Sagamore of the Wabash
Reference Services Department
Herman B Wells Library
Indiana University Libraries - Bloomington
In Britain appointment to orders of chivalry acknowledges
accomplishment, unless the sovereign graciously bestows a more glorious
feudal rank. The French Republic rewards distinction with membership in
the Legion of Honor, originally created by Napoleon for worthies of his
empire. For the United States, the highest civilian honor is the
Presidential Medal of Freedom. In case one does not quite deserve that distinction,
there is a second-highest civilian honor, the Presidential Citizen's
Medal. Not to be outdone by the executive branch, the Congress created
Congressional Gold Medal, its highest award.
Other nations and their constituent governments offer civilian
tribute to the distinguished, as do professional societies, institutes,
universities, associations, businesses, museums, clubs, fraternal groups
and any number of other organizations devoted to all kinds of endeavor
from the fine arts to professional sports. These organizations present
scrolls, plaques, medals, trophies, certificates, keys to the city and
other tokens of esteem to their laureates.
The county fair awards blue ribbons; the Kennel Club chooses Best
Show. Athletes compete for the gold and silver and bronze or the Stanley
and Davis and Ryder cups. For mathematicians there is the
in the same intellectual realm, there are the Nobel Prizes. The range
wide, running from the House of Hapsburg's Order of the Golden Fleece to
the Boy Scouts' Silver Beaver Award.
Among the states, perhaps the best known honor is the designation
Kentucky Colonel, "the highest honor awarded by the Commonwealth of
Kentucky." It is the most venerable, its tradition dating from 1813
"during the second term of Governor Isaac Shelby, when he bestowed the
title of Colonel to his son-in-law, Charles. S. Todd, a member of his
staff." (Kentucky. Secretary of State.) It also owes some of its more
recent popular recognition to fried chicken franchises, a sports team
a cocktail of bourbon and Benedictine. In 1932 Governor Ruby Laffoon
added "Honorable Order" to the name "to reflect the honorary status of
members." Although the Honorable Order of Kentucky Colonels is dedicated
to "good works within the Commonwealth of Kentucky," the Colonels may be
men or women from any state or nation, deemed worthy by the governor for
their contributions in any field. (Kentucky. Secretary State.)
In keeping with the Kentucky's military tradition, the governors of
, Georgia, Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi and New Mexico also
commission honorary colonels. In Alabama the title reads,
Lieutenant Colonel, Aide-de-Camp in the Alabama State Militia.
the title is Honorary Lieutenant Colonel, Aide-de-Camp, Governor's
In Louisiana and other states the rank varies, and the award creates an
full honorary Colonel. North Dakota continues the martial theme with
Theodore Roosevelt Rough Rider Award (and an honorary rank of colonel in
the North Dakota Theodore Roosevelt Rough Riders), "North Dakota's
award made to persons who have been influenced by this state in
recognition in their fields of endeavor, thereby reflecting credit upon
this state and its citizens." (North Dakota. Governor.)
Texas adopted a naval motif and names
Admirals in the Texas Navy.
The practice, popularized by Governor Price Daniels in the 1950s, is not
limited to Texans, although "native-born Texans are designated
'admirals;' non-native Texans are 'honorary admirals.'" (Texas. State
Library and Archives Commission.) Landlocked Nebraska also honors
notables as admirals, appointing the as an
Admiral in the Great Navy of
the State of Nebraska. Since 1966 Ohio has had commodores (Executive
Order of the Ohio Commodore), named by the governor in recognition of
contributions to the economy of the state.
The successful play and popular movie Inherit the Wind
presented audiences with a tale of two honorary colonels. Based more or
less on the 1925 Scopes Trial in Dayton, Tennessee, and ignoring
historical fact to make a broader point, the drama featured
versions of William Jennings Bryan and Clarence Darrow. In welcoming
Matthew Harrison Brady (Bryan) to Hillsboro, the mayor announces that
governor has appointed Brady an honorary colonel in the state militia.
At the trial, the Judge refers to Brady as "Colonel Brady," and Henry
Drummond (Darrow) objects to "all this damned 'Colonel' talk" as clear
judicial favoritism, prejudicial to his case. The situation is
pending the governor's approval of course, by making Drummond a
honorary colonel." Drummond remarks about his new appointment,
"Gentlemen, what can I say? It is not often in a man's life that he
attains the exalted rank of 'Temporary Honorary Colonel.'" (Lawrence and
Lee, p. 38)
Bryan did not need an honorary title. Although a pacifist, he
actually was a colonel, a rank he held during the Spanish American War.
Summer for the Gods Edward J. Larson describes how the real trial
John T. Raulston, applied the honorific to Darrow and "adopted the
practice -- already used by some in town -- of referring to Darrow as
'Colonel.'" Larson ponders the significance of Darrow's
informal honorary title: "Yet some wondered whether the judge extended
this designation to Darrow and Malone as a way to avoid calling them
'mister,' a title of respect in the South." (Larson, p. 149-50) If so,
the judge in this instance turned upside down the usual distinctions of
rank and reduced Darrow to a sort of generic colonel among colonels,
rendering what was a mark of honor a sign of no honor at all.
State honors are not limited to colonels' commissions. Alabama
created in 1965 a second way to recognize achievement, the Alabama
of Honor, limited to a membership of one hundred living Alabamians "who
have made a significant contribution to the life and times of the state
Alabama and the nation." (Alabama. Department of Archives and History.)
The highest award in Arkansas is the
Arkansas Traveller Award
recognizes its distinguished citizens with the Order of the First State.
The governor of Florida presents the Florida's Finest Award to
who make their communities better through dedication, hard work and good
deeds." The governor's office further explains, "These are the unsung
heroes in our State: volunteers; philanthropists; those who place
else's safety and welfare above their own; and those who go beyond the
call of duty to find ways to significantly improve the quality of life
their communities. Nominees selected for this honor receive a
and a letter of commendation. In addition, each week the Governor calls
small number of award recipients to thank them personally for their
contributions to our society." (Florida. Governor.)
