The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

November 13, 2012

Chief Leaford Bearskin


The Joplin Globe

WYANDOTTE, OK —

Chief Leaford Bearskin passed away Friday, Nov. 9, 2012, at his home.

He was born on Sept. 11, 1921 in Wyandotte, Okla., the son of John and Myrtle (Shaw) Bearskin.

He began his active and historic life on the territory of Wyandotte Nation. A proud Leader, he first and foremost wanted to be known as a Wyandotte Indian. Living the proud life of a young Wyandotte, Bearskin developed into a leader at an early age with his 12 brothers and sisters.

Shortly after graduating from high school in 1939, he set out on a career in the Army Air Corps, as it was called in those days. By the time of the attack on Pearl Harbor, Dec. 7, 1941, he was a sergeant serving in Alaska. Not long thereafter he was enrolled in pilot training and looking forward to his "wings". As with many young men of the time, he had hoped to be assigned to a P-38 fighter squadron. In that he was disappointed. Instead, he went to the 90th Bombardment Group where he would soon be flying a B-24, one of the great heavy bombers of World War II. The 90th soon became known as the "Jolly Rogers" Group and was destined to gain fame in the skies above New Guinea. In the absence of fighter cover on one mission he volunteered to fly top cover and was forever respected by his fellow pilots. Engaged in dangerous air missions he was proudest to never have lost a crew member. Captain Bearskin flew a plane called "Big Chief" on 46 combat missions before he and his war party returned to the United States. The young Wyandotte was made squadron commander and his service to his country did not end when peace came. In 1948, he flew 29 missions during the Berlin Airlift. Later, while a deputy commander of a fighter base in Georgia, he participated in the first flight of jet fighters across the Pacific. Later till, he served as a squadron commander during the Korean War. For his service to his country, Mr. Bearskin received numerous honors and citations including the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Medal for Humane Action. He retired from the military in 1960, but continued in government service and worked on various missile systems at Vandenberg Air Force Base. Eventually he really did retire and headed home to Oklahoma.

Not content just to ride his horses and to catch an occasional fish, Mr. Bearskin took an active interest in his tribe. Since September 1983, Mr. Bearskin has been Chief of the Wyandotte Tribe of Oklahoma. He worked hard for his people and brought to fruition a number of innovative and imaginative projects for the advancement of his tribe. Today he is recognized as one of the historic leaders of Native Americans anywhere in the country. He received the 1986 Indian Achievement Award presented by the Center for the History of the American Indian in Chicago.

He is survived by his wife, Barbara, of the home; a daughter, Nancy (Bearskin) Murphy and her husband, Brian; and one son, Ron Bearskin and his wife, Judy. Also surviving are nine grandchildren, Lisa, Christopher, Ryan, Heather, Nathan, Nicole, Samantha, Jamie and Richard; 11 great-grandchildren; and other relatives and friends.

Funeral services for Chief Leaford Bearskin will be held at 10 a.m. Thursday, Nov. 15, at the Bearskin Health Center Gymnasium in Wyandotte, with Rev. Danny Burleson, officiating. Visitation will be held from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Wednesday evening at the Paul Thomas Funeral Home in Miami. Interment will be in Wyandotte Cemetery with Chief Billy Friend conducting Native American Rites. Pallbearers will be the Wyandotte Nation Color Guard. Honorary pallbearers will be Chiefs of the 8 Nations.

Funeral arrangements are under the direction of Paul Thomas Funeral Home, Miami.

Online condolences may be made at www.paulthomasfuneralhomes.com