Chief Tahachee: Writer, Wrangler and “Rath Indian”

A thing or two about Jack-of-All-Trades Chief Tahachee (Jeff Davis Tahchee Cypert, 1904-1978) — not to be confused with the similar-sounding Chief Yowlachie, another Native American actor. .

I have Cyperts in my family tree; I’m sure that’s how I became aware of this intriguing minor show biz figure. The surname seems to originate in the Netherlands, although the Chief appears to have been mostly, or at least partially Cherokee, and was from James Mill, Arkansas. He became a movie extra at age 16 in the 1920 version of The Last of the Mohicans, and is said to have also appeared in A Small Town Idol with Ben Turpin and Ramon Novarro and The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse with Novarro, both 1921, North of the Rio Grande (1922) with Jack Holt and Bebe Daniels, and later things like Across the Wide Missouri (1951) and dozens of other films as an extra and stunt man through the 1960s. This information comes from various biographical articles I have corralled; at present IMDB does not offer a list of his credits.

From 1923 through 1924 he toured vaudeville’s big time Orpheum circuit as a contortionist named Chief Buffalo Nickel. In 1926 he was one of the founding members of the War Paint Club, which later merged into the Indian Actors Association, of which he was also a founding member. In 1927 he appeared in the plays Uncle Tom’s Cabin and The Old Homestead at the Pasadena Playhouse. He is also said to have performed with circuses and Wild West Shows, and was skilled as a horseman and firewalker. He stood an impressive 6 foot, four and a half inches, making him a stand-out in any crowd.

In his middle age, Chief Tachachee wrote four books: Poems of Dreams (1942), Drifting Sands (1950), An American Indian Climb Toward Truth & Wisdom (1955), and The Rough and Rowdy Ways of an American Indian Cowboy (1957). From 1950 through 1953 he appeared as “The Rath Indian” in a series of local commercials for Rath’s Meats.

Chief Tahachee was married seven times and had ten children. His first wife, Dorothy Teters, was supposedly a cousin of Ben Turpin, likely how he found his way into show business.

To learn more about the vaudeville, please see No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, and for more on silent film please read Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube.