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Sioux request prompts look at history of Chief Illiniwek garb
By Julie Wurth
The News-Gazette - 27 January 2007

URBANA, IL The University of Illinois has already returned the eagle-feather headdress made by an Oglala Sioux elder for Chief Illiniwek in the early 1980s, UI officials say.

Documents provided by the UI indicate that the headdress made by Frank Fools Crow was mailed back to Sioux Chief Anthony Whirlwind Horse in 1991.

A resolution from the Oglala Sioux Tribal Nation's executive committee in South Dakota asked the UI last week to return the buckskin regalia and eagle feathers used in the headdress. The resolution also demanded that the UI end the Chief Illiniwek dance.

Trustees have yet to respond, UI spokesman Tom Hardy and an Oglala Sioux spokeswoman said Thursday.

UI President B. Joseph White did ask his staff last week to research the background of all Chief regalia acquired over the years.

According to UI documents, the bonnet-style headdress made by Frank Fools Crow was returned to his daughter in June, 1991.

"It was a great honor for us, and we return it with gratitude to his family," former Associate Chancellor Judith Rowan wrote to Sioux Chief Anthony Whirlwind Horse in May 1991.

An undated shipping invoice shows the bonnet was shipped via UPS to Whirlwind Horse.

Also in May 1991, Rowan wrote to the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife, stating that the headdress had been returned to the Sioux tribe. The headdress was officially on loan to the UI because federal laws protecting eagles prohibit anyone except American Indians from owning eagle feathers.

In any event, Chief Illiniwek never used it: The headdress was too short and was missing some feathers, officials said.

At some point, the UI sent Fools Crow 25 eagle feathers from an older headdress to fashion a longer "tail" for his bonnet, but it was never completed. UI spokeswoman Robin Kaler said officials believe the feathers were lost in a fire at Fools Crow's home a few years before he died in 1989.

Former Marching Illini Director Gary Smith, who arranged the 1982 purchase, said Fools Crow told him the feathers were stolen out of his truck.

Fools Crow's grandson, Melvin Lone Hill, was traveling this week and could not be reached for comment. He acknowledged in a Chicago Tribune story last week that he had received the headdress but would still like to get the rest of the regalia back, offering to pay if needed.

But tribal spokeswoman Eileen Janis, administrative assistant to tribal President John Yellowbird Steele, said she was not aware it had been returned. Janis, who drafted the resolution, said she considered suggesting the UI put the regalia in a museum but deferred to Lone Hill's desire to have it returned.

The regalia made by Fools Crow was the fourth set used by Chief Illiniwek and the third bought by the UI. If it were returned to the tribe, Chief Illiniwek would still have one complete set of regalia to use, documents show.

Current Chief Dan Maloney still wears the tunic and leggings from the Fools Crow regalia. Assistant Chief Logan Ponce wears a tunic and leggings made by an "expert in Indian lore" in 1967, along with the gloves made by Fools Crow.

Both wear turkey-feather headdresses made by a Tolono man in 1992. Other Chief Illiniwek items chokers, breast plates, another set of gloves were made by others throughout the years.

The UI also has the Chief ensemble that the second Chief Illiniwek, Webber Borchers, bought in 1930 from the Oglala Sioux, before the laws governing eagle feathers took effect. That eagle-feather headdress remains in storage at the UI athletic department.

The tunic and leggings were on display at the Sousa Museum at the Harding Band Building until about a year ago, when curators decided they were deteriorating and should be placed in protective storage.

Smith, a staunch Chief Illiniwek supporter, said he understands why Lone Hill would like the 1982 regalia back in his family.

"I was surprised we got it to begin with," Smith said. "It is authentic, and it has historical value. I'm sensitive to their feelings about this. It should be given back to them as far as I'm concerned. It's more important for them to have it than us. We can always have another one made."

According to News-Gazette and Alumni Association files, Borchers and Smith contacted the Sioux in late 1981 to see if they could make a new set of regalia for the Chief.

Smith said tribal leaders suggested he talk to Fools Crow, a Sioux medicine man, who wanted to sell one of his two handmade chief outfits. Smith said he was told Fools Crow was "destitute" and the UI could help by buying the outfit for $3,500.

"It was just a work of art," Smith said. "I notified the university that I thought this would be a tremendous purchase."

UI alumnus Robert Eisner funded the purchase in May 1982, according to News-Gazette files.

"By collectors, it would draw many thousands more," Smith wrote in a 1982 letter to supporters.

Smith then invited Fools Crow, elected Oglala Chief Joe American Horse and Whirlwind Horse, who was superintendent of the Bureau for Indian Affairs in South Dakota, to officially present the regalia during halftime of a home football game the next fall.

Ralph Senn and Joe Ream, owners of Garcia's Pizza, flew the men here in their private plane, Smith said.

