Designed by famed sculptor James Earl Fraser, the imagery on the Indian Head – or “Buffalo” – nickel, which was struck from 1913 to 1938 with only a slight design adjustment along the way, appears on the modern-day Gold American Buffalo coin that has been released annually by the United States Mint since 2006.
The design features the side profile of a Native American man on the coin’s obverse (front) and an American bison on the reverse. The obverse design is not a portrait of any one particular Native American man, but rather, is reportedly a combination of several real men Fraser encountered throughout his life. The identities of those men are somewhat unclear, as Fraser himself apparently recounted a variety of tales that did not always align regarding which men he used as inspiration for his early 20th century nickel design.
Two men who seem most likely to have influenced Fraser for his Buffalo nickel, based on recounting of events, were Iron Tail (an Oglala Lakota Chief who was one of the most famous Native American figures in the late 19th and early 20th century periods, thanks to his starring role in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show, and his frequently serving as a subject for photographers of the time), and Two Moons (a Cheyenne Chief who fought in the Battle of the Little Bighorn, among other conflicts with the United States). At one point, Fraser noted that he could not recall his third muse, although, this lack of memory conflicted with another recounting given by the artist, in which he credited the third Native American influence to be Chief John Big Tree, a member of the Seneca Nation. Regardless of the truth behind which men influenced the artist for his nickel design, Fraser combined these images as an homage to all the native peoples of the North American lands.
In 1905, the American Bison Society (ABS) was founded by William Hornaday, a zoologist and pioneer of the early wildlife conservation movement in the U.S. Hornaday also served as the first director of the Bronx Zoo, formerly known as the New York Zoological Park. The establishment of the ABS also had the support of many “notable characters,” according to the group’s website, including U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt and Canadian Governor Earl Grey, further emphasizing the reverence North American leaders held for the American buffalo.
The images enshrined on Fraser’s early 20th century Buffalo nickel and replicated today on the annual Gold American Buffalo strikes from the U.S. Mint serve as powerful reminders that it is never too late to pivot towards a path of healing and growth, much like it’s never too late to begin investing in yourself and your financial security. The United States Gold Bureau helps our customers at every step of that journey --from education and providing investment recommendations to acquisitions and liquidations. The staff at the U.S. Gold Bureau is dedicated to helping clients on their journies towards financial security.