Thursday, November 7, 2013

Native American Indian General Clarence Leonard Tinker - November 21, 1887 - June 7, 1942

Christal Cooper  - 2,101Words

Facebook @ Christal Ann Rice Cooper

A Hidden History Exposed

            He never saw a National Football League game; he never saw Tiger Woods make golf history; he never knew what television was; he never knew what a disposable camera was; nor did he live long enough to see Hawaii and Alaska declared states.  This same man grew up to become one of America’s greatest war heroes:  he was the first Native American Indian to become general and he was the first general to loose his life while on a mission.

       The man, General Clarence Leonard Tinker, was born on November 21, 1887 on the Osage Reservation in Pawhuska, Oklahoma Territory, before Oklahoma was declared a state.  He was given the Osage Indian name Ce-ce-mno-I which translates to Restless Elk As He Goes.  He was the second of ten children; four who would die young, to an Osage and English father, George Edward Tinker, and a German mother, Sarah “Anna” Nan Schwagerte. 

       The young Tinker was reared in Catholic educational institutions at Hominy and Pawhuska in Oklahoma Territory.  He lived on the reservation with his family.  His father gave him his first job – working in the print shop of the Wah-Sha-She- News, the first Osage newspaper, founded and published by George Edward.

       George Edward was a member of the Osage Council, Osage Commissioner, and he represented the Osages in Washington.  Sometimes, even though he had more white in him than Osage; George Edward considered himself to be 100% Osage.   

       “I used to tell them (my children) unless they behaved themselves, I’d give ‘em to the white men.  They were more afraid of white men than white children were afraid of Indians…Clarence gave us some trouble, especially when he was printer’s devil in the newspaper office.  I scared him into good behavior many times with the warning the white man would get him.” George Edward told reporter Edward Curtis in January of 1942.

The Tinker family was close knit, but Clarence had a special bond with his youngest sister, the youngest of the ten, Villa, whom he nicknamed Biddy.

“Everybody started calling her Biddy after that.  She was totally spoiled and continued that way throughout all of her life.  Her favorite saying was:  “My brother the general.’”  Patricia Soderstrom, Tinker’s great niece, said.

“I never met Uncle Clarence but I was always aware of him.  His sister was always a big part of our family.  One time, I said, ‘Aunt Biddy, please tell me a story about Uncle Clearance that nobody else knows.’  He was a base commander at a base in California.  They had a problem with one of the young pilots who was in flight training.  He was taking his trainer and flying to a nearby town where his girlfriend lived.  The young pilot would call back and say that the weather was bad and he couldn’t get back on time.  General Tinker said, ‘I’ll take care of it.’  He flew to where this young man’s plane was and left a note for him: “The weather has cleared please come back as soon as you can.”  He picked a way that made his point but he didn’t humiliate the young man.”  Patricia said.

     In 1900, Tinker attended the Haskell Institute for Indians in Lawrence, Kansas.   Each student was required to wear military uniforms, participate in marching and drill squads, and work on the 650-acre farm.  In addition, Haskell placed a huge importance on religion.  While at Haskell Tinker excelled in track and football; and he also developed bad habits:  chewing tobacco and smoking cigarettes.  In March of 1906, Clarence quit Haskell.  It is assumed that Clarence was disciplined for something he did not do; and thus, out of sense of justice, left the institution.

     The summer of 1906 was a pivotal time for the Osage Tribe.  For hundreds of years the Osages had been robbed of their land that was rich in minerals, oil, and fertile for farming.  That summer, the United States Government admitted their violation to the Osage Tribe and allotted each tribal member 657 acres of surface rights. 

“My father and his sisters decided to move out of Osage county because they were afraid somebody would be killed. They were killing Osages to get their head right to the oil discovered in Osage County.  All the Osages shared in that equally. And the white man came along and wanted it so he’d marry the Osage girl.” Sarah Soderstrom, Tinker’s niece, said.

     By the time Tinker decided to attend Wentworth Military Academy in Lexington, Missouri he was already financially independent due to his head right.  He loved the military life, dreamed of becoming a soldier, and dreamed of flying air combat missions.  He graduated from Wentworth Military Academy in 1908. 

     The Tinker family attended his graduation ceremony.  His mother played a joke on her older son.  When she walked to her son to congratulate him she had Biddy stand behind her.  Tinker wanted to know where his “baby” was.  His mother stepped aside and Tinker lifted Biddy over his head, onto his shoulders, and showed her off to all of his friends.

     His first assignment was as a third lieutenant in the Philippine Constabulary. It seemed the perfect assignment for him since he was fluent in English, Osage, and Spanish.  His linguistic abilities allowed him to become the first white man to speak and communicate with the natives of Philippine’s jungles. 

