Chief John Big Tree

Chief John Big Tree (born Isaac Johnny John, June 2, 1877 July 6, 1967) was a member of the Seneca Nation and an actor who appeared in 59 films between 1915 and 1950. He was born in Buffalo, New York and died in Onondaga Indian Reservation, New York. His interment was also there.

Chief John Big Tree
James Earle Fraser's sculpture, "End of the Trail", for which Big Tree claimed he was the model.
Isaac Johnny John

(1877-06-02)June 2, 1877
DiedJuly 6, 1967(1967-07-06) (aged 90)
Years active1915–1950

Big Tree claimed to be one of three Native American chiefs whose profiles were composited to make the portrait featured on the obverse of the United States' Indian Head nickel, designed by sculptor James Earle Fraser. The other two chiefs were Iron Tail and Two Moons. Big Tree claimed that his profile was used to create that portion of the portrait from the top of the forehead to the upper lip.

Big Tree also claimed to be the sole model for Fraser's most recognized work, the doleful "End of the Trail".[1] Both of these claims are broadly disputed, and Fraser identified other models.[2][3]

He also appeared on the March 1964 cover of Esquire magazine, in a pose commemorating the Indian Head nickel.[4]

Partial filmography


  1. Chief John Big Tree appearance on CBS's I've Got a Secret, December 11, 1961. Rebroadcast on Game Show Network and viewed January 29, 2008.
  2. VanRyzin, Robert R. (October 29, 2009). Fascinating Facts, Mysteries and Myths About U.S. Coins. Krause Publications. pp. 10–28. ISBN 978-1440206504.
  3. "The History of the Buffalo Nickel - Part I".
  4. "Lifestyle - Mens Health, Career, and Relationship Advice". Esquire.
  5. Robert R. Van Ryzin. "Which Indian Really Modeled?" Numismatic News, February 6, 1990
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