Noteworthy Natives


Notable Northern Plains Native Americans

There have been many notable Native Americans down through the ages and although mainstream America has not included them in most of modern day history books, Native American lore has held them in high regard. We cannot erase the omissions of the past but we can draw attention to at least a small number of the many outstanding Native Americans.

Notable Northern Plains Native Americans


An Oglala Sioux war chief, American Horse opposed the white settlement of Sioux land his entire life. The son of Smoke and cousin of Red Cloud, American Horse fought in many of the skirmishes and battles of Red Cloud’s war to keep white settlers off of the Bozeman Trail. The trail was used by settlers and miners to illegally cross Sioux and Cheyenne land.

Even after the Ft. Laramie Treaty of 1868 with its short-lived peace agreement, American Horse continued to oppose the white settlers. He traveled with Red Cloud to Washington to meet with government officials, but the talks broke off. In 1874 gold was discovered in the Black Hills and the miners and speculators began once again to overrun sacred Sioux land. In 1876 American Horse sought to make the U.S. government live up to its treaty and took up arms.

He was one of the principal war chiefs during the Battle of the Little Bighorn. After the battle while Crazy Horse headed into the Black Hills and Sitting Bull traveled north to Canada, American Horse made the decision to go to an agency assigned by the United States. Along with forty lodges (Indian family groups) who accompanied him American Horse crossed paths with the troops of General George Crook at Slim Buttes. The Sioux encampment was attacked regardless of the fact that the band was on land guaranteed them by treaty.

Retreating to a cave along with four warriors and fifteen women, American Horse was shot through the abdomen during the fight. Captured by U.S. troops, American Horse refused the help of the army surgeons. Although Sitting Bull and Gall gathered a rescue party to secure his release, they never reached him in time and at the age of 76, American Horse died. He died as he had lived attempting to secure his homeland from invaders.


Called the "Herodotus of his people", Amos Bad Heart Bull chronicled the life of the Oglala Lakota. Bad Heart Bull’s father was the historian of the Oglala, recording through pictures on buffalo hide each year’s most important event. His father died young and Bad Heart Bull was raised by his uncles. The told him about the battles they had fought in and watched as the young man collected documents about Lakota-white encounters.

Bad Heart Bull became a scout for the U.S. Army in 1890 and learned English. Along the way he was able to obtain a used ledger and it was on this that he began drawing the history of his people. In about twenty years he created 415 drawings. The drawings depict multiple perspectives of each event. First, he used a panoramic view showing a great mass of men and animals in battle and then on the same page and off to the side he would render close-ups of some aspect of the event.

The sets of drawings start with Oglala life before 1856, then the conflicts with the Crow from 1856-1875. Another set shows the Battle of the Little Bighorn, including a drawing of his cousin Crazy Horse. The drawings catalog the life of the Oglala through 1903. By preserving the most minute details of daily life, Amos Bad Heart Bull left a priceless historical record.

Helen Blish discovered the drawings when talking to W.O. Roberts at the Pine Ridge Agency in 1926. Blish was working on her master’s degree and was looking for examples of Plains art. Roberts told Blish of Dolly Pretty Cloud’s collection of ledger art. Pretty Cloud was Amos Bad Bull Heart’s sister. After much persuasion Blish convinced Pretty Cloud to allow her to study the art. She photographed each page.

The ledger book was buried with Pretty Cloud when she died in 1947, but the historical record was preserved in Blish’s photography. In 1967 the University of Nebraska Press published A Pictographic History of the Oglala Sioux.

BIG FOOT (SPOTTED ELK) - 1820-1890

Known as a negotiator, Big Foot, or Spotted Elk as he was called among the Sioux, was the leader of the Miniconjou Sioux after the death of his father in 1874. He has the tragic distinction of being the leader of the group of Sioux who were gunned down by the Seventh Cavalry at Wounded Knee Creek in 1890.

In his early life, he was known for using diplomacy to settle disputes between rival groups and his attempts to avoid war. During the 1870s he was allied with Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse but saw no major action during the war in 1876-77. After the defeat of the Sioux, he urged his followers to adapt to the white men’s ways while retaining their Lakota traditions. He settled on the Cheyenne River Reservation in South Dakota and was the first on the reservation to successfully harvest a corn crop. He traveled to Washington to lobby for a school to be built on the reservation.

