DC Comics History
DC Comics History: Pow-Wow Smith
By Deejay Dayton
May 3, 2016 - 23:14

DC Comics



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Ohiyesa, a Sioux warrior, becomes the first Native American to star in his own DC series during the period 1948 – 1951: End of an Era, as he becomes a lawman, better known as Pow-Wow Smith.  Despite the name of the series, it was extremely progressive for the time, and was created by Carmine Infantino.

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Pow-Wow Smith debuts in Detective Comics 151, and would remain in that book for the duration of the period.  Although the hero was never pictured on the cover, Pow-Wow Smith did get his logo on a number of issues. 

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We get the whole backstory of the character in his debut issue.  As a young boy, Ohiyesa, a Sioux boy, makes friends with a white settler, Jimmy.

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After stopping a fight between loggers, they give him the nickname Pow-Wow Smith.  So it’s bestowed on him by white men, who are shown to be abrasive and difficult.  It’s a backhanded compliment, but Ohiyesa accepts it with pride, and refers to himself that way as well. Jimmy goes off to college, and Ohiyesa decides to go as well, though members of his tribe are concerned that he is abandoning their ways for those of the white invaders. Ohiyesa graduates, and gets a job as a “lawman” (presumably a freelance policeman).  He returns home to his tribe, but dons his native gear when he is with them, to show he has not abandoned his past.

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Although the series would become primarily a mystery series with a western patina, this first story gives more of a taste of the actual issues that the character would deal with, a foot in each world, but not entirely part of either.

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It was also a good addition to the book, maintaining the “detective” concept, while at the same time bringing a western series into the title, at a time when westerns were the big hit craze.

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Pow-Wow Smith’s first case, in Detective 152, clearly causes him some inner turmoil. He is meant to compete in a sort of native version of the Olympics, but Jimmy summons him to go help round up some train robbers. He winds up enlisting the braves of his tribe to help, and the take down of the train robbers is impressively done.  Then, knowing he could win the honour of being the greatest brave, by moving a boulder he had already moved, he declines to do so, choosing to lose.

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But why?  The story is mute on this, but the only action he has taken during the course of the story that could account for this is abandoning the contest to go get the thieves.  He must feel deeply torn about this.

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Trouble comes looking for Pow-Wow Smith in Detective 153, as a man he had captured escapes on his way to the gallows, and comes seeking revenge. The man disguises himself as a native.  He disguises himself, and is lucky enough to come at the time of a festival. He lures Ohiyesa out of the camp, and cuts a rope, so he will fall to his death.

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He returns to the camp and announces that Ohiyesa has died. Which of course, he hasn’t, and shows up just in time.  They fight, the disguise comes off, and the Mexican is revealed.  At Ohiyesa’s insistence, they return him to the whites for justice, and he finally gets hung.

Aside from the very start and end, this story takes place entirely with the Sioux.  In these early years, the Sioux would be the focus of more stories than the white settlers, with Ohiyesa protecting them from manipulative and thieving whites, for the most part.

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Detective 156 debuts a great new logo for Pow-Wow Smith.

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When thieves steal bags of gold dust, the sheriff in the area summons a posse to track them down, and so Ohiyesa dons his Pow-Wow Smith garb to join in.

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The story itself is not as significant as the ending, in which the thief calls Smith a “dumb Indian.”  This is the first glimpse of the racism he faces, and the series would touch on it from time to time.

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While the Pow-Wow Smith would fall into a predictable, yet entertaining, pattern, one story from this period really sticks out. Detective 164 contains a fun variation on the format for Pow-Wow Smith, with art by Bruno Premani.

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The story of Ohiyesa’s tracking and battle with some thieves is told by aged Great Owl to a group of young children in the camp.  Great Owl refers to everything by its “native” equivalent.  The airplane is a great eagle, for example.

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So the story is twice-told, back and forth, as we see the real events, and the way the kids imagine it.

Pow-Wow Smith continues in the next period, 1952 – 1955: We Don’t Need Another Hero.

Pow-Wow Smith: Detective Comics 151 – 178 (Sept 49 – Dec 51)

Next up – Epics of the Texas Rangers!



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