Illinois established the Lincoln Academy of Illinois which honors
chosen laureates with the Order of Lincoln and its medallion to
acknowledge "individuals whose contributions to the betterment of
have been accomplished in or on behalf of the state of Illinois,
residence, or by their dedication to the principles of democracy."
to Receive the Order of Lincoln") The Iowa award, created in 1948 by
state legislature recognizes "outstanding service of Iowans in the
of science, medicine, law, religion, social welfare, education,
agriculture, industry, government and other public service." Unlike
honors, the Iowa Centennial Memorial Foundation bestows its award only
"approximately every five years." (Iowa. Secretary of State.)
On August 2, 1997 Governor Ralph Pataki of New York announced the
creation of the Jackie Robinson Empire State Freedom Medal, and his
release described it as "New York State's Highest Honor." The reverse of
the medal is to read "presented to honor conduct exemplifying the spirit
as demonstrated by the life of Jack Roosevelt Robinson." (New York.
Governor.) Like Illinois and New York,
Washington also presents a medal,
Medal of Merit, defined by state law as "the state medal of merit with
accompanying ribbons and appurtenances for award by the governor, in the
name of the state, to any person who has been distinguished by
exceptionally meritorious conduct in performing outstanding services to
the people and state of Washington, upon the nomination of the
state medal of merit committee. " (Washington. Secretary of State.)
North Carolina's highest civilian award is the
Order of the Long
Leaf Pine. South Carolina, like its neighbor to the north, names its
distinction for one of its natural resources and, being the "Palmetto
State," awards the Order of the Palmetto. Other state honors include
the Order of the First State (Delaware) the Arkansas Traveller Award,
Florida's Finest, and Distinguished West Virginian.
The highest distinction in Indiana is the designation Sagamore of
Wabash. According to the Governor's Office:
The Sagamore of the Wabash award was created during the term of
Governor Ralph Gates, who served from 1945 to 1949. Governor Gates was
attend a tri-state meeting in Louisville with officials from the states
Ohio and Kentucky. Aides to the governor discovered that the governor
Kentucky was preparing Kentucky Colonel certificates for Governor Gates
and Senator Robert A. Taft, who was to represent the state of Ohio. The
Hoosiers decided Indiana should have an appropriate award to present in
The term "Sagamore" was used by the American Indiana Tribes of the
northeastern United States to describe a lesser chief or a great man
the tribe to whom the true chief would look for wisdom and advice.
Each governor since Gates has presented the certificates in his own
way. It has been said that one governor even resorted to wearing a full
Indian headdress as he read the scrolls. The award is the highest honor
which the Governor of Indiana bestows. It is a personal tribute given
those who have rendered a distinguished service to the State or to the
Governor. Among those who have received Sagamores of the Wabash have
astronauts, Presidents, ambassadors, artists, musicians, politicians and
ordinary citizens who have contributed greatly to our Hoosier heritage.
It should be noted that Sagamores have been conferred upon both men
and women since the beginning of their existence. There is no record of
the total number which have been presented, as each governor has kept
own roll; just as each has reserved the right to select recipients
personally. (Indiana. Governor.)
Harrell, Pantzer and Gates
The Sesquicentennial Scrapbook is more specific about the
creation of the Sagamore award. It was, the Scrapbook says, "the
invention of business executive (and World War I pilot) Samuel R.
and attorney Kurt Pantzer -- both good Hoosiers and friends of Governor
Gates." (Guthrie, p.78 ) Harrell (1897-1982) and Pantzer (1892-1979) had
lot in common. Both attended (at different times) Wabash College and
completed their education in the east, Harrell at the University of
Pennsylvania and Yale Law School, Pantzer at Harvard College and Harvard
Law School. Both were Presbyterians, and both belonged to the Athletic,
Woodstock, University and Dramatic clubs of Indianapolis. The two also
worked together as attorneys in the firm of Smith, Remster, Hornbrook
Smith between 1924 and 1926.
Neither Harrell nor Pantzer was a stranger to organizations. Over
years they served as members or officers of various boards, committees
associations. Harrell, among other things, was a trustee of the
University of Pennsylvania where a chair in named in his honor at the
Wharton School. (Harrell) As an undergraduate he had been president of
his class and held the position of Chief in the Sphinx Senior Society.
While Harrell drifted out of the law into the family milling business,
Pantzer became a prominent attorney, a legal authority, a patron of the
arts and a mover and shaker in the Indiana Republican Party (Chairman of
the Indiana Republican finance Committee, 1955-1966). He also assembled
an outstanding collection of the watercolors of the British artist J. M.
In his entry in Who Was Who in America, 1977-1981, Pantzer
listed as "co-founder Council of Sagamores of the Wabash." (Who Was Who,
p. 441) Harvey Lewis Carter elaborates in The Life and Times of
Turtle, First Sagamore of the Wabash and says, "In 1946 Indiana
governor Ralph F. Gates created the Council of the Sagamores of the
in response to a suggestion made by Samuel R. Harrell, who had been
a Kentucky Colonel and felt that Indiana needs a similar reciprocal
honorary organization. Kurt Pantzer joined with Harrell in devising the
details." (Carter, p. xiv)
Sycamore and Sagamore
Carter continues by considering the suggestion that the Sagamore
title may have been influenced by the nickname of Daniel W. Voorhees
(1829-1897), a U. S. representative and senator. Voorhees, an
accomplished orator, was known as the Tall Sycamore of the Wabash, a
designation he acquired "not only because he was tall -- over six feet,
massive of head, and broad over shoulder, but because, in the excitement
of forensics, his hair stood out like the quills of a sycamore's
buttonball." (Wilson p. 111)
A Voorhees inspiration is unlikely, Carter concludes. That may be,
although it is hard to ignore the similarity between the sobriquet and
award and the euphony of the two phrases. Still, Gates (1893-1978),
Harrell and Pantzer were good Republicans, unlikely deliberately to
award specifically with Voorhees in mind. Voorhees was a Democrat with
"long and steadfast service to his party in Indiana." (Wilson, p. 111)
Not only that, he was, perhaps with some justice, considered by many to
a copperhead during the Civil War. He opposed freeing the slaves and
questioned Lincoln's power to issue the Emancipation Proclamation.
(Wilson, p.111) He also opposed other policies of the president,
including "conscription, violation of habeas corpus, and war finances."
(American National Biography, v. 22, p. 408) After the war he
soft money and low tariffs, anathema to reliable Republicans of the
Age, who vigorously supported a high tariff and a strict gold standard.
