenne
Two Moons Of The Cheyenne

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.

Sometimes you can find an Indian Head Nickel At Auction

Updated: 01/30/2015, bev-owens
Thank you! Would you like to post a comment now?

I hope you found the history of the Indian Head Nickel interesting. Please do let me know that you stopped by.

Only logged-in users are allowed to comment. Login
Kent Mason on 02/19/2012

Got to be Wolf Robe.

steve mcguigan on 01/27/2012

your history is very interesting,however I am curious as to why and who came up with the idea of the coin,was it to commemorate the indian culture?

Three Winters on 12/31/2011

You left out Two Gun White Calf who lived from 1871-1934. Even though artist Fraser forgot the other model's name, Two Gun White Calf was recognized as one of the men who posed for the nickel. This is true because my Dad knew him.

vbright on 07/03/2011

Interesting article! Of course, I had heard of Iron Tail, but learning about the others was fun.

WebWriter on 06/08/2011

My brother has been collecting Indian head nickels for years. Not sure what he plans to do with them. Maybe I'll inherit them.

Michey on 06/05/2011

I think is hard to know exactly who is on that nickel, but I like the bas-relief on that nickel, I think is is very American, unique, and part of history. I have a small nickel collection but I don't have that one.
Informative post Bev. Thanks

Ladymermaid on 06/05/2011

It looks like Wolf Robe to me...

CherylsArt on 06/04/2011

Interesting history about the Indian Head Nickel.

BarbRad on 06/04/2011

I guess I'd never really thought about this. Now I guess I'll start wondering about some of our other coins I've never thought much about.

AJ on 06/02/2011

Bev, I always love your Native American Indian pages :)

You might also like

Legend of the Dreamcatcher

Dreamcatchers are considered by some Native Americans as a symbol of unity be...


A look at Mapuche gastronomy and a glance at the traditions and customs of th...

Disclosure: This page generates income for authors based on affiliate relationships with our partners, including Amazon, Google and others.
Loading ...