Jul 10, 2018

1967: Rolling Thunder


SAN FRANCISCO (UPI) - The Indians have gotten together with the hippies.
"When I saw those long-haired people, I knew they had lost their greed," said Chief Rolling Thunder Wednesday after a visit of several days with hippie leaders.
"These people are our children, and we are going to adopt them as blood brothers."
Rolling Thunder, chairman of the traditional tribal council of the Western Shoshone nation, came here to join a caravan of 32 Indians who have crossed the nation from New York.
The caravan has been visiting tribes and preaching "red nationalism," or Indian unity, in a fight against a bill pending in Congress.
Last week 300 hippies gathered in what they call the Straight Theater with Rolling Thunder and Soldier Woman, a leader of the Winnebagos, and some others.
"It was a beautiful weekend for everybody," said Ron Thelin, a prominent hippie figure.
But Indians from some other tribes were not so pleased with the hippies, long fascinated with the Indian way of life and given to wearing Indian garments and jewelry.
Chief Beeman Logan of the New York Tonowanda-Seneca shunned invitations from the flower children after observing their stormy meeting in Golden Gate Park with Michigan Gov. George Romney.
"They just read about the Indians," Chief Logan said. "They don't know the Indians personally."
And after sleeping a few nights on the floor of the house here of the Grateful Dead, a hippie rock band, Rolling Thunder's son, Spotted Eagle, 14, said, "I think they are a little lost.
"They dropped out of society and are trying to find a free one and they are still looking."
But the hippies passed around petitions to protest the pending Congressional proposal, the so-called omnibus bill, which would allow Indians to borrow money on their lands.
"They won't be able to pay back the loans," said Rolling Thunder. "It's a trick to get the last remaining Indian lands."
"The stealing of our lands by the whites is still going on," he told the hippies.

(from the Capital-Journal (Salem, OR), 28 September 1967)

Thanks to Dave Davis.

A 1981 interview with Rolling Thunder:


  1. Not much Dead content here, but I posted it for those curious about when the Dead first encountered Rolling Thunder.

    McNally writes that he was "a Native American from Nevada also known as John Pope, who had come to San Francisco in 1967 guided by a vision that colorfully dressed young white people might prove to be allies to Indians. Rolling Thunder was an authentic healer and a fascinating character, whose flagrant lechery made him all the more interesting." (p.309)
    He became a friend of the Dead's and a frequent visitor to Mickey Hart's ranch from 1969 on. Mickey wrote about him in Drumming at the Edge of Magic:
    "His Western name was John Pope and his Western job was working as a brakeman for the railroad. His Indian name was Rolling Thunder and his Indian job was medicine man.
    Rolling Thunder entered the scene during that brief intermixing of counterculture and Native American culture that had taken place in the early days of the Haight-Ashbury, becoming intertwined with members of the Grateful Dead extended family, many of whom called upon his services when they were sick. The ranch became his base whenever he was in the Bay Area; he did his curing there, replenishing his medicinal herbs from the overgrown herb garden.
    When Rolling Thunder was in residence, one of his sons would rise at dawn and wake the place with a barking cry... A fire would be built on the little hill near the Barn, and everyone would gather there before breakfast. We would sing songs, accompanied on the drum by one of Rolling Thunder's entourage - he usually traveled with five or six young Indians, sons and apprentices - who drummed a steady, hypnotic rhythm. Rolling Thunder would then call on the four winds to carry our morning prayers up with the smoke..."
    Mickey was impressed enough by Rolling Thunder to name his studio and first album after him.

    Although some, like the Dead, believed in his healing and spiritual powers, he was also accused of being a fraud, not a medicine man at all: "'Rolling Thunder' was actually John Pope, a white man who claimed to be part-Cherokee and at various times also claimed to be Shoshone or Hopi. What he taught had virtually no resemblance at all to any traditional native teachings and much more to do with counterculture fantasies of what they wished natives were like... Pope made his career posing as a native activist and charging money for dubious ceremonies...and even managed to convince some of the Western Shoshone he was for real."

    The Straight Theater event mentioned in the article was on 9/22/67, a North American Indian Unity Caravan discussion session with Ron Thelin. It seems Rolling Thunder (or family members) stayed in the Dead's house during their visit to San Francisco.

    The Dead later played a few benefits for Indian causes:
    11/17/68 Eagles Auditorium, Seattle (Benefit for Indian Rights, sponsored by the Survival of American Indians Assn., with activist speakers: "A benefit concert [will] help Indian fishermen in their battle to retain traditional netting rights... Part of the funds from the benefit will be used to establish a bail fund for Indians and others arrested for allegedly illegal fishing.")
    6/21/70 Pauley Ballroom, U of C Berkeley ("A benefit for the Legal Defense Fund of the Pit River Indians who are fighting to regain their lands in the Shasta area and have been arrested trying to reclaim camp grounds now being trespassed upon by PG&E." Pit River council members also spoke.)
    3/5/72 Winterland (benefit for the American Indian Movement, possibly connected to the occupation of Alcatraz which had ended 9 months earlier, but I haven't seen any info on this)

    1. Credible witnesses have seen healing that RT directed. Bad press says otherwise. RT had a gift and helped many people.

  2. I don't know who these other people are talking about. But the John Pope and family I knew in Carlin, Nevada, my neighbor's was the real deal!

  3. Isn't it funny that Pope gets a pass from the CNN crowd, when he should be remembered as a fraud who dressed up and sold fake shaman degrees, ceremonies and charms. It's the same thing as the PM of Canada or Gov of Virginia dressing up in black face. Unacceptable at anytime. Toodle's

    1. I knew Rolling Thunder and he NEVER sold healing, degrees, ceremonies, or charms. He was completely against selling what Spirit offers for free.

    2. Rolling Thunder never sold his healings, or any charms of any kind! I know because he was a good friend of mine.