1860 – 1919 Big Chief Becate “BK” Batiste
1920 – 1954 Big Chief Cornelius “Brother Tillman” Tillman
1955 – 1964 Big Chief Donald Harrison Sr.
1971 – 1972 Big Chief “Hercules” Gateman
1972 – 1973 Big Chief Bruce Gateman
1973 – 1974 Big Chief “Hercules” Gateman
1975 – 2016 Big Chief Walter “Lil Walter” Cook Jr.
Born to be Chief:
It’s not often, that the opportunity to interview a child protégée in his retirement comes along because it’s usually called an autobiography. Compiling a lifetime of memories and accomplishments of a person that’s been immersed in one discipline at its highest level is a daunting endeavor. However, that opportunity is now and it may never come again. We will try our best to coral his fifty-five years of Black Masking History to honor Big Chief “Lil Walter” and his journey of destiny. “Lil Walter” became Chief at the age of 13. Following in the footsteps of his grandfather (Tribe Unknown) and his father Walter Cook Sr. who was one of the founders of the Wild Magnolias with his brother-in-law Big Chief Leon Thomas. Chief masked for the first time at the age of 2 in 1962 with the Wild Magnolias. Add that to his mother’s family being full Choctaw and you have a living personification of Black Masking Indians. To drive this point home Big Chief “Lil Walter” is at best, one to two degrees separated from the aboriginal (native) people of Louisiana, of New Orleans, of the surrounding areas of the French Quarter called Marrons, meaning our present-day neighborhoods, and has passed down the culture to generations for fifty-five plus years.
Big Chief is a history book in motion. He outlines the beginning tribes of Downtown and Uptown like an ancestry.com family tree diagram, and actually, it is. In the sense that many early tribes were started by family members in different parts of town. It was not uncommon for a Big Chief to give permission to a tribesman moving to a different part of town, to start his own tribe. That’s partly how the 101 Gang came about. Combing 3 to 4 gangs for a one hundred and one-member tribe. In speaking with Chief, he expresses even though Creole Wild West and “BK” were the first to be documented between 1855- 1860, that “BK” and others belonged to tribes before that.
If it wasn’t enough pressure to be a Chief at 13, Chief also combined two tribes that same year. He was also given the Golden Sioux Tribe that was comprised of Downtown and Uptown Indians totaling 42 Indians from both tribes. For most, this responsibility would be overwhelming, but not for this Chief of destiny. He has been dedicated since birth even giving up scholarships to Texas A&M and Grambling Universities to lead his tribe. As a third generation Black Masking Indian, Chief attest that his ability to do so was because “I was taught right”, referencing the Uptown Culture of Chief Scouts. Chief Scout is the first position of an uptown Indian youth whereby much of his time is next to the Chief receiving tutelage.
Q) What was your first memory of seeing a Black Masking Indian?
A) When I first realized my daddy was masking I had to look. It was exciting but kind of frightening.
Q) What is the biggest difference in the culture from your youth?
A) See right about now a lot of these lil guys, cause they ain’t been taught, they don’t know how it really goes. They have heard, but they don’t know. They don’t know how it really goes. You’ve got to meet and greet, play your position and all that. But they’ve got it now, you might see one of them and it’s “Hey you MF look what I got, I sew!” Everybody sew! I respect everybody that put a needle in his hand and sew. If you are falling apart or not, at least you tried. All it is, is having somebody there to teach them not to criticize.
Q) Who are you paying homage to when you suit up?
A) I have great respect for the ones who came before me. That’s who I really honor. I give a lot of honor to my dad because he brought me into the tribe and his dad because his dad brought him into it, I’m a third generation.
Q) What milestones do you remember the most in your tenure as Chief?
A) The best thing I’ve done, is when I did the Native American. I dressed originally like a Native American Indians. I’ve been to Paris, France. The best thing about it, I conquered what I was. I’m good with what I do, I stay casting, I decorate and I design and I’m very good at that.
Q) How did people feel about you masking in a more Native (Plain Indian) style?
A) Everybody say because time is changing, they said well Walter look like he came off a reservation because I knew what I was supposed look like. A lot of them didn’t understand it. You know they see where it’s coming from and trying to get their minds right but they still stuck to one thing. Trying to look like each other. Instead of being you. You’ve got to get your own identity in this Mardi Gras thing.
Q) As we approach the Tri Centennial of this City and of Black Masking Culture, what would you like to be said about you and your tribe in the next three hundred years?
A) I’m a legend and I ain’t got this by trying to get this. He earned this. I earned whatever is going on now, to what’s going to happen. I earned it. Tell them I’m legendary “Lil Walter” Cook from way Uptown, don’t lose no feather, don’t lose no Crown!