Native Americans: Top Ten Famous Native Americans From the 1600-1900s
Many Native Americans helped to shape the history of the United States. Some of them lost their land as well as their heritage while others thrived and became legends.
Born as “Tisquantum” in 1585, Squanto was born in Massachusetts. According to some historians, Squanto (along with others) was kidnapped and taken back to England by Captain George Weymouth in the early 1600s because he was not able to find the gold he was looking for. While there, he learned the English language and became an interpreter for Captain John Smith, who he accompanied back to America in 1614. He was later recaptured by Thomas Hunt when he was tricked into getting into his ship and was sold into slavery in Spain. When he ended up back in England, he then traveled back to America with Captain John Smith. Sadly, most of his tribe was gone due to smallpox. Squanto was most known for his help with the Pilgrims by teaching them how to fish and plant corn for the first time in Native American history.
Tecumseh was a brave Shawnee warrior and leader who was born in Ohio in 1768.
He was instrumental in organizing a confederacy and fighting in the War of 1812. His older sister was forced to raise him after his father was killed during battle and his mother left. His younger brother was considered a prophet who had visions. Both Tecumseh and his brother tried to persuade the other Native Americans not to follow the ways of the white man or give up land to them. Tecumseh desired to create a confederacy of the Indian tribes and create their own country. He was able to gain some ground toward that goal during the War of 1812 when he allied with the British. Unfortunately, in 1813, his dream died as he was killed when he and his warriors were attacked by William Henry Harrison and his army.
Born in 1770 in Tennessee, Sequoyah was part Cherokee and part Caucasian. Never knowing his white father, he grew up helping his mother and living among the Cherokee people. After becoming lame, he learned how to work with metal since he could not help in the area of hunting or farming. His metal work continued on into his adulthood and making jewelry. Even though he was mocked by the other Cherokees, he had figured out a way of writing down symbols for the Cherokee language. He came up with 85 characters in his syllabary. His daughter was the first student of this language which was enough to convince his fellow Cherokee neighbors. More and more Cherokee people learned this new language and it spread until they were able to produce newspapers and books. To commemorate him, a statue of him was placed in the U.S. Capitol, and his cabin in Oklahoma where he lived during the latter part of his life was turned into a U.S. National Historic Landmark.
Sacagawea was an Indian guide and interpreter who was born in 1788 in Idaho and was hired by Lewis and Clark for their expedition. She was a Shoshone who grew up near the Rocky Mountains. Her father was chief of the Shoshones. When she was 11 years old, she was captured by another tribe and made a slave. While still a teenager, she was sold to a French-Canadian trapper named Toussaint Charbonneau and soon became pregnant. In 1804, Lewis and Clark came near to where they lived and hired them for guides. Not only were her interpreter skills beneficial to them on their expedition but so was the fact that she had a newborn son, Jean Baptiste. The Native Americans they came upon were not as likely to attack upon seeing a woman and child with them.
Born in 1829 in Arizona, Geronimo was an Apache warrior known for fighting against both the governments of Mexico and the United States in order to protect his homeland. When Geronimo became a warrior at the age of 17, he could marry the girl he was in love with. Geronimo and Alope were married and had three children together, but one day his entire family was killed including his mother during an attack by the Mexicans. He went on a rampage of revenge, killing men and stealing horses. For several years, he and his warriors fought with both Mexicans and Americans while evading capture until finally, the U.S. Army caught up with him in 1886. For the rest of his life, he was a prisoner of war until he died in 1909.
Sitting Bull was born in South Dakota in 1831 and was originally called “Slow” by his father, Jumping Bull because his father considered him to be slow to take any kind of action. At the age of ten, the young Lakota Sioux tribe member killed his first buffalo. By the age of 14, he had earned his father’s respect after joining his first war party and knocking a warrior down to the ground during battle. That is when his father began to call him Sitting Bull. Even though it was his desire to have peace with the white man, Sitting Bull became a great leader for his people against those who were trying to take away their land. The Sioux were being forced to move into reservations once gold was discovered, but Sitting Bull refused to do so. Many others joined him until there were about 10,000 of them living in their war camp. Sitting Bull led his people to victory in the Battle of Little Bighorn. In 1881, reluctantly, Sitting Bull finally submitted to living in a reservation and in 1890, he died in a gunfight.
Born in 1840 in Oregon as “Hin-mah-too-yah-lat-kekt” which meant Thunder Rolling Down the Mountain, Chief Joseph was a member of the Nez Perce tribe. His father (Chief Joseph the Elder) had signed a peace agreement in 1855 with the governor of Washington that lasted for several years. But things changed in the 1860s when gold was discovered on their land. All of a sudden, the U.S. Government wanted their land and demanded a new deal be signed. Chief Joseph’s father refused and when he passed away, the son became the next chief. For a few years, he was able to keep peace with the settlers, but eventually, war broke out with the U.S. Army and soon after, they had to flee as they were outnumbered. He tried to lead them to Canada where Sitting Bull and his tribe were, but just before he got there, they ran out of supplies and were forced to surrender. According to his doctor, Chief Joseph died of a broken heart.
Born as Cha-O-Ha (which means “Among the Trees”) in 1840, Crazy Horse got his name from his father who named him that because of a vision he had. Crazy Horse had a vision of riding on a horse in battle as a leader to defend his people. He was anything but crazy though. He was actually quiet and reserved, yet as a leader, he was brave and fearless while being quite passionate about protecting his people. According to legend, Crazy Horse, along with his men, was responsible for Colonel George Custer making his “Last Stand” as they surrounded him and his men in the Battle of Little Big Horn. A memorial for Crazy Horse is in the process of being built in South Dakota.
Jim Thorpe was a football player and Olympian who was born in 1888 in Oklahoma. He was from the tribes of Sac and Fox on his father’s side and Potawatomi on his mother’s side. As his tribe name suggests, Wa-Tho-Huk which means “Bright Path,” he was led down a bright path athletically. His twin brother, Charlie was not quite so lucky. At the young age of nine, he got sick and passed away. Jim excelled in athletics in track and in football even though they had told him he was too small for football. He was able to impress the right people with his abilities and went on to play professionally in numerous sports including the Olympics. In baseball, he played for the New York Giants, the Cincinnati Reds, and the Boston Braves. In football, he played for the Canton Bulldogs, the New York Giants, and the Chicago Cardinals. He was considered an All American athlete.
Born in 1925 in Oklahoma, Maria Tallchief was the first Native American to become a prima ballerina. Music and dance were instilled in her by her mother. At times, Maria and her sister were allowed to watch the Osage tribe dancers that would practice their culture in secrecy. After taking dance lessons and through many hours of practice, she eventually became part of the Russian ballet company, Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, in New York. She began traveling the world as she danced in many famous ballet houses. The name Wa-Xthe-Thomba was given to her by the Osage tribe which means “Woman of Two Worlds.” Not only did Maria become a ballerina but so did her sister, Marjorie.
A lot has changed since the time of the first encounters between the Pilgrims and the Native Americans.