#TBT: The One Native Person to Ever Grace Paper Money in the U.S.

By Aura Bogado Mar 05, 2015

It’s Throwback Thursday, and today we’re gonna take you back more than 100 years to illustrate a little-known part of paper money history.

In 1899, the U.S. Mint issued a $5 silver note that features Hankupapa Lakota Chief Running Antelope. It remains the only paper currency that includes a Native American in the history of money in the United States:


The note is still available as a collector’s item on eBay, where it sells for anywhere between $500 to $10,000, depending on the day and on the quality of the bill. Over at Treasured Stocks, there’s a short biography about Running Antelope, along with the cringeworthy rumor that the chief was made to wear a Pawnee headdress rather than a Lakota one:

This note shows, as its center and central figure, the image of brave Chief Running Antelope who became Head Chief of the Hunkpapa in 1851. He was born in South Dakota in 1821 and raised in native traditional skills and values. As diplomat, communicator, and warrior Chief Running Antelope was a friend and advisor to Chief Sitting Bull during the Plains Indian conflicts. He believed, however, that native nations should compromise with not fight against whites. If you are looking at a Chief Silver Certificate you are looking at a picture of the only American Indian to be featured on US Currency. The engraved picture is not without controversy, however. The story is that Chief Running Antelope is shown wearing a Pawnee head dress, not Hunkpapa, because the one the Chief actually wore was too tall for the engraving. Another version of that story is that the Chief was told to wear the Pawnee head dress during the photographic session which he adamantly refused to do. Either way, the head dress show on his head is Pawnee.

But, as Thomas King writes in his book, "The Inconvenient Indian: A Curious Account of Native People in North America," it’s not exactly clear whether Running Antelope is wearing a Lakota or Pawnee headdress.

What is clear is that the bill went out of circulation shortly after it was first issued. More than 100 years later, Running Antelope remains the only Native to ever appear on paper this country’s paper money. Meanwhile Andrew Jackson–the president who oversaw the Indian Removal Act that resulted in the Trail of Tears–has been on the $20 bill for 87 years.