By 1890 conditions on the reservations were so deplorable that many Sioux were on the edge of starvation. The government continued to take tribal land, agents often took money sent for food and supplies. Additionally, officials tried to eradicate Native American culture by forbidding the practice of traditional religion. Many of the Lakota turned to the “ghost dance” religion founded by Wovaka, a Paiute prophet. The religion taught that by praying to the Great Spirit, the Great Spirit would create a new world. The buffalo would return, Native American leaders would return to life and the whites would leave. Reservation rules forbade the practice of the religion.

Sitting Bull, who supported the movement, was arrested, and while he was being taken into custody he was killed. Big Foot did not support the ghost dance movement but considered taking his community to reservation headquarters to surrender for their own safety. Before he could do this troops arrived and arrested them. Some of the Miniconjou fled, but soldiers recaptured them and took them to Wounded Knee Creek. Three days after Christmas in 1890 the Seventh Cavalry, five hundred strong, surrounded the 300 Sioux (and some accounts say Cheyenne as well) and began to disarm them. A gun went off and the troops began to fire on the Native Americans. Before it was over, more than 200 people, men, women, children, including Big Foot were killed. (see the Battle of Wounded Knee)

BLACK ELK - 1863-1950

One of the most studied and written about Native Americans, Black Elk was an Oglala Lakota holy man. His story was first told in John Neihardt’s Black Elk Speaks, a book-length poem published in 1932. Neihardt tells Black Elk’s story from his childhood through the 1890s.

Black Elk claims to have been at the Battle of the Little Bighorn. His story tells of the time after the battle when his people were forced to live on reservations, the impoverishment and what it was like living as prisoners on their own land. He describes the brief period of hope when the Ghost Dance religion emerged before the massacre at Wounded Knee.

In 1886 Black Elk joined Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West Show and toured eastern cities and even Europe.

His life after 1900 is recounted by Michael Steltenkamp’s Black Elk: Holy Man of the Oglala. Steltenkamp, a Jesuit, says that Black Elk became a Catholic missionary. He says that Lucy Looks Twice, Black Elk’s daughter, told him of the conversion. She says that her father traveled with the Jesuits and helped convert Arapahoes, Winnebagos, Omahas and others. He even went on fundraising trips to eastern cities.

In later years he combined his missionary work with showmanship at various tourist attractions in South Dakota, using his reputation as a Lakota holy man to draw visitors. Steltenkamp says Black Elk found no contradiction in his traditional Lakota religion and Catholicism. Black Elk died in 1950 on a night when the Pine Ridge area experienced a meteor shower. Black Elk made a prediction earlier in his life that lights in the sky would accompany his death.

CRAZY HORSE - 1842-1877

Crazy Horse, a principal war chief of the Lakota Sioux, was born in 1842 near the present-day city of Rapid City, SD. Called “Curly” as a child, he was the son of an Oglala medicine man and his Brule wife, the sister of Spotted Tail. By the time he was twelve, he had killed a buffalo and received his own horse. His father gave him his own name, Crazy Horse.

While living with his uncle Spotted Tail, Crazy Horse watched as a group of soldiers attacked Sioux leaders who were trying to mediate a dispute. Spotted Tail then led a group of warriors to attack the soldiers. Sometime later Crazy Horse returned from a buffalo hunt to find the village burned to the ground and eighty-six people dead. Finding a few survivors, Crazy Horse was told that U.S. cavalry had attacked the village.

While still a young man Crazy Horse went on a vision quest and had a vivid dream of a rider in a storm on horseback, with long unbraided hair, a small stone in his ear, zig-zag lightning decorating his check and hail dotting his body. The storm faded and a red-backed hawk flew over the rider’s head. His father interpreted the dream as a sign of his son’s future greatness in battle. Crazy Horse adopted the costume as his war dress.

During Red Cloud’s War in 1866-1868 Crazy Horse joined in raids against white settlements and forts in Wyoming. When the Treaty of Fort Laramie was signed in 1868 and the Army agreed to abandon its posts along Bozeman Trail, Red Cloud and Spotted Tail settled on reservation lands. Crazy Horse became the war chief of the Oglalas. He was only 24 years old.

