Chief Sky, the Chippewa Indian Behind the Famous U.S. Airborne

Ahgamahwegezhig -- or Chief Sky -- a member of the Flambeau band of the Chippewa tribe, in 1861

Indian Country Today

Chief Sky, the Chippewa Indian Behind the Famous U.S. Airborne Screaming Eagle Sleeve Insignia.

The Screaming Eagle insignia of the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) is perhaps the most recognized and famous shoulder sleeve insignia in the United States Army.

However the history and symbolism of the patch is often forgotten. The eagle on your shoulder is not just any American Bald Eagle, but instead, it commemorates the most famous animal mascot that ever served in the United States Army.

In 1861, an American Indian named Ahgamahwegezhig — or Chief Sky — a member of the Flambeau band of the Chippewa tribe, cut down a tree in an attempt to capture two American Bald Eaglets in their nest. Chief Sky later traded the surviving eaglet to Daniel McCann of Eagle Point, Wisc., for a bushel of corn.

McCann took the bird to Eau Claire, Wisc., and briefly kept it as a family pet. Caged inside a modified oaken cask, the bird grew larger and quickly became too expensive to feed. McCann actively sought to sell the as yet unnamed bird to the many units of Wisconsin troops passing through the area enroute to their muster site at Camp Randall in Madison, Wisc.

After many unsuccessful attempts to rid himself of the bird, McCann eventually sold the eagle for $2.50 to Capt. John E. Perkins, commanding officer of a militia company called the "Eau Claire Badgers." Part of the money was, reluctantly, given by local tavern-keeper S.M. Jeffers.

In light of their newly acquired mascot, the unit renamed themselves the "Eau Claire Eagle."

Perkins' unit entered federal service and was re-designated as Company C, 8th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry Regiment. The Eau Claire Eagles' mascot was adopted by the new 8th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry Regiment which was quickly nicknamed the "Eagle Regiment." After much deliberation, the mascot was named "Old Abe," in honor of President Abraham Lincoln.

During its time awaiting muster into Federal service at Camp Randall, the 8th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry Regiment purchased a special, shield-shaped perch on which to carry their mascot. It was here, in Madison, Wisconsin where "Old Abe" was named in honor of our 16th President, Abraham Lincoln.

The 8th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry Regiment spent its entire military service in what was then known as the Western Theater of the American Civil War comprising: Missouri; Arkansas; Tennessee; Mississippi; Louisiana; and Alabama. "Old Abe" was present during all of the 8th Wisconsin's battles and was carried into combat by a sergeant on a special perch alongside the 8th Wisconsin's National and Regimental colors.

Seeing "Old Abe" atop his perch during the battle of Corinth, Mississippi, Confederate General Sterling Price remarked, "that bird must be captured or killed at all hazards, I would rather get that eagle than capture a whole brigade or a dozen battle flags."

During "Old Abe's" service, the 8th Wisconsin participated in many battles, expeditions, and pursuits of Confederate forces. Among these were the battles of: Iuka; Corinth; Island Number 10; Big Black; Champion's Hill; the Red River and Meridian expeditions; and the Battle of Nashville. "Old Abe" was there every step of the way.
Their enlistments having expired, the men of the 8th Wisconsin were mustered out of federal service in late-1864. The 8th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry Regiment was no more. On Sept. 26th, 1864, a contingent of 70 8th Wisconsin veterans marched "Old Abe" to the state and presented him to Governor James Lewis. "Old Abe" was donated to the people of Wisconsin by the loving comrades alongside whom he had fought for four years.

In 1865 an enterprising Chicagoan, capitalizing on "Old Abe's" fame, sought to enlist him in support of the United Sanitary Commission's efforts to provide aid and comfort to wounded Veterans. Thus the "Army of the American Eagle" was formed. Children were "enlisted" to sell paper photographs of "Old Abe" in much the same way that schools raise funds today. Proceeds from the sale of these photographs went to benefit local veteran's charities.

The Wisconsin War Eagle's post-war life was punctuated by frequent nation-wide travel in support of veteran reunions, patriotic gatherings, Soldier relief benefits, and special exhibitions during which he achieved a rock star-like status. In 1876, "Old Abe" again toured the country as part of America's Centennial Exposition.

"Old Abe" lived out the remainder of his life in an aviary in the Capitol building. In 1881, a fire broke out in a paint and solvent storage area near "Old Abe's" aviary. A month later the famous Wisconsin War Eagle, weakened by fumes, died in the arms of his handler, George Gilles.

Many newspapers and Veterans groups wondered aloud "what would become of this famous, flesh and blood war relic?" Upon his death, "Old Abe" was preserved and exhibited in the Capitol building's Grand Army of the Republic Memorial Hall until a fire destroyed the display in 1904. Sadly, only a few of "Old Abe's" feathers survive, carefully preserved by the Wisconsin Veterans' Museum in Madison.

