Paper Money

Hunkpapa Sioux leader's image on silver certificate

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 reached adulthood.

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 Andrew Johnson.

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 Specimen Notes:

 “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 Abraham Lincoln.

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. 

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