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Who is The Indian on The Gold Buffalo Coin?

The American Gold Buffalo coin is one of the most revered coins made by the U.S. Mint. In 2006, the United States Mint introduced the Gold Buffalo, its first 1 oz .9999 fine Gold coin. This U.S. Mint Gold coin enjoyed immediate success, providing an American coin competitive with the Canadian Gold Maple Leaf. The Gold Buffalo coin has become a popular addition to numerous Gold bullion collections.

The Gold Buffalo bears artwork patterned after James Earle Fraser's renowned 1913 Buffalo Nickel. The Buffalo Nickel was an iconic U.S. coin and remains among the most recognizable coins ever minted in the United States. This original coin was struck from 1913 to 1938, when it was replaced by the Jefferson Nickel. Even after its replacement, the Buffalo Nickel held a special place in the hearts of the American public. Fraser’s nickel is widely considered one of the best pieces of coin artwork in our nation’s history and was adapted for use on the 2001 Smithsonian commemorative coin. The famous artwork on this beloved coin was a natural choice when the U.S. Mint wanted to dip into its archives for the design of the first .9999 fine Gold coin.

The reverse of the American Gold Buffalo coin features the classic buffalo design modeled after Black Diamond, a bison kept at New York City's Central Park Zoo in the early 1900s. Fraser famously said, “Well, when I was asked to do a nickel, I felt I wanted to do something totally American—a coin that could not be mistaken for any other country's coin. It occurred to me that the buffalo, as part of our western background, was 100% American, and that our North American Indian fitted into the picture perfectly.” Of course, “buffalo” is a purely American colloquialism for the American bison, a figure closely associated with the westward expansion of the United States. To own an American Gold Buffalo coin is to own a small piece of our unique American history.

The obverse shows the iconic Indian Head design, a composite image of three Native American chiefs: Iron Tail of the Lakota, Two Moons of the Cheyenne and a third chief who is believed to be John Big Tree of the Seneca. Iron Tail and Two Moons are known to have sat for a portrait with Fraser.

Iron Tail

Iron Tail, a chief in the Oglala Lakota tribe, was one of the premier Native American celebrities of the early 20th century. His face was spread across the entire world by international photographers. His fame was at its peak when he traveled with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West, a worldwide touring circus-style show. Through this show, he was able to visit many European countries.

Two Moons

Another model for the Buffalo Nickel was a Cheyenne chief known as Two Moons. He was a highly regarded diplomat for the Cheyenne nation of Montana. His dealings with the American government and military earned him respect and landed him as the leader of the Northern Cheyenne Reservation.

John Big Tree

As a member of the Seneca nation, John Big Tree was the quintessential Native American celebrity. He appeared in more than 50 films through the mid-20th century. Aside from being featured on the 1913 Buffalo Nickel, he was also the model for the famous Native American sculpture “End of the Trail,” also by James Earle Fraser. 

Black Diamond

The three chiefs on the Buffalo Nickel may be influential figures, but the buffalo featured on the reverse of the coin was a celebrity in his own right. Black Diamond was a North American bison weighing 1,550 pounds who became an attraction at the New York City Zoo in 1893. Black Diamond was also featured on the 1910 $10 U.S. Bank Note and is also shown on a special Black Diamond label from PCGS.

The Gold Buffalo coin is one of the most popular and most successful coins ever made by the U.S. Mint. The coin faces are adorned with powerful images that proudly represent the native spirit of America. APMEX has the best selection of bullion and proof Gold Buffalo coins. The intriguing design of this beautiful coin celebrates the unique native culture of America and has been immensely successful as a result.

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