Chief Rolling Thunder

 

Leader of the Kiowa Indian Medicine Company traveling Medicine and Wild West Show Louis Belmont Newell - known to the public as Chief Rolling Thunder. This wonderful and original, Cabinet Card Photograph measures approx. 3 7/8 by 5 1/2 and is mounted on its original, photographer's card mount (overall size of card mount is 4 1/4" by 6 1/2"). The View pictures Chief Rolling Thunder in full figure holding a walking stick in his right hand and wearing a 3/4 length coat and wide brimmed hat.


Louis Belmont Newell was known to his family simply as Belmont and known to the public as Chief Rolling Thunder, an Indian Doctor and entertainer. He was born about 1858, son of Thomas Newell & Marie Parsons of Indian Island, Old Town, Maine. Very little is known for certain about his early life, but he very likely traveled around with his family selling baskets, medicines, and providing various entertainments to the public. Belmont's father, Thomas, is probably the Dr. Newell that John Johnson traveled with and is mentioned in John's story.


About 1885, we find Belmont referred to as "Chief Rolling Thunder" and Victoria, his wife, called an actress in an "Indian Theatrical Show". This was most likely the Kiowa Medicine Company which we know Belmont was involved with. Just when he formed the company under that name or began using the stage name "Chief Rolling Thunder" is uncertain. In a letter dated 19-Nov-1915, it is stated that "Rolling Thunder" was an original name belonging to Belmont and that it was to be passed down to his son, William. The reason for his choice of Kiowa as the name of his show is also unclear. Publicly he claimed that his mother was a Kiowa Indian, then that his father was Kiowa, but at other times he claimed only to have been adopted by the Kiowa Tribe.


Exactly when Belmont and Victoria parted company is unclear but in 1892 an Iroquois woman, Louisa Stump, of Caughnawaga married Belmont and they had a son, William B. Newell (aka Rolling Thunder II). Louisa Stump was born 5-May-1868 of Iroquois parents from Caughnawaga. She was an expert shot and traveled with the Kiowa Medicine Company for a time. She also worked with several other shows of that period. She was known to her friends as Rosy Gordon. Buffalo Bill Cody called her "The Prairie Flower" while working with his show. She also awed the crowds with her trick shooting under the name "Texas Lillie". Her picture appeared in the National Police Gazette on 26-Jul-1890, where she challenged all "wing shots" in the world. Louisa died in the 1940s.


Louisa and Belmont gave birth to their son, William, in Boston, MA on 17-Dec-1892. His birth record is found in Boston records. Belmont's occupation is listed as Physician in this record and their place of residence was 23 Indiana Place, Boston, MA. It is also interesting to note that William is listed as a "white" male child, despite the fact that both his parents were Natives. William B. Newell became a very respected Professor of Anthropology.


About 1894, we find Belmont married to a young white woman named Jeanne Congleton, whose father disapproved of the situation very much at the time (he was 52 and she was 20). Jeanne served as business manager of the Kiowa Medicine and Vaudeville Company for many years. Her obituary mentions a son, Paul E. Newell, but we have not had any luck finding any information about this person. In the 1910 Federal Census, we find Belmont on Creeks Run Road, Coldspring Town, Cattaraugus Co., NY. He is listed as Lewis B. Newell, white, age 70, born in Maine. The birth place of his father is unknown and the birth place of his mother is listed as New Hampshire. His occupation is salesman and his product is medicine. He has been married to his current wife for 16 years. His wife is Jennie L., age 37, born in New York. Also in the household are his in-laws, Wilber & Cornelia J. Congleton.


In the 1920 Federal Census, we find him again at Creeks Run, Coldspring, NY, listed as Lewis B. Newell. This time he is an Indian, age 76, working as a dairy farmer, and claiming that he and both his parents where born in North Dakota. Jennie, age 46 is listed as his wife, and his widowed mother-in-law, Jennie Congleton, age 70 is also in the household. An interesting household it is - he is older than his mother-in-law and I have a hard time envisioning Belmont getting up at the crack of dawn to milk his cows seven days a week!


A search of the 1930 Federal Census found him again at his home in Coldspring. This time he is listed as Lewis Rolling Thunder Newell, Indian, age 85, married the first time at the age of 30. He again claims he was born in North Dakota along with his father, who he claims was a full blood Kiowa, but this time he says his mother was born in Maine. He gives his mother tongue as Kiowa. His occupation is "Indian Medicine Man" in general practice. His wife is Jennie L., age 55, who was first married at the age of 19. His widowed mother-in-law, Cornelia J. Congleton, is still living in the household as is a 50 year old "cousin by marriage" named Winfield S. Badger.


As to him or his parents being born in North Dakota, this was probably just good PR to promote himself to the public as Kiowa. To friends in New York, he spoke of his father as a Penobscot guide on Moosehead Lake in Maine. There is no evidence to date to indicate that either parent was anything other than a Penobscot from Maine. Belmont died 1-Dec-1933 and is buried in the Catholic cemetery in Randolph, NY. At the time of his death he owned a farm on Creeks Run Road in Coldspring Town, "a little hotel at Boomertown", and had money in the bank at Warren, NY. In his will, he left all his property to his current wife, Jeanne.

 


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