Muffler Men Indians.
L to R: Cherokee, NC; Bemidji, MN; Wisconsin Dells, WI; North Platte, NE

The Big Indian Question

The most misunderstood variety of Muffler Man may be the Big Indian (aka the Big Brave or the Big Chief). He is a study in contradiction -- his right hand nearly always raised in friendly greeting, his face a solemn, impenetrable mask. He can be found near trading posts, pottery and jewelry shops, and in most tourist meccas.

Trojan converted from Indian.
Dells Indian converted to a Trojan warrior.

Many argue that the big caricature of an Indian warrior is not a Muffler Man at all -- his hands and arms are wrong, he is bare-chested. And where is his smile and lantern jaw?

We believe that beyond the surface incongruities, one finds the solid connection to Muffler Man lineage. All Muffler Men are composed of at least five configured fiberglass components -- head, two arms, torso, lower trunk/legs. The lower trunk/legs of the typical Indian giant are cast from the same mold as other muffler men.

Another factor to consider: Indian statues may be the Original Big People. The earliest reports of mass produced, giant figures along the highway, at least back into the 1940s, were of Indians and Paul Bunyans. There is no record proving they bore any resemblance to contemporary Muffler Men, but many witnesses recall similarities.

Giant pop culture caricatures of North American Indians were a logical evolution of the 19th century's life-sized Cigar Store Indian, wood-carved eye-catchers once as ubiquitous as barber poles. In the 20th century, faster vehicles required bigger incentives to stop, so the giants found their avocation. In some parts of the country, the giant Indians became the only reminder that the people they are based on once lived there.

While some classic Muffler Man components have been combined into newer hybrids, such as the Fort Cody Trading Post giant, the original Indian dominates. Variations on the original model continued to turn up -- for example, the tribal chief-turned-Trojan warrior at Big Chief Go Cart in the Wisconsin Dells.

Today, increased sensitivity to cultural identity and historical injustices places many of these archaic symbols of commerce in danger. Will they go the way of the hatchet-wielding baseball mascot, or will they be appreciated as classy progenitors of Big Boys and ghastly modern inflatables?

We dare not risk of disenfranchising the Big Indian, so we embrace him. Or at least cling to his leg.

Also see: Muffler Men Home Page

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