Starring Red Wing!


Starring Red Wing!

The Incredible Career of Lilian M. St. Cyr, the First Native American Film Star

Linda M. Waggoner

504 pages
37 photographs, 3 appendixes, index


November 2019


$32.95 Add to Cart
eBook (EPUB)

(Requires Adobe Digital Editions)

November 2019


$32.95 Add to Cart
eBook (PDF)

(Requires Adobe Digital Editions)

November 2019


$32.95 Add to Cart

About the Book

The epic biography Starring Red Wing! brings the exciting career, dedicated activism, and noteworthy legacy of Ho-Chunk actress Lilian Margaret St. Cyr vividly to life. Known to film audiences as “Princess Red Wing,” St. Cyr emerged as the most popular Native American actress in the pre-Hollywood and early studio-system era in the United States. Today St. Cyr is known for her portrayal of Naturich in Cecile B. DeMille’s The Squaw Man (1914); although DeMille claimed to have “discovered the little Indian girl,” the viewing public had already long adored her as a petite, daredevil Indian heroine. She befriended and worked with icons such as Mary Pickford, Jewell Carmen, Tom Mix, Max Sennett, and William Selig.

Born on the Winnebago Reservation in 1884 and orphaned in 1888, she spent ten years in Indian boarding schools before graduating from the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in 1902. She married James Young Johnson, and in 1907 the couple reinvented themselves as the stage personas “Princess Red Wing” and “Young Deer,” performing in Wild West shows around New York and beginning their film careers.

As their popularity grew, St. Cyr and Johnson decamped from the East Coast and helped establish the second motion picture company in Southern California, where Red Wing became a Native American leading lady in westerns until her career waned in 1917. After returning to the reservation to work as a housekeeper, she took her show on a two-year tour to educate the public about Native culture and lived out her life in New York, performing, educating, and crafting regalia.

Starring Red Wing! is a sweeping narrative of St. Cyr’s evolution as America’s first Native American film star, from her childhood and performance career to her days as a respected elder of the multi-tribal New York City Indian Community.

Author Bio

Linda M. Waggoner is an independent scholar specializing in Ho-Chunk (Winnebago) history and a Native genealogy and research consultant for tribes and museums. She is the author of Fire Light: The Life of Angel De Cora, Winnebago Artist.


"This lively biography pays long overdue tribute to a forgotten star of the silent era while celebrating Native American contributions to the motion picture industry."—Kirkus Reviews

"Although Waggoner herself suggests Starring Red Wing! is not an academic text, scholars of Native studies, film studies, women's studies, and beyond will find St. Cyr's biography and filmography . . . a valuable contribution to scholarship in their fields."—Amy S. Fatzinger, Native American and Indigenous Studies

"Relying on careful and copious research, Waggoner skillfully weaves St. Cyr's story with that of early American film and Native American history. . . . Too few people know St. Cyr's name—Waggoner rectifies that wrong, training a spotlight on an icon of early film who broke through barriers."—Carolyn M. Mulac, Library Journal

"Building on her expertise in Ho-Chunk history, Waggoner paints an intimate portrait that also successfully illuminates the worlds Red Wing (1884–1974) inhabited as a pathbreaking Indian celebrity."—Andrew H. Fisher, New Mexico Historical Review

"Linda Waggoner's biography takes us on a journey through the life of Lilian St. Cyr and shows the reader how this innovative woman reinvented herself repeatedly, during an era when not even white women exercised complete agency over their lives. In becoming Red Wing, she managed to free herself of her "Indian place" and her feminine limitations. She traveled, performed, produced, and made a name for herself, both with and without a husband. She was the remarkable heroine of her own life."—Noemi Hernandez Alexander, California History

"Linda Waggoner provides us with another splendid biography of a Ho-Chunk woman."—Liza Black, Western Historical Quarterly

"For a vivid portray of early filmmaking history and a groundbreaking Native Nebraska-born actress’s role in it, this is a worthwhile read."—Andrea I. Faling, Nebraska History

“This life of the groundbreaking Winnebago actress, the first Native American film star, joins staggering research with a story full of ambition, courage, and true grit. Linda Waggoner’s smartly written book recounts the early history of racial representation on the silver screen before Hollywood became a household word. Her story of a talented Native actor, along with a vivid portrayal of the silent film era, make this a probing, satisfying, and utterly unique read.”—Philip Burnham, author of Song of Dewey Beard: Last Survivor of the Little Bighorn

“In this profoundly thoughtful biography, Linda Waggoner reveals how Lilian St. Cyr’s astonishing life as a performer and activist helped to shape Native identities in modern America. Waggoner’s deeply researched and carefully written account reminds us that if St. Cyr was best known as an early Native film star, she was also fiercely devoted to Indigenous causes and spent decades defending and promoting Native interests. This nuanced book recalls the enormous importance of one of the twentieth century’s most important Native women.”—Clyde Ellis, professor of history at Elon University and author of A Dancing People: Powwow Culture on the Southern Plains

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations    
Chapter 1: Lilian Margaret St. Cyr of the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska    
Chapter 2: Ochsegahonegah at the Lincoln Institute    
Chapter 3: Role Models and Visitors    
Chapter 4: Home and Away Again    
Chapter 5: James Young Johnson and Family Secrets    
Chapter 6: Princess Red Wing and Young Deer    
Chapter 7: Edendale, California    
Chapter 8: New Careers with Pathé Frères    
Chapter 9: Leaving Young Deer    
Chapter 10: Keeping Up with the Competition    
Chapter 11: The Calm before the Storm    
Chapter 12: Young Deer and the White Slavery Ring    
Chapter 13: Cecil B. DeMille and The Squaw Man    
Chapter 14: In the Days of the Thundering Herd    
Chapter 15: Ramona and Home Again    
Chapter 16: Lilia Red Wing on Tour and the Visual Education Movement    
Chapter 17: The Metropolitan Group of American Indians    
Chapter 18: Fare Thee Well and Hollywood Reunion    
Chapter 19: The Moon Shines on Pretty Red Wing    
Appendix A: Lilian Margaret St. Cyr Family    
Appendix B: James Young Johnson Family    
Appendix C: Red Wing’s Filmography, 1908–1931

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