The Native Americans were no stranger to hardship. Years of systematic starvation, rape, pillaging, stolen land, and mass murder are just a few things that Native Americans suffered at the hands of colonialism. The American Indian Wars period, which lasted from 1622 – 1924, gave birth to some of the most influential and legendary Native American heroes in history. From peace driven interpreters to ruthless fighters, here are a few you should know about.
Geronimo – Apache
Geronimo was an Apache leader, medicine man, and warrior who fought tooth and nail to protect his people and homeland from foreign settlers. As a young adult, the Bedonkohe encampment was raided by Mexican soldiers who’d slaughtered most of the camp. Among those murdered were his mother, wife, and all three of his children. This set him on a new path to viciously protect his land and people at all costs.
Later he broke out of not one, not two, but three US Indian Reservations. The hunt for him and his men used nearly a quarter of the US Army, where his fame grew as an outstanding Apache freedom fighter. He was the final Native American leader to surrender and spent the last 23 years of his life a POW. A man of persistence, though, he famously pleaded for Roosevelt to allow the Apaches to return to their native land (which he denied).
Sarah Winnemucca – Northern Paiute
Sarah Winnemucca was a tribal leader, author, translator, and peace visionary for the Paiute people. She was dedicated to fostering peaceful relations between her tribe and settlers as an interpreter and later, an army scout. This was used as a means not just to create healthy relationships between the two peoples, but to spread the truth of the mistreatment of her tribe and brutalities Native Americans suffered at the hands of colonizers. She is remembered as being one of the most influential Native American heroes in history and a true western legend.
Sitting Bull – Hunkpapa Lakota
Sitting Bull is credited as being one of the bravest and most legendary Native Americans who ever lived. He became the first chief of the entire Lakota Sioux and fought in several important battles such as Red Cloud’s War and The Great Sioux War of 1876. Years later, he famously defied the construction of the Northern Pacific Railroad by strolling out to their construction area and enjoying a long smoke from his tobacco pipe. He led both the Lakota and Northern Cheyenne to victory at Little Big Horn among several other achievements. In 1889, he was killed for being tied to the “Ghost Dance. ” The Ghost Dance was a spiritual movement, which spoke of the white man’s world being erased so that the natives could return to their ways.
Osh-Tisch – Crow Nation
Osh-Tisch was a “two-spirit” male born female-identifying craftswoman, fighter, and medicine woman. In many Native American cultures, “two-spirit identity” is considered a powerful gift. Thanks to this, transgender and genderfluid individuals are often revered and respected in their communities. Osh-Tisch, being a “two-spirit,” truly did it all. She was famous for her leathergoods, skins, and elaborate tipis while also fighting valiantly in battles. Among her battle achievements were Rosebud and Battle of Little Bighorn. She’s remembered as being as soft and feminine as she was bold and gritty.
Crazy Horse – Oglala Sioux
Crazy Horse, also known as Ta-Sunko-Witko was an Oglala Sioux chief who fiercely defended the Oglala land and aided in the defeat of General George Custer at the Battle of Little Bighorn. Once gold was discovered in Dakota, the Sioux “rights” flew out the window. Soon after, their land was crawling with militiamen who murdered any Native American in their way of digging. Effectively destroying burial grounds, sacred areas and communities – not much different from today’s Dakota Access Pipeline. This brought on a series of battles led by Crazy Horse to defend his land and, ultimately, his people. He is quoted as saying:
“We preferred our own way of living, we were no expense to the government. All we wanted was peace and to be left alone.”
After the battles, the US was still adamant about forcing all remaining Native Americans onto reservations. They knew that in order to do this, they’d need to play dirty. So in the winter of 1876-77 nearly all of the tribe’s herds were decimated, effectively starving them all winter. This led to Crazy Horse’s surrender – the only viable option for saving his people.
Additionally – he refused to have his photo taken and until recently, there were no known photos of him. Custer Battlefield Museum in Garryowen, Montana claims to have the only existing photo of Crazy Horse which can be seen here. This photo hasn’t been confirmed though and the widely held belief by historians is that there are no existing photos of him.