15 Most Famous Native Americans
Before the arrival of the colonists, the Native Americans had already
secured a foot-hold over the vast expanses of America. Initially the
Native Americans were treated with an almost cursory respect as the
new settlers and pilgrims were afraid, apprehensive, yet friendly and
hopeful. The newcomers befriended many and made what they thought were
close ties with their new brethren. But, unfortunately, it was not to
last and disease coupled with the settlers ravenous desire to claim
land as their own, destroyed everything the native peoples held dear.
Fortunately history has not forgotten the many important faces and
contributions of the original Americans.
15. Red Cloud
Perhaps one of the most capable warriors from the Oglala Lakota (Sioux)
tribesmen ever faced by the US military, Makhpiya Luta, his Sioux name,
led his people in what is known as Red Cloud’s War. This battle was for
the rights to the area known as Powder River Country in Northern Wyoming
and Southern Montana. Eventually he led his people during their time on
Though actually pronounced K-you Ch-Ish, this Apache leader is second only
to Geronimo when it comes to that tribe’s historical significance. Often
described as having the classical Indian frame; muscular, large for the
time, and known to wear his long, black hair in a traditional pony tail,
Cochise aided in the uprising to resist intrusions by Mexicans and
American in the 19th century.
13. Maria TallChief
Born Elizabeth Marie Tall Chief to an Osage Nation father, she became an
eventually well-know ballerina. In 1947 Maria began dancing with the New
York City Ballet until her retirement in 1965. Soon after she founded the
Chicago City Ballet and remained it’s artistic director for many years.
Since 1997 she has been an adviser in the Chicago dance schools and
continues to astound future dancers with her always-ahead-of-her-skill
abilities and will be featured in a PBS special from 2007-2010.
Assisting the Pilgrims during their first, harsh winter, the Patuxet,
Tasquantum (Squanto) befriended the group in order to see them safely
through to spring. In 1608, alas, Squanto and several others were kidnapped
by Georgie Weymouth and taken aboard ship to England. Though eventually
earning a living and learning the English language, Squanto made his
return home in 1613 aboard John Smith’s ship only to find his tribe
completely wiped out by the plague.
11. Crazy Horse
With a name in his tribe, Lakota: Thasuka Witko, that literally means
“His-Horse-is-Crazy”, this Native American was actually born with the
name: Cha-O-Ha meaning in Lakotan, “In the Wilderness”, and he was
often called Curly due to his hair. In the Great Sioux War of 1876,
Crazy Horse led a combined group of nearly 1,500 Lakota and Cheyenne in
a surprise attack against General George Crook’s force of 1,000 English
men and 300 Crow and Shoshone warriors. The battle, though not substantial
in terms of lives lost, nearly prevented Crook from joining up with
General Custer, ensuring Custer’s subsequent defeat at the Battle of
Little Bighorn. Crazy Horse went on to oppose the US Government in their
various decisions on how to handle Indian affairs.
Sacajawea is most well know for accompanying Meriwether Lewis and William
Clark during their Corps of Discovery of the Western United States in 1806.
She was born in a Shoshone tribe as Agaidika, or “Salmon Eater” in 1788. In
February of 1805, just after meeting Lewis and Clark, Lewis assisted in the
birth of her son, Jean Baptiste Charbonneau. Her face now appears in the
9. Will Rogers
Born William Peen Adair Rogers, a Cherokee-Cowboy, “Will” became best known
as an actor, a Vaudvillian, a philanthropist, a social commentator, a
comedian, and a presidential candidate. Known as Okalahoma’s favorite son,
Rogers was born to a well respected Native American Territory family and
learned to ride horses and use a lasso/lariat so well that he was listed
in the Guiness Book of World Records for throwing three ropes at once—one
around the neck of a horse, another around the rider, and a third around
all four legs of the horse. He ultimately traveled around the world several
times, made 71 films (50 silent and 21 “talkies”), wrote more than 4,000
nationally-syndicated newspaper columns, and became a world-famous figure.
He died in a plane crash in 1935.
Known in his Ottawa tongue as Obwandiyag, Chief Pontiac is most well known
for his defense of the Great Lakes Region of the US from the British Troop
invasion and occupation. In 1763, Pontiac and 300 of his followers attempted
to take Fort Detroit by surprise. Eventually the revolt rose to 900 plus
Natives and they eventually took the Fort at The Battle of Bloody Run.
