Mint­ing the real Amer­ica

Irish Daily Mail - - State Papers 1987 -

QUES­TION Is the In­dian head on the US Buf­falo nickel a por­trait of a real Na­tive Amer­i­can?

THE Buf­falo nickel – or five-cent coin – was de­signed by the US sculp­tor James Earle Fraser and was first is­sued in 1913. There has been much de­bate about the iden­tity of the Na­tive Amer­i­can de­picted on the ob­verse – or front – of the coin,

Fraser was born on Novem­ber 4, 1876, in Wi­nona, Min­nesota. His fa­ther, Thomas Fraser, had been a rail­road engi­neer and a mem­ber of the party that re­trieved the re­mains of the Sev­enth Cavalry fol­low­ing Gen­eral Custer’s in­fa­mous de­feat in the Bat­tle of the Lit­tle Bighorn, a few months be­fore his son’s birth.

This ex­treme fron­tier ex­pe­ri­ence shaped James’s life as an artist.

Aged 19, he went to Paris to at­tend the École des Beaux-Arts (School of Fine Arts), where he was taken on as an as­sis­tant to the great Amer­i­can sculp­tor Au­gus­tus Saint-Gau­dens.

Fraser re­turned to the US with Saint-Gau­dens and worked with him for sev­eral years in New York be­fore found­ing his own stu­dio.

He be­came fa­mous in­ter­na­tion­ally for his iconic 1915 sculp­ture, End Of The Trail, de­pict­ing an Amer­i­can In­dian hang­ing limply over his horse – an al­le­gory for a vanishing race of war­riors.

Saint-Gau­dens de­signed the $20 dou­ble-ea­gle gold coin – con­sid­ered to be the most beau­ti­ful Amer­i­can coin – shortly be­fore his death in 1907. The US Mint then asked his prodigy, Fraser, to de­sign the nickel.

In a 1947 ra­dio in­ter­view, Fraser dis­cussed his de­sign: ‘I wanted to do some­thing to­tally Amer­i­can – a coin that could not be mis­taken for any other coun­try’s coin.

‘It oc­curred to me that the buf­falo, as part of our western back­ground, was 100% Amer­i­can, and that our North Amer­i­can In­dian fit­ted into the pic­ture per­fectly.’

The Buf­falo nickel was struck by the US Mint from 1913 to 1938.

The iden­tity of the men Fraser used as models has been hotly de­bated. In De­cem­ber 1913, he wrote to the di­rec­tor of the US Mint that ‘be­fore the nickel was made, I had done sev­eral por­traits of In­di­ans, among them Iron Tail, Two Moons and one or two oth­ers, and prob­a­bly got char­ac­ter­is­tics from those men in the head on the coins, but my pur­pose was not to make a por­trait, but a type.’

This clearly sug­gests a com­pos­ite, yet a num­ber of peo­ple at­tempted to cap­i­talise on the claim. The most prom­i­nent was Two Guns White Calf, son of the last Pikuni Black­foot tribal chief. While the re­sem­blance is strik­ing, Fraser never said Two Guns White Calf was the sub­ject.

John Big Tree, of the Seneca tribe, staked his claim to be the model at the Texas Nu­mis­matic As­so­ci­a­tion con­ven­tion in 1966. He also claimed to be the model for sculp­ture, End Of The Trail.

In­ter­est­ingly, there is no con­tro­versy about the iden­tity of the buf­falo that ap­pears on the re­verse of the coin. It is an Amer­i­can bi­son known as Black Di­a­mond, which Fraser had seen at the Bronx Zoo. Mary Gray, Shrews­bury, Shrop­shire.

QUES­TION Was the taxime­ter in­vented by the Ger­man Baron von Thurn und Taxis?

THE taxime­ter cal­cu­lates the fare to be charged by mea­sur­ing dis­tance and time. It is a com­mon mis­con­cep­tion that it was in­vented by Baron von Thurn und Taxis.

This Ger­man fam­ily had Ital­ian roots and was orig­i­nally called Tasso (from the Ital­ian word for bad­ger). They set­tled in Ger­many, then part of the Holy Ro­man Em­pire, where they es­tab­lished the first postal sys­tem in Europe.

The taxime­ter was, in fact, in­vented by the Ger­man Wil­helm Bruhn in 1891. Born in Lübeck in 1853, he worked at the en­gi­neer­ing firm of Wes­ten­darp & Pieper Ham­burg. The first Bruhn me­ters were used as fare in­di­ca­tors on horse-drawn cabs on short city routes. They were me­chan­i­cal de­vices that mea­sured wheel rev­o­lu­tions.

