Ta-to’-ka-in’-yan-ka may be the most famous Native American whose
name most people get wrong.
This Hunkpapa Lakota tribal leader’s portrait appears on the Series
1899 $5 silver certificate, making it probably the most familiar image
of a Native American on a piece of U.S. paper money.
To his people, he was Ta-to’-ka-in’-yan-ka (the Americanized
spelling differs from source to source). To the white Americans who
knew him, he was Running Antelope. And to generations of collectors,
he is known as Chief Onepapa.
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Ta-to’-ka-in’-yan-ka was born in 1821 near present-day Grand Forks,
S.D. Forrest W. Daniel, writing in the January-February 1969 issue of
Paper Money, notes that at the time of his birth, few whites
could be found in the region, though that would change by the time he
Ta-to’-ka-in’-yan-ka was a member of the Hunkpapa (or Oncpapa) band
of the Lakotas, the western or Teton Sioux. The Lakotas lived in the
western Dakotas and Nebraska, where they hunted bison. The other two
Sioux groups were the Dakotas, who lived in what became Minnesota, and
the Nakotas, who lived in the eastern Dakotas.
Ta-to’-ka-in’-yan-ka’s lifetime paralleled the period of near
obliteration of Native American culture, as it ran into the human
juggernaut that was the American westward expansion.
Some of the greatest native heroes were those who fought the
invaders: Tecumseh, Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse were just a few of
the great leaders among the continent’s native population.
According to Daniel, who researched Ta-to’-ka-in’-yan-ka’s life in
more than 60 books, articles and pieces of official correspondence,
the Hunkpapa Lakota leader considered himself an early convert to
cooperation with Americans rather than conflict. In language that to
some today might seem naive, considering the outcome of the conflict
between the two cultures, Ta-to’-ka-in’-yna-ka in 1867 described his
way of life, reportedly saying: “Since the days when we first allied
ourselves with the whites I have been faithful to them at all times
and all places. The skin of my body is red but my flesh is white,
since for many years I have eaten the bread of the whites.”
Ta-to’-ka-in’-yna-ka was among the Hunkpapa Lakotas who met with the
great council of whites and Sioux in 1868 that resulted in the Treaty
of 1868. He was among those signing the treaty (Ta-to’-ka-in’-yan-ka’s
signature, preserved on a series of pictographs, is of a running
antelope), for which he received a peace medal depicting President
Four years later, Ta-to’-ka-in’-yan-ka was invited to Washington to
meet the president. While there, he sat for the famed photographer
Alexander Gardner, who took two photos, a profile and full face, one
of which would serve as the basis for the portrait on the Series 1899
$5 silver certificate.
Gardner’s original portrait depicts Ta-to’-ka-in’-yan-ka sitting,
and as described by Daniel, “wearing three feathers in his hair, fur
braid wraps, and dentalium earrings, and holding a wing fan and a
peace pipe.” Around his neck is a peace medal; although the resolution
of the image makes it impossible to accurately identify the medal,
it’s probably the Johnson peace medal awarded him for signing the
Treaty of 1868.
The two photos went to the Bureau of Ethnology, which was using the
new art form to record “the physical characteristics and accouterments
of the various Indian tribes,” writes Daniel.
When gold was discovered in the Black Hills, Ta-to’-ka-in’-yan-ka
protested the seizure of the lands by the American government, but
signed the treaty ceding the lands nonetheless.
After his visit to Washington, Ta-to’-ka-in’-yan-ka used his visit
with the president as leverage to force the ouster of an unpopular
Indian agent, the local government official assigned to deal with the
native population in a specific region. As the years passed, he was
pulled between both peoples. He was considered an orator, negotiator
and diplomat, even being called a “politician Indian” by one Indian agent.
He was one of the leaders of the great Sun Dance of June 29 to July
4, 1880; escorted Sitting Bull as he returned from his exile in
Canada; and led the Sioux’s last major bison hunt, in June 1882,
according to Daniel.
Ta-to’-ka-in’-yan-ka died sometime in later 1896 or early 1897,
based on the annual census taken on the Sioux reservation. He thus
never saw the note depicting his likeness, based on the Gardner portrait.
The silver certificate
By 1899, when the $5 silver certificate was issued, Native Americans
had been appearing on paper money in the United States for more than a
century. Crude representations of Indian warriors appeared on various
Colonial-era notes in the 18th century, and on many private bank
issues in the 19th century.
The depiction of “the people in the way,” as Richard Doty calls
Native Americans in his insightful book Pictures From a Distant
Country: Seeing America Through Old Paper Money, changed over the
decades, he writes. Earlier in the 19th century, Native Americans were
often depicted as “an onlooker, passive rather than active,” and often
shown as confronting some form of progress (various vignettes show
Native Americans watching distant steam locomotives belching smoke as
they cross the no longer pristine plains).
As federal paper money replaced private and state-sanctioned issues
during the Civil War, federal engravers often turned to Native
American themes on the new national issues. Vignettes depicting Native
Americans interacting with Europeans featured such subjects as
Pocahontas rescuing John Smith and Pocahontas being baptized (both
vignettes obviously showing a Native American becoming or behaving
“civilized”), and of the explorer DeSoto discovering the Mississippi
River, as though the Native Americans’ knowledge of the river did not count.
Following the end of the Civil War, as the American Army focused
more of its attention on subjugating the Native Americans, agencies
such as the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Bureau of American
Ethnology began to photograph Native Americans in an effort to
preserve a pictorial record of a vanishing life. The Gardner portraits
of Running Antelope are part of those important records. However, in
translating the original image into a portrait for the silver
certificate, the engraver made a significant change.
Ta-to’-ka-in’-yan-ka’s portrait on the 1899 $5 silver certificate
differs from Gardner’s original. The three-feathered headdress was
deemed too tall for use on the note, so Bureau of Engraving and
Printing engraver George F.C. Smillie removed it and replaced it with
a war bonnet.
As explained by Gene Hessler in his book U.S. Essay, Proof and
“A headdress was pasted into position over the photograph of
Running Antelope,” which Smillie then used as a model for his modified engraving.
The portrait, as used on the silver certificate, includes the
representation of the Indian peace medal worn around
Ta-to’-ka-in’-yan-ka’s neck, though it appears only as a featureless disc.
The new note was introduced in 1899, and served as the design for
the denomination until 1923, when it was replaced by a portrait of
Today, the 1899 $5 silver certificate is considered a classic design
of U.S. paper money. The note — available with a number of signature
combinations — is very popular with collectors.
While the note is readily available from dealers in paper money,
more inexpensive forms of the note’s face are available. The BEP
produced a souvenir card illustrating the note in 1977 for the
American Numismatic Association convention in Atlanta. This card is
inexpensively priced yet captures the design perfectly, having been
printed from an original plate.