My Dad - The Big Chief

My Dad - The Big Chief, by David Little Wolf - 12th July 2004

Big Chief Little Wolf was not my father, but, he was my dad.

Even though we had only 8 years together, he was more of a father to me than even he knew.

It all started back in 1948. I was in my room, reading a comic book. My father called me into the living room. Standing there with him was my stepmother, Louise, my mother, Dorothy, my sister, Helen, and this big guy who I didn't know. All my mom said was, "do you want to come with us?". I could see this brand new, tutone, Pontiac Chieftain parked in front of the house. I answered my mom with this question, "is that your car?" She said yes, and I said let's go! Anything was better than the life I was living with my father and step mother.

I remember someone asking if they should pack my clothes, the big guy said no!

My mom sat me in the front seat, and, I'm told, I spent the entire ride from Santa Ana, to San Fernando, stroking the dashboard, saying, "what a car, what a car".

When we got to the house in San Fernando, the big guy ordered me out of the clothes I was wearing. He put me in a robe, and took my clothes out to the incinerator, and burned them, including the shoes. My mother got me all freshened up in the bathtub, and we were off to the store for new clothes.

I use the above to illustrate the Chief's commitment. He took over my care and welfare from the moment we pulled away from my old life.

My dad only forgot that commitment once. That comes later.

I had no idea who "Big" Chief Little Wolf was...............for about a week. I was(am) a huge movie fan. Before the Chief came into my life, my escape from reality was to spend all day Saturday, and most of Sunday, at the movies. I had the faces of every movie star in Hollywood, locked firmly in my noggin.
Like I said, it was only about a week or so before I understood who Chief was.

He was really great about taking me with him, most everywhere he went. The first place we went was the Hollywood Legion Stadium. This was a very popular venue for pro wrestling. We were there to work out. I already had my wrestling tights by this time. I was nine and ready to be impressed. My hopes were not let down. "Iron" Mike Mazurki was there. I had seen him in countless movies. Jay Silverheels, "Tonto" in the Lone Ranger series came in to talk to Chief. This big guy was "somebody", and I was all-of-a-sudden living a dream that kept getting better. He actually knew movie stars! And I got to meet them and shake their hands............... how bad can that be? Andy Devine came to the house one day. Andy Devine!!!!! I could'nt take my eyes off of him..........Roy Rogers sidekick!!! Pinch me, please!! And there were even more..............Chief Thundercloud, Chief War Eagle.

If you want to dance, you better be prepared to pay the band. In other words, reality was about to set in.
A few weeks later, we were invited to friends for a farewell dinner, as we were about to leave for the East Coast. Mom and dads friends house was pretty big, but so was the crowd. Mom sent my sister and I to play with all the other kids....I balked(very bad thing to do), Chief saw it, and heard it, and took over. He told me to do something(can't remember what), and I said........"my real dad would'nt make me do that". Chief grabbed a fistfull of my shirt, lifted me off the the ground, and into a wall, and said...."I'm your father now,and you'll do exactly what I tell you to do, understand?". I assure you, I did.

The next day, he felt so bad about chewing me out in front of people, that he took me downtown and bought me a brand new Schwinn bicycle. My first.

The above is just another illustration of a man, unafraid to apologise if he thought he'd wronged you.
He had an enormous heart, he loved life, he loved his work, he loved me. I had no idea how much I loved him, until I saw him after his stroke. Lying helpless, with his eye taped open, his mouth all askew, slurring his words, was more than I could take. The big guy had taken a fall, a bad fall. This once powerhouse of a man had been reduced to almost a child. All I could do was cry for him. At that moment, I would have done almost anything to restore him to his former self. Up to this point, for the last couple of years, I was going through my "hate Chief " phase. Why ? You remember the commitment I said he broke? Back in late '56, he kicked me out. 15 years old, out and alone in a foreign country. No I.D., no passport, no nothing. Not too long after my mother left for Hawaii to recoup from a long illness, he took up with the wife of his manager. My guess is that she gave him the old "blood is thicker than water" routine. Next thing you know.......I'm out on my ass.

I was ill equipped to survive on the streets of Melbourne with no safety net. I had money, no place to live.

