Larger Than Life “Chief” George Grayhorse

George Grayhorse and Agnes O'Brien. Photo courtesy M. O'Brien

Though I hadn’t thought about George Grayhorse for many years until recently, he was one of the most memorable characters of my childhood. I can recall him at local carnivals, fairs and old home days celebrations, hawking his homemade roots-tonic. His sales pitch was like an old-time medicine show depicted in a Hollywood Western.

I remember him as a counselor to the Boy Scout troop, helping boys earn their outdoor life skills merit badges. He was an excellent archer, and he was adept at crafting bows and arrows from wood he harvested while hiking the hills surrounding the Chemung River Valley.

He was a regular lunch customer at Mickey’s Grill on Corning’s Northside. Rather short and wiry, he frequently appeared a little disheveled in an old pair of scuffed cowboy boots and a faded denim jacket. His long gray pigtails were often only half-tucked underneath his favorite cap, a beret. He was one of the most prominent Native Americans residing in the Corning area during the ‘50s and ‘60s.

A review of Ancestry.com lists George Grayhorse in several databases. The site gives three different birth years for him. The 1910 Census lists Grayhorse as born in 1877 in Oklahoma to a father from Mexico and a mother who was a Kiowa Indian; that same year’s Census states he was living in Rockland, Maine at a boarding house and was employed as an actor in a circus.

The 1918 World War I Draft Registration site shows him born in 1884, living in Marlborough, Massachusetts and never having served in the armed forces. The 1921 Portland Maine City Directory says only that he was living in the city at that time. The 1930 Census states he was born in 1885 in Oklahoma, he was of mixed-blood descent and he was living in Corning with his beloved Minnie. His listed occupation was “herbalist.” Last, according to the Social Security Index, he was born July 7, 1884 and died in March 1971.

A born entertainer

His parents named him after the gray horse they had seen shortly after his birth on the Oklahoma reservation. Teachers at the reservation school named him George. As a child he loved the outdoors and quickly learned horsemanship and roping. He ran away from school in eighth grade and joined a carnival where he toured with (a by-then reformed) infamous outlaw, Cole Younger. He also worked as a crowd pleaser doing lariat tricks in front of early movie houses while encouraging the crowd to buy tickets.


by Steven J. Gee