Beyond Sitting Bull: 10 Lesser-Known Native Americans We All Should Know
Updated: Jul 10, 2021
This small sampling doesn't scratch the surface of rich Native history! What great Native Americans can you suggest?
Americans in general are notorious for knowing little about history. This goes especially for Native American history. Everyone has heard of Sitting Bull, Pocahontas, Geronimo, Sacagewea, Crazy Horse. But beyond those famous names, many Americans would be hard-pressed to name other famous indigenous leaders.
Here is just a small sampling of the many Native Americans who have accomplished great things in our history that are not as well-known as they should be. Of course, this barely scratches the surface. This list does not include so many: Chief Joseph, Red Cloud, Black Kettle, Tecumseh, Squanto, Black Hawk, Wilma Mankiller...well...we could go on and on and on! All of us who love history know that, the more we dig, the more surprising truths we find!
1. IRA HAYES
All Americans recognize the most famous World War II photograph in American history, the raising of the flag at Iwo Jima. But how many Americans know that one of the Marines who raised that flag was a Pima Indian, a Corporal named Ira Hayes. He was one of the first in the ground assault for the U.S. Marines on Japanese soil. His fellow Marines called him Chief Falling Cloud because he was also a paratrooper of the elite ParaMarines. Forty Marines were selected to storm Mount Suribachi and plant the American flag at the top. He and one other Marine would be the only ones to survive planting the flag and the war. Read about Ira Hayes in the link below.
2. WOMAN CHIEF
Very few Americans know that Native women served not only as warriors in their tribes but also as chiefs. Woman Chief was a highly honored Crow chief and warrior. Growing up, she preferred hunting and riding and male activities. When her father died, she assumed leadership of her lodge. She first proved her mettle during a Blackfoot raid and killed many of the enemy. Then she raised her own band of warriors to seek revenge. She attacked a Blackfoot settlement and brought back many horses and many scalps. She vowed to kill 100 enemy warriors before she married. When she did marry, she married a woman and eventually had four wives. She rose to the third chief of 160 lodges and was widely honored among the Crow and their enemies, as well as many whites who were fascinated by her.
3. JIM THORPE
Many sport historians believe he was the greatest athlete of the 20th century. In 1950, Thorpe was voted the greatest athlete of the first 50 years of the 20th century by all the sports editors in the nation. Babe Ruth came in second. Jim Thorpe was born in 1887 three years after the Wounded Knee massacre in Oklahoma of Sac, Fox and Potawatomi parents. He was given the name Wa-Tho-Huk, meaning “Bright Path.” And his path would indeed be bright. In fact, dazzling. He would become an amazing all-around athlete in football, baseball, and track and field. He won gold medals in the 1912 Olympics in the pentathlon and decathlon in Sweden. He played both professional baseball and football. His feats on the football field put him on the 1911 and 1912 All-American football teams. In 1920 he became the first president of the American Professional Football Association (later to become the NFL).
4. BUFFALO CALF ROAD WOMAN
Buffalo Calf Road Woman was a Northern Cheyenne who first won notoriety for her bravery when she saved her wounded brother in the Battle of the Rosebud in 1876. She rallied the Cheyenne warriors to win the battle. She also fought next to her husband in the Battle of Little Bighorn that same year when Custer and his troops were annihilated. The Cheyenne have long honored her valor at the Little Bighorn as the warrior who knocked Custer off his horse when he died.
Chief Powhatan was the father of Pocahontas. He was a gifted leader of the entire Powhatan Confederacy, an alliance of 15,000-34,000 Algonquian-speaking people in the area of present-day Virginia near Jamestown. Powhatan initiated trade with the English colonists, providing the colonists with badly needed food in exchange for sought-after goods like metal tools. But, when English King James I ordered Colonists to present Powhatan with a royal crown and gifts in exchange for agreeing to be a prince in service of the King, he refused and decided to starve out the European settlement. About 80% of the Colonists died as a result. But new ships with supplies and more colonists arrived. In 1614, Powhatan agreed to his daughter’s wedding to planter and Colony leader John Rolfe and a period of peace followed until the chief’s death.
6. SARA WINNEMUCCA
Sara Winnemucca was a tireless and eloquent champion for the rights of Native Americans in the 1800s. She was born about 1844 in Utah Territory into the Northern Paiute tribe. She had a great facility of language and learned both English and Spanish in addition to her own tongue. In 1866, Sarah served as official interpreter for 500 Paiutes at Fort MacDonald. In 1872, she taught and served as interpreter on the Malheur Reservation in Oregon. In 1879, Sarah began advocating for rights for her people, first in San Francisco, then in Washington D.C. In 1883, she published her autobiography, Life Among the Paiutes:Their Wrongs and Claims. In 1884, she had acquired enough funds from her book and lecturing to buy some land to start the Peabody School to teach her people their own language and culture.
7. BLUE JACKET
Blue Jacket was a mighty Shawnee war chief who fiercely defended his people in Ohio Country. Blue Jacket allied his tribe with the British in the Revolutionary War. When they lost, the Shawnee lost British assistance in defending his tribe’s land against settlers who were pouring into Ohio territory. On November 3, 1791, the army of a confederation of Indian tribes, led by Blue Jacket and Miami Chief Little Turtle, defeated a large American expedition known as the Battle of the Wabash. It was the crowning achievement of Blue Jacket's military career, and the most severe defeat ever inflicted upon the United States by Native Americans. But in later battles, he was defeated and forced to sign a treaty to relinguish Shawnee land. He preceded the great Tecumseh, who later continued the struggle to reclaim Shawnee land and fight white encroachment.
8. PRETTY NOSE
Pretty Nose was an Arapaho war chief who fought at the Little Bighorn, along with Buffalo Calf Road Woman. Read more about Pretty Nose in the link below “Native Women Warriors.”
Pontiac was a great Ottawa war chief who fought against British occupation of the Great Lakes region. In 1763, Pontiac laid siege on Fort Detroit. Other tribes joined him and he defeated the British at Bloody Run. He continued to resist the British and he gained stature as a powerful leader. In 1766, the British finally sought to make peace with the chief and his tribe.
10. RUNNING EAGLE
This great Blackfeet warrior was born Otaki in southern Alberta and later was called Brown Weasel Woman. She loved boys activities and, against her mother’s wishes, her father taught her to hunt and fight. She was so skilled, she joined the men on buffalo hunts and successfully brought down her own buffaloes. When the hunting party was attacked by Assiniboine, her father’s horse was shot down. She wheeled around and rode directly into enemy fire, saving him. Her later bravery in raids and battles won her much honor and she was bestowed a man’s name of “Running Eagle” and joined the warrior society.
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"Beyond Sitting Bull: 10 Lesser-Known Native Americans We Should Know About" was first posted on Facebook and NotesfromtheFrontier.com
on May 9, 2020
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