Question: Who was Chief Ho-To-Pi?
Answer: He said he was the last survivor of an obscure Dakotas based Cheyenne tribe. He turned out to be less bison and more bull.
But, as with all the eclectics who give Florida its unique character, does it really matter?
When he died of a heart attack in February 1973, and the funeral home checked his wallet, it was discovered he was George Cutrulis, 78, with a brother living in Athens, Greece, but no relatives in America.
It turned out Cutrulis had moved from Greece just after World War II and had lived among American Indians in Oklahoma, where he’d developed an obsession with Indian culture.
Within a few years, he made his way to South Florida, where he developed his nom de indigène, which he said translated to “Young Buffalo,” because his weight at birth was a staggering 12 pounds.
In a time before people fully wised up to this country’s horrific treatment of its indigenous peoples, the chief spoke to civic clubs, Boy and Girl Scout gatherings, and summer recreation camps at area parks, calling himself a “goodwill ambassador.”
He’d go dressed in full regalia, which presumably no one checked for accuracy. He said his headdress was 329 years old.
He called “savage” stereotypes “bunk,” telling kids that if they were nice to Indians, Indians would be nice to them, but if they treated an Indian badly, “watch out.”
The chief would wow kids with stories and “authentic” songs and dances and discussed and displayed Indian traditions, customs and crafts.
Ho-To-Pi got away with this in a time when all American Indians were lumped together. We now realize a Seminole has less in common with an Ojibwa from Minnesota than a Scotsman has with a Turk — or, in this case, a Greek. In none of the news articles is his pedigree questioned, either because reporters were too lazy or naive or because they didn’t want to be Scrooges, to mix literary metaphors.
Next week: The “Indian Caruso.”
Chief Ho-To-Pi speaks to children about American Indian culture. The chief was actually a Greek man named George Cutrulis, who, when he moved to America, landed in Oklahoma, where he developed an obsession with Indian culture. (Palm Beach Post file photo)
This photo was published in The Palm Beach Post on July 27, 1968, with this caption: ‘Youngsters at Sunset Ridge Park had a chance to hear and see a full-blooded Cheyenne Indian, Chief Ho-To-Pi, on Friday. The chief, whose name means “Young Buffalo,” has been a resident of Lake Worth for 20 years. He presented a program of Cheyenne songs, dances and stories under the sponsorship of the City Recreation Department.’
Tags: Native Americans