George Horse Capture, Native American activist, scholar; occupied Alcatraz; 75

Mr. Horse Capture was in the Gros Ventre tribe, or White Clay People. He taught at Montana State University.
Larry Beckner/Great Falls Tribune
Mr. Horse Capture was in the Gros Ventre tribe, or White Clay People. He taught at Montana State University.

GREAT FALLS, Mont. — Native American activist, curator, and professor George Horse Capture has died in Great Falls. He was 75.

Mr. Horse Capture, a member of the Gros Ventre tribe, died April 16 of kidney failure, his family said.

Mr. Horse Capture was an author, archivist, and curator at the Plains Indian Museum at the Buffalo Bill Historical Center in Cody, Wyo. He was an assistant professor at Montana State University, taught at the College of Great Falls, and worked for the National Museum of the American Indian at the Smithsonian.


But his foremost passion was for the Gros Ventre — also known as the A’ani, or White Clay People.

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‘‘What he did in his life, he did for his tribe,’’ Kay Karol said of her husband. ‘‘He wasn’t looking for fame or fortune. He was looking for a positive response for Indian people in a white world that still can be pretty discriminating.’’

Mr. Horse Capture was one of hundreds of protesters who filled the abandoned prison grounds of Alcatraz Island in the San Francisco Bay in 1969, while 14 Native American protesters occupied the prison itself, the Great Falls Tribune reported.

The protesters demanded the US government’s acknowledgment of its broken promises to Native Americans.

‘‘I had to be part of it,’’ Mr. Horse Capture later told his friend Herman Viola. ‘‘I realized that history was being made. This was the first time tribes from across the country had gotten together for a cause — our cause.’’


Mr. Horse Capture was born in 1937 and spent his early childhood in poverty on Montana’s Fort Belknap Indian Reservation. He moved to Butte as a teenager to live with his mother.

After graduating from high school, Mr. Horse Capture enlisted in the Navy. He later moved to Los Angeles, got married, began raising a family, and was hired as state steel inspector for California’s Department of Water Resources.

Then the Alcatraz Island protest happened. Mr. Horse Capture wasn’t there for the entire 19 months the prison was occupied, but he said the experience still changed his life.

Mr. Horse Capture resigned from his job and enrolled in the Indian Studies program at University of California-Berkley. He became an intern at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, which was then working to develop its tribal archives.

Mr. Horse Capture went on to receive his master’s degree at Montana State University. In 1979, he was hired as the first curator of the Plains Indian Museum.


His passion was tracking down the lost artifacts of the Gros Ventre that museums and private collectors had snapped up. He located and cataloged as many of those artifacts as he could.

In 1994, Mr. Horse Capture was selected as deputy assistant director for cultural resources at the National Museum of the American Indian at the Smithsonian, where he was determined to make it a museum for native peoples, not just about them.

‘‘He was really putting this out for Indian people to take pride in the beauty and richness of their culture and traditions,’’ said Viola, now curator emeritus for the museum.

As he got older, diabetes and a weak heart began to slow Mr. Horse Capture down. But he finished his A’ani Tribal Archive Project, a massive digital collection of words, photographs, and audio recordings.

In early February, Mr. Horse Capture presented his work for and to the A’ani people, as well as to various institutions of higher learning across the United States.

He died two months later and was buried April 21 at Fort Belknap.