Native Americans of course were living across the North American continent long before the Europeans "discovered" America. Sadly, it is seldom emphasized in American Culture that Native Americans were welcoming and enabling to the explorers that arrived from across the Atlantic. Only a few of the welcoming enablers are well known.
While our Founding Fathers, presidents and military leaders are remembered as heroes of American culture, it's often overlooked how indigenous people contributed to many of the major events in the nation's history.
Pocahontas was a Native American woman, belonging to the Powhatan People, notable for her association with the colonial settlement at Jamestown, Virginia. She was the daughter of Powhatan, the paramount chief. Pocahontas was captured and held for ransom by the Colonists during hostilities in 1613. During her captivity, she was encouraged to convert to Christianity and was baptized under the name Rebecca. She married tobacco planter John Rolfe in April 1614 when around the age of 17 or 18.
In 1616, John and "Rebecca" Rolfes travelled to London where Pocahontas was presented to English society as an example of the "civilized savage" in hopes of stimulating investment in the Jamestown settlement. She became something of a celebrity, was elegantly fêted, and attended a masque at Whitehall Palace. In 1617, the Rolfes set sail for Virginia, but Pocahontas died in England of unknown causes, aged 20 or 21. She was buried in St George's Church, Gravesend, in England.
In the late 16th and early 17th centuries, a tribal chief named Wahunsenacawh created an organization by affiliating 30 tributary peoples, whose territory was much of eastern Virginia. They called this area Tsenacommacah ("densely inhabited Land"). Wahunsenacawh came to be known by the English as "The Powhatan (Chief)". Each of the tribes within this organization had its own leader, but all paid tribute to The Powhatan (Chief). Chief Powhatan was the father of Pocahontas and the ruler of the tribes that lived in the area where English colonists founded the Jamestown settlement in 1607.
Years Active: 1660s–1670s
The second son of Massasoit, Metacomet (or King Philip) led an open rebellion against the English Massachusetts Bay Colony known as King Philip's War. Metacomet adopted the name Philip because of the friendly relations between his father Massasoit and the Mayflower Pilgrims.
The war was the greatest calamity in seventeenth-century New England and is considered by many to be the deadliest war in Colonial American history. In the space of little more than a year, 12 of the region's towns were destroyed and many more were damaged, the economy of Plymouth and Rhode Island Colonies was all but ruined and their population was decimated, losing one-tenth of all men available for military service. More than half of New England's towns were attacked by Natives. Hundreds of Wampanoags and their allies were publicly executed or enslaved, and the Wampanoags were left effectively landless.
Years Active: 1760s
Tribe: Odawa (a.k.a. "Ottawa")
Pontiac was an Odawa chief who resisted British settlement of the Great Lakes region during the Pontiac's Rebellion. He was known for his role in the war named for him, from 1763 to 1766 leading Native Americans in an armed struggle against the British in the Great Lakes region. He developed from a local war leader into an important regional spokesman. Historians today generally view him as an important local leader who influenced a wider movement that he did not command.
The Ottawa dialect is part of the Algonquian language family. Their language is considered a divergent dialect of Ojibwe,
Years Active: 1750s–1800s
Thayendanegea (a.k.a Joseph Brant) was a Mohawk military and political leader and slaveowner, based in present-day New York, who was closely associated with Great Britain during and after the American Revolution. Perhaps the Native American of his generation best known to the Americans and British, he met many of the most significant Anglo-American people of the age, including both George Washington and King George III.
While not born into a hereditary leadership role within the Iroquois League, Brant rose to prominence due to his education, abilities, and connections to British officials. Aside from being fluent in English, Brant spoke at least three, and possibly all, of the Six Nations' Iroquoian languages. From 1766 on, he worked as an interpreter for the British Indian Department.
Brant acted as a tireless negotiator for the Six Nations to control their land without Crown oversight or control. He used British fears of his dealings with the Americans and the French to extract concessions. His lifelong mission was to help the Indian to survive the transition from one culture to another, transcending the political, social and economic challenges of one of the most volatile, dynamic periods of American history. He put his loyalty to the Six Nations before loyalty to the British.
Years Active: 1810s–1830s
Black Hawk was a Sauk chief who led the Sauk and Fox tribes against the United States off and on during the early 19th century, from the War of 1812 until his eventual defeat following the Black Hawk War.
Years Active: 1810-1813
Tecumseh was a Shawnee chief and warrior who promoted resistance to the expansion of the United States onto Native American lands. A persuasive orator, Tecumseh traveled widely, forming a Native American confederacy and promoting inter-tribal unity. Although his efforts to unite Native Americans ended with his death in the War of 1812, he became an iconic folk hero in North American popular history.