Crazy Horse learned in 1874 that General Custer had led an expedition into the sacred Black Hills and found gold at French Creek. Prospectors and speculators swarmed into Sioux land ignoring the fact that the land had been guaranteed to the Lakota by the Fort Laramie Treaty. To ensure the safety of the white travelers, the government issued an order requiring that the Sioux bands be required to stay on the Great Sioux Reservation. Crazy Horse and his followers ignored the order and the Army organized a campaign against them.

On the upper Rosebud Creek in southern Montana, General George Crook’s army of thirteen hundred attacked twelve hundred warriors led by Crazy Horse. Crazy Horse had over the years become a daring military strategist, adept in the art of decoying tactics. His feinting and assault techniques baffled Crook who withdrew. Crazy Horse now joined with Sitting Bull and Gall at the Bighorn River in Montana.

When Custer attacked on June 25, 1876, Crazy Horse led his warriors against Custer’s men from the north and west, while Gall charged Custer from the south and east. Custer’s force, including Custer himself, was completely destroyed. After the battle, the Sioux encampment split up with Sitting Bull heading to Canada and Crazy Horse and his followers traveling back to the Rosebud River. However, despite winning several battles, Crazy Horse band could not win the war. Intense harassment by the military and the loss of their food source, the buffalo, finally forced Crazy Horse and his followers to surrender on May 6, 1877, at Ft. Robinson in northwest Nebraska.

He was promised a reservation in the Powder River country. It did not happen. After a few months on Red Cloud’s reservation, Crazy Horse left without permission to take his sick wife to her family at the Brule Agency about 40 miles away. On his way back forty government scouts arrested him. While being lead toward a stockade, Crazy Horse resisted at the sight of the prison. A soldier bayoneted him through the abdomen. He died the same night.

DULL KNIFE - 1810-1883
One of the principal chiefs of the Northern Cheyenne, the famous leader was called Morning Star by the Cheyenne, but Dull Knife by the Lakota. He was active in the Cheyenne-Arapaho War in Colorado in 1864-65, the Sioux Wars of the Northern Plains in 1866-67 and joined Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull during the War for the Black Hills in 1876-77. Many of his warriors fought with Crazy Horse at Rosebud and at the battle of the Little Bighorn.

In November of 1876, General George Crook attacked Dull Knife’s camp on the Red Fork of the Powder River in Wyoming while searching for Crazy Horse. The four hundred warriors were badly beaten and the survivors made a desperate attempt to reach Crazy Horse’s camp. Eleven children died, and the Cheyenne were forced to eat almost all their horses in the trek.

Dull Knife finally surrendered in the spring of 1877 and the Cheyenne band was forced to go to a reservation in Indian Territory in Oklahoma. The Darlington Reservation had little game, the buffalo were gone and the smaller animals had been hunted to near extinction by those who had been sent to the reservation earlier. Fever, probably malaria, infected the susceptible Cheyenne. Many who didn’t die of the fever starved to death.

Along with Little Wolf, Dull Knife pleaded with the Indian agent to allow the Cheyenne to return to Montana. The request was refused so Dull Knife and Little Wolf fled the reservation with the 300 remaining members of the tribe in 1878. They set out on a 1000-mile journey toward their homeland with the Army in pursuit. The Cheyenne repelled several attacks and at White Clay Creek in Nebraska, they split into two groups. Dull Knife and 150 of the Cheyenne went to the Red Cloud Agency to surrender, while Little Wolf and the others hid in the Sand Hills of Nebraska.

Finding the Red Cloud Agency abandoned, Dull Knife pressed on to Ft. Robinson where he and his followers spent two months waiting for the fort’s commander to receive orders. When the orders came, they were to send the Cheyenne back to Oklahoma. Dull Knife refused and the commander locked the group in a freezing barrack for 3 days without food or water. In January of 1879 Little Shield, a Dog Soldier Society leader led a breakout from the barracks. Soldiers chased them from the fort shooting them. The surviving Cheyenne, now fewer than 100 were herded back into Ft. Robinson.

Dull Knife and his wife and son were among the few who escaped the carnage and forced incarceration. They walked for eighteen days to Red Cloud’s Pine Ridge Reservation, subsisting mainly on tree bark. Dull Knife’s small band was allowed to stay at Pine Ridge until in 1884 when the Northern Cheyenne were granted the Tongue River Reservation in Montana. Dull Knife died the year before the Cheyenne were finally granted a reservation and was buried on a high butte near his home.