Carter finds "more likely" that the choice of sagamore as an honorific
the Governor and his friends lies in its association with Little Turtle,
"a genuine and original sagamore of the Wabash." (Carter, p. xiv) He
explains that "Governor Gates was from Columbia City, in Whitley County,
where Little Turtle was born and resided for most of his life, was a
determining factor in their thinking." (Carter, p. xiv)
Other influences may have been at work. The men surely would have
been familiar with the adventure tales of James Fenimore Cooper, either
a boy's reading or part of the school curriculum. They may have
The Last of the Mohicans, in which Chingachgook, the father of
describes himself as a sagamore and says, "Then they parted with their
land. Foot by foot, they were driven back from the shores, until I,
am a chief and a Sagamore, have never seen the sun shine but through the
trees, and have never visited the graves of my fathers!" (Cooper, p. 28)
They may also remember the dramatic moment when Uncas, taken captive,
appears before the venerable Tamenund, and proclaims his heroic
Tamenund exclaims, "Uncas, the panther of his tribe, the eldest son of
Lenape, the wisest Sagamore of the Mohicans!" (Cooper, p. 371) On
chest, too, is the bright blue tattoo of a small toroise, proclaiming
one of the "children of the Turtle." (Cooper, p. 372)
A more contemporary source of inspiration may have been Theodore
Roosevelt, who named his home Sagamore Hill. In his autobiography
Roosevelt wrote, "Sagamore Hill takes its name from the old Sagamore
Mohannis, who, as chief of his little tribe, signed away his rights to
land two centuries and a half ago." (Roosevelt, p. 342)
Sachems and Sagamores
If the men were uncertain about the term "sagamore" and wished to
verify it, they could consult any good dictionary of the time. For that
matter, the term appears in Noah Webster's original 1828 An American
Dictionary of the English Language, and Webster gives the
"Among some tribes of American Indians, a king or chief." Funk and
Wagnalls New Standard Dictionary of the English Language (1938)
defines "sagamore" as "An American Indian tribal chief, probably of
rank, tho considered by some writers as equivalent of Sachem." The 1917
edition of Webster's New International Dictionary lists the term
"A chief of a tribe among certain of the American Indians; -- generally
synonymous with sachem but some make sachem a chief of the first rank
sagamore one of the second rank."
The term sagamore an old one in the American lexicon. The
English Dictionary quotes its usage in a source from 1613, as does
Dictionary of American English on Historical Principles. Most
observe that its origin is Algonquian, although some cite more
specifically its etymology as Abenaki or another Algonquian tongue.
there is etymological agreement, when it comes to its precise meaning,
especially the relative ranks of sachem and sagamore, there is some
dispute. Like other sources, A Dictionary of American English on
Historical Principles (1938-44) has it both ways. It gives the word
Algonquian origin and defines it as "originally, among the Algonquian
Indians, a lesser chief, the head of one of the tribes in a
presided over by a sachem. At times, however, sagamore has been
considered synonymous with sachem." Most of the uses of sagamore it
however, point to the secondary status of the sagamore, as in the c.1618
quotation that notes "Many provinces... [are] governed in chief by a
principall commaunder or prince .. who hath under him divers petty
which they call Sagamoes. [sic]"
The second unabridged edition of Webster's New International
Dictionary of the English language (1948) echoes previous
It finds "Sagamore. orig., among the Algonquian Indians of North
Coast, a lesser chief, or the chief of a tribe forming part of a
confederation; -- sometimes synonymous with sachem." The word also
continues as part of the contemporary Abenaki vocabulary. In Gordon M.
Day's Western Abenaki Dictionary, "a dictionary of the Western
language as it is spoken in the last half of the twentieth century,"
p. iii) under "chief" appears the entry: Chief, hence secondarily
President, lord, also the cusk Brosmius brosme [a food fish of the cod
family]: zogemo AN pl. zogemok loc zogemok. In the initial position the
"z" is pronounced as an "s," Day notes, and the "o" is pronounced as in
the French "pont." The term, its meaning and pronunciation consistent
with its English rendering, still exists in its native form.
In a presentation, "Cooper's Indians: A Critique," given before the
Cooper Seminar in 1979 William Starna further fixes the difference
sachem and sagamore. He writes, "Leadership roles manifest themselves
different ways. Among the Iroquois, for example, the most visible
were of two classes; war chiefs and civil chiefs. The latter are called
sachems, a word derived from the Algonquian term Sakamak or Sakamaker
[sakamak] [sakam] (cf. Erickson 1978; Goddard 1978). Sagamore, the term
most often applied to Algonquian civil chiefs, is also derived from and
represents a corruption or Anglicization of Sakamak." (Starna)
No Sachems for Indiana
Superior in rank or not, the title Sachem would never have done for
Indiana's premier civilian award. It was too intimately and notoriously
associated with New York. A group of thirteen sachems, headed by the
Grand Sachem, presided over the Wigwam, headquarters of the Tammany
Society, the New York County Democratic organization. The Society,
infamous since the days of the Boss Tweed for its corruption, greed and
power, found enemies among reform-minded men such men as Grover
and Theodore Roosevelt, whose campaigns brought additional national
attention to the political machine's already unsavory reputation. If
memories of Tammany and its sachems had dimmed over the years, the
Seabury investigation would have freshened recollections, as would
Guardia's victory over the still powerful group in his election as mayor
of New York City.
No, a sachem would not do, but a sagamore had no negative
connotations. By happy linguistic accident the term also suggested
by association with the English "sage" and "sagacious," and if recalled,
Cooper's fictional Uncas was described as "the wisest Sagamore of the
Mohicans." A sagamore, though, had to be a sagamore of something. If
Little Turtle was the model after all, he provided little guidance for
name of the sagamore's realm. His encampment lay along the Eel River,
Sagamore of the Eel as a title does not sound particularly impressive,
it would represent only a small corner of the Indiana. If a geographic
designation representing the entire state, or a great portion of it, was
necessary, especially if it were a river of significant size, there was
only one choice. Indiana could hardly select to honor Sagamores of the
Ohio. That left the Wabash, and by coincidence Little Turtle's Eel is
of its tributaries.