Fools Crow spoke only in his native language, Smith said. When Smith asked Fools Crow what he thought of the dance, American Horse said the response was difficult to translate, but he felt it had "an awful lot of body English," Smith recalled. "It's not authentic, but he understands it's a theatrical demonstration, with a great deal added to make it visible. But he said he was OK with it."

Smith firmly believes Chief Illiniwek had tribal leaders' approval.

"Not only would they not have sold me the outfit, but they wouldn't have come here to present it to us with their blessings," said Smith, who grew to be friends with Fools Crow.

But Janis, the Sioux spokeswoman, said the tribe has never officially condoned Chief Illiniwek. She expects the resolution to win full tribal approval next week.

"The feeling is unanimous," she said. "We would like to see it stopped."

She said the Chief's regalia is traditional in style but his dance is more of a "fancy dance. That is a lot more steps, a lot more movement," she said. "A traditional dance is very reserved.

"I've seen it on TV. That isn't our dance. It's certainly not our traditional way."

Smith said American Horse was more concerned with stereotypical Hollywood movies and caricatures like the Cleveland Indians' logo. He said American Horse told him the UI performance had no religious connotations and was a "social-type dance." In fact, many non-natives were participating in dances at the powwows he attended with American Horse.

"He thought it was helpful for people to learn about their culture, their traditions, their heritage," Smith said.



First Chief Illiniwek, Lester Leutwiler, makes first costume and three headdresses. At least two use eagle feathers.


Second Chief, Webber Borchers, buys new set of regalia for UI from Pine Ridge Indian Reservation with financial support from Isaac Kuhn. Includes headdress with 91 eagle feathers, tunic, breast plate, leggings and moccasins. Set is used for 37 years.


UI buys second set of regalia, consisting of shirt and pants, from "expert in Indian lore." Webber Borchers headdress reworked and reused.


U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife approves "loan" of eagle feathers to university for "educational and exhibit purposes," to bring UI into compliance with eagle-protection laws that allow only American Indians to own eagle feathers (for religious purposes).

May 1982

Marching Illini Director Gary Smith and Assistant Athletic Director Tom Porter meet with Oglala Sioux elder Frank Fools Crow and other tribal leaders to discuss acquiring new set of regalia. Smith requests $3,500 from UI supporters to pay for set hand-made by Fools Crow and his wife, calling it "priceless." UI alumnus Robert Eisner funds purchase and donates it to UI Foundation. Letter written later clarifies headdress is on loan to UI.

September 1982

Marching Illini announce that Chief Illiniwek will begin using new regalia: tunic, leggings, moccasins, breast plate and headdress with 28 golden eagle tail feathers. But bonnet-style headdress is too short, so it is never used by the Chief.

Fall 1982

Frank Fools Crow, Chief Anthony Whirlwind Horse and Chief Joe American Horse visit UI for official presentation ceremony.

July 1983

Leutwiler says he is donating original set of regalia to UI.

August 1987

UI President Stanley Ikenberry writes to Oglala Sioux Council asking that someone complete project to add tail to Fools Crow bonnet-style headdress, using 25 eagle feathers sent earlier by UI. Project is never completed; feathers either stolen or lost in a fire at Fools Crow's home.


Frank Fools Crow dies.

October 1990

UI acquires two new headdresses made of turkey feathers, created by Roy Hanks of Tolono.

January 1991

Letter sent to Chief Anthony Whirlwind Horse, explaining that UI wants to return bonnet-style headdress to Fools Crow's family.

May 1991

Letter from Associate Chancellor Judith Rowan indicates that Whirlwind Horse has arranged for headdress to be returned to Fools Crow's daughter that June. Voucher shows "bonnet" is subsequently shipped there.


Rowan sends letter to Department of Fish and Wildlife, stating that 25 eagle feathers once at UI were returned to Fools Crow and that headdress was returned to Whirlwind Horse. UI still has Webber Borchers' headdress, which is grandfathered in under federal eagle-protection act.


Leutwiler now in possession of all three of his original headdresses, although they are on display at the Illini Union a year later. He dies Feb. 10, 1993.


Only remaining headdress with eagle feathers, from Borchers' regalia, stored at Swanlund Administration Building. It is moved to UI athletic department in 2003.


Borchers regalia (aside from headdress) stored at Sousa Archives in Harding Band Building; later regalia, from 1982 and 1967, still in use by current Chief Illiniwek and assistant Chief. Leutwiler regalia assumed to be in Leutwiler family's possession.

January 2007

Executive committee of Oglala Sioux Tribal Nation asks UI to return 1982 regalia to Fools Crow's grandson, Mel Lone Hill, and stop using Chief Illiniwek.

Sources: UI Archives, UI Alumni Association, News-Gazette archives and interviews

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