[Home page] [Who is Past Forward ] [Contact Us] [Publications]

Past Forward is now on Facebook "LIKE" us to keep in touch


August 11, 2005

A Brief History of Impostors and a look at Long Lance in Temagami and Beyond 

Stories of fakes, frauds, impostors, liars, damn liars and…. It goes on and on and capture our attention.  A recent scholarly book Faking It (W.I. Miller, Cambridge university Press 2003) examines all aspects of the phenomena both positive and negative.  On the positive side he notes that part of developing one’s self is pretending to be what you want to be and perhaps eventually becoming that person.  On the negative side many commit minor or major fraud for personal gain – be it in finance, resumes, family history, or the bedroom, etc.  A new book by Harry G. Frankfurt bluntly called “On Bullshit” looks at the negative side of misrepresentation. 

There have been hundreds of impostors exposed and undoubtedly thousands who got away with it.  One I remember is F.W. Demara whose life was made into The Great Impostor movie with Tony Curtis.  He was several doctors, a prison warden, a surgeon in the Royal Canadian Navy, a teacher, a college dean, etc.  George Du Pre pretended he was a spy and was published in the Readers’ Digest.  Frank Abagnace was a pediatrician, lawyer, university professor, stockbroker, FBI agent, airline pilot and motivational speaker.  Clifford Garrison married and stole from nine wives.  For more frauds see www.sniggle.net/impostors.php 

Long Lance’s autobiography had little to do with his real life.

Grey Owl and Long Lance were native impersonators in the Community Voices area.  It should be noted that there were many other native impersonators.  Jamake Highwater who also used other names pretended he was native and made a T.V. program for PBS in 1985 and had many T.V. interviews.  He also won a prestigious award for a children’s book.  Forest Carter, another non native, said he was native and won an award for his book The Tree in 1976.  The author it turns out was an extreme right wing speech-writer and member of the Ku Klux Klan.  Chief Two Moons faked a native identity and for decades sold “bitter oil” which was supposed to be a health panacea.  (For more check out the Encyclopedia of North American Indians – Fakes and Impostors). 

In the Community Voices area Grey Owl is a classic case where history was fabricated for survival purposes and in spite of hurting people along the way he created a remarkable body of writing and became one of Canada’s early conservation icons.  Another classic impostor was Sylvester Long who became Chief Buffalo Child Long Lance and among many other things stared in the 1930 movie The Silent Enemy shot East of Temagami at Rabbit Chutes.  The best book on Grey Owl is by Dr. Donald Smith from the University of Calgary.  He also wrote the definitive book on Long Lance called Chief Buffalo Child Long Lance – the Glorious Impostor. (Red Deer Press, 1999) now out in paperback. 

In a time when communication, investigative reporting, and competition for a story were minimal Silvester Long was born into a black segregated community in North Carolina.  He did have some white and native ancestry and was handsome and an outstanding athlete.  From a potentially depressing future he carved out an unbelievable career. 

It began when he got into a good native school saying he was a native and did very well.  He manipulated admittance to West Point where he failed the entrance exams.  He came to Canada and joined the army and subsequently became a journalist here.  He reinvented himself as a Blackfoot and changed his name to Long Lance and later to Chief Buffalo Child Long Lance and began to write and lecture widely about Plains Indian culture.  In 1928 he wrote an almost completely fabricated book about his life. 

The cover of the video of the movie The Silent Enemy shot in Temagami.

In 1930 he was given the lead in The Silent Enemy movie which by current standards is a joke.  It used local actors, sets and equipment and did have some refreshing authenticity.  I saw the film recently and it is available for purchase online. 

Several local Temagami people were hired for The Silent Enemy to work in various capacities.  One of those hired was Agnes Belaney, Grey Owl’s daughter with Angele Egwana.  Agnes on one occasion confronted Long Lance about his native heritage and he walked away.  One of the co-stars of the film also spoke about Long Lances non-native background.  When the movie premiered in Cobalt Agnes attended but Long Lance did not show up. He moved on to other successes.  Temagami’s Madeline Katt Theriault also worked on the movie and wrote about it in her book Mooseskins to Mocassins (1992). 

The cover of Donald Smith’s book Chief Buffalo Child Long Lance 1999.

In New York Long Lance was accepted into the prestigious Explorers’ Club.  He “wrote” a book on native sign language and his name was used to sell running shoes.  When his identity was challenged he moved to California, began to drink heavily, and ended up as a socalite’s companion until he killed himself in 1932 at the age of 42. 

The 400 page Long Lance book by Smith provides much more detail on this amazing impersonator who briefly passed our way. 

Heritage Perspective Home Page

Past Forward Heritage Limited: 

330 Sumach St. #41, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M5A 3K7   Tel. (416)-925-8412


Copyright © Past Forward Heritage Limited