     After Tinker had been in the Philippines for fourteen months he received his first promotion:  he was commissioned as Second Lieutenant in the U.S. Army Infantry.
     In 1911, Tinker went back to the states to visit his family only to find Biddy was 8 years old and their bond was still strong.  Tinker gave her the new nickname “Bill”.  He and Bill drove to downtown to get their picture taken together. 

     In 1912 Tinker applied to be an officer of the infantry.  Tinker grew impatient and, in February, quit the Constabulary and sold sewing machines in Milan.  He reapplied for the Constabulary and was accepted, and, on March 19, 1912 was reappointed Third Lieutenant.   In June of 1912 Tinker was accepted into the United States Army, was promoted to 2nd Lieutenant, moved to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas for three months while taking training courses.  In November 1912 Tinker joined the 25th infantry at Fort George Wright in Spokane, Washington. 

     In January of 1913 Tinker and fellow members of the 25th Infantry were transferred to Hawaii.  Tinker wrote his older sister Genevieve asking her to come and help him with domestic chores.  Genevieve said yes, not necessarily to help her brother, but to make sure that he met and married a good Catholic girl.  Genevieve and her widowed friend introduced Tinker to Miss Madeline Boyle.  The two were married in a Roman Catholic Ceremony in Waikiki on October 8, 1913.  They would have three children together, their first born on January 13, 1916.

  Throughout his military career Tinker served the United States in the Philippines, Washington, Hawaii, Arizona, California, Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Virginia, England, Washington D.C., Louisiana, and Florida.  One of the high points of his career was in 1919, when he was promoted to Major and began flying lessons.  He then transferred to the Army Air Service and was assigned to flight duty on July 1, 1922.  Once again, his dream of fighting in combat in World War I would not come to pass; instead, he was stationed at Kelly Field, Texas where he was the Commandant of the Air Service Advanced Flying School.

     In 1925, he attended Army’s Command and Staff College in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.  One of his fellow classmates was future president Dwight D. Eisenhower.  Later in their careers, the Tinkers and the Eisenhowers, along with six other couples, would have bridge parties; and Tinker and Eisenhower were golfing buddies.   In 1940, even though he never served overseas, he became a brigadier general.

“He was first air inspector for the Army Air Corps.  And he flew around the different air installations and did inspections.  During World War I, he was assigned as a post engineer in charge of building the post located in Tuscan, Arizona.  He built the Air Base at Kansas City, Kansas.  He was commander of the Third Air Force at Tampa, at MacDill Air Force Base.”  George Tinker III, Tinker’s nephew, said.

According to George, Tinker spent a lot of his recreational time playing poker and bridge.  While in London he found a partner to play bridge and poker with:  King George V’s son, who would later become King Edward VIII.  Tinker also developed his love for polo and horses; tried to teach King Edward VIII polo.  Other things he did for recreation was reading books such as “A Tree Grows In Brooklyn”, “War And Peace”, General Pershing’s Report of the First Army”, and National Geographic magazines.

     By the time Ticker was stationed at MacDill Air Force Base, he and Madeline had three children, Clarence Jr “Bud”, Midge, and Tim. Tinker commissioned his own son Clarence Jr into the service.   

     Tinker would spend hours in his office doing what one could call “strategic planning”.  Tinker believed the enemy the United States needed to fear the most was not Germany but Japan; and he let his opinion be known, even at a time when it was not popular.

     Some days were difficult and Tinker would yearn for the Osage atmosphere he was reared in.  During this part of loneliness, he’d always call his father.

     “He stayed very close to his father.  While he was on assignment he talked to his father on the phone in Osage.  The next morning the FBI was knocking on his father’s door wanting to know what he had said.   They didn’t have anyone to translate.”  Patricia said.  

     On December 7, 1941, General Tinker took a rare day off to play golf in Tampa, Florida where he was stationed.  An enlisted man ran to the green and told Tinker what happened at Pearl Harbor.  Tinker hurried home, changed into his uniform, and went to work immediately.    He was immediately sent to Hawaii, where he was Commander of the Air Forces in Hawaii; his job description was to reorganize the air defenses of the islands.  Finally his dream had come true:  He would fight in combat overseas; but instead of World War I it was World War II.

     In January of 1942 Tinker was promoted to Major General, becoming the first Native American Indian in the U.S. Army history to attain that rank. 

