Indigenous North American Jugglers of the Late 1800s

During the late 1800s, performers from many cultures gained fame for their juggling feats. Represented in this array of performers were a few indigenous North American jugglers of whom we know.

Uncle Beaver

Uncle Beaver was the stage name of James Beaver, who was named for the Beavers Corner community at Six Nations of the Grand River reserve in Canada. James was born in 1846 and grew up in Beavers Corner. He was sometimes known as Chief Beaver or Chief Uncle Beaver, as he was a hereditary chief of the Cayuga Iroquois. James traveled Canada and the United States performing as a juggler, working in shows that included Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. In addition to his juggling skills, he also performed as a magician and musician.

Uncle Beaver

James Beaver was also a talented painter, carver, and carpenter. He is best remembered today as a painter and is considered the first painter from the Six Nations of the Grand River reserve to paint in a western style. Only 45 of his paintings are still known to exist, in addition to some of his carvings, but exhibits of his work have been produced. He was often called “The Six Nations Artist.”

James Beaver painting

James Beaver painting

James Beaver painting

James was almost equally famous for his wood carvings. His carvings are still found in homes and churches in the Six Nations reserve and elsewhere, as well as in several museums.

He has been named an Official Artist of Canada for his folk art.

James married a woman from a Mohawk reserve in Quebec named Lydia (Bay). Together they had four girls and three boys. He passed away in 1925.

As a performer and artist, James Beaver led a very interesting life. A book about his life has been written by Penny Warner.

 

White Eagle

Unlike Uncle Beaver, not as much is known about the life of the juggler known as White Eagle. We do know that he performed in the 1880s throughout the United States and that he was a favorite subject of cabinet cards of the time, as he was considered a novelty as both a juggler and Native American. He juggled balls, bottles, and hand bells. You can see two photos of him below.

White Eagle

White Eagle

There are two other cabinet cards that feature Indigenous North American jugglers of the 1880s. It is possible that one or both of these could be Uncle Beaver or White Eagle. If any readers are experts at facial recognition, I’d be quite interested in knowing the results of comparing the following photos to the known photos of James Beaver and White Eagle.

A later Native American juggler was Willie Bowlegs, who was from the Seminole Nation. He was born in 1896 in Everglades, Florida. In addition to juggling, he also performed alligator wrestling, sword swallowing, and knife throwing. Even though he was a Seminole, he dressed like a member of one the Great Plains Tribes for his performances.

Willie Bowlegs

Willie Bowlegs

Willie passed away in 1965.

I continue to look for more examples of Native American and First Nation jugglers from this time period. If you know of any more, please let me know.

 

David Cain is a professional juggler, juggling historian, and the owner of the world's only juggling museum, the Museum of Juggling History. He is a Guinness world record holder and 15 time IJA gold medalist. In addition to his juggling pursuits, David is a successful composer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, and singer as well as the author of twenty-four books. He and his children live in Middletown, OH (USA).

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