Francis D. "Chief" Bowhan, Date Unknown
Francis D. "Chief" Bowhan was born the oldest of eight children (three brothers and four sisters). At left, in this wonderful portrait with tattered edges, he gazes at us from seventy-odd years ago dressed in classic Golden Age aviator clothing, including helmet, goggles, silk scarf with polka dots, and a well-conditioned A-1 leather jacket. We can understand why pilot eyes are a force of nature.
Bowhan competed in the 1925 National Air Tour for the Edsel B. Ford Reliability Trophy (Forden reference, left sidebar). He flew a Travel Air B-6, equipped with a Curtiss OX-5 engine of 90HP. He was accompanied during the race by his wife, Charlotte, and one other passenger identified as Thomas Day.
The rules that year precluded "places" of the type 1st, 2nd, etc. Rather, according to the Aircraft Yearbook for 1926, "A perfect score shall be earned when each leg of course shall have been flown in a time not to exceed 50 per cent more than the scheduled time, providing at least 70 per cent of the legs are flown in a time not to exceed 30 per cent above the scheduled time." Bowhan placed among eleven aircraft that earned perfect scores. He, as well as the other ten pilots, won $350 for their efforts.
A picture of Bowhan and his wife can be seen on page 14 of Chapter 1 in the Forden book. Forden states about Bowhan that he, "...had an income from Oklahoma oil wells. He was active in barnstorming and racing; owned several airplanes; flew for 'Air Express Corporation', an enterprise that operated Lockheed Vegas and Orions in express-only coast-to coast service and made remarkable records for the time.
"Charlotte Bowhan flew with her husband in the 1925 tour. She was an attractive lady, called 'Indian Princess' by the tour flyers. And Bowhan’s named is engraved on the trophy not as Francis, but as “Chief,” a more familiar name, and reminder that this likeable man who competed with the best flyers of his day was indeed, an Osage Indian."
The Wichita Beacon of Wednesday January 25, 1928 cites, "The fifth Cessna cantilever monoplane was given final tests yesterday by Francis Bowhan and will be delivered to W. L. Stribling this week. Another monoplane of a larger design will be tested the latter part of this week. It carries three passengers and pilot and will be delivered to E. A. Link, of New York." Interestingly, Edwin Link was the inventor of the Link Trainer, an instrument flight training device used by most pilots during WWII to learn "blind" flying.
In the Shiel reference in the left sidebar, it states on page 14 that in September 1928, Bowhan won the Class A New York to Los Angeles Transcontinental Air Derby. In fact, Bowhan did not start that race, because of a conflict with officials. However, there is an image of Bowhan on that page, which shows him dressed in his helmet and leather jacket similar to above. The race was won by Earl Rowland (see details here).
Bowhan landed and signed the Davis-Monthan Airfield Register once on Tuesday, July 25, 1933 at 10:25 AM. He carried two passengers, Mrs. Henry King and a Capt. Barkley, in Waco UIC NC13424. Based at Los Angeles, CA, they were eastbound from Burbank, CA to "North Carolina". There was no purpose given in the Register for their trip. "T1392" was noted next to pilot's name; assumed to be Bowhan's transport pilot number. Please follow the link to the airplane to see an image of it, plus Mrs. King's husband.
There is at least one other Osage who signed the Register, General Clarence Tinker.
Below, additional information from Francis Bowhan's grand daughter-in-law.
From "Who's Who Among Oklahoma Indians", 1927:
" F.D. Bowhan, Osage: Born at Elgin, Kansas, April 30, 1901. Son of M.T. Bowhan and Ida M. (Trumbly) Bowhan, Osage. Educated at the Public Schools, Pawhuska, Oklahoma; Wentworth Military Academy, Lexington, Missouri, and Business College, Hutchinson, Kansas. Married Charlotte Blair of Sedan, Kansas, June 17, 1921. Member A.F.
& A.M. [Ancient Free & Accepted Masons]. White Hair Lodge, Pawhuska, Oklahoma. Engaged in farming and stock raising until 1922. Began study of aviation 1922, Wichita, Kansas. Member Wichita Flying Club, Wichita, Kansas. Commissioned Second Lieutenant U.S.A. Air Service, June 19, 1924. Was Pilot in the Edsel B. Ford Reliability Tour, 1925. Received medal for perfect score on this tour, piloting No. 2, Biplane. Won Cup, May 9th, 1926, at Wichita, Kansas, for stunt flying, landing with dead stick. Catholic. Democrat. Home: Bowring, Oklahoma."
