Kaw Indian preceded Obama on presidential ticket
By Matt Kelley, USA TODAY
WASHINGTON — Democrat Barack Obama is the first person of color to be a major-party nominee for president, but he's not the first to be on a presidential ticket.
Charles Curtis, a member of the Kaw Indian tribe, was vice president under Herbert Hoover. He served from 1929 to 1933. Curtis, a senator from Kansas, had been the Senate's majority leader and an unsuccessful rival of Hoover's for the 1928 Republican presidential nomination.
Curtis was a great-great-grandson of the Kaw chief White Plume, who offered his help to the Lewis and Clark expedition in 1804. Born in 1860, Curtis spent much of his childhood on the Kaw tribe's reservation near Topeka and spoke the Kaw tribal language before he learned English.
In 1873, when his grandparents and other Kaw tribal members were forced to relocate to Oklahoma, Curtis' grandmother talked him out of accompanying his relatives. Instead, he went to school in Topeka, eventually becoming a lawyer and getting into politics.
Curtis was strongly partisan: According to the Senate Historical Office, he often told audiences he was "one-eighth Kaw Indian and 100% Republican." He was a master at dealmaking.
First elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1892, Curtis soon became chairman of the Indian Affairs Committee. He drafted the Curtis Act of 1898, which abridged many tribes' rights under treaties to govern themselves and put the Interior Department's Bureau of Indian Affairs in charge of overseeing mineral and oil resources on tribal lands.
Curtis was first elected to the Senate in 1907. He opposed Hoover for the 1928 presidential nomination, then became Hoover's running mate in a compromise meant to shore up Republican support in Kansas and other farm states.
His rivalry with Hoover left him marginalized as vice president, and he spent much of his time presiding over the Senate.
After Hoover was defeated by Franklin Roosevelt in 1932, Curtis remained in Washington, where he died in 1936.