Indiana Gets Sachems After All and a New Top Honor
The Tammany connection notwithstanding, Governor Edgar Whitcomb, a
Republican, created the Confederacy of
Indiana Sachems in 1970. The group, open by invitation only, included
"top top business leaders (of both
political parties) across the state were members. They assisted Whitcomb
by welcoming important visitors,
promoted the state and even provided spending money for some projects,
according to early accounts. There was a
dress code (Brooks Brothers, of course), certificates that included
archaic and insensitive American Indian
references, rules to follow and dues to pay. The bylaws even refer to an
annual 'PowWow' each September during
the harvest moon." (Guyett) Guyett continues, "Recipients were commanded
to show up 'accompanied by your squaw'
at the Sheraton Hotel in French Lick to participate in grave
deliberations and war dances, partake in feats of
strength, feast and drink some 'firewater and sassafras, and the juice
of the grape.'"
Whitcomb's exclusive club of movers and shakers, reminiscent of the
Bohemian Grove, faded after he left office
and disbanded as an entity in 1989. In 2006 Governor Mitch Daniels
revived the Sachem award. The new honor,
however, is to be awarded annually to a single person. The 2005
(retroactive) recipient was Indiana-born John Wooden, the basketball
coach, and for 2006 the title was bestowed on Father Theodore Hesburgh,
the longtime president of Notre Dame. Later honorees include
philanthropist Jane Blaffer Owen (2007), gospel musicians Bill and
Gloria Gaither (2008), longtime university trustee. businessman and
civic leader Donald C. Danielson (2009), andbaseball player Carl Erskine
(2010). Elinor Ostrom, winner of the 2009 Nobel prize in economics, did
not make the cut and had to settle for a Sagamore of the Wabash award.
Of course her turn may yet come. Previous sagamores have become
According to a press release from the office of Governor Daniels, "At
the time Sachems constituted an honor
greater than being named a Sagamore of the Wabash. Bylaws outlined that
Sachems were to nominate and recommend
Sagamore appointments to the governor." The release adds, "True
greatness is rare, and implies more than just
accomplishment. Hoosiers believe that character counts, too, that the
kind of life you live matters as much as
the achievements you've racked up. The Sachem will be reserved for those
who led by moral example as well as
successful action." (Press release, March 3, 2006)
Accompanying the honor is "a bronze sculpture of a scroll and pipe
tomahawk, with the scroll representing the
1795 Treaty of Greenville between the United States and Native Americans
and the pipe tomahawk representing a
gesture of peace between General Anthony Wayne and Chief Little Turtle.
The sculpture was created by Jeff
Fearin, art and design student at Indiana University Purdue University
Indianapolis. (Martin) The scroll reads,
"In recognition of a lifetime of excellence and virtue that has brought
credit and honor to Indiana."
Perhaps the new administration felt there were a few too many democratic
sagamores after the sixeen years of
goverment under Bayh, O'Bannon and Kernan. They may also have felt a
kind of sagamore inflation had diluted
the award. In any event, the time was ripe in the governor's mind for a
more exalted title, a new top state
honor, the Sachem, a rank higher than the mere Sagamore. The governor
does continue to name sagamores. He did not abolish the award. He
merely demoted it.
Sagamore of the Wabash
The information sheet "Sagamore of the Wabash" from the
Governor's office suggests some haste in the creation of the award.
Kathy Whyde Jesse, an Indianpolis Star reporter, called it a
face-saving attempt." (Jesse) The choice of the name, and the wording
the design of the document proclaiming membership in the Council of the
Sagamores of the Wabash, however, seem to indicate some thought, along
with the desire to make Indiana's honor unique, not merely a copy of the
colonelcies awarded elsewhere. The 11-by-17-inch certificate (using the
example of Governor Welsh) reads:
State of Indiana
Council of the Sagamores of the Wabash
Matthew E. Welsh
Governor of the State of Indiana
Known all men by these presents:
WHEREAS, the greatness of the Sons of Indiana derives, in part,
qualities possessed by the noble Chieftains of the Indiana Tribes which
once roamed its domain; and
WHEREAS, it has been the immemorial custom of the State of Indiana
attract to its support those who have exhibited such qualities; and
WHEREAS, there has endeared himself to the Citizens of
distinguished by his Humanity in Living, his Loyalty in Friendship,
his Wisdom in Council, and his Inspiration in Leadership:
NOW, THEREFORE, recognizing his greatness and desiring to avail
myself of his counsel, I do hereby appoint him a chieftain upon my
staff with the rank and title of
SAGAMORE of the WABASH
WITNESS my hand and the Seal of the Council of the Sagamores at
Indianapolis, Indiana this ________ day of __________ in the year of Our
Lord, Nineteen Hundred and _________.
Signed Matthew E. Welsh
Governor of the State of Indiana.
The words "STATE OF INDIANA" arc over the profile of an Indian
right whose centered figure separates the two lines Council and
to its left from of the and of the Wabash to its right In the lower left
appears the Seal of the Council of the Sagamores. (Denny; Indiana
University. Digital Library Project. The Hoagy Carmichael Collection.)
The certificate proclaiming a Sagamore of the Wabash was no simple
copy of the Kentucky declaration. A 1991 Kentucky colonel's commission
features the arched, engraved legend "Commonwealth of Kentucky" above a
logo followed by the name of the governor. The text is short,
of a standard official greeting "To all to Whom These Presents Shall
Greetings," followed by the equally formal "Know Ye That" and the name
the recipient. Then comes "Is Commissioned A KENTUCKY COLONEL" and "I
hereby confer this honor with all the rights, privileges and
responsibilities appertaining." That is all; that is the entire
proclamation, save for the seal of the commonwealth and the date, the
place and the signatures of the governor and the secretary of state.
(Kentucky. Secretary of State.)
The Tennessee colonel's commission is hardly more eloquent than
of Kentucky. It dispenses with most of the formal language and gets to
the point. "Whereas," the governor states, "reposing special trust
and confidence in your patriotism, valor and fidelity, I do by these
presents constitute and appoint you Colonel Aide de Camp, Governor's
Staff." A few words follow, but nothing better than an official
([Terry J. Gill, Susan J. Gill Homepage])
By contrast the generous clauses of the Indiana award flatter with
warm acknowledgement of the recipient's superior qualities. The wording
also makes the Indiana governor sound more supplicant than sovereign.
