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Chief Ho-To-Pi: Greek-turned-‘Indian’ wowed kids

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.”

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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)

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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.’

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Posted in Eliot Kleinberg and Flashback blog June 18, 2010 at 8:55 am.

5 comments

5 Replies

  1. Sharon Jun 20th 2010

    I think this is a wonderful story, that someone not even from the US wanted to teach children about Native Americans. It’s to bad there isn’t more of this going on today. We owe these people.

  2. well this is funny because its not true at all hotopi was my great great great illigetament grandfather he came to america way befor ww2 my great grandfather has a picture with him in 1934 at cornell university so whoever wrote this add needs to do some seriouse researching because as hotopi says this is bunk

  3. bonnie krebs May 11th 2012

    I also have an authentic photo which dates to much earlier as Joseph’s does. Mine is addressed to my son’s great grandparents, written and signed with a symbol of 2 arrows crossed…probably dates to mid to late 30′s.


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