     On June 4, the Japanese once against began their assault of America, this time in Midway Island.  America had to strike back and some believe General Tinker was the mastermind behind the strategic planning of attacking the Japanese at Wake Island, near Midway Island.  General Tinker made the decision to personally lead a force of early model B-24s to fight the Japanese naval forces.  In the late hours of June 6, or early morning hours of June 7, of 1942, Tinker’s plane went out of control, plunging into the sea near Midway Island.  General Tinker, his men and, the plan were never recovered.

     Within one week, another crew took Tinker’s plan and completed a successful air raid on Wake Island.

George Edward refused to believe his son was dead.  He insisted he was lost at sea; perhaps an American ship picked him up and had not yet sent word; or perhaps he was a prisoner of war in Japan.   A memorial mass was held for General Tinker at the Immaculate Conception Church.  It was clear this memorial mass was not for someone who was dead, but very much alive, only needing to be found.  

       Weeks later George Edward went to Ponca City, Oklahoma to have an Osage Indian song written for his son.  Since then the Osage have a ceremony every June, in which the song is played.  This song is the only Osage song where everybody in the audience is required to stand.  

       Presently, all of General Tinker’s descendents (remaining descendents are one nephew; one niece Sarah; and 25 great nieces and great nephews) are proud of him, hold yearly memorial services for him, and yet, remain dumbfounded that General Tinker’s history is not part of the history books. 

“The sad news is that even to this day this man’s name is never mentioned in documentaries or movies about World War II or the Battle of Midway.  The amazing news is he’s been gone since 1942 and we still have people wanting to write about him; wanting to talk about him.”  Patricia said.

Photo 1.
George Tinker in 1892, 5 years old.   Public. Domain.

Photo 2.
Tinker Family in 1908.  Public Domain.

Photo 3.
Clarence Tinker in 1908.  Public Domain

Photo 4.
Lt. Tinker during his Philippine Constabulary days 1908 to 1912.  During this time his younger sister Genevieve would keep house for him, and, according to nephew, George Tinker 3rd, Tinker became the first white man to communicate with the people of Philippine’s jungles.   Public Domain.

Photo 5.
Clarence Tinker and Madeline Doyle on their wedding day, October 8, 1913, at the St. Augustine Chapel in Waikiki.
“Aunt Genevieve wanted to make sure he met the right girl.  They were transferred to Hawaii and she is the one who introduced him to his wife.”  Patricia Solderstrom, Tinker’s great niece said.  Public Domain.

Photo 6a and 6b
Marjor Tinker in Ft Riley, Kansas in 1922.  Public Domain.

Photo 7.
Major Tinker in Ft Riley, Kansas in 19222.   Public Domain.

Photo 8.
Tinker the pilot.  Public Domain.

Photo 9.
Tinker at Davis Monthan.  Public Domain.

Photo 10.
Tinker (far right) at Davis Montham.  Public Domain.

Photo 11.
Pilot Tinker.  Public Domain.

Photo 12.
Tinker Family, California, 1935.  Midge, Tim, Colonel Tinker,Clarence “Bud” Jr, and Madeline.  “I have a picture of Uncle Clarence with his two young children and he looks so tender with them.  He looks so caring.  The whole Tinker family is very loving, affectionate, caring about each other.”  Patricia Soderstrom said.  Public Domain.

Photo 13.
Madeline, Tinker, Tim, and Bud.  Public Domain.

Photo 14.
Colonel Clarence L Tinker Sr congratulating 2 LT Clarence L Tinker Jr February 1939 in San Antonio,Texas.  Clarence Jr, also a pilot, would later die in the battle of Santa Maria Pan Ria.  Public Domain.

Photo 15.
A very proud mother stood by when 2nd Lt. Clarence L. Tinker, Jr. received his wings and diploma from his father, the graduation speaker, in San Antonia, Texas, on February 1st, 1939.  Public Domain.

Photo 16.
Col. Clarence L. Tinker.   Public Domain.

Photo 17.
General Clarence L. Tinker October 5, 1940. McDill AFB, Florida being sworn in as General.  Public Domain.

Photo 18, 19, 20, and 21.
General Clarence Leonard Tinker.  Public Domain.

Photo 22 and 23.
General Clarence Leonard Tinker at McDill Air Force Base, Florida.  Public Domain.

Photo 24.
Tinker family at McDill AFB.  Public Domain.

Photo 25.

Photo 26.
General Tinker, far right.  Public Domain.

Photo 27.
General Tinker, second from right.  Public Domain.

Photo 28.
General Tinker in Hawaii in 1942.  Public Domain.

Photo 29.
Hawaii 1942.  Public Domain.

Photos 30, 31, and 32.
General Clarence Leonard Tinker.  Public Domain.


  1. Correct spelling is Genevieve.

    1. Dear Paul,

      Thanks for letting me know about the error. I corrected it.

      Take Care