The Hoosier chief executive recognizes the need for good advice in the
affairs of state and is not too proud to suggest that he may one day
to call upon the new sagamore's "counsel." That may be cant, but it is
North Carolina also keeps its award short. However the governor
express "special confidence in the integrity, learning and zeal" of
he welcomes into the Order of the Long Leaf Pine "with the rank of
Ambassador Extraordinary." Members of the "exalted order" may also
a toast "in select company anywhere in the free world:"
Here's to the land
of the long leaf pine.
The summer land
where the sun doth shine,
Where the weak grow strong
and the strong grow great,
Here's to "down home,"
The Old North State!" (North Carolina. Governor.)
The Governor's Choice
The decision to appoint a sagamore belongs to the governor alone,
without reference to the legislature or need for a counter signature.
those unknown to the governor personally, there is a nomination process
for the award. The Awards Coordinator at the Governor's office writes,
"The procedure to nominate a candidate or candidates for a Sagamore
is to send to this office a resume for the candidate and cover letter
describing your request and the event date for which the award is
requested." After receipt of the letter and resume, "the request is sent
to the Sagamore Review Committee, and their comments go directly to the
Governor. Based upon the committee's comments and the Governor's review
correspondence, a decision is made to grant or deny the request." The
coordinator concludes, "The Sagamore of the Wabash award is generally
given for people of leadership who have completed or retired from a
leadership position." (Personal communication from Linda Ventura,
September 4, 2001)
An account from the South Bend Tribune neatly illustrates
criteria a Governor may favor in appointing sagamores, the kind of
and leadership generally honored and the process by which the award is
A letter from the governor accompanies the certificate. Max Mason,
honored on September 16, 2001, received with his award a cordial message
from Governor O'Bannon:
While each individual governor of Indiana assigns his own criteria for
this honor, the Sagamore of the Wabash is considered by O'Bannon to be a
lifetime achievement award. The Governor's office cites Paul's lifetime
commitment and loyalty to his community, his region and this state in
naming Paul to the honor. According to Richard Paulen, president of the
Elkhart Centre board of directors, Paul was recommended for the Sagamore
by colleagues and friends on the board of Elkhart's downtown
Letters of support were provided by Mayor James Perron and Elkhart city
councilman Timothy Neese among others. Paul was commended for a "unique
ability throughout his life to develop and maintain friendships on both
sides of the aisle in local and state politics. You might not always
with Paul, but he is a man you can always respect," said Paulen.
"Paul helped found and has served on the board of directors of the
Centre -- his nominating organization -- since its inception in 1986,"
said Gildea. "His efforts to help strengthen and improve the downtown
throughout his life have been tireless. Through the Elkhart Centre he
served on a multitude of committees, including two years as president of
the organization, and is an active member of the Elkhart Jazz Festival
Committee." ("Paul Thomas Accorded Indiana Award")
Governor Frank O'Bannon
Dear Mr. Mason:
As Governor of Indiana, I am honored to appoint you a Sagamore of
Wabash and to express the appreciation of all Hoosiers for your
to making Indiana a better place to live and raise a family.
As proof of this distinction, please accept this document that
proclaims you a "Sagamore of the Wabash." Also enclosed is a special
pin, which I hope you will wear so that all may know that the great
of Indiana holds you in the highest esteem.
The term "Sagamore of the Wabash" was used by Northeastern United
States Native Americans to describe a lesser chief or other great person
among the tribe to whom the chief would look for wisdom and advice. You
max, certainly fit that description. You have distinguished yourself by
your humanity in living, your loyalty in friendship, your wisdom in
council and your inspiration in leadership.
Thank you again, Max, for the contributions you have made to your
state. Indiana is better off today because of your dedication to it and
your fellow Hoosiers.
Governor ("Democrats in Action")
In addition to the certificate and the letter, Sagamores receive a
lapel pin. Should the idea of a pin seem in any way odd, it has
in the rosette of the French Legion of Honor. Nobel laureates also
receive a pin, in addition to a heavy piece of gold resembling a diploma
and a large amount of money. (Price, p. 21)
Age is no barrier to consideration for the Sagamore award. At 16
future Olympic gold medal gymnast Jaycie Phelps of Greenfield was
as a Sagamore for her performance as a member of the bronze-medal team
the 1995 World Championships. ("Sport-by-Sport") Ryan White, who
contracted AIDS through a blood transfusion and fought to remain in the
public schools, received the honor before his death at 18 in 1990. In
1988 Brett Gibson, then 19 and president of Mid America Telephone
became a sagamore. (Wardell) On Independence Day 2001at the St.
Home for the Aged in Indianapolis, Lt. Gov. Joe Kernan presented the
to Gustave Streeter, a 104-year-old veteran of World War I, who had
as an artilleryman in France. (Gelston) For that matter, one need not
still be living to receive the distinction. State Representative Craig
presented the award to the family of Dan Hayes who was recognized a few
days after his death for his "years of service to the community." ("Late
Elkhard Civic Leader Honored with Sagamore") Bob Klawitter, an
environmental activist and founder of the Southern Indiana group Protect
Our Woods, died in a traffic accident September 10, 1996. On January 7,
1997 he was "honored posthumously with a Sagamore of the Wabash Award."
("Local Headlines," January 7, 1997)
Most Sagamores are Indianans, but the Governor is free to select
anyone for the honor, whether or not they have a direct connection with
Indiana. In 1975 Iron Eyes Cody, the Cherokee actor seen on television
shedding a tear over environmental pollution, became a Sagamore of the
Wabash -- the first native American to receive the award. ("Notes on
People") The evangelist Billy Graham, the boxer Muhammad Ali, the actor
Arnold Schwartzenegger, the violinist Itzak Perlman, the baseball player
Pete Rose, the pianist Van Cliburn, and presidents Ronald Reagan, Gerald
Ford and Harry Truman have been honored with Sagamore certificates.
