Commercial Square Bonfire Society celebrates Red Indian Past


Commercial Square Bonfire Society’s famed Red Indian headdresses are a spectacular feature of a spectacular night ... and the story of the man who inspired them is a fascinating one.

He was Chief Oskenonton, meaning Running Deer, a member of the Bear Clan of the Mohawks born in Canada in 1886.

While he was working as a hunter and guide in Ontario in 1915, a group of white campers overheard him singing and invited him to perform at the Christmas tree lighting in Madison Square Garden, New York, that December.

He subsequently appeared as the Indian Medicine Man in Hiawatha at the Royal Albert Hall in London and achieved international acclaim with performances throughout Europe and the USA.

Chief Oskenonton also conducted lecture tours, promoting better understanding of Native American culture and traditions.

It was on one such tour he encountered Commercial Square’s Mid Puttock and taught him how to make a traditional headdress. The skills were brought back to Lewes and the complex preparation was adopted by the society during the 1930s.

They can be admired on The Fifth as the First Pioneers, resplendent in their feathered finery, leading the way through the streets of Lewes.

The Grand Procession, due to start at 9.30pm, will also feature a multitude of indian braves in the shape of Sun Dancers, Medicine Men, Devil Dancers and Apaches in full tribal regalia join squaws in their painstakingly constructed beaded costumes. The Red Indian theme is continued with the pyrotechnical facsimile of a totem pole and the fiery blazing banner depicting the Mystical Thunderbird.

It’s one of seven processions by Commercial Square that evening. Watch out for costumes from the American Civil War, the British Empire era and the famous Valencians.

The society’s mammoth tableau this year is intriguingly entitled ‘Wipeout’, and as ever there will be effigies of Guy Fawkes and Pope Paul V.

Musical accompaniment will come from the Corps of Drums Society; Lewes, Glynde and Beddingham Brass; Brighton and Hove City Brass; Barcombe Scout Band; the Barulho Samba Band; and the Ouse Valley Samba Band.