Though historically a prominent figure, many are still unsure as to his
real importance and to whether or not he was a mere follower rather than
a leader. Increasingly ostracized, in 1769 he was assassinated by a Peoria
Indian in Illinois.
Geronimo (Chiricahua: “one who yawns”; often spelled Goyathlay or Goyahkla
in English) was a prominent Native American leader of the Chiricahua Apache
who defended his people against the encroachment of the US on their tribal
lands for over 25 years. While Geronimo said he was never actually a chief,
he was rather a military leader. As a Chiricahua Apache, this meant he was
also a spiritual leader. He consistently urged raids and war upon many
Mexican and later U.S. groups. Geronimo eventually went on to marry 6 wives,
an Apache tradition. He staged what was to be the last great Native American
uprising, and eventually moved to a reservation often giving permissions to
appear at fairs and schools.
A Shawnee leader whose name means, “Panther in the Sky”, Tecumseh became well
known for taking disparate tribes folk and maintaining hold on the land that
was rightfully theirs. In 1805, a religious native rebirth led by Tenskwatawa
emerged. Tenskwatawa urged natives to reject the ways of the English, and to
stop handing over land to the United States. Opposing Tenskwatawa was the
Shawnee leader, Black Hoof who was working to maintain a peaceful relationship
with the United States. By 1808, tensions built and compelled Tenskwatawa and
Tecumseh to move further northwest and establish the village of Prophetstown
near Battle Ground, Indiana. He died in the War of 1812.
5. Sitting Bull
Sitting Bull (Sioux: Tatanka Iyotake first named Slon-he, or, literally, slow),
was a Hunkpapa Lakota medicine man and holy man. He is famous in both American
and Native American history mostly for his major victory at the Battle of Little
Bighorn against Custer, where his ‘premonition’ of defeating them became reality.
Even today, his name is synonymous with Native American culture, and he is
considered to be one of the most famous Native Americans ever.
4. Black Hawk
Though not a traditional tribe chief, even after inheriting a very important
medicine bundle, Black Hawk would become more well known as a War Chief. In his
tribe’s (Sauk’s) tongue, his name, Makataimeshekiakiak, means, “Be a large black
hawk”. During the War of 1812 Black Hawk, so name-shortened by the English,
became a fierce and powerful opponent. First fighting on the side of the British,
Black Hawk eventually led a band of Sauk and Fox against settlers in Illinois
and Wisconsin, eventually dying in Iowa. His legend is kept alive by many
claiming to be directly related, like Jim Thorpe. This is, however, myth.
Though the exact location of Sequoiah’s birth and death are unknown due to
historically inaccurate writings, he is well known through translation and spoken
accounts of having grown up with his mother in Tuskegee, Tennessee. Sequoyah
( S-si-quo-ya in Cherokee) known as George Guess, Guest or Gist, was a
silversmith who invented the Cherokee Syllabry, thus earning him a place on the
list of inventors of writing systems as well.
Having taken many liberties with her overall appearance, Disney created the image
many of us believe to be what Pocahontas may have looked like. This is far from
accurate. Though the film’s history is similarly flawed, it does hold some truths.
Pocahontas was a Native American woman who married an Englishman called John
Rolfe and became a celebrity in London in the last year of her life. She was a
daughter of Wahunsunacock (also known as Chief or Emperor Powhatan), who presided
over an area comprised of almost all of the neighboring tribes in Virginia
(called Tenakomakah then). Her formal names were Matoaka and Amonute; ‘Pocahontas’
was a childhood nickname referring to her frolicsome nature. In her last days she
went by Rebecca Rolfe, choosing to live an English life by abandoning her Native
Henry Wadworth Longfellow wrote the story ‘The Song of Hiawatha’ loosely based
on an actual Native American. Though very little is known of the historical events
in which Hiawatha was a part, though he was a great peacemaker and spiritual guide.
Hiawatha was a legendary Native American leader and founder of the Iroquois
confederacy. Depending on the version of the narrative, Hiawatha lived in the 12th,
15th or 16th century and was a leader of the Onondaga or the Mohawk.
Hiawatha was a follower of The Great Peacemaker, a prophet and spiritual leader,
who proposed the unification of the Iroquois peoples, who shared similar languages.
Hiawatha, a skilled and charismatic orator, was instrumental in persuading the
Senecas, Cayugas, Onondagas, Oneidas, and Mohawks, to accept the Great
Peacemaker's vision and band together to become the Five Nations of the Iroquois
confederacy. Later, the Tuscarora nation joined the Confederacy to become the
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