(Jesse; Denny) Appropriate reasons often combine with appropriate
occasions. Governor Orr made Singer Willie Nelson a Sagamore for his
on behalf of American farmers with his Farm Aid concerts, and Nelson
received the award before his performance at the 1986 Indiana State
Occasionally people become Sagamores as part of a team. Bob Kevoian
and Tom Griswold, host of the popular, and now syndicated, "Bob and Tom
Show" on WFBQ, Indianapolis, did. "The duo," writes the Indianapolis
Business Journal, "received Indiana's highest honor -- the Sagamore
Wabash -- in 1994 in recognition of their charitable work. Their 20
albums have generated more than $3 million for various local charities."
("Who's Who in Media/Marketing/PR") In October 1998 some 1400 people
gathered to celebrate the partial restoration of the West Baden Springs
Hotel. "One of the night's highlights was the presentation of the
Sagamore of the Wabash awards. The presentations were made by Governor
Frank O'Bannon to Bill and Gayle Cook for their excellence in pursuing
restoration and their fine job." ("Local Headlines," October 12, 1998)
Two simultaneous awards for a single project or achievement is
the limit. Lt. Gov. Kiernan presided over a Veteran's Day ceremony
which he presented Sagamore awards to the six Smith brothers of
Washington, Indiana. Of the men, ages 84 to 71, five had fought in World
War II and one served in occupied Europe following the war. (Perry) On
October 16, 2000 WISH-TV reported that Governor O'Bannon honored 12
Olympians at an Indianapolis ceremony. The broadcast included a visual
the "Ceremony and the Sagamore Wabash Honor Plaque Given to All the
Olympians." ("News 8 At Noon")
No governor has emulated Caligula and appointed his horse a
of the Wabash. Robert Orr, though, showed that a Sagamore need not be
human, or for that matter not even animate. Proving his discretion
absolute, Orr whimsically chose to honor a cartoon character, Garfield
cat, the creation of Jim Davis. "Garfield is now going to be a special
adviser to the governor," Orr said as he handed the Sagamore parchment
Garfield's creator, Jim Davis of Muncie. "I phoned Garfield to tell him
might be honored today," said Davis, "and his quote was, 'It's about
time'."("Names in the News")
A number of people have received more than one Sagamore award, and
be named twice by different governors at different times is not
Being selected three times more unusual. Among those chosen three times
are Judge William Garrard, honored by Governors Bowen, Bayh and
(Bill of Particulars) and Dean Charles H. Webb of the Indiana
School of Music, honored by Governors Bowen, Orr and O'Bannon. (Indiana
University. Office of Communications and Marketing) L. Keith Bulen, an
attorney and member of the Indiana House of Representatives who held
various other governmental and party positions, received the award from
Governors Whitcomb, Bowen, Orr and O'Bannon; he also had appointments as
Kentucky Colonel and Admiral in the Texas Navy. ("L. Keith Bulen:
According to the obituary of James L. Kittle, Sr, furniture
founder and philanthropist, published in the Pittsburgh
from an Indianapolis Star and News account, "Six Indiana
him a Sagamore of the Wabash." (Francis) A feature story on William A.
Koch, president of Santa Claus Land, Inc., in Indiana Business
that "Koch has earned six Sagamore of the Wabash honors." It quotes him
saying, "I don't know why I have so many. I really don't think there
should be two given. They should just give you another star, or
like that." (Hughes) Herman B Wells, President and later University
Chancellor of Indiana University, also received six Sagamore awards, the
last in June 1997 when he was 95 from Governor O'Bannon, who said,
is no question in my mind the person you would call 'Mr. Indiana' is
Herman B Wells." (Ross)
According to all accounts, Governor Gates appointed only two
Sagamores. Henry Schricker, his successor, awarded ten. The third
was "Judge Will H. Sparks of Rushville and number four was Sanford K.
Trippets of Hazelton -- the first two Hoosiers to win the title." George
Craig "made about a dozen appointments," and Harold Handley "appointed a
few, including the first woman member, Miss Mildred French, first
of the Indiana Youth Council." (Guthrie, p. 78) "That was the trend,"
wrote Kathy Whyde Jesse in 1991 in the Indianapolis Star, "until
Welsh, political liberal that he was, gave away 100 Sagamores during his
term, 1961-65." (Jesse) The reporter apparently interviewed Lawrie
Meldrum of the State Archives and learned a good deal from the
who had been trying to collect a full list of Sagamore recipients.
Gov. Otis Bowen's list fills 11 pages, three columns per page. Gov.
list fills up four manuscript boxes of paper," Jesse reports, and "Rosa
Parks became the 1,150th person to receive that title from Bayh since he
took office in 1989. That works out to be about one Sagamore a day."
She continues, "If he sticks around for another term, Bayh may break the
record set by his predecessor, Robert Orr, who awarded 4,207 Sagamores
during his eight-year term." (Jesse) Apparently Bayh did not reach the
record; a December 1996 account credits him with "about 3,200
(Denny) Citing Meldrum, Jesse concludes, "Meldrum says that over the
years, come pople have nominated themselves for the award. And some
nominees have been turned down. But not many." (Jesse)
A Bloomington reporter, Dann Denny, looked into the award for a
short feature article. Jesse's headline had read "Sagamore List
Mushrooming Once More." Denny kept to the same theme with "High Number
Recipients Diluting Significance of Award" under a series of pictures of
recipients on either side of a reproduction of the certificate, itself
beneath the legend "Many More Sagamores." Like Jesse, Denny pursues the
notion of Sagamore inflation. He quotes Martha Wright, a reference
librarian at the State Archives as saying, "A lot of governors have
them out to every Tom, Dick and Harry." He also writes, "'It's still a
nice thing, but it's no longer the high honor it used to be,' said
Meldrum, a former assistant archivist with the Indiana State Archives
a Sagamore recipient himself. 'When you hand out thousands of them, it
kind of trivializes the award.'" (Denny)
During the past twenty years, Denny observes, "nearly 10,000
Hoosiers have received the Sagamore." That represents, however, a small
fraction of Indiana's adult population, and the State Library reported
that there are fewer Sagamores appointed each year than Kentucky
One account, although not cited, maintained that "one Kentucky governor
reportedly gave out 1,600 Kentucky Colonel awards in a single year (that
comes to 6,400 for a 4-year term.)" (Denny)
The Council of Sagamores of the Wabash
There is no actual council of Sagamores, and it would not be easy
gather its members if one did exist, for there is also no master list of
Sagamore recipients. The State Library confirms Denny's number of 10,000
awards, although their "nearly 10,000" dates from the Gates
administration, rather than the last twenty years alone. It also
acknowledges that "the number of Sagamore winners has become so large
many years ago the Indiana governor's office gave up trying to keep
of them." Further, the Library has no complete list, and what lists
do have "mostly end in the mid-1960s, with a few lists covering post
appointments. What limited lists we have run to several dozen pages"
(Personal communication from Darrol Pierson, September 4, 2001) The
Indiana Historical society has no list, either, and believes no complete
list exits. (Personal Communication from Suzanne Crowe, September 13,
Sagamore Awards have gone to a wide range of individuals for a wide
range of achievements. The politically connected seem to get their fair
share in the name of public service. City and county officials, council
members, auditors, recorders, clerks, and mayors receive their rewards,
do members of the General Assembly, party loyalists, and social
Yet however one might feel about the policies or party affiliation of
state notables, elected or appointed, party workers or issue advocates,
most of them have devoted considerable years and much hard work to their
cause and often to organizations outside the purely political. A
who finds a cause congenial or, perhaps more cynically, politically
expedient, may choose to name one of its leaders a Sagamore, and at the
same time celebrate their non-political service. Congenial, too, may be
out-of-state politicians, and for their own reasons governors have
honored, besides presidents, men like Sen. John Sherman Cooper of
and Rep. B. Carroll Reese of Tennessee.
