Francis "Chief" Bowhan, Pilot

Wichita Urban Native History Tour

Francis "Chief" Bowhan, Pilot

Wichita, Kansas 67203, United States

Created By: Wichita History Walk


“Getting off the earth and soaring through the heavens is the greatest thrill of all”

-- “Chief” Bowhan

Wichita aviation was booming in the early 1920s, and Francis Bowhan was at the heart of the scene. Bowhan marketed his Osage heritage every chance he got and was often known by (and would sign with) the stereotypical nickname, “Chief.”

Francis Dawson Bowhan was born on April 30, 1901 in Elgin, Kansas, to Mart and Ida Bowhan. Bowhan was 1/8 Osage from his mother’s side of the family while his father was white. Bowhan attended school in Pawhuska, Oklahoma and then went to Wentworth Military Academy in Lexington, Missouri. In 1921, Bowhan married Charlotte Blair, who later became a frequent flying companion of his. Soon after, the couple moved to Wichita, KS.

Bowhan said that the desire to fly was with him since the first time he saw an airplane. In a 1923 Wichita Eagle article he said, “I used to study the manner of birds and their lighting, and made up my mind that when I turned 21 years old I would take up the game.”

Bowhan did just that, too. On October 25, 1923, Francis flew in a Laird Swallow to test for his pilot’s license and was issued his license on December 13, 1923, his NAA license number was 6068. Although Bowhan specialized in commercial flying, he also participated in various flight races and tours during his career including the 1925 National Air Tour for the Edsel B. Ford Reliability Trophy.

Bowhan was known in Wichita as being willing to fly for almost anyone. This included a notable trip in September 1923 when he piloted a plane from Laird Airfield which transported 3 prisoners to the Lansing State Penitentiary. It was believed at the time that this was the first time in Kansas history that prisoners were transported by air. The hangar at Laird Airfield was eventually converted to a church on North Hillside.

Bowhan’s heritage was almost always included in newspaper coverage of his flights, usually with the generic term “Indian.” Some papers used racist stereotypes and often referred to Bowhan’s wife Charlotte as an “Indian princess.”

Bowhan was employed by Cessna for a time as a test pilot and also worked for the Pioneer Rubber Company (now the Pioneer Balloon Company, which is still headquartered in Wichita). By the mid-1930s, Bowhan and his family had left Wichita, but the mark he left on the city’s aviation history still remains.

This point of interest is part of the tour: Wichita Urban Native History Tour


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