My Great-Grandfather

William Victor Griffin was born in 1873. Everyone called him Vic. He was an orphan his father killed in a dispute when he was twelve. He was Quapaw American Indian. He was raised by his ‘Grandmother’ but Grandmother in Indian terms means ‘Elder’ and in this case meant his aunt, Mary. Mary Stafford was William’s mother’s sister.

Vic went to school in the Quapaw Indian schools where he was taught English at a time when Indians still wore their hair long but Vic wore his short. He was a fast learner speaking English more fluently than anyone else in his tribe. He spoke Quapaw and acted as an interpreter for the elders in the tribe through the years. As a young man, he got to meet President Roosevelt and spoke on many Indian issues in Washington but he spent his lifetime in and around a small town named for his tribe, Quapaw.

Vic was taught Indian tradition by his grandmother. He also learned the ways of peyote by John Wilson, known as Moonhead who was extremely influential in the movement known as the Ghost Dance. When the tragic end to the Ghost Dance came about at Wounded Knee in 1890 Vic was seventeen years old. He remembered what he was taught and was mainly responsible for incorporating the use of peyote as an Indian sacrament under the Oklahoma laws in 1911. It is still used today.

His personal life held some tragedy. He married twice before and both wives died from unknown illnesses. He married Minnie Track and had six children:  Martha, Sidney, Hayes, Wilfred, Ardina, Victoria. He was a member of the Baptist Indian church in Quapaw and was also a Mason.

When Vic was fifty-six years old, he became Chief of the Quapaw and remained Chief for twenty-nine years. He was known as ‘The Short-haired Chief’. He was one of the last full blooded members of the tribe. Toward the end of his life the Quapaw tribe had roughly 600 tribal members.

In 1956, he stepped down as Chief for health reasons and a Tribal Business Council was elected as federal Indian affairs officials thus making William Victor Griffin the last traditional Chief of the Quapaw Nation.

Vic died two years after stepping down surrounded by family and friends. He is buried in the Griffin family cemetery in Quapaw, Oklahoma. His daughter, Ardina Griffin Greenback Buergey was my grandmother. Her daughter was my mother, Geneva. I was given up for adoption in 1970. When my mother became ill in 2010, diagnoses with pancreatic cancer, she found all her children she’d given up except me. She couldn’t find me but now I know she was looking. My mother died August 2012.

All of Vic’s children have passed away save one, Victoria. My Aunt Victoria aka my new Grandmother.  I will meet her and the rest of my Indian family this November.Griffin