Biographical Background
for Red Fox Skiuhushu

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.

Notes (I gratefully acknowledge the assistance of Elizabeth Balcom, former archivist of the Swedenborg School of Religion, for assistance in locating some resources for this article).

  1. The most common name he used is Red Fox Skiuhushu, and that is the name which I will use in this paper. Hertzberg notes that at various times in his life, he was also known as Francis Fox James, Red Fox James, Rev. Barnabas Skiuhushu, and the Rev. Dr. Barnabas, Ph.D., Arch-Herio Monk. At about the age of 25, Hertzberg says he chose the name "Skiuhushu," which Red Fox said meant "Red Fox" in the Indian (sic) tongue. Hence, we have the apparent absurdity of an individual named "Red Fox Red Fox." Hazel Hertzberg, The Search for an American Indian Identity: Modern Pan- Indian Movements, Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1971, 214-15, and 335, footnote 3.
  2. Lest the reader be confused, the journal and the organization both used various spellings for the word tipi. Ibid., 214-15, and 336, footnote 8.
  3. This date is calculated from a letter dated 29 December 1919, in which Sperry states that Red Fox is about thirty years old. Sperry was guessing, but so are we, so I think we can give Sperry the benefit of a doubt. Note: Sperry was a Swedenborgian official with whom Red Fox had extended correspondence.
  4. The Methodist Episcopal Church is one of the predecessors of the current United Methodist Church. Hertzberg, a trained historian, consistently identifies Red Fox as a Northern Blackfoot. The Blackfoot is one of the divisions of the People of the Seven Campfires, otherwise known as the Sioux. It makes it somewhat easier to accept some of the apparent inconsistencies in Red Fox's story.
  5. The Movement for Indian Assimilation 1860-1890, Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1963, 76-79, contains statistics on how Grant's administration divided the Indian reservations among the Christian churches.
  6. Two examples can be furnished to illustrate the cultural ambiguity of some marginalized Indians. The group called "Black Indians" in New Orleans seem to have descended from the Tchopitoula Indians of Louisiana. Their Mardi Gras costumes bear the marks of Indian influence, which may be supported by the age of their Mardi Gras traditions. In the early twentieth century, the Wampanoag of Massachusetts had been stripped of many visible aspects of their own culture. During this time, they adopted dress of the Plains Indians.

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    This article is copyright ©1998 Adam Seward