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The Chiefs of the Buffet-Library-Baggage Cars

By John Rhodes

The Santa Fe Railway tried to portray the Native Americans in a way that promoted tourism. This wasn't an entirely one way street, because it also helped the native's economy. Santa Fe didn't just name their prestigious trains The Chief, Super Chief, Texas Chief amongst others, they also named some of their passenger cars after Native American Chiefs and places. Ten of the Buffet-Library-Baggage cars that were built in 1927 by Pullman-Standard were named after Native American chiefs. Who were these chiefs, and what did they do?

Each of the chiefs names are listed below:

  • Chief Santanta
  • Chief Medicine Wolf
  • Chief Yellow Bear
  • Chief Old Wolf
  • Chief Geronimo
  • Chief Manuelito
  • Chief Lolomai
  • Chief Santiago
  • Chief Manakaja
  • Chief Sahnni

Some of these Chiefs were well known and in other cases, it appears that non-American Natives gave individuals the "honorary" title of Chief, whether they were a chief, or not. Due to the obscurity of some of the names, it becomes very difficult to figure out how or why some of the names were chosen by Santa Fe.

One of the well known chiefs was Geronimo or Goyathlay ("one who yawns"). Born in 1829 in what is now western New Mexico, he was a Bedonkohe, Apache by birth and a member of the Nednhi band of the Chiricahua Apache. Gerommo was a leader of the last American Native fighting force formally to capitulate to the United States. Because he fought against such daunting odds and held out the longest, he became the most famous Apache.

In 1858, Geronimo returned from a trading trip and found his mother, wife, and 3 children murdered by Spanish troops. From then on, he waged war on Mexican settlements whenever he could. In 1876 the Chiricahua were forcibly moved to eastern Arizona but Geronimo fled to Mexico. In 1882, Apache scouts working for the US Army found him but he escaped and wasn't found until 1886. The last few months of the campaign took over 5,000 soldiers, one quarter of the entire Arm of scouts, and up to 3,000 Mexican soldiers to track down Geronimo and his band. Geronimo and his people surrendered in 1882 but the government breached its agreement and transported them to Florida. One year later they moved to Mt. Vernon; Alabama were a quarter of them died of tuberculosis and other diseases. In 1894 Geronimo was moved to Fort Sill, Oklahoma where he died in 1909.

Geronimo was never a chief He was a medicine man, but a seer, a spiritual and intellectual leader.

Chief Manuelito, 1818-1893, was a Navajo and known as Hashin Ch'ilhaajinii (Man of the Black Plants Place). He was originally from Utah but moved to New Mexico early in life. He led many raids acainst the Mexicans, US Army troops and neighboring Indian tribes, though the Mexicans were his primary enemy due to their continual slave raids.

Manuelito was a formidable warrior and though signing peace treaties in 1855, 1861, 1864, and 1868, returned to war each time because the government breached their bargain (treaty). After each treaty the wars became harder to fight. Though the Navajos could evade the army, the additional tribes that were also hunting them made survival difficult. Starvation was always the main factor that forced the Navajos to surrender. In 1863, Kit Carson started his legendary scorched earth war and burned everything in Navajoland.

In 1871 the Navajos were finally allowed to return to their traditional homeland. Of the 7,304 Navajos counted at Fort Wingate, 1,500 were lost due to death and capture by Mexican raiders while on the treck home. Once back home, Manuelito convinced the last of the warring Navajos to stop fighting. He also helped the army get live stock for his starving people.

In 1878 Manuelito and other headmen visited Washington DC and tried to convince President Ulysses G. Grant to cede the 1868 Treaty lands to them. Cattlemen and gold miners were taking the land. Though the deal fell through, some of the lands were finally granted to them in small portions later. Manuelito advocated education and was the chief of the first Navajo Police organization. He died of pneumonia in 1893. (Native North American Website) (The Lapahie website)

Chief Satanta was Kiowa and his name is the white man's corruption of Set-tainte, Kiowa for White Bear. Satanta was known for his eloquence in speaking and represented his tribe at many meetings with US government officials. He could speak five different languages fluently, four Native American tongues and Spanish. He was often termed, "the Orator of the Plains."

Satanta was a fierce warrior and very hostile to the white man's laws. He was among the signers of the 1867 Medicine Lodge Peace Treaty. After the treaty, the government withdrew many of their promises, which precipitated revenge in the form of continued raids in southwestern Kansas, southern Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Texas. Satanta was arrested and imprisoned on three separate occasions. On October 11, 1878 while serving a life sentence in a prison in Huntsville, Texas, he took his own life by jumping from the second story of the prison hospital. Chief Satanta was buried unceremoniously in the Huntsville cemetery for deceased prison inmates. In 1963, the Kiowa Indians arranged for his remains to be moved to Fort Sill, Oklahoma. The city of Satanta, Kansas, is named for this Chief. (History of Satanta)

Chief Santiago: Santiago is a common name, especially among those tribes who had contact with the Spanish. It's hard to tell whom they really meant. The one instance where the name is most commonly associated is in the narrative of Jose de Escandon and his explorations and settlements.

In 1747, Escandon was exploring areas of what is now Texas and looking for places to establish settlements. It is written that one Indian, Chief Santiago, guided Escandon to an excellent campsite on the south bank of the Rio Grande, about thirty-six leagues (one Spanish league measures approximately 2.6 miles) from the mouth of the great river.

Chief Manakaja was a chief of northern Arizona's Havasupai from 1900-1942, who led the fight to have tribal lands taken in 1908 for Grand Canyon National Monument returned to the Havasupai. The ATSF car by this name is preserved at the San Diego Railway Museum.

Chief Old Wolf is mentioned in a text about John Hatcher as leading a raid of 300 Comanche warriors against John's small caravan in 1858 near Wagon Mound, on the Santa Fe trail. (Handbook of Texas On Line)

Chief Yellow Bear appears to be a Lakota name and the only thing I could find was a picture of him at the following web site which gives the date 1874 and credits him as a Comanche. (Comanche lodge)

The only information about Chief Medicine Wolf that I could find was that his name in Cheyenne is Honeohmaheoneveste.

There doesn't appear to be anything written about Chief Sahnni so that's a blank page.

The name Lolomai was another name that couldn't be found. Phil Konstantin, explained that Lo Lo Mai is a Hopi Indian word that can be used as a greeting with many meanings, as "Aloha" is used in Hawaiian. It also means "beautiful."

According to Shelley at Lolomia Springs Lodge, Arizona "In Zane Grey's Call of the Canyon, there was a lodge on Oak Creek by the name of Lolomia. We understand the meaning, by word of mouth, to be peace and beauty."

The fact that Santa Fe chose both well-known chiefs and some extremely obscure names is interesting. In the case of the well known chiefs, I couldn't help but feel Santa Fe was quite forward thinking in choosing Native American leaders who though were formidable warriors, were also the epitome of loyalty and integrity to their own people. Keep in mind that Santa Fe did this in 1927 when attitudes were much different than they are today.


The search for information about these American Natives was like looking for a needle in a haystack. For this reason I want to thank Phil Konstantin for much of the above information.

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