Better Know Your Notes: Chief Running Antelope on 1899 $5 Silver Certificates

One of the most recognizable and popular notes in all of United States paper money is the 1899 $5 Silver Certificate, popularly known as the $5 Indian Chief. The series encompasses Friedberg numbers 271-281. The note is popularized by the portrait of an American Indian Chief in full head dress.  While the note is known by many, few know of the man in the portrait.  

Running Antelope was a Chief of the Hunkpapa people within the Lakota Tribe of the Great Sioux Nation. He was born in 1821 along the Grand River in present day South Dakota. By the time he reached adulthood he had gained a reputation as a brave warrior and skilled negotiator. At a time when many of his people were taking up arms against the encroaching white settlers Running Antelope befriended them, believing compromise with whites was the best course of action. He signed the Treaty of 1868 which guaranteed ownership of the Black Hills to the Lakota, along with land and hunting rights in South Dakota, Wyoming, and Montana. In 1877 however, the U.S. Government seized ownership of the Black Hills leading Running Antelope to later regret signing the treaty.

Running Antelope died sometime between 1896 and 1897; his grave is in the Long Hill Cemetery in Little Eagle, South Dakota. His portrait on the 1899 $5 Silver Certificates stirred controversy when he was shown wearing a Pawnee head dress rather than that of a Sioux. The engraver claimed the Sioux head dress was too tall to fit in the portrait.

The 1899 $5 Silver Certificate ranks #10 in 100 Greatest American Currency Notes by Q. David Bowers and David M. Sundman.

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