Francis La Flesche, like his sister Susette, was involved during the 1870s and 1880s with the struggle for the return of the Ponca to their homeland. As a child of the Omaha principal chief Joseph La Flesche, Francis participated in buffalo hunts and religious ceremonies, but he also attended the Presbyterian mission school on the Omaha Reservation.

Francis accompanied Standing Bear during his lecture tour in 1879 and 1880 advocating a return to the Ponca homeland. Along with his sister Susette, he acted as an interpreter for Standing Bear. While on tour he met Alice Cunningham Fletcher, an ethnologist, and Native American activist.

When the tour was completed La Flesche moved to Washington, D.C. and became a clerk in the Office of Indian Affairs. In his free time, he began researching Omaha culture with Fletcher. He traveled to Nebraska with Fletcher and interpreted for her, which began a long professional association.

Francis returned to school and received a bachelor’s degree in law from National University in 1892 and a master’s degree in 1893. In 1910 he transferred to the Smithsonian’s Bureau of American Ethnology, where he could devote all his time to ethnological research.

Francis published A Study of Omaha Music (1893) and The Omaha Tribe (1911) with Alice Fletcher. On his own, he published The Middle Five: Indian Boys at School (1900), a play called Da-o-ma (1912), Who was the Medicine Man? (1904) and A Dictionary of the Osage Language.

Francis La Flesche received many honors for his scholarship. He was a member of the Washington Academy of Sciences and received an honorary doctorate from the University of Nebraska. Upon retirement, he returned to the Omaha Reservation where he died in 1932.

ZITKALA-SA (RED BIRD) - 1876-1938

Born the year of the Battle of the Little Bighorn, Zitkala-Sa was a writer and Native American activist during the early years of the 20th century. She was born on the Yankton Sioux Reservation in South Dakota and attended a boarding school run by Quakers when she was young. She went on to attend Earlham College and eventually studied at the Boston Conservatory of Music.

While in Boston she began to write stories and essays, using the pseudonym Zitkala-Sa (Red Bird). Her writing criticized the current assimilation policies. Married to Captain Raymond Talefase Bonnin, also a Yankton Sioux, Zitkala-Sa and her husband worked for the Office of Indian Affairs in Utah. She became secretary for the Society of American Indians and moved to Washington DC to lobby for the organization.

In 1926 she founded the National Council of American Indians which identified land and resource issues facing Indian people. She was instrumental in persuading The General Federation of Women’s Clubs to form their Indian Welfare Committee. The committee studied living conditions on the reservations and pressured the government to do a follow up investigation that eventually resulted in the Merriam Report. The report resulted in reforms in government policy. Zitkala-Sa also investigated the swindling of Native Americans in Oklahoma by settlers who came to the area after the discovery of oil. Throughout her lifetime Zitkala-Sa served as a spokesperson for self-determination and the values of Indian culture.

Her works include Old Indian Legends (1901), the autobiographical American Indian Stories (1921) and Oklahoma’s Poor Rich Indians: An Orgy of Grant and Exploitation of the Five Civilized Tribes - Legalized Robbery (1924).

OSCAR HOWE - 1915-1983

A Yankton Sioux artist, Oscar Howe was born on the Crow Creek Reservation in South Dakota. The great-grandson of the tribal historian, even as a child Oscar wanted to draw and paint. Although not encouraged by his parents in his artistic pursuits, Oscar continued to draw. Due to a skin disease that kept him inside, he spent many hours alone practicing his art.

After being sent to a government Indian school Oscar ran away several times. Finally, the school authorities sent the sick child home to be cared for by his grandmother. She taught him the traditional art of his historian great-grandfather, painting on buffalo hides. When Howe was twenty he contracted tuberculosis and moved to Santa Fe. Here he completed high school, studied art and recovered from his illness.

When Howe returned from World War II he graduated from Dakota Wesleyan University where he became the artist-in-residence. He received a Master of Fine Arts from Oklahoma University. While teaching at the University of South Dakota Howe continued to paint. He created a liner abstract design concept that utilizes the formal elements of line, color, and space to interpret his heritage.

