Who is the only native Kansan ever to be elected President or Vice President? (If you guessed Dwight D. Eisenhower, you would be wrong. Although Eisenhower claimed Abilene, Kansas as his home, he was born during his family’s brief stay in Texas.) Who is the first Native American Indian ever to be elected President or Vice President? The answer to that question is the same as the correct answer to the first one: Charles Curtis is the first native Kansan and first Native American Indian to be elected to the nation’s second-highest office. His life is an amazing example of how education and hard work created a rags-to-riches success story. Thanks to the Kansas Historical Society and the U.S. Senate website for this information.
Charles Curtis was born in north Topeka. His father was Orren Curtis and his mother was Ellen Pappan who was one-quarter Kaw Indian. Charles was the great-grandson of White Plume, a Kansa-Kaw chief who had offered assistance to the Lewis and Clark expedition. White Plume’s daughter married a French-Canadian trader, so Charles grew up speaking French and Kansa before he learned English.
His mother died in 1863 at about the time his father left to fight in the Civil War. Charles was raised by his grandparents at the Kaw Reservation near the rural community of Council Grove, population 2,051 people. Now, that’s rural.
Young Charley learned to ride Indian ponies bareback. He became a successful jockey. He was also the hero of a cross-country run to warn Topeka about upcoming Cheyenne Indian raids.