A fair proportion of Sagamores are educators. University
and high officers in academic administration seem frequently to reach
Sagamore status. Professors, distinguished for their scholarship,
research, publications, years of teaching, government service,
or positions in national societies, regularly receive recognition from
governor. Occasionally it runs in the family, for at different times at
different ceremonies both Steven Beering, President of Purdue, and his
wife Jane Beering received the honor.
Press accounts note awards to coaches James Counsilman, Jerry
and Bobby Knight; to entertainers Red Skelton, John Mellencamp, and
Carmichael; to race car drivers A. J. Foyt and Arie Luyendyk; to the
Wright Brothers, not the aviation pioneers, but the family band from
Indianapolis, known for their smooth harmonies; to astronauts Virgil
Grissom and Charles Walker; to the meteorologist Bob McLain of
station WRTV; to Gregory C. Reed, national commander of the Disabled
American Veterans; and to Frederick Lee Kupke of Francesville, who had
been held hostage in Iran. The governor's information sheet is right,
though, in stating that awards go not only to "astronauts, presidents,
ambassadors, artists, musicians [and] politicians," not only to the
eminent or to celebrities, major or minor, but to the "ordinary citizens
who have contributed greatly to our Hoosier heritage." To be among the
select, one need not preside over an academic institution, write
"Stardust," win the Indianapolis 500, coach a team to victory in the
or entertain American by creating rustic fools like Clem Kadiddlehopper.
Volunteer service has traditionally been a reason for making the
award, and governors have regularly honored individuals for their
contributions to organizations like the YMCA, the United Way, 4-H, the
Big Brothers/Big Sisters, the Little League, the Rotary, Elks and other
groups that concentrate on community service. In addition to
paid employees of non-profit entities are also often acknowledged for
their efforts. Paid or not, not-for-profit Sagamores have been named
their work in such varied areas as in economic development, chambers of
commerce, job creation, children's rights, health care, help for the
homeless, civil rights, and ecological advocacy. Church leaders also
receive particular attention. So do teachers and coaches in elementary,
middle and high schools. It is hardly unusual to see a headline or
photo caption something like "Janice Soyez, a teacher at Warsaw
Community High School for 32 Years, was named a Sagamore of the Wabash
the Warsaw City Council meeting Monday." (Weisheit)
Not all Sagamores have reflected the award with untarnished honor.
Ann Gorsuch Burford, administrator of the EPA, was "forced to resign
with 19 other appointees" as a result of "an investigation into
use of waste cleanup funds." (Taylor) There were "charges of
mismanagement and hostility to environmental concerns," ("EPA
and the House of Representative cited Burford for contempt of Congress.
To some measure, politics played a part in Burford's problems, but her
actions were at best questionable, and the scandal was deep and nasty.
Purely personal conduct has also dimmed a Sagamore's luster. In spite
of breaking Ty Cobb's record for hits, Pete Rose had to leave baseball,
banned for life from the sport for his gambling activities. Mari Hulman
George, vice-president of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, was arrested
October of 1985 at an Indianapolis restaurant and tavern and charged
battery on a policeman, resisting arrest and public intoxication.
("Newswire," October 24, 1985) In February of 1986 she received a
"suspended one-year sentence after pleading guilty to public
and resisting arrest." ("Newswire", February 20, 1986)
The governor's information sheet states that "each governor has
presented the certificates in his own way. " It continues, "It was been
said that one governor even resorted to wearing a full headdress as he
read the scrolls." (Indiana. Governor.) In his article, Denny
Governor Schricker as the wearer of the "war bonnet" and notes that
Schricker "would make a long-winded speech as he crowned a recipient."
Governor Craig, Denny goes on, "liked to have a large audience in
attendance and have an accordionist play 'On the Banks of the Wabash.'"
(Denny) Such stories sound good, and may even be true, but currently
awards are made in a more restrained way, and the governor himself need
not necessarily be present. The governor's wife has bestowed the award
his behalf as has the lieutenant governor. Other suitable deputies have
included state representatives and senators, mayors, university trustees
and officers of private industry associations, volunteer groups or
The setting for making the Sagamore award may be formal or informal.
Recognition may come at a regularly scheduled meeting or, more
at some kind of special event, like a banquet, picnic or dinner. A
venue is the retirement party. A description of such an event would
resemble the short account of a gathering to honor Norman C. Hester,
State Geologist and Director of the Indiana Geological Survey. Dr.
"received the honor of being named a 'Sagamore of the Wabash' yesterday
his retirement ceremony. Survey staff, officials of Indiana University,
and representatives of numerous state agencies gathered to honor Dr.
