As I was researching my family tree, I came across this article from the New York Daily News on June 25, 1953 regarding an Indian beauty contest held by S. Klein, a department store located on Union Square. It wasn't until I found this article that I saw an actual image of my paternal grandfather, Solon Jones. My father tells us about the times Solon and other family members would travel around the Northeast to dance and sing at various events.
In terms of content, I found the article interesting that Seneca members would partake in judging a beauty contest in NYC. I admire the way they challenged the dominant society's idea of beauty. In terms of the writing style, which refers to Indigenous women as 'squaws' and Caucasians as 'palefaces,' I am glad these references would not be tolerated today. It was a different time back then. Although the article does relate facts about the incident, I get a sense of the one-sidedness of portraying the perspectives of the Senecas and the department store.
In 2015, I inserted my great-grandfather's recorded voice of the Haudenosaunee Thanksgiving Address into my short documentary film 'Soup For My Brother.' Because of Solon's clear and distinct diction, many students of the Seneca language use his recorded voice as a learning tool to perfecting their Seneca dialect. I did show Solon's image to my father and he confirmed his identity. I think Solon's image looks much like his daughter (and my grandmother) Bertha Belle Jones Maybee (1918-1987).
Below is a transcript of the original news article:
Tempest in a Teepee! Indians on a Warpath Over a Queen
by Joseph Martin & Henry Lee
With ugly shouts, “She’s an Eskimo” 100 American Indians went on the fourth-floor warpath in S. Klein’s “Indian Village” on the Square yesterday and angrily repudiated Little Sunshine, a 19-year-old, 117-pound vision of delight, whom mere palefaces tried to force on them as their Indian Queen.
Instead, by whoops and threats of mass retreat back to the reservation, the scowling braves demands the selection of a more typically attractive Indian maid – 38-year-old, 172-pound She Who Is Single.
Other interesting points of contrast between paleface and copper-skin concepts of feminine beauty:
She Who Is Single, an Iroquois, stands 5 feet 7, proudly flounces 41-inch hips, has a 40-inch bust, a cuddlesome 38-inch waist and a somewhat irregular smile.
Poor Little Sunshine, a Tsimpsian and a mere 5-foot-2½, has 35-inch hips, 24 waist, a 34½ bust and all her teeth. By teepee standards, rather scrawny.
What had started routinely as just another beauty contest for press photographers whooped up into an honest-Injun brawl between the Long House chiefs and paleface Klein management men, who became paler-faced by the hour. It was the nearest thing, locally, to an Indian war in a couple of hundred years.
Start on a Low Note.
The affair began quietly with war-whooping and drum-beating into microphones to attract shoppers into the “Indian Village.”
A number of more or less college-educated squaws were making bracelets and earrings and selling beads back at $24 per dozen, plus sales tax, to any who would buy. The locale had the quaint authenticity of some Indian stopover on U.S. 1.
On stage, eight Indian maids were lined up for the beauty contest. After thoughtful deliberation, the chiefs – Jesse J. Cornplanter, head of the Seneca Nation, aided by Chiefs Solon Jones, Maslon White and Kidd Smith – made their selection. It was She Who Is Single, in a waddle.
The photographers momentarily closed their eyes. Then one walked over to Little Sunshine. “You’ve won, kid,” he said, and the picture-taking started.
A Whoop and a Holler.
At the judge’s stand, Cornplanter banged a table, and his protests could be heard over the microphone.
“We’re the chiefs! We’ll pick the winner!”
Klein tried vainly to tell him there would be two queens – one for the Indians and one for the customers – but he shook his long headdress angrily and retired into a Long House constructed on the floor. Floor walkers followed, but were denied admittance.
Mrs. Lucinda Reed, a full-blooded Tuscarora and an irate stage mother with two daughters in the contest, joined him. In a few moments, they emerged in full Indian outrage.
“She’s nothing more than an Alaskan!” Mrs. Reed cried of Little Sunshine, who comes from Annette Island in the Pacific, off Alaska. “She’s an Eskimo! This is a New York affair.”
Can’t Scare Him.
“Nobody can scare me,” roared the 64-year-old Cornplanter. “That’s why I’m a chief, because I defend my rights and my people. I came down here against my better judgment, and I won’t take this.”
“We’ve never gone back on our word.” A Klein man interposed. “Klein’s has never gone back on its word. The one you want will be the queen.”
“It’s too late!” Mrs. Reed said tragically, pointing to the camera. “The harm has been done. The pictures are in the camera. The whole thing was a frameup! Of all the beautiful Indians out here, you had to pick that thing as an Iroquois Indian.”
An Affront, Yells Chief.
“I went along with them,” Cornplanter added, “but within certain limits, and this is going too far. I’m not going to jeopardize the dignity of my people. I won’t stand for it.”
He retreated past a sign, “Wampum Redeemable Here,” and the soft drink stand advertising “Seneca Juice” to an inconspicuous counter labeled “Refunds.”
Little Sunshine, her face overcast, fled alone to the elevators.
“There she goes!” hissed Mrs. Reed. “How can she be an Iroquois? She’s wearing COTTON!” All Iroquois, she explained, wear tanned hides.
“We Indians have no contest – that’s white man’s stuff,” Cornplanter said, “They’ve made me feel like a block of wood, a dummy.” Then he completely disappeared. Though friendly Indians went scouting all through the store and out into the Square, nobody could find him.
Grunts His Grievance.
It was a tense hour, with reports that he was pulling out all the Senecas with him, before he returned. He refused to say where he had been, refused to say anything, in fact, except to indicate by grunts that he would stand still a little longer for all the nonsense.
She Who Is Single took off for the third-floor cafeteria and a glass of milk and slab of apple pie.
There she displayed the wonderful personality of a true squaw. This, the Long House chiefs had previously insisted, was just as important in their eyes as her stunning figure.
“Makes no difference to me,” she said placidly. “It’s all up to you guys. Feel the same as I did this morning before the trouble.”
“How did you feel then?” she was asked.
“Same as I did yesterday.”
“And how was that?” she was pressed.
“Pretty good. Okay. Good pie.”
(other pictures in centerfold)
ORIGINAL ARTICLE BELOW:
CENTERFOLD IMAGE 1: Redman Have Own Way of Figuring. Indian maidens line up before chiefs and small fry in beauty contest, part of Indian Festival Week. Scene is fourth floor of S. Klein's "Indian Village" on the Square.
CENTERFOLD IMAGE 2: Indian Chief, having selected She Who Is Single (standing left) as their queen, seem surprised when S. Klein executive suggests maybe they should have selected someone else. Like maybe Little Sunshine, who stands behind talker. She Who Is Single is 38, 5 ft., 7 and 172 lbs.
CENTERFOLD IMAGE 3: Little Sunshine (selected by press photogs) is confronted by chiefs who refuse to concede she's more queenly than She Who Is Single - by Indian standards, that is, Redman won their joint. She Who Is Single is queen. Little Sunshine didn't measure up.