Chesley Goseyun Wilson

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Apache fiddle made by Chesley Goseyun Wilson (San Carlos Apache) in the National Museum of American History, 1989

Chesley Goseyun Wilson (born July 31, 1932, Bylas, San Carlos Apache Indian Reservation, Arizona, United States) is a maker and performer of the Apache fiddle, singer, dancer, medicine man, silversmith, former model, and actor.[1] Wilson received the National Heritage Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts in 1989.[2]

Early life[edit]

Chesley Goseyun Wilson was born on July 31, 1932 in the town of Bylas on the San Carlos Apache Indian Reservation in Arizona. His father, Nichol Wilson, was a medicine man and a rancher. His mother, Sarah Goseyun Wilson, died when Chesley was only two years old. Wilson is a descendant of Cochise, Eskiminzin, Santo and other noted Apache leaders.[3] Because his father's work often required him to be on remote parts of the reservation, the pre-teen Wilson was raised by his grandfather and uncles, who were prominent musicians, singers, religious and medicine leaders of the Apache people. He learned about the making of the Apache violin and Apache flute from his uncle, Albert Goseyun.[3][4] Wilson is the last active Apache violin maker descended from noted Apache musician Amos Gustina.[2] As a teenager, he returned to the home of his father where he learned the skills of a horseman, first as a wrangler and later as a cowboy in roundups.[3]


In 1953, he was drafted by the US Army and served a two-year tour of duty in Korea, which exposed the young man to many experiences never possible when growing up on the reservation. After his discharge in 1955, he participated in a US government program for Native Americans where he trained as a silversmith and then worked for over twenty years in the San Francisco region and in Carson City, Nevada. He returned to Arizona in 1982.[3]

While working as a silversmith and occasionally as a security guard, Wilson continued to make Apache violins in his free time, as well as striving "to keep other Apache crafts, customs, and ceremonies alive"[1] which garnered his 1989 National Heritage Fellowship, the United States government's highest honor in the folk and traditional arts.[5] One of his art pieces is in the musical instruments collection in the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. He also made a traditional Apache violin for the Governor's Art Awards in March 1991.[4] In 1992, Wilson was named an Arizona Indian Living Treasure.[3]

Wilson worked as a model for several years, working with artists Howard Terpning and Ray Manley. His photograph earned the cover of the July 1995 issue of Southwest Art magazine. He was also a model for the Wrangler Western Wear clothing line.[4]

He has worked as an actor over the years, appearing in both credited and uncredited roles portraying Native Americans.[4]

Wilson is an active member of the Apache Medicine Men Society, and often speaks to Apache youth about avoiding alcohol and drugs, and encourages them to incorporate traditional Apache ways into their lives.[4]





  • When the Earth Was Like New: Western Apache Songs & Stories (book with CD, 1994)[6]


  • Apache Eagle Dream (Eagle Clan Music)
  • The Singing Winds (Eagle Clan Music)
  • Wood That Sings: Indian Fiddle Music Of The Americas (Smithsonian Folkways CD SF 40472, 1997), contributing performer
  • The Soundtrack Of A People: A Companion To The Encyclopedia Of Native Music (EMI Music Canada, 2005), contributing performer


  1. ^ a b Govenar, Alan, ed. (2001). "Chesley Goseyun Wilson". Masters of Traditional Arts: A Biographical Dictionary. vol. 2 (K-Z). Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-Clio. pp. 680–682. ISBN 1576072401. OCLC 47644303.
  2. ^ a b "NEA National Heritage Fellowships: Chesley Goseyun Wilson". National Endowment for the Arts. Retrieved 21 January 2018.
  3. ^ a b c d e Allen, Paul (December 26, 1995). "Riding Two 'Horses'". Tucson Citizen. Tucson, AZ. Retrieved 21 January 2018.
  4. ^ a b c d e Rambler, Sandra (August 28, 2012). "Apache Elder Chesley Wilson, Sr. Makes Movie with Brad Pitt in '12 Years A Slave'". Arizona Silver Belt. Globe, AZ. Archived from the original on 2016-08-27. Retrieved 21 January 2018.
  5. ^ "NEA National Heritage Fellowships 1989". National Endowment for the Arts. Retrieved 21 January 2018.
  6. ^ Wilson, Chesley Goseyun; Wilson, Ruth Longcor Harnisch; Burton, Bryan (1994). When the Earth Was Like New: Western Apache Songs & Stories (Original paperback ed.). Danbury, CT: World Music Press. ISBN 9780937203576. OCLC 37300467.

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