Hester at a retirement party held at the Virgil T. DeVault Alumni Center
on the IU-Bloomington campus. In the name of Gov. Frank O'Bannon,
Assistant Director John Hill conferred this award upon Dr. Hester for
service to the state of Indiana in his capacity as Director and State
Geologist for the past 12 years." (Indiana Geological Survey)
Whereas, Whereas, Whereas
Legislatures are not without their own authority to congratulate
commend. Hundreds of times a year the Indiana General Assembly adopts
resolutions of tribute, expressed in a series of Whereas clauses
describing the major accomplishments and general worthiness of the
or group it wishes to honor. Praise may come from either body of the
General Assembly. The House may pass its own resolution on behalf of
House of Representatives alone. The Senate may do the same. They may
adopt a concurrent resolution expressing the sentiments of both houses
the legislature. Most resolutions are agreed to quickly, often in a
day, and the text of the resolutions directs that copies be sent by the
Clerk of the House or the Secretary of the Senate to those either body
both has chosen to celebrate.
As with the Sagamore award, resolutions salute all kinds of people
involved in all kinds of endeavor. They may commemorate an anniversary,
birthday, or a retirement, or they may acknowledge a victory, a
distinction or a special achievement. In 2002 the House introduced a
concurrent resolution to commend the Brownsburg Little League baseball
team "on winning the State Championship, the Great Lakes regional title
and advancing to the Little League World Series." The resolution
concludes, "Whereas, the dedication and commitment of the Brownsburg
Little League Team players, managers, and families, and their obvious
for their community and state, will stand as an example of Hoosier
for many generations." (Indiana. General Assembly. House. Concurrent
Resolution 0013, January 22, 2002)
A Senate Concurrent Resolution of the same year honored former
President Ronald Reagan on the occasion of his ninety-first birthday:
Second Regular Session 112th General Assembly (2002)
Seven more adulatory Whereas clauses follow before the resolution
A CONCURRENT RESOLUTION to recognize Ronald Reagan on his 91st birthday.
Whereas, President Ronald Wilson Reagan, a man of humble background,
worked throughout his life serving freedom and advancing the public
having been employed as an entertainer, Union leader, corporate
Governor of California and President of the United States;
Be it resolved by the Senate of the General Assembly
of the State of Indiana, the House of Representatives concurring:
SECTION 1. That the Indiana General Assembly, on behalf of the people of
the State of Indiana, do hereby recognize President Ronald Reagan on his
91st birthday and do congratulate and thank Mr. Reagan for his great
contribution to American history.
SECTION 2. That the Principle Secretary of the Senate is hereby directed
to transmit a copy of this Resolution to Grover G. Norquist, President
the Ronald Reagan Legacy Project. (Indiana. General Assembly. Senate.
Concurrent Resolution 0018, February 5, 2002)
In response to a query about the Sagamore award, the Indiana
Division of the Indiana State Library wrote that "each governor has the
right to select recipients as he sees fit." (Personal communication from
Darrol Pierson, September 4, 2001) If he does not see fit to award a
Sagamore certificate, he does have another distinction at hand. He may
name an individual a "Distinguished Hoosier." Peter DeKever, a history
teacher in Michawaka, received recognition as a "Distinguished Hoosier"
1997, and the South Bend Tribune explained, "'A Distinguished
Hoosier Award is awarded to those citizens who go above and beyond the
call of duty to help their fellow Hoosiers,' said Steve Campbell, deputy
press secretary in Gov. Frank O'Bannon's Office." Mr. DeKever's award
"one of 400 given across the state each year." ("Penn Teacher")
one distinction does not preclude earning the other. You may be named
both a Sagamore and a Distinguished Hoosier. The 1992 obituary of
Ferdinand "Bud" Hook, chairman emeritus of Hook Drugs, reports that
received a multitude of awards and citations during his lifetime,
including Sagamore of the Wabash (1969) [and] Distinguished Hoosier
(1970)." ("Former Hook Chairman Dies at 85")
Hoosier Living Legends
In recent years a new honor has appeared for Indianans, although
does not come from the governor. The Indiana Historical Society created
the "Hoosier Living Legends" award and introduced it "in 1999 as part of
the grand opening festivities for the Indiana Historical Society's new
headquarters." The first year recipients were chosen by vote, and the
included Larry Bird, Bobby Knight, David Letterman, Ruth Lilly, John
Mellencamp, Oscar Robinson, Kurt Vonnegut and Herman Wells. Since the
initial selections, Living Legends have been chosen by "a committee of
Historical Society staff members and volunteers." Among those honored
were Joshua Bell, David Baker, Otis Bowen, Jim Davis, Theodore Hesburgh
and Lawrence Einhorn. (Personal communication from Suzanne Crowe,
Indiana Sagamores have no toast to raise in praise of the Hoosier
State nor special drink to raise it with. Their Council cannot boast of
tradition reaching back to a time when Adams and Jefferson still lived.
Some may feel that the enthusiasm of governors for naming an increasing
number of Sagamores has diminished the significance of the award. Yet
people are pleased to receive the honor. Denny got a quote from one
recipient who received the award along with a standing ovation. She
"It was one of those times when you don't know if you're floating or
walking, if you should just smile or try not to cry." (Denny) Another
account from the Purdue Exponent reported another new Sagamore as
simply, "I certainly was overwhelmed." (Jones)
Governor Orr presented William Prather, Jr., president of the Hardee's
restaurant chain, with his Sagamore award at the opening of a Hardee's
Martinsville, where Prather was born. In a short feature on him,
Restaurant News reported that "the honor he treasures most is the
"Sagamore of the Wabash Award..." The item continues, "It's the highest
civilian award in the state of Indiana. The plaque hangs proudly in my
office." (Van Warner) When Cyrus Nifong, 86, received his Sagamore
at a Jefferson Jackson Day dinner, he said, "I was very humbled. I
really know how to describe how I feel though. I've never done anything
for glory." Mr. Nifong, active in church and community affairs for
decades, refused to boast. His wife had to do it for him. The presenter
at the occasion, the person who had recommended Nifong to Governor
O'Bannon, took joy in seeing Nifong recognized and said, "I was thrilled
to give him that award. He has been a lifelong inspiration to me."
(Ochstein) That is a fine comment, and it illustrates how much meaning
the Sagamore certificate has, not only to those whose name is on it, but
to those who have the pleasure of presenting it to someone worthy of
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