Saturday, November 27, 2021

DC Comics' Pow Wow Smith

Native American characters are not particularly common in American comic books. That having been said, for much of the Fifties, National Periodical Publications published the adventures of a Native American detective. Pow Wow Smith may not be particularly well remembered today, but the character would prove successful for a time.

Pow Wow Smith was Ohiyesa, a Sioux Indian from Red Deer Valley. His skill with guns, the bow, and guns, not to mention his considerable talent as a detective, resulted him being hired as deputy sheriff in the town of Elkhorn. He later became the town's sheriff. While he prefers being called by his given name of Ohiyesa. the white people round him insist upon calling him "Pow Wow."

Pow Wow Smith first appeared in Detective Comics no. 151, September 1949. At that point his adventures were set in the present day. Pow Wow Smith would remain a back-up feature in Detective Comics until no. 202, December 1953. The character then moved to Western Comics no. 43, February 1954, where he became the cover feature. With Western Comics no. 44, April 1954, Pow Wow Smith's adventures shifted to the Old West without any explanation of why. While Pow Wow Smith was supplanted as the cover feature by Matt Savage Trail, Boss in 1959, he would remain apart of Western Comics until its final and 85th issue, February 1951. When DC Comics rebooted their title All-Star Western with issue 1, September 1970, Pow Wow Smith was its cover feature. He would remain a part of All--Star Western  for its first several issues.

An explanation for Pow Wow Smith existing both in the Old West and in the present day, with the present day Pow Wow Smith being identified as the descendant of the Pow Wow Smith of the Old West. As to his given name, it would appear that it was taken from the name of the Sioux physician also known as Charles Eastman. Dr. Eastman was well known for his works on Sioux history and one of the most eloquent commentators on Native American affairs.

Since the Seventies, Pow Wow Smith's appearances have been infrequent. He was one of the detectives from that title who appeared in Detective Comics no. 500, March 1981. The Old West version of Pow Wow Smith appeared in Armageddon: The Alien Agenda no. 3, January 1992. More recently the modern day version of Pow Wow Smith appeared in Robin Annual no. 6, August 1997. He would later appear in the Justice League Unlimited episode "The Once and Future Thing, Part One: Weird Western Tales." A time travel episode set in the Old West, only the villains address him as "Pow Wow."

While his nickname of "Pow Wow" is regrettable, Ohiyesa is important in the history of American comic books. He was one of the first Native American characters to have a regular series and one of the first to headline a comic book. The Pow Wow Smith feature was also one of the first to deal with racism against Native Americans, a subject rarely touched upon in comic books of the Fifties.

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