Less than three months before Warren Gamaliel Harding was elected 29th president of the United States, he stood on his front porch in Marion, Ohio, and promised Indians he would look out for their indigenous rights.
Harding, then a U.S. senator, announced his bid for president in June 1920 and subsequently gave hundreds of official and off-the-cuff speeches to audiences numbering in the tens of thousands—all from the comfort of his front porch.
This “front porch campaign” reached a total of 600,000 visitors who traveled to Harding’s crushed-gravel lawn “by car or chartered trains, representing Republican state delegations or farmers or veterans or businessmen or blacks or women or first voters, or, even, traveling salesmen,” David Pietrusza wrote in his 2007 book, 1920: The Year of the Six Presidents. “Each contingent, properly escorted by a brass band, would march up ‘Victory Way,’ festooned every twenty feet by white columns surmounted by gilt eagles.”
On August 19, Harding met on that porch with about 20 delegates of the Society of American Indians who, “arrayed in tribal feathers and beadwork,” attended the speech to plead “for extension of their racial rights,” the Lancaster Eagle reported. Harding, who would inherit a country still recovering from World War I, replied that the United States “might do well to bestow ‘democracy and humanity and idealism’ on the continent’s native race rather than to ‘waste American lives trying to make sure of that bestowal thousands of miles across the sea.’”
Eight months after taking office, Harding dedicated the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery, a monument for service members who died without their remains being identified. Crow Chief Plenty Coos (or Plenty Coups) was invited to participate in the ceremony and, “attired in full war regalia, feathered bonnet, furs and skins of variegated colors,” was seated on the platform with Harding and military leaders from Europe, the Associated Press reported on November 14, 1921.
“Thus the uniform of the first American took its place with those of its Allied Powers in the last war,” the AP reported. “A group of Indian braves appeared in the audience, tiptoeing in their beaded moccasins down the aisle to their seats.”
After the burial ceremony, Plenty Coos laid a coup stick and the war bonnet from his head on the tomb. Although organizers had insisted that Plenty Coos remain silent during the ceremony, the chief addressed a crowd of about 100,000 spectators in his Native language.
“I am glad to represent all the Indians of the United States in placing on the grave of this noble warrior this coup stick and war bonnet, every eagle feather of which represents a deed of valor by my race,” he said. “I hope that the Great Spirit will grant that these noble warriors have not given up their lives in vain and that there will be peace to all men hereafter.”