Today, large sculptures of "Old Abe" stand atop the Wisconsin monument at Vicksburg, Miss., and atop the entrance to old Camp Randall, now the main entrance to the University of Wisconsin's football stadium. Since 1865, Wisconsin-based J.I. Case farm implement company has used "Old Abe" as part of their corporate logo. "Old Abe" also serves as the mascot of several Wisconsin high schools.

Since 1921, "Old Abe's" head, in profile, has served as the shoulder sleeve insignia of the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault). A large-scale diorama of the 8th Wisconsin's Color Guard, complete with "Old Abe," is on exhibit in the atrium of the division headquarters building on Fort Campbell.

Comments (6)
No. 1-6
Matthew k
Matthew k

Matthew k
Matthew k

I will transcribe as best as I can the article

Matthew k
Matthew k

What do ear am Lincoln the civil war and the case eagle emblem have in common? The connection between Abraham Lincoln and the civil war is obvious to most people who have studied American history however the connection between the case eagle emblem either Lincoln or the civil war seems far stretch one learns the story of a real eagles involvement in the war. in sugar maple time in 1861 a young Chippewa Indian chief sky cut down a pine tree which contained to an eagle's nest and captured a two-week-old eagle it is estimated that the bird hast on May 27th 1861. later chiefs sky sold the bird to a white man for a bushel of corn that owner sold him to an you Claire Wisconsin man for $5 Captain j c Perkins received the eaglet when he was raising a volunteer company to fight in the civil war a man named McCain offered to sell the bird for $2.50 so Frank McGuire who is assisting Perkins suggests that everyone put in a quarter to buy the eaglet he asked the wealthy civilian SM Jeffers to help pay but the man refused the resulting soldiers negative response led the man to pay for the bird with a quarter eagle and then give it to the company the original donors got their money back in September of that year Perkins brought the bird with him to Madison Wisconsin where company c the eighth Wisconsin regiment known as the ear Claire Badgers later change your name to the EU Claire eagles bought him for $2.50 and named him a call Dave after the President Abraham Lincoln quartermaster Francis l buildings made a purchase for him and tied his one leg with a stout cord from then on James McGinnis volunteer to carry old Avon that perch next to the colors of the companies see when he was fully grown old Dave's wings measured more than six feet from tip-to-tip and he weighed 10 lb old Abe watched the battles with excitement and sometimes rose up on his perch stretch his wings out as far as he could and flap them while he screamed when he was not in battle here an at-large and play tricks and entertain the troops with his antics including stealing the ball during a baseball game tipping over pails of water and drinking beer he did not drink whiskey and got drunk while only wants induct Port la near Vicksburg general Grant tipped his hat to old Abe the regiment cheered in OLED flap his wings in response in the Battle of fort derussy old Abe and his bear reached and scaled the fort first and skilled it during the height of battle he served in 34-38 civil war battles between October 21st 1861 and August 13th 1864 information sources very many times the enemy tried unsuccessfully to capture and or kill him after the war hold a was presented to the state of Wisconsin and move to Wisconsin state house where the governor had a house built for him and hired a veteran to care for him during his retirement old Abe was a guest of honor at many celebrations when he lost his feathers people treasure and preserve them willing and willingly paid $5 and $25 for one in the winter of 1881 a fire broke out in a room near his house he screamed loudly and people rushed in to rescue him however he was never the same and died on March 26th 1881 at the age of 20 in the arms of his caretaker George gillis a taxidermist mounts at him and he set first in the state capitol rotunda until in 1900 when he was transferred to the state social circle society of Wisconsin building then in 1903 he was moved back to the Capitol building where he remained until 1904 when a fire raise the Capitol building and destroyed his roommate in 1915 Arabic love him has remained in Wisconsin State Assembly chamber in the States capitol building another replica is in medicine at the Wisconsin veterans museum a stone sculpture of old Abe sits on the top of the camp Randall Arch which serves as both the entrance to both the camp Randall memorial Park and the entrance to camp Randall stadium for the University of Wisconsin marching band during badger football season in Madison Wisconsin

Matthew k
Matthew k

In 1861 Jerome increase j i case saw old Abe in a parade with soldiers from company c and heard the story of old Abe from young boy he then decided old Abe would be part of the symbol for j i case company the logo with j i case threshing machine company and Racine Wisconsin printed on a branch on which he purged appeared for the first time on the case eclipse thresher in 1865 does old Abe became famous with people in agriculture also later the branch perch became a globe perch and old remain in the case logo for 104 years from 1865 until it was retired in 1969 and was replaced by the new case mark is image appears as the screaming eagle on the insignia of the US army's 101st airborne division

Matthew k
Matthew k


It has been known in my family for generations and generations that we are descended from Sky, while we have become increasingly more white, (I’m 16, and 1/32 Native) I always try to keep in touch with this part of my heritage as well.