Native Culture In Money

See the source imageIt’s over a hundred years ago, but amazingly, a Native American was depicted on a $5 silver certificate. Here’s the description from the Antique Money site:

The Native American depicted on the 1899 $5 bill is not just a random person.  It is actually chief Running Antelope.  He was a chief in the Hunkpapa tribe of Lokata Indians.  He passed away in 1896, so he never got to see his likeness on United States paper money.

The US printed this note into the early 1920s.

Original Americans were more often depicted on coinage. Many of these I’ve collected. The most famous is perhaps the “Buffalo nickel.” It’s something of a misnomer, as the animal is really a bison. Given the front side of the coin, it could also be referred to as an “Indian head nickel.” And some people call it that.

See the source imageThe “Indian head” is on the one cent piece that preceded Abraham Lincoln’s. Americans saw the native woman from a few years before Lincoln’s presidency for a full half-century until 1909.

The image is derived a bit from ignorance; women did not wear headdresses like this. But US coinage of the 19th century depicted variations on the goddess liberty with various headwear, usually caps.

James Longacre, the coin’s designer, wrote of his reasoning:

(T)he feathered tiara is as characteristic of the primitive races of our hemisphere, as the turban is of the Asiatic. Nor is there anything in its decorative character, repulsive to the association of Liberty … It is more appropriate than the Phrygian cap, the emblem rather of the emancipated slave, than of the independent freeman, of those who are able to say “we were never in bondage to any man”. I regard then this emblem of America as a proper and well defined portion of our national inheritance; and having now the opportunity of consecrating it as a memorial of Liberty, ‘our Liberty’, American Liberty; why not use it? One more graceful can scarcely be devised. We have only to determine that it shall be appropriate, and all the world outside of us cannot wrest it from us.

Some native nations were still somewhat free in the 1850s, but the relationship was contentious. Interesting that this one American took pride in the symbol of original Americans in making the statement of independence and liberty and imperviousness to foreign strife.

The woman on this cent, however, has the features of a white person.

See the source image

Gold coins of the denominations of $2.50, $3, $5, and $10 also showed native Americans. The $3 coin is similar to the cent design. I’ll skip over it here.

I once inherited a two-and-a-half dollar gold piece, design, right. This is definitely a male American, and not a Caucasian woman with the headwear.

One of my favorite coin designs was on the ten-dollar coin, below.

The goddess liberty makes one of her last appearances on American coins. Like the Indian cent, a white woman with an impressive headdress.

I don’t write this up to pile on Rick Santorum for his ignorant remark about the original human cultures of the Americas. But money is part of American culture–Republicans especially can’t deny it. It’s another aspect of the need for better education and especially perspective in appreciation for cultures not one’s own.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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2 Responses to Native Culture In Money

  1. Liam says:

    The latter-day self-appointed defenders of the USA being a European country neglect that many of the Founders emphasized the differences between the Old World and the New World, and appropriated the cultures of Native American peoples as something to which the new nation was a kind of heir. The use of images of them (not something typical of native cultures, btw, was a residue of that rhetoric.

    And then there’s that little thing that, at the time of the Founding, the USA, was considerably more African-American than it is now, dominantly so south of the Mason-Dixon Line.

  2. Pingback: State Names | Catholic Sensibility

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