April 12, 1899
|Died||December 1, 1955 (aged 56)|
Ventura, California, U.S.
|Resting place||Forest Lawn Memorial Park, Glendale|
|Mildred Ann Turner (1925 - ?) Frances Courtright (1933 - 1955 [his death])|
Victor Daniels (April 12, 1899 - December 1, 1955), known professionally as Chief Thundercloud, was an American character actor in Westerns. He is noted for being the first actor to play the role of Tonto, the Lone Ranger's Native-American companion, on the screen.
Information available about Daniels is limited and vague. He repeatedly said he was born in the Oklahoma Territory. But his Social Security application lists his birth date as April 12, 1899, and his birthplace as Santa Cruz County in the Arizona Territory. He listed his parents as Jesus Daniels and Tomaca Daniels.
At various times he falsely claimed to be Cherokee and Creek. He had a sister named Anita, born October 6, 1911, in Tucson, Pima County, Arizona Territory. On her birth certificate she listed similar parents with Jesus Daniel (born in Sonora) and Tomaso Acuna (born in Arizona).
Thundercloud's first marriage was to 17-year-old Mildred Turner (from Missouri) on May 26, 1925, in Los Angeles. At that time, he called himself "Victor Vasquez." Their son Victor Junior Daniels was born on May 7, 1926, and a second son, Norman Daniels, on September 5, 1927, both in Los Angeles. Thundercloud divorced Mildred and later married Frances Courtright on April 26, 1933.
His Lone Ranger press biography claimed he was derived from the "Muskogee aristocracy"[sic]--but the concept of European "royalty" and "aristocrats" is foreign to Native American cultures. He was actually the first of nine children born to Jesus and Tomaca Daniels (as indicated on his Social Security application). The pressbook for The Lone Ranger Rides Again announced his parents as "Dark Cloud and Morning Star, aristocrats of the Muskogee tribe" [sic], while his death certificate lists his father as Joseph Mahawa.
Raised on a ranch in Arizona, he claimed to have attended the University of Arizona at Tucson, where he "excelled scholastically and in athletics (football, boxing)." However, no record exists of his enrollment or attendance at the school under the name Daniels or any other name he used.
This section relies largely or entirely on a single source. (January 2018)
Daniels worked many jobs before becoming a stuntman--cowboy on cattle ranches, miner, rodeo performer, and tour guide--before he went to Hollywood to try his luck at acting. From there he graduated to character actor status. His title "Chief" was a Hollywood invention, a stage name. He had the title role in Geronimo (1939) and played Tonto in both Republic Lone Ranger serials, The Lone Ranger (1938) and The Lone Ranger Rides Again (1939).
Throughout the 1940s, Daniels continued to work as a character actor, maintaining the Chief Thundercloud persona. In most of the films in which he was featured, he played an antagonist opposing the white protagonist. For example, in the film "Young Buffalo Bill" (1940) he played Akuna, a renegade Native American chief who commits murder while working as a hired hand. In the film Renegade Girl (1946), he played the main villain, Chief Whitecloud, a vengeful antagonist with a vendetta against the protagonist's family.
Although featured in a number of films, Daniels was uncredited in some films, such as Gun Smoke (1936), a film about a ranch defending itself from a flood of sheep. He also appeared in the first two parts of the serial Custer's Last Stand (1936), again uncredited.
Daniels had a short appearance on early television on The Gene Autry Show (1950). One of his last appearances was on March 1, 1955, as the Apache Geronimo in the premiere episode of the syndicated television series Buffalo Bill, Jr. starring Dick Jones in the fictional title role of a young Texas frontier marshal.
Daniels appeared as Chief Thundercloud in the 1954 episode "The Saint's Portrait" of the syndicated anthology series Death Valley Days hosted by Stanley Andrews. In the story line, a painting of Saint Joseph is thought by a tribe and its covetous neighbor to be magical. However, the mission priest, Father Mariano (Martin Garralaga), reveals its deeper meaning. The episode also starred Rico Alaniz, George J. Lewis, and Eugenia Paul.
According to the Los Angeles Daily News, Daniels was fined $200 and sentenced to four years of probation in 1951 after he pleaded guilty to violating the Corporate Security Act. He was told to make restitution of $5,625 to his victims after he had sold them shares in films without a permit. During his final years, he worked with other western actors performing in live shows at the Corriganville Movie Ranch, now the Corriganville Regional Park, near Simi Valley, California.
Victor Daniels died at age 56 following surgery for stomach cancer in Ventura County, California, on December 1, 1955. He was survived by his wife, Frances. He was buried in Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, near Los Angeles. His last film role was in the John Wayne film The Searchers (1956), which was released after his death.
After working for some time as a stuntman and in bit parts, it was Daniels' portrayal of the character Tonto in the serial The Lone Ranger (1938) that was to be his legacy. This is perhaps where he gained the most recognition as a character actor." That same year, he had a small villain-like role in the first part of Flaming Frontiers, a 15-part cliffhanger about murder and double cross. The following year, Thundercloud reprised his role as the Lone Ranger's sidekick in The Lone Ranger Rides Again.