Saturday, March 26, 2011

ILEY NUNN SELPH AND GERONIMO

© Kathy Duncan, 2011

In early 1898, young Iley N. Selph was stationed at Ft. Sill, Oklahoma. Geronimo was a prisoner at Ft. Sill at the same time. Iley purchased from Geronimo a beaded cane made from a deer leg. Geronimo had supposedly killed the deer from which the cane was crafted. The deer’s foot was the handle of the cane, and the angle of the cane was formed by the deer’s ankle. Three inches below the crook of the cane, Geronimo’s wife beaded the cane with red, white, black, and yellow glass beads. Midway down the cane was a beaded fringe. The deer’s hair was left on the leg between the beading and the ankle. The wife who beaded the cane was reportedly Chee-Ki-Vour, Geronimo’s eighth and favorite wife. I have not been able to find out any more about her, and I’m not sure that Iley reported her name correctly.

Iley shipped the cane to Col. William Campbell Preston Breckinridge, the editor of the Lexington Herald in Lexington, Kentucky. Breckinridge published a description of the cane and Iley’s accompanying letter in his newspaper on February 12, 1898:

Fort Sill, O.T., Feb. 4, 1898
Col. W.C.P. Breckinridge
Lexington, Ky.

My Dear Colonel--I send you by today’s express an Indian beaded cane. It was made and mounted by Geronimo, the famous White Mountain Apache chief, who was captured while on the war-path here.

The deer foot is one take from a deer which he killed and adds to its curiosity. The cane was beaded by his eighth or favorite wife, Chee-Ki-Vour, who alone, is said, took over fifty scalps during their outbreak.

Trust, you are enjoying the best of health, and that you will accept of this a token of esteem which I bear you, I am, my dear Colonel,
Yours most respectfully,
Iley N. Self

It is unknown at present how a friendship between Iley N. Selph and Col. W. C.P. Breckinridge developed. Breckinridge was a graduate of Centre College in Danville, Kentucky in the early 1870s. Iley’s father, Rev. Duncan Hyder Selph was the president of the Danville Female Academy in Danville throughout the 1860s. It is probable that D.H. Selph knew Breckinridge’s father Rev. Robert J. Breckinridge, who was the founder of the Danville Theological Seminary and a prominent professor there during the same time period. However, Rev. Breckinridge died in 1871 after the Selphs had moved to Lexington, Mo, where Iley was born in 1872. Rev. Duncan H. Selph died there in 1874. More than likely, the two families moved in the same circle at a later date, when Iley’s guardian was his uncle Dr. George W. Burton, a former missionary and resident of Lexington, Kentucky.

Geronimo had by 1898 turned himself into a cottage industry. He was willing to sell almost anything, most notably his own signature. Other Indians came to him and had him sign bows, arrows, and other items they had crafted because Geronimo’s signature would help fetch a higher price for the items. During 1897 and 1898 Geronimo sat for the painter E.A. Burbank for $2.50 a painting. In late 1898 Geronimo attended the Trans-Mississippi Exposition in Omaha, where he sold pictures of himself for a dollar. After the Exposition, Geronimo realized that he had charged too little for his sittings and demanded $2.50 a day from Burbank, which Burbank refused to pay.

It is doubtful that Geronimo actually crafted the cane that he sold to Iley. Regrettably, nothing is known of Iley’s meeting with Geronimo since the story does not seem to have passed down in the family. Sadly, Iley did not seem to have acquired any other artifacts from Geronimo. Additionally, I have not been able to locate the cane today. I am hoping that it is in the Breckinridge family or in a museum. This is where the help of a History Detective would come in handy.

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