Years Active: 1809-1842
Sequoyah was a Native American polymath of the Cherokee Nation. In 1821 he completed his independent creation of the Cherokee syllabary, making reading and writing in Cherokee possible. His achievement was one of the few times in recorded history that a member of a pre-literate people created an original, effective writing system. His creation of the Syllabary allowed the Cherokee nation to be one of the first North American Indigenous groups to have an written language.
Sequoyah was also an important representative for the Cherokee nation, by going to Washington, D.C. to sign two relocations and trading of land treaties. He was called George Gist or George Guess when dealing with English speakers.
Chief Seattle was a Suquamish chief. A leading figure among his people, he pursued a path of accommodation to white settlers. The city of Seattle, in the U.S. state of Washington, was named after him. A widely publicized speech arguing in favor of ecological responsibility and respect of Native Americans' land rights had been attributed to him; however what he actually said has been lost through translation and rewriting.
Life: c. 1788-1812
Years Active: 1804-1806
Sacagawea was a Lemhi Shoshone woman who, at age 16, helped the Lewis and Clark Expedition in achieving their chartered mission objectives by exploring the Louisiana Territory. Sacagawea traveled with the expedition thousands of miles from North Dakota to the Pacific Ocean, helping to establish cultural contacts with Native American populations and contributing to the expedition's knowledge of natural history in different regions.
Her work as an interpreter/guide certainly helped the party to negotiate with the Shoshone. Many believe her greatest value to the mission may have been her presence during the arduous journey, as having a woman and infant accompany them demonstrated the peaceful intent of the expedition.
Years Active: 1832-1837
Osceola, named Billy Powell at birth in Alabama, became an influential leader of the Seminole people in Florida. His mother was Muscogee, and his great-grandfather was a Scotsman, James McQueen. He was reared by his mother in the Creek (Muscogee) tradition.
In 1836, Osceola led a small group of warriors in the Seminole resistance during the Second Seminole War, when the United States tried to remove the tribe from their lands in Florida to Indian Territory west of the Mississippi River.
Osceola led the Seminole resistance to removal until he was captured on October 21, 1837, by deception, under a flag of truce, when he went to a site near Fort Peyton for peace talks. Osceola's capture by deceit caused a national uproar. General Jesup's treacherous act and the administration were condemned by many congressional leaders and vilified by international press. Jesup suffered a loss of reputation that lasted for the rest of his life; his betrayal of the truce flag has been described as "one of the most disgraceful acts in American military history
Nevertheless, the United States first imprisoned him at Fort Marion in St. Augustine, then transported him to Fort Moultrie in Charleston, South Carolina. He died there a few months later of causes reported as an internal infection or malaria.
Years Active: 1860s–1870s
Cochise was one of the most noted Apache leaders to resist intrusions by European Americans during the 19th century. Cochise ("having the quality or strength of an oak") was the principal chief of the Chokonen band of the Chiricahua Apache. A key war leader during the Apache Wars, he led an uprising which began in 1861 and persisted until a peace treaty was negotiated in 1872.
Years Active: 1860s–1890s
Tribe: Oglala Lakota
Red Cloud was a chief of the Oglala Lakota, he was one of several Lakota leaders who opposed the American settlement of the Great Plains winning a short-lived victory against the U.S. Army during Red Cloud's War. Red Cloud's War was the name the U.S. Army gave to a series of conflicts fought with Native American Plains tribes in the Wyoming and Montana territories. The battles were waged between the Northern Cheyenne, allied with Lakota and Arapaho bands, against the United States Army between 1866 and 1868.
He continued to be one of the most important leaders of the Oglala Lakota from 1868 to 1909 and was the most photographed American Indian of the nineteenth century. There are 128 known photographs picturing Red Cloud. He was first photographed in 1872 in Washington D.C. by Mathew Brady, just before meeting with President Grant.
Years Active: 1850s–1880s
Geronimo was a prominent leader and medicine man of the Apache tribe. From 1850 to 1886, Geronimo joined with members of three other Chiricahua Apache bands to carry out numerous raids, as well as fight against Mexican and U.S. military campaigns in the northern Mexico states of Chihuahua and Sonora and in the southwestern American territories of New Mexico and Arizona. Geronimo's raids and related combat actions were a part of the prolonged period of the Apache–United States conflict, which started with American settlement in Apache lands following the end of the war with Mexico in 1848.
Among Geronimo's own Chiricahua tribe, many had mixed feelings about him. While respected as a skilled and effective leader of raids or warfare, he emerges as not very likable, and he was not widely popular among the other Apache. This was primarily because he refused to give in to American government demands causing some Apaches to fear the American responses to Geronimo's sense of Indian nationalism. Nevertheless, Apache people stood in awe of Geronimo's "powers" which he demonstrated to them on a series of occasions.
