Iron Eyes Cody was actually of Italian descent rather than American Indian. The son of immigrants from Italy, his real name was Espera or “Oscar” DeCorti. Several sources including his own family said that at a very early age he began telling people he was a Native American and immersed himself in that culture. He identified strongly with Native Americans, married a Native American woman and adopted two Native American children. Cody lived virtually all his life under the guise of being one. He said he learned much of his Indian lore as a youngster touring with his father in a Wild West show and taught himself sign language from the various tribes he met. Cody began acting in westerns in the 1930s carved out a niche for himself as the “noble Indian” in Hollywood westerns until his death in 1999. He starred with actors like, John Wayne, Steve McQueen and Ronald Reagan becoming “America’s favorite Indian”.
Cody was probably one of the most iconic figures in Television history for his famous anti-pollution PSA during the 1970’s.
It wasn’t until the 1990s that he admitted his Italian heritage. He pushed a false illusion of himself onto the public (he wasn’t the first) and yet he never did anything that would reflect negatively on American Indians, rather he promoted and helped expand concepts outside of stereotyped views, supported Native causes. He may not have been Native by blood but he certainly was by spirit.