Arthur Junaluska - Cherokee, choreographer, actor, and guardian of Native American culture - is celebrated here with his loving wife Betty. Arthur and Betty Smith Junaluska were a special couple - by no means typical of our family or indeed of any family. But Betty was certainly a good example of the strong women in the Berry and Wright tradition - women who followed their own paths. She took after great-grandmother Mary Martha Berry.

Arthur Smith Junaluska 1912-1978

Arthur JunaluskaArthur was a member of the Cherokee nation, born in North Carolina, site  of the tribal home of the Eastern band of the Cherokees. His father was an electrical engineer. He was sent to a Government boarding school like many other native American children of his generation. He was educated at Maryville College, Tennessee, and at Eckels College, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He managed to complete four years of college and graduated with a BSc. He enlisted in 1942 and spent three years in the Army Medical Corps in World War II, and returned to the US to work as a Medical Technician and Bacteriologist, occasionally working on projects for the New York City Department of Health. He then went to the Lister School of Medical Research, London School of Medicine and worked for the South London Blood Transfusion Department, where he helped to modify a serological test process for syphilis that is now used by commercial blood banks. He was a member of the team that discovered a way of saving the "blue baby" from death. But his vocation was the theatre and his native culture. In 1945 he gave up his medical career and began acting. He trained with the Shakespeare Repertoire Group of America, became the first Native American to play Shakespearean roles, and played the classics in small repertory companies and university theatres. He gained parts in off-Broadway and Broadway productions. He rode in rodeos, and eventually started getting parts in films and television. He played many bit parts as North American Indians, South American Indians, even Indian Indians. In the fifties he began to develop a focus on his Native American heritage, writing plays, producing ballets, and promoting the culture. Although Arthur and Betty travelled throughout the USA, Arthur did much work on the New York theatre scene, and gradually his work in the field of Native American culture began to be noticed. In 1970 he was invited to attend the first Convocation of American Indian Scholars, at Princeton University, in recognition of the contribution he had made to his cultural heritage

The Nurse from Sandford

Betty WrightBetty Smith Junaluska née Wright (1920-2005), WAAF nurse from Sandford, could not have guessed the impact that the glamorous US Medical Corps Sergeant would have on her life when he asked her for a dance in the Tower Ballroom, Blackpool. They dated, and soon fell in love.  But at the end of the war he had to return to the States. They stayed in touch however, and their love for each other was strong enough to survive separation. Prompted by her letters,  Arthur flew back to England. In Exeter, in July 1948, Betty married this Cherokee, 8 years her senior, and divorced - a fact that was either unknown or unacknowledged by Betty's family. But the couple were not happy in grey post-war England, so on 28th November 1949 they sailed for New York on the M/S Batory.  Betty had vivid memories of arriving in New York after she got married and of those early days settling into a huge and bustling city.  She was struck by how much food they ate (after rationing in England) and all the bright lights and tall buildings and new inventions like the coffee machine that you put a nickel in to get your drink.  She shared thirty years of her life with Arthur, and travelled around America, enduring the ups and downs of the career of a jobbing actor and artist,  but her love for him never seemed to diminish. 

Arthur's Work

He began to write plays on Native American themes, including The Medicine WomanHell-cat of the PlainsGrand Council of Indian CircleThe Spirit of Wallowa and Spectre in the Forest. He would direct not only his own plays but was invited to direct the work of others, in New York and at events exploring Native American culture on university campuses around the country. He is credited with having begun the contemporary Indian theatre movement with his productions in New York in the 1950s. He organized the American Indian Dramatic Company and produced , directed and starred in The Arrow Maker. In 1958 he was director of a drama workshop at South Dakota Wesleyan University. He founded and was Director of the American Indian Society of Creative Arts in New York City, and the American Indian Theatre Foundation Inc, which had the goal of establishing a permanent Native American theatre.
His appearances in TV including work as an extra, in walk-on parts and in minor roles. Typical of his TV work, he was in the drama series Studio One Hollywood, when in the episode The Kill he appeared alongside Grace Kelly and Nina Foch, and on NBC's Kraft TV Theatre when he appeared in an episode Look What's Going On with Edward Asner and Ed Begle. He appeared in a very minor role as Mexican peasant alongside Sir Laurence Olivier, in a TV Production of The Power and the Glory in 1961.