Years Active: 1870s–1890s
Sitting Bull was a Lakota leader who led his people during years of resistance against United States government policies. He was killed by Indian agency police on the Standing Rock Indian Reservation during an attempt to arrest him, at a time when authorities feared that he would join the Ghost Dance movement.
During the period 1868–1876, Sitting Bull developed into one of the most important Native American political leaders. After the Treaty of Fort Laramie (1868) and the creation of the Great Sioux Reservation, many traditional Sioux warriors, such as Red Cloud of the Oglala and Spotted Tail of the Brulé, moved to reside permanently on the reservations.
Sitting Bull's refusal to adopt any dependence on the U.S. government meant that at times he and his small band of warriors lived isolated on the Plains. When Native Americans were threatened by the United States, numerous members from various Sioux bands and other tribes, such as the Northern Cheyenne, came to Sitting Bull's camp. His reputation for "strong medicine" developed as he continued to evade the European Americans.
Years Active: 1860s–1870s
Captain Jack (a.k.a Kintpuash) was a chief of the Modoc tribe of California and Oregon. Kintpuash's name in the Modoc language meant "Strikes the water brashly." He led a band from the Klamath Reservation to return to their lands in California, where they resisted return. From 1872 to 1873, their small force made use of the lava beds, holding off more numerous United States Army forces for months in the Modoc War.
Captain Jack was the only Native American leader ever to be charged with war crimes. He was executed by the Army, along with several followers, for their ambush killings of General Edward Canby and Reverend Eleazar Thomas at a peace commission meeting.
Years Active: 1850s–1870s
Crazy Horse was a Lakota war leader of the Oglala band in the 19th century. He took up arms against the United States federal government to fight against encroachment by white American settlers on Native American territory and to preserve the traditional way of life of the Lakota people.
In the 1876 Battle of the Little Bighorn, he led a war party to victory, earning him great respect from both his enemies and his own people. He ranks among the most notable and iconic of Native American warriors and was honored by the U.S. Postal Service in 1982 with a 13¢ Great Americans series postage stamp.
Memorials - Crazy Horse is commemorated by the Crazy Horse Memorial in the Black Hills of South Dakota.Like the nearby Mount Rushmore National Memorial, it is a monument carved out of a mountainside. The sculpture was begun by Polish-American sculptor Korczak Ziółkowski, who had worked under Gutzon Borglum on Mount Rushmore, in 1948. Plans call for the completed monument to be 641 feet wide and 563 feet high.
Years Active: 1870s
Tribe: Nez Perce
Chief Joseph was a leader of the band of Nez Perce, a Native American tribe of the interior Pacific Northwest region of the United States, in the latter half of the 19th century. He led his band of Nez Perce during the most tumultuous period in their history, when they were forcibly removed by the United States federal government from their ancestral lands in northeastern Oregon onto a significantly reduced reservation in the Idaho Territory.
A series of violent encounters with white settlers in the spring of 1877 culminated in those who resisted removal to flee the United States in an attempt to reach political asylum alongside the Lakota people, who had sought refuge in Canada. At least 700 men, women, and children led by Joseph and other Nez Perce chiefs were pursued by the U.S. Army in a 1,170-mile fighting retreat known as the Nez Perce War. The skill with which the Nez Perce fought and the manner in which they conducted themselves in the face of incredible adversity earned them widespread admiration from their military opponents and the American public, and coverage of the war in U.S. newspapers led to popular recognition of Chief Joseph and the Nez Perce.
In October 1877, after months of fugitive resistance, most of the surviving remnants of Joseph's band were cornered in northern Montana Territory, just 40 miles from the Canadian border. Unable to fight any longer, Chief Joseph surrendered to the Army with the understanding that he and his people would be allowed to return to the reservation in western Idaho. He was instead transported between various forts and reservations on the southern Great Plains before being moved to the Colville Indian Reservation in the state of Washington, where he died in 1904.
Chief Joseph's life remains iconic of the American Indian Wars. For his passionate, principled resistance to his tribe's forced removal, Joseph became renowned as a humanitarian and peacemaker.
Years Active: 1896–1916
Luther Standing Bear was a Native American author, educator, philosopher, and actor. He fought to preserve Lakota heritage and sovereignty and was at the forefront of a Progressive movement to change government policy toward Native Americans.
Standing Bear was one of a small group of Lakota leaders of his generation who was born and raised in the oral traditions of their culture, educated in white culture, and wrote significant historical accounts of their people and history in English. Standing Bear's experiences in early life, the Carlisle Indian Industrial School, Wild Westing with Buffalo Bill, and life on government reservations present a unique view of a Native American during the Progressive Era in American history.