Bowhan's grand daughter-in-law goes on to say, "His sister, a family genealogist, had written the following about him which I've summarized in part, but most of it is her words, much of which she says was copied from newspaper articles. Unfortunately, she did not state which newspapers, so I have no source information. It also confirms the relationship between Mr. Henry King who is shown in the picture of the airplane that he flew when he landed at your
airport and signed the register." From Bowhan's sister's records:
"Before his advent into aviation around 1920, he was just about as good with the family's old Apperson Jack Rabbit automobile and the old J.I. Case in which he preferred making his own roads 'among the stumps and cornfields' rather than using the usual road. His interest in flying took him from Osage County and the country life to Wichita, Kansas where he learned to fly under the instructions of Walter Beech, who worked for Laird Swallow Aricraft Factory and later started the Beech Aircraft Company. Francis purchased his own plane and mastered the art of flying, possibly being Osage County's first licensed aviator [but, see Clarence Tinker] and one of the first owners of an airplane there. With only two hours of solo chalked up in his log, he was taking up passengers from an Osage County cow pasture."
His sister says that he related that if he overshot the field and circled back, "....the passengers would thank him, thinking that he was giving them a longer ride. His passengers never knew after they were in the air whether he would put them into a tail spin or some other stunt. Some of the early aviation exploits of Bowhan are recalled by Pawhuskans as the time he landed on 'Murray Lane' later known as Oklahoma highway 99 and the challenge he accepted that he could not fly under the arch on west Main Street bridge. He was prevented from attempting this dare after much persuasion from friends. In 1923 pursuing two bank robbers in the Osage Hills was a new spectacle, as when he heard about the robbery took his plane up in search of them, spotting them near the Kansas line, and giving them quite a scare when he dipped down toward them. No one could predict just what he might try, whether it be knocking bottles from the edge of a hangar with the tip of his right wing, or some other antic that might enter his mind.
"In 1925 he joined the Travel-Air Manufacturing Company as a test pilot and flew in the Ford Motor Company's first Reliability Contest Tour, piloting a Travel-Air ship. He was among the ten who finished the flight and his name is engraved on the princely silver trophy he received which marked the flight. In addition to cross countyr races, he was a stunt flyer at Air Shows. From Travel-Air he went to Cessna Aircraft as test pilot for about 7 years. Later chief pilot and general manager for Pioneer Aircraft. Frank Grace, who had a tire factory, sold Cessnas, started the Pioneer Aircraft [Company] with just three planes in Omaha, Nebraska. From Omaha, Francis went to Des Moines for a passenger airline.
"He was a pilot on the first air freight line from New York to Los Angeles. A hitch with the Air Express Corporation, flying a ship from Los Angeles to Wichita, Kansas, with a couple of forced landings in the Rockies thrown in, finally landed him a position as a private pilot for Henry King, well known Fox Film Director [see NC13424]. As King's pilot, he flew such stars as Janet Gaynor, Lionel Barrymore, Paul Lukas, and Ken Maynard on cross country flights. Joining the Burham Exploration company, he went to South America where for some time he was engaged in flying gold ore and chicle, a base for chewing gum, out of the jungle.
"In 1938 he decided to settle down and bought a farm in Arkansas. The fumes of burning gas and the roar of the prop were still vivid memories, however, and he was soon enroute to England aboard an English freighter, a ferry pilot for the British Army, engaged in ferrying planes from one English base to another. For many years he had known Clyde E. Brayton and regarded him as one of the aviation industry's outstanding pioneers. In 1941 when he heard that Brayton was operating the Cuero Field, Cuero, Texas, he went to that city and was among the first fourteen pilots to check in at the field and begin work as instructors.
"'Chief' getting his 'stripes' as a barnstormer, now has approximately 5,071 hours in the air. He has spanned more than one country by air, had seen dog fights over London, had dodged German fighters in ferrying planes in England and had experienced practically every thrill known to knights of the air, was recognized as one of the most skilled pilots at the Brayton School and a man who knew what he was talking about when it came to planes. When he started flying back in the 1920's the modern planes of that day boasted only a half dozen or more gadgets, whereas the modern warplane at this time - the pilot had some fifty instruments at his disposal."
From a newspaper clipping - St. Louis paper (no date; late 1920s?):
SWALLOW PILOT AND WIFE LOST IN THE DESERT -- "...Chief Hart [sic, i.e., Francis] Bowhan, flying a Swallow airplane from the Wichita factory to Oakland, Cal., is somewhere in the mountains or deserts of Arizona and New Mexico, but all efforts to locate him from Wichita have failed. Mrs. Bowhan is with him. Mr. & Mrs. Bowhan left Wichita last Saturday to deliver a Swallow plane to Oakland...Three days passed, however, and the pilot had traveled only as far as Albuquerque, N.M. He telegraphed J.M. Moellendick, President of the Swallow Airplane Company, from that city. This was the last time he has been heard from. In that message, Bowhan said they had encountered very bad weather and heavy fogs that forced them to nose along slowly...Mr. Moellendick replied by telegraphing money for further expenses and the advice to take no chances...Bowhan is flying a Swallow plane painted gold, an unusual and consequently noticeable color among flying machines. The plane would be easily traced..."
There was no follow-up story. His grand daughter-in-law concludes, "'Chief' Bowhan passed away just before his 44th birthday , but packed a lot of living in that brief time doing what he loved most--flying!"
UPLOADED: 03/10/08 REVISED: 03/31/08, 04/14/08