Osley Bird Saunooke, Principal Chief

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Osley Bird Saunooke, Principal Chief

Also Known As: "Olsey"
Birthplace: Cherokee, Swain County, North Carolina, United States
Death: April 15, 1965 (58)
Immediate Family:

Son of Will Saunooke and Minnie Saunooke
Husband of Bertha VIena Saunooke
Brother of Edward Saunooke; Anderson Saunooke; Cowney Saunooke; Freeman Saunooke; Nettie Saunooke and 2 others

Managed by: Shirley Marie Caulk
Last Updated:

About Osley Bird Saunooke, Principal Chief

Osley Bird Saunooke Principal Chief (1951-1955)


Osley Bird Saunooke, chief of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and world heavyweight wrestling champion, was born near Cherokee, N.C., the son of an Indian father and an English mother. He was descended from a lineage of Indian chiefs for five generations. Saunooke attended Haskell Institute in Kansas, where he played tackle on the football team. He served in the U.S. Marine Corps, drove a taxicab, and worked in the wheat fields and on the railroad in the Midwest.

During the depression he began wrestling professionally and at one time weighed in at 369 pounds. He won the heavyweight title in 1937 from Thor Johnson and held it for fourteen years. After taking part in more than five thousand matches, including seventeen main events in New York City's Madison Square Garden, he retired from the ring in 1951 and returned to Cherokee to enter business.

Saunooke served as tribal chief of the Eastern Cherokee from 1951 to 1955 and from 1959 to 1963. He also was elected vice-president of the National Congress of American Indians. Chief Saunooke is credited with developing a model Indian reservation at Cherokee, and towards this end he spent considerable time in Washington, D.C., where he promoted legislation in Congress to benefit his people. In 1935 he married Bertha Smith, and they became the parents of five children.

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Osley Bird Saunooke, Principal Chief's Timeline

July 19, 1906
Cherokee, Swain County, North Carolina, United States
April 15, 1965
Age 58