In 1897, a Daim­ler Vic­to­ria was equipped with Bruhn’s taxime­ter and thus be­came the first mo­tor taxi. It took its name from the Ger­man word taxe, mean­ing ‘to charge’, and is now found in taxis all over the world. Pe­ter Wal­ters, Dud­ley, West

Mid­lands.

QUES­TION Who pro­posed the idea of in­tel­li­gent de­sign?

IN­TEL­LI­GENT de­sign is the the­ory that life and the uni­verse can­not have arisen by chance and, there­fore, was de­signed and cre­ated by an in­tel­li­gent god.

It is re­garded as a pseu­do­science – a way to pro­mote cre­ation­ist be­liefs (a lit­eral be­lief in the Bi­ble) un­der the cover of science. The term in­tel­li­gent de­sign dates from the 19th cen­tury.

Charles Dar­win used it in an 1861 let­ter: ‘One can­not look at this uni­verse with all liv­ing pro­duc­tions and man with­out be­liev­ing that all has been in­tel­li­gently de­signed; yet when I look to each in­di­vid­ual or­gan­ism, I can see no ev­i­dence of this.’

Ox­ford scholar F.C.S. Schiller pre­fig­ured the cur­rent mean­ing in 1903 in his book Hu­man­ism: Philo­soph­i­cal Es­says, writ­ing: ‘It will not be pos­si­ble to rule out the sup­po­si­tion that the process of evo­lu­tion may be guided by an in­tel­li­gent de­sign.’

The mod­ern use of in­tel­li­gent de­sign be­gan af­ter the US Supreme Court ruled that the forced teach­ing of cre­ation­ism is un­con­sti­tu­tional in the pub­lic school science cur­ricu­lum, in the case of Ed­ward v Aguil­lard (1987).

Creation­ists cir­cum­vented this prob­lem by re­plac­ing the word ‘cre­ation­ist’ with the phrase ‘in­tel­li­gent de­sign’.

In 1988, the sci­en­tist and his­to­rian Charles Thax­ton pro­posed the use of the term while de­liv­er­ing a lec­ture on Sources of In­for­ma­tion Con­tent in DNA in Ta­coma, Wash­ing­ton. At the time, he was edit­ing Of Pan­das And Peo­ple: The Cen­tral Ques­tion Of Bi­o­log­i­cal Ori­gins, a con­tro­ver­sial 1989 school text­book writ­ten by Per­ci­val Davis and Dean H. Kenyon, which was pub­lished by the Texas-based Foun­da­tion for Thought and Ethics.

It en­dorsed the con­cept of in­tel­li­gent de­sign and pre­sented polem­i­cal ar­gu­ments against the sci­en­tific the­ory of evo­lu­tion. Steven Jones, St Ives, Corn­wall.

QUES­TION Is Is­rael named af­ter three gods – Isis + Ra + EL?

THROUGH­OUT Scrip­ture, Yah­weh, the God of the Jewish peo­ple, em­pha­sises that he will tol­er­ate no other gods but him­self (e.g. as in the first of the Ten Com­mand­ments – Ex­o­dus 20).

It is there­fore in­con­ceiv­able that Is­rael, the name of his peo­ple, should be de­rived from three gods. In Ex­o­dus 32 it re­lates how Ja­cob (whose He­brew name means ‘de­ceiver’ or ‘sup­planter’) had a life-chang­ing en­counter with God, who wres­tled with him and then changed his name to Is­rael (Yisra El), mean­ing ‘he strug­gles with God’ or ‘God fights’. Rod­er­ick Tay­lor, Wit­ney, Ox­ford­shire.

IS THERE a ques­tion to which you have al­ways wanted to know the an­swer? Or do you know the an­swer to a ques­tion raised here? Send your ques­tions and an­swers to: Charles Legge, An­swers To Cor­re­spon­dents, Ir­ish Daily Mail, Em­bassy House, Her­bert Park Lane, Balls­bridge, Dublin 4. You can also fax them to 0044 1952 510906 or you can email them to charles.legge@dai­ly­mail.ie. A se­lec­tion will be pub­lished but we are not able to en­ter into in­di­vid­ual cor­re­spon­dence.

Buf­falo nickel: The Na­tive Amer­i­can de­picted is likely a com­pos­ite

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