5 Famous Native American Leaders In History

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Native Americans are the aboriginal people of the United States. Native American leaders fought for recognition, respect, and the rights of their people. Something they are still fighting for today. Let us explore the lives of 5 famous Native American leaders in history and recognise their efforts and fight for their people.

1) Geronimo (1829-1909)- One of the most famous Native American leaders.

Geronimo is one of the most famous Native American Leaders. He belonged to the Apache Tribe. He is a well-known Indian chief and a medicine man. Additionally, he is instrumental in carrying out numerous raids against the U.S. and Mexico. The Apache-United States conflict started after American settlement in Apache lands towards the end of the War with Mexico.

He was an excellent leader and at any given time led around 30-50 people. Additionally, he avoided capture for most of his life. During his last escape, 5000 U.S. soldiers and 3000 Mexicans pursued him. After escaping from their clutches for 5 months, Geronimo turned himself in on September 4, 1886. He was the last Native American leader to surrender formally to the United States. He spent the remainder of his life as a Prisoner of War.

After his death, his name took a new meaning. Soldiers would yell Geronimo before jumping out of planes, a reference to how brave he was.

A picture of Geronimo
Geronimo- the brave

2) Sitting Bull (c. 1831-1890)- The Indian chief who was instrumental in uniting the Sioux tribes against the White settlers.

Sitting Bull was a Hunkpapa Lakota Indian chief. He is instrumental in uniting the Sioux tribes against the White settlers. The 1868 treaty of Fort Laramie stated that the Black Hills were for the use of Native Americans. But after the discovery of gold, the government wanted the land for themselves so they could mine the gold.

The Native Americans were ordered to move in the Great Sioux Reservations. The ones who did not comply with this decision were certified as “hostiles”.

Indian chief Sitting Bull and his followers refused to comply with the U.S. government and established a settlement in the plains. When the Native Americans were threatened by the United States Sitting bull formed a unity camp of 10,000 people. He regarded himself as the spiritual leader of the camp. When Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer came to arrest the hostiles he was met with their brute force. Resulting in the defeat of the 7th cavalry of Lt. Col. Custer.

The enraged government sent a thousand more soldiers to the territory. Essentially forcing many Lakota to surrender. Sitting bull avoided surrender and led his band to the Wood mountain and remained there until 1881.

He eventually returned to the U.S. territory and surrendered to the U.S. forces. Later, the Indian Agency Police shot him dead. They believed that he was going to use his influence to support the Ghost Dance.

A picture of Sitting Bull- an Indian chief
Sitting Bull- The spiritual leader

3) Crazy Horse (c. 1840-1877)- An iconic warrior who fought for the preservation of traditional Native American life.

Another one of the famous Native American leaders is Crazy Horse. He was a Lakota leader belonging to the Oglala Band. He fought for the preservation of traditional Native American life. Moreover, he also expressed resistance against the white settlers. He has participated in various famous battles. His notable battles are the Black Hills War, Fetterman Fight and Battle of the Little Bighorn.

During the Battle of the Little Bighorn, he led a war party to victory. Hence earning respect from both his people and the enemies. Additionally, the Last Sundance of 1877 was held in his honour. During the dance, five warrior cousins sacrificed blood and flesh in his honour. Additionally, offering prayers for the trying times ahead.

Crazy horse eventually surrendered to the U.S. forces in the year 1877. A guard mortally stabbed him when he allegedly resisted being imprisoned at Camp Robinson.

He is one of the most notable and influential Native American Leaders. Additionally, he was honoured by the U.S. Postal service with a postage stamp 13¢ Great American Series.

His legacy still lives on, a monument is under construction in his honour. The Crazy Horse Memorial began construction in 1948 and its construction continues today. It is located in the Black Hills. Post completion it will be the second tallest statue in the world.

A picture of the crazy horse memorial- an Indian chief
Crazy Horse Memorial

4) Chief Joseph (1840-1904)- One of the famous Native American leaders, a humanitarian and a peacemaker

Chief Joseph was a well-known leader of the Wallowa Band, belonging to the Nez Perce Tribe. He and his band are famous for resisting white settlers in the Rocky Mountains. The United States Federal Government forcibly removed their tribe from the Wallowa Valley and moved them into an inferior reservation in Idaho. After a series of violent clashes, Chief Joesph and his band fled from the United States forces and took refuge in Canada.

During this time, they were pursued by the United States troops and General Oliver O. Howard. The manner in which Nez Perce fought gained them widespread respect and admiration. The Nez Perce War was widely covered in US newspapers as well. Giving him more recognition.

Eventually, Chief Joseph surrendered to the U.S. troops and negotiated with them that he and his people should be returned to the reservation in western Idaho. However, they were transported instead to reservations on the southern Great Plains and eventually were moved to the Colville Reservation in Washington.

Over the years he made several pleas to Washington to return to Wallowa country, but they were in vain. He eventually died in 1904 of what the doctor described as a broken heart.

After the Indian chief’s death, he was commemorated as an iconic leader and as a renowned humanitarian and peacemaker.

Chief Joseph- A humanitarian and a peacemaker

5) Black Hawk (c. 1767-1838)- The defiant warrior who led his people during the Black Hawk War.

Black Hawk was the Indian chief of the Sauk Native American tribe and a man famous for leading his people during the Black Hawk War. He wanted to contest the treaty of St. Louis of 1804 which ceded around 50 million acres of land in Illinois to the United States. In 1812 Black Hawk joined the British in their war against the Americans. He hoped to remove the settlers from his territory. Moreover, due to his relationship with the British, Black Hawk’s band was called the “British Band”.

After the war of 1812, a peace treaty was signed which reinforced the 1804 treaty, but Black Hawk stated that the treaty was signed without full tribal authorization. He was angry and dissatisfied with this decision.

In 1832, Black Hawk along with his British Band moved into Illinois and the militia of Illinois fought with them in what is known as the Battle of Stillman’s Run. The militia then hunted down Black Hawk and his band. These events led to the last Native American War fought on the east side of the Mississippi River. The name of this famous battle is the Black Hawk War.

After the war, Black Hawk surrendered to the U.S. troops and was taken to Eastern U.S. In custody, he went on to write his autobiography. The first of its kind published in the United States. Black Hawk died at the age of 71 but his legacy lives on through his book and other tributes.

A picture of famous Native American Leader Black Hawk- an Indian chief
Black Hawk- The defiant warrior

Cristopher Columbus is one of the first Europeans to discover America. However, he did not make life easy for Native Americans. Read about the 12 Atrocities Committed By Christopher Columbus

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