Stan Crader

Author & Lecturer on Writing About Rural America

Stihl in America Blog 12 – The Chief

Osage Indian_Citizenship_ActFour Osage men with U.S president Calvin Coolidge after signing the Indian Citizenship Act of 1924, which granted Indians across the country full citizenship for the first time.

Like most Native American tribes, the Osage suffered countless broken promises by the American government. However, unlike most tribes, by the time the Osage were forced to re-settle in Oklahoma, they had the financial wherewithal to purchase the ground upon which their reservation was located. Much of this wealth gained as a result of being paid by the federal government for the land they’d been forced to acquiesce in Missouri and Kansas. The Osage reservation was comprised of what is now Osage County, Oklahoma.

The discovery of oil in Osage County and the growing need for oil changed everything, and not necessarily for the good. During the early part of the 20th century, Oklahoma was the largest oil producing region in the US. The Osage, owning their land and consequently the mineral rights, were instantly among the wealthiest people on the country. In 1907, as part of the process in preparing Oklahoma for statehood, the federal government allotted 657 acres to each Osage on the tribal rolls. Thereafter, each Osage and their legal heirs, whether Osage or not, had “headrights” to royalties in oil production. This turned out to be a recipe for disaster.

By 1920 the demand for oil had grown such that Osage County began to grow exponentially and became a mecca for legitimate entrepreneurs, illicit opportunists, and criminals. In 1921 in an effort to protect the Osage from unscrupulous outsiders, the federal government passed a law requiring Osages of half-blood or more in ancestry to have guardians appointed until they demonstrated “competency.” Most of the guardians were appointed from among newly arrived white lawyers and businessmen. At the time more than 80 lawyers were living in Pawhuska, the Osage County seat, which had only 8,000 residents.

Although the intentions were good, the result was what became known as the “Reign of Terror” on the Osage reservation. Since guardians stood to inherit the “head rights” of their charges, the temptation was too great for a few. After being alerted by the Osage Tribal council, the FBI began what became the first major murder investigation for the newly formed agency. By 1925 it’s thought that over 60 wealthy Osage had been killed by murderers for hire.

It wasn’t until 1926 that the FBI uncovered an elaborate scheme on the part of a well-known and powerful rancher to gain control of a large block of Osage land. He’d arranged for his nephew to marry into the tribe and then systematically had several members of his nephew’s wife’s family murdered. The murderer was allegedly a convicted burglar who was regularly released from jail late at night by bribed guards, commit the murders, and then return to jail, with an alibi.

In 1925 Congress passed a law prohibiting inheritance of headrights by non-natives of Osage ancestry, which all but eliminated the “Reign of Terror.”

After a three year investigation, one person tied to the murders was sentenced to life in prison for his role in the murders. At the objection of the Osage Nation, he was paroled in 1959, and in 1965 granted a full pardon. The Osage Nation was required to pay the FBI for the cost of the investigation.

Chief with headband sittingJack (Chief) Beatty, born in Oklahoma to an Osage Indian Chief, was orphaned at four. His appointed guardians moved with Jack to Denver, Colorado, where Jack came of age and retained his headrights. Little is known about Chief Beatty’s parents or the circumstances of their deaths. It’s possible that both parents died of natural causes but it’s likely that there’s a more sordid explanation.

Chief Beatty was one of the earliest adopters of Stihl, coming on board with Tull-Williams in 1958. When asked why he chose Stihl, Chief Beatty replied, “Because they’re made with precision and are trouble free.” The Chief’s area of responsibility included: Colorado, New Mexico, Wyoming, Eastern Montana, and the Oklahoma panhandle, an area stretching from Glacier National Park almost all of the way to Amarillo, Texas, a distance of nearly 1500 miles by car.

Rainer Gloeckle, the whiz kid, recalls traveling with Chief Beatty during the early days. The Chief always drove a Chrysler New Yorker, and Rainer was intrigued with the push button automatic transmission of the Chrysler. Rainer regularly flew into Denver Stapleton where Chief Beatty would be waiting with a New Yorker packed to the gills with gifts, saws and a list of dealers who’d been experiencing technical problems. They’d spend the week calling on dealers, handling technical issues, delivering a saw to those with urgent need, and taking orders.

Chief Beatty and his wife had a beautiful home in Denver with an ample three car garage where two cars were parked alongside an inventory of Stihl saws and parts. After each week of traveling the territory visiting dealers and taking orders, the Chief pulled parts from meticulously organized shelves of parts, packaged them, and then delivered the parcels to the Post Office for shipment, a true one-man operation. In many cases, saw orders were shipped from the garage supply but Chief Beatty frequently had saws shipped directly from New Jersey to the remotely located dealers by way of the Trailways bus service, oftentimes the least expensive and quickest way to ship a single chainsaw to a remote location. And in those days anything west of the Mississippi was considered remote.

Each week’s travel included several stops at the various Indian reservations in Chief’s territory, where he’d hand out gifts for the less fortunate. Rainer frequently saw him giving people money after making them promise they’d spend it on food rather than liquor. The Chief was highly respected throughout the territory; his endorsement was enough for most. His endorsement of Stihl was of considerable value.

During his tenure as Stihl’s distributor for most of the Rockies, Chief sold almost exclusively the Stihl Lightning. The higher elevation required more power and since the Lightning was ‘relatively’ light, the Chief saw no reason to confuse people with multiple models, some of which wouldn’t perform well at high altitude. And, offering one model made management of the garage housed parts and saw inventory simpler.

One downside to offering a limited selection of models is that when a technical problem occurs, it’s likely to affect every customer, which is precisely what happened. During a couple of swings through the territory Chief heard numerous complaints of the inconsistency of the power of Super Lightnings; one saw would have plenty of power while another identical saw would not. Chief called the whiz kid.

Within days Rainer and the Chief were heading into the black hills of Wyoming, the hotspot of problems, and coincidentally where the most recent shipment of new Super Lightnings had been shipped. After fuel system pressure testing a selection of saws experiencing no problems and testing an equal number of those that had experienced power loss, Rainer easily diagnosed the problem was in the carburetor. Upon further inspection, Rainer discovered that the saws that weren’t experiencing power loss all had the same diaphragm metering spring while the problem saws had a variety of springs of a different tension and alloy.

While testing the carburetors Rainer also used his special tools to check the ignition timing of each saw and while doing so taught both the dealers and Chief the value of special tools. The Chief was so impressed that he began promoting to the dealers the value of proper technical problem diagnosing through the use of special tools, possibly the first distributor to do so.

The carburetor company was delighted to hear from Rainer regarding the inconsistency of their metering springs; they’d been hearing sporadic complaints of the same issue with other brands of saws and other types of products used at high elevation.

Chief his wife and RG at chief's home

Rainer (Whiz Kid), Chief, and Mrs. Jack Beatty

The Chief rewarded Rainer for his quick response and solution with a trip through nearby Yellowstone National Park where Rainer saw for the first time Grizzly bears, buffalos, and of course Old Faithful.

I first met the Chief during a distributor trip to Germany, where in celebration of their 40th year anniversary, Stihl introduced the 040. Soon thereafter the Chief moved his operation out of his garage and into a more suitable facility and began promoting Stihl’s full line of saws, the Super Lightning, 07,08, and the 040.

Future focused, rich with optimism, and always sporting a toothy smile, the Chief never spoke of his past or the mistreatment of the Osage.

 

One Response to Stihl in America Blog 12 – The Chief

  • Lewis Bock says:

    What a great story about Chief and his drive to overcome and achieve success! Indeed the treatment of our earliest immigrants is truly one of the saddest segments of America’s history.
    Thank you for the blog!

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