Pan-Indianism may be defined as mutual cooperation on the behalf of American Indians for their own self-interests. The movement may be traced in its broadest outlines back to the traditions of hospitality among many Indian nations toward guests of other Indian nations. Pan-Indianism could be colored by the needs of Indian societies; Tecumseh's attempts in the nineteenth century to unite American Indians against the expansion of non-Indians could be legitimately seen as Pan-Indian in nature. This paper concerns a particular figure in the twentieth century, when Pan-Indianism is recognized as being a definable social movement. Francis St. James, a.k.a. Chief Red Fox Skiuhushu, was prominent in Pan-Indianism. What is generally unknown is that he had a relationship with the Swedenborgian Church of North America (General Convention of the New Jerusalem). It would be helpful to trace the life of St. James as a backdrop for his involvement with this church.
Fewer lives provide a more compelling example of the ambiguity of Indian identity than that of Red Fox Skiuhushu.(1) It is difficult to make any statement about him without prefacing it with the qualifier, "as far as we know." Most of the biographical data that we have about Red Fox comes from himself, through the pages of the American Indian Teepee, the journal of the Tepee Order, which was the freemasonic-style organization that he founded.(2)
Red Fox was born between 1890-95.(3) He tells us that he joined the Catholic church at about eighteen years of age, and received the name of Francis. The ambiguity increases here. At this time, President Ulysses S. Grant enacted his "Peace Policy," which gave Christian churches "territories" within which to prosyletize. The success of the Peace Policy depended upon each church remaining within their own "territory." Red Fox identifies as a Blackfeet Indian; his reservation would have been under the religious jurisdiction of the Methodist Episcopal Church.(4) If this were not the case, one could speculate that Red Fox converted along with his Montana neighbors the Flathead Indians, who were being converted by the Catholics. However, this seems to stretch the point.(5)
Shortly thereafter, at about age twenty-five, Red Fox founded his freemasonic-style Indian organization, the Tipi Order of America. This offers a partial explanation for Red Fox's love of colorful names. Grandiose names are a hallmark of fraternal societies, and although the names may seem silly to us, they are regarded very seriously from within the fraternal movements themselves. One should also consider the traditional Native attitude toward names. Whereas modern Western society issues individual identities fixed for life, Amerian Indian societies recognize that names are descriptive of particular phases in an individual's life. In short, there is nothing unusual in an Indian society about changing one's name frequently, although the name is often given by another. Either the freemasonic or Indian backgrounds offer points to consider when determining Red Fox's identity.
Red Fox appears as a person who knew how to maximize his position within a social situation. It is tempting to dismiss him as a sophisticated con-man. However, I would argue that Red Fox was at least a complex individual. He was a proficient fundraiser, yet he never seemed to abuse the contributions he received. He and some of his followers claimed academic degrees and education which may have been non-existent. Yet it seems clear from the records we possess that he did actually establish a functioning school for boys and girls. His dress for public appearances may or may not have been Blackfeet, but at least he had the good grace to generally resemble a Plains Indian nation of which he was alledgedly a member. It is entirely possible that the picture which we have of his identity speaks more about class and social divisions among Indians of the time. Indians who gravitated (and still do) toward Pan-Indianism are usually middle-class Indians and sometimes of marginal identity.(6)
Whatever one might conclude about Red Fox, it is clear that he was a national figure during the first two decades of this century. Sometime in his twenties, Red Fox began his cross-country fund-raising tours. Some of this work was apparently to benefit the American Red Cross. No historical record challenges this. He rode a horse (usually identified as a pony) from Montana to Washington, D.C., at least twice. It was claimed that he had interviewed at least twenty-five state governors. He also raised over $15,000 for the Red Cross--a tidy sum in the 1910's. His most impressive speaking engagement was before 35,000 people at the New York City College stadium; the Secretary of War was in the audience.