For those of us who live in the United States – and perhaps those who don’t – you have no doubt heard about many historical figures and heroes. Sadly, the same cannot be said about Native American historical figures and heroes. There are many Americans who don’t know very much at all about Native American history.
With that, let us briefly examine some of Native American chiefs and leaders.
6 Native American Chiefs
Geronimo – Perhaps among one of the most popular Native American chiefs ever, Geronimo was actually a medicine man who came from the Bedonkohe band of the Chiricahua tribe. He was born in the year 1829 and became acclimated very rapidly to the Apache ways of life. As a boy, Geronimo swallowed the entire heart of the kill he made while hunting, and by age 18 led as many as four separate raids. Just like his people, he greatly suffered at the hands of “civilized” folks who invaded their lands. The Mexicans, who at the time controlled the lands around them, murdered his wife and his three young children. Even though he hated Americans with a passion, he carried a deep-seated hatred for the Mexicans as long as he lived.
During the year 1848, Mexico gave up control of large areas of land, which included the Apache territories, during the Treaty Agreement of Guadalupe Hidalgo. This brought on constant conflicts among the tribes that lived on the land and new Americans who were trying to settle there. As with many tribes, Geronimo and his tribe were eventually moved off the lands of their ancestors. They were then put in a reservation of barren land located in Arizona. This was something that this great leader resented deeply. Over the next decade, he led numerous successful breakouts was chased constantly by the US Army. Needless to say, he was seen as a celebrity for all of his daring escapes, much to the delight of those who loved the Wild West.
He finally surrendered on September 4, 1886, following several different imprisonments. Right before he died, Geronimo pled his tribe’s case before President Theodore Roosevelt, but failed to persuade the American leader to let his people return to their home. He died in 1909 after an accident on his horse.
Crazy Horse – A great warrior from the Oglala Sioux, Crazy Horse was believed to born in the year 1840 in South Dakota. Legend has it that his name was given him by his father to reflect as fighting skills. Tensions among the Sioux and the Americans had only increased since his birth, but tensions boiled over after he became a young teenager. In August of 1854, the Sioux chief who was named Conquering Bear was murdered by a white soldier. In an act of revenge, the Sioux tribesmen killed the commanding officer and 30 of his soldiers in hat is now called the Grattan Massacre.
Using his skills and knowledge as an accomplished guerilla fighter, Crazy Horse became a thorn in the butt of the US Army, who stopped at nothing in trying to force the Sioux onto a reservation. By far the most popular battle in that Crazy Horse took part in was the legendary Battle of the Little Bighorn, where General Custer and his soldiers were soundly defeated. However, during the following year, Crazy Horse surrendered. The scorched-earth approached of the US Army proved to be way too much for his tribe to withstand. During captivity, Crazy Horse was allegedly stabbed to death while planning to escape.
Chief Seattle – Born in the year 1790, Chief Seattle came from the state of Washington and lived around the Puget Sound. He was actually the chief for two different tribes and at first he peacefully welcomed settlers began arriving during the 1850s. As a matter of fact, they created a colony on Elliot Bay and even named it after this great tribal leader. But several of the local tribes deeply resented this invasion by the Americans, and then violent conflicts started to occur periodically which resulted in a full blown an attack on colony of Seattle.
Chief Seattle had long felt that his people would probably get driven out by the new settlers, but he pointed out any violence would only exacerbate the process, this sentiment seemed to calm down the tribe. The great chief ultimately converted to Christianity and became a devout follower until he died. As a respectful acknowledgment of the chief’s traditional religion, the people who lived in Seattle all paid a small tax to keep using his name for the city.
Cochise – Practically nothing at all is known about the early life and childhood of perhaps the greatest Apache chiefs in Native American history. No historian even knows the exact year he was born. He was quite tall for his day, standing about 6 foot tall, which was an imposing figure. As leader of his Chiricahua tribe, Cochise led his warriors on many different raids, sometimes against the Americans and sometimes against the Mexicans. But it was the attacks on the Americans that led to his undoing.
In year 1861, a raiding party from a different Apache tribe had kidnapped a child. Cochise’s tribe got the blame for the kidnapping by an inexperienced US Army officer. Even though they were completely innocent, there was an attempt to arrest the Native Americans, who came to talk, but thing end violently, with one death. Cochise escaped the meeting tent through a hole he had cut in the side.
More violence ensured as executions and acts of torture were conducted by both sides, and this violence appeared to have no end in sight. At the time, the Civil War had started and for the time being, the Apache had been left alone in Arizona.
However, in less than a year, the Army returned with howitzers and started destroying all the tribes there were still fighting. For almost a decade, Cochise and his band of warriors hid in the mountains, raiding when they needed to and eluding capture. Finally, Cochise received an offer for a large part of Arizona in a reservation. He accepted the offer but later became very ill and passed away in 1874.
Sitting Bull – A chief and actually a holy man from the Hunkpapa Lakota, Sitting Bull was born in the year 1831, in South Dakota. He instantly became a great warrior, going out on his very first raid at the young age of 14. His initial encounter with US troops came in the year 1863. It was his bravery which earned for him the title of chief for all the Lakota during the year 1868. Over the next decade, numerous small conflicts ensued among the Lakota and US troops. However, in 1874 a full-scale war erupted between the two because gold had been discovered in the sacred Black Hills in South Dakota. In reality, these lands had previously been off-limits to white people because of an earlier treaty, but the US ignored the treaty after repeated attempts to buy this land were declined.
This escalation of violence eventually led to the previously mentioned Battle of the Little Bighorn. After this famous battle, more and more armies came to the area. Tribe after tribe was forced to surrender and Sitting Bull escaped to Canada. The starvation of people led to a hasty agreement with the US, which led them to a reservation. When fears had been raised that Sitting Bull had joined in a religious movement called the Ghost Dance, a ceremony that would supposedly rid all the lands of white people, orders were issued for his arrest. A gunfight between his supporters and law enforcement soon erupted, and sadly, Sitting Bull was killed after he was shot in the head.
Mangas Coloradas – As Cochise’s father-in-law and perhaps even the most influential chief during the 1800s, Mangas Coloradas was an Apache. Born prior to the turn eighteenth century, he was very tall and became the tribal leader in the year 1837, immediately following the death of his predecessor and many warriors within band. All of them died since Mexico offered cash for the scalps of Native Americans with no questions asked. Refusing to let those atrocities go unpunished, Mangas Coloradas and his band started wreaking havoc, and even killed every citizen in the town of Santa Rita.
After the US declared war against Mexico, Mangas Coloradas viewed them as the saviors of his people, and he signed a treaty to allow American soldiers to pass through their Apache lands. However, as was always the case in those days, whenever silver and gold were discovered on their lands, the treaty was quickly broken. By the year 1863, the US flew a truce flag in an attempt to make peace with the great chief. But they betrayed him, and they killed him under the pretense that he had tried to escape, and they even mutilated his body after his death. Asa Daklugie, who was the blood nephew of Geronimo, has said that this heinous act with the last straw as far as the Apache was concerned, and they started mutilating every white person who were unlucky enough to cross their paths.
Read more here about Native American chiefs.