I didn't realize that all I had to do was present myself to the American Consulate, and I would have been on my way back to the states. I also didn't realize what trouble that would have caused for both Chief and my mom. You do not abandon a minor child in a foreign country.

The Chief had so much going for him....................all those things some people try a lifetime to attain. He had enormous commonsense, as opposed to school learning. For a guy whose formal education lasted for 3 or 4 years, he had a wonderful command of the English language. He could talk to anyone, from the lowest to the highest.

He could eat lobster today, and be just as content having a hamburger tomorrow.He understood what was good and what was bad in showbusiness. He knew those things instinctively. He earned and lost at least three fortunes. Everytime he visited a children's hospital, hoping to spread a little cheer, it always broke his heart. He just couldn't understand why kids, whose lives hadn't really begun, should be afflicted with such horrible diseases. But, time after time, he kept going back. Children's hospitals were not the only hospitals on the Chief's list. Aussie veterans were important to him also. None of those hospital visits had nothing to do with publicity, he wanted to see those smiles when he walked in. I'll never forget going to a veterans hospital in Melbourne with him. When we left and were in the parking lot, out of site of the vets and the nursing staff, he began crying. It must have taken him five minutes to compose himself. He felt those men had served their country, and, somehow he hadn't. He was in the U.S. Army during the war years. He was a sergeant in the Provost Marshal's Office in the Los Angeles District. As a military policeman, he also taught unarmed combat to his fellow M.P's.

The Army also allowed him to wrestle in the L.A. area, if it didn't conflict with his duties. So, he had it relatively easy...............and, it didn't hurt that his Colonel was a big wrestling fan.

During the war, my mother worked in a warplane factory, and she was singing with the Paige Cavanaugh Trio a couple of night a week. One of the girls she worked with suggested going to the wrestling matches at the Civic Auditorium. They did, and as the story goes, Chief caught a glimpse of her, and had his opponent toss him out of the ring, into her lap!! Certainly a unique method for meeting a girl. They were married in 1946 in Salt Lake City.

He wasn't a businessman, and he couldn't hold his liquor. I'll wager you could travel over most of Australia, and find people still living, who have a "Chief Little Wolf at the pub" story. Neither of those things makes him a bad guy, I think it makes him more human.

One of the reasons he loved Australia so much was, he did not encounter any racial bigotry aimed at him. He could walk down any street, in any city, without any "celebrity mania". He was treated with respect everywhere in Australia. I can't say there were zero encounters, but they were generally in good humor. He was hit a lot with "you're not really Big Chief Little Wolf", to which he would answer......."well, if I'm not, I'm sure having a good time with his wife". Women liked to approach him with "How", which in the U.S. would be very derogatory to a Native American. He was ready for them too. He'd get that huge grin of his working, and reply........."I know how, just tell me when!".

He loved being entertained. Most entertainers do. He liked all forms of the business. Movies, Musical Comedy, Variety Shows(like those at the Tivoli) He liked the beach. He always remarked how tan he was after a day at the beach. That always got a big laugh.

He had a pretty good palate too. He loved Italian food(and I think that may be why some galah's in Melbourne thought he was an Australian born Italian). He loved Chinese food just as much. And German, Greek, Mexican, etc.

Over the years, he had picked up bits and pieces of non-english language, that served him well. We could walk into a cafe owned by a Greek, Chief could greet him in his own native language, and that instantly opened dialogue, and, our assurance of a good meal. It never failed. Whatever the owner's origins, Chief could at least, say "hello, how are you?" In those days of "New Australians", most Australians weren't the slightest bit interested in learning a few words of their new neighbors native tongue. So, when Chief was able to, at least say "hello", the recipient was thrilled. This was a big thing to me. I could see the faces of these people change when he spoke to them. It was amazing. I soon learned to do it myself............with my dads help, of course.

He taught me a lot more, most of which I didn't realize I even knew until it came time to use that bit of information, and where I'd learned it.

To me, he was a real man. To a few generations of Aussies, he's a myth, maybe even a legend. I suppose he was. But, he wouldn't want either one of those titles. He would be content knowing he brought some happiness to the folks who'd paid their hard earned money to see him, and that they got their moneys worth. Yeah, he was a real man....................a real man of the people.

And, he was my dad.



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