Still from the Hospital
Arthur as Medicine Man Mr Blacktree in the 1971 Oscar-winning film The Hospital

One of his few film appearances was in The Hospital, a black comedy starring George C. Scott, with Diana Rigg. Writer Paddy Chayevsky won an Oscar for Best Screenplay.
He told me when I was a child that he  occasionally appeared as an extra in the Phil Silvers (Sergeant Bilko) Show, but there are no credits to support this.
As well as his work in film and television and on the stage, Arthur's repertoire included lecture tours, when he would recite the speeches of  Great American Chiefs, and perform traditional dances in full regalia.  He made recordings of some speeches - one being the account by Red Hawk of the defeat of Custer at the Battle of the Little Big Horn, and another a double album of Great American Indian Speeches. He also narrated some folk tales and recorded these. Sadly his recordings are no longer available commercially, though copies can be found in many university libraries in the USA. 
He had always been a choreographer - indeed he had taught indian dance steps to choreographer Helen Tamaris for the long-running 50s Broadway production of Annie Get Your Gun. During the 60s he began to work on the piece that was in many ways the culmination of his artistic development. He devised, choreographed, designed, directed and produced the Folk Ballet The Dance of the Twelve Moons. Based on the Native American Year of 12 Moons, or months, it comprises 12 traditional dances, with a narration that interweaves aspects of Arthur's life with the seasons. The ballet was performed in New York City, in North Carolina and also in the North West, with a cast of Native Americans.

Betty and parents Betty with her parents during a visit to England in 1958

Whilst Arthur was a quietly-spoken, gentle man, Betty was by contrast flamboyant and vivacious, and tremendously loyal to Arthur. In New York she worked as an agency nurse, and for a while looked after the dying composer Stravinsky. She was very proud of having met Jackie Kennedy. She steadfastly travelled the roads of America with Arthur and endured tribal politics and jealousy when she lived with him for a while on a reservation. But Arthur supported her equally. By 1971 she was missing her Devonshire home and family, and Arthur agreed that they should return to England. They returned in '72. They tried to promote his work in Europe, without much success. He gave some lectures, and recitals, but his career never blossomed in the UK. In 1978 Arthur succumbed to ill-health and died in Exeter. For the rest of her life Betty worked tirelessly in an effort to get his work staged in Europe, or revived in the US. She died in 2005.

Poster for the Hospital

Arthur's origins are somewhat shrouded in mystery, and indeed in myth of his own creation. His given name of Smith hardly makes for straightforward research. He claims to have been born in Oklahoma, but his first definite appearance in the record is his enlistment record in December 1942, when Arthur F. Smith, American Indian, citizen , birth year 1912, Nativity State: North Carolina, enlisted in Tulsa, Oklahoma for the duration. By this time he was living in Muskegee, Oklahoma. His name on his marriage certificate in 1948 is the same - Arthur Freeman Smith.
But by 1948 he had started to use the name Junaluska, and claimed that his great-great grandfather was the Cherokee Chief Junaluska, who saved General Andrew Jackson at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend in 1812. Jackson treacherously rewarded his allies by expelling the junaluskaCherokees from their homelands in North Carolina to the alien Indian Territory that was to become Oklahoma. The 1600 mile forced winter march to the place of exile became known as the Trail of Tears and Junaluska was one of the leaders on the journey. By 1972 Arthur was claiming descent from Yonaguska, or Drowning Bear, supposedly
the half-brother of Junaluska, who managed to elude capture by the military and remained in North Carolina, protecting what was to be the Eastern band of the Cherokee. Robert Conley in A Cherokee Encyclopedia records both these as genuine ancestors of Arthur.

From the 50s Arthur became arthurArthur Smith Junaluska. Research undertaken to date has not been able to verify his ancestry. But it would be reasonable for an imaginative person working in a business where a romantic identity can only be an advantage, to make the most of family legends. Arthur claimed that his name meant Running Wolf. Betty and the family always called him Ramon.


The Dance of the Twelve Moons

"Out of this hallowed, limitless space of time, playing hide and seek from behind the moving clouds, the chanting echoes of the past emerge forth once again, and the wind is its voice.  Listen! The first beat of the sacred-hollow drum resounds through every fibre, even now in the whispering of the wind, you can hear the faint moccasined foot-steps of spirited dancers."

The Dance of the Twelve Moons is Arthur's ballet. It is based on the calendar year of the moons of the American Indian. The production consists of twelve episodes and twelve distinctive Native American dances performed by many tribes throughout the nation over the years past, and many of the dances are no longer performed. The Dance of the Twelve Moons contains the twelve dances with narration, choreographed designs with illustrations and twelve symbolic designs for backdrops and a resume of Arthur Junaluska's life and photographs. There is no music score but in performance the sound of the traditional native chanting with drums, flute, gourd, bells and rattles. " The Indian Foot and the Earth are like two voices in duet dancing toe-to-heel caressing the Earth."

choreography diagram
Some of Arthur's dance step notes

burgundy backdrop
Top and above: Backdrops for the Rose Moon, and Long Night Moon.

speaker iconYou can download an .mp3 of Arthur's reading of a speech of Seneca Chief Redjacket if you click on the picture. Chief Redjacket