At first, critics did not accept his work citing that it did “not look Indian.” This criticism has been reversed over time and one of his most famous paintings Ghost Dance is in the Heard Museum in Phoenix. The Oscar Howe Art Center in Mitchell, South Dakota is dedicated to his work and there is a large collection of his paintings at South Dakota State University. Oscar Howe succumbed to Parkinson’s Disease in 1983.

PLENTY COUPS - 1848-1932

The last chief of the Crow, Plenty Coups spearheaded the Crow strategy to cooperate with the U.S. Army during the Plains Wars of the 1870s. As a young man of fourteen Plenty Coups went into the mountains to do a vision quest. In his dream he saw the buffalo disappear, cattle appear on the plains and only a chickadee survive a terrible storm. The dream was interpreted to mean that whites would take over the land and the Crow could survive. Spiritual leaders of the Crow concluded it would be to the advantage of the Crow to support the white invaders.

Plenty Coups and 135 Crow warriors volunteered to become scouts for General George Crook in the 1876 campaign against the Cheyenne and the Sioux. Crow scouts were also with George Custer at the battle of the Little Bighorn. After the battle Crows warriors under Plenty Coups continued to support the U.S. Army as it pursued the Sioux and the Cheyenne, the traditional enemies of the Crow.

Crow support of the U.S. Army helped them avoid the tragic fate of the Sioux. They were given a reservation in their homeland of Montana. Plenty Coups became their peacetime leader. He encouraged the Crow to take up farming and ranching and he moved from his tepee into a log farmhouse. He also opened a general store.

For the rest of his long life, Plenty Coups advocated Crow interests. He insisted that Crow workmen be used when the railroad wanted to lay tracks across his territory. He pressed for the Crow to receive a share of the profits when their land was leased to oil and gas companies. When the government wanted to allow settlers to move onto Crow land he traveled to Washington ten times to fight the plan until he succeeded in blocking it. During World War I, he encouraged young Crow men to join the Army and leave the enforced idleness and alcoholism of the reservation.

In 1921 he was chosen as the representative of all American Indians for the dedication of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. He willed his land to the U.S. government to be a memorial and museum to the Crow people. His people revered Plenty Coups and when he died in 1932 they eliminated the title “chief” from tribal leaders so that Plenty Coups would be the last Crow chief.

RED CLOUD - 1822-1909

War chief and leader of the Oglala branch of the Teton Sioux, Red Cloud was born in present-day, north-central Nebraska near the forks of the Platte River. He was the first American Indian in the West to win a war against the United States. He was also the last.

Red Cloud’s name, which in Lakota actually means “Scarlet Cloud,” refers to an unusual formation of crimson clouds that hovered over the western horizon when he was born. His father died when he was young and Red Cloud was raised by an Oglala headman Smoke, his mother’s uncle. Like other young Sioux boys, he learned to fight and hunt. He was skilled at both. Red Cloud gained a reputation for bravery and cunning in raids against the Pawnee and Crow and was always personally ready to take an enemy scalp.

The Oglala remained at peace with the white settlers traveling through their territory until 1865. At that time gold was discovered in Montana and the U.S. Army began building forts across Lakota hunting grounds, establishing the Bozeman Trail. The Bozeman Trail with its connection to the Oregon Trail brought miners, immigrants, settlers and wagon trains directly through the buffalo feeding areas. Partly in retaliation for the Sand Creek Massacre of 1864 and because these intruders endangered the food resources of the Plains tribes, Red Cloud along with Man Afraid of his Horses refused to sign a non-aggression treaty permitting passage across their lands from Fort Laramie to the gold fields of Montana.

When the U.S. troops built forts along the Bozeman Trail, Red Cloud and his followers cut off food supplies and laid siege to Fort Phil Kearney for two years. Attacks were launched against troops and settlers. The native warriors, employed guerilla tactics. Captain William Fetterman led a relief party in 1866 of eighty-one men. He boasted that with eighty men he could ride through the Sioux nation. He never returned.

In 1868 the government finally requested a cessation of raids and signed the Fort Laramie Treaty guaranteeing the Powder River country as well as the Black Hills to be reserved for the Lakotas forever. Native American warriors burned down every fort along the trail. They knew that forever is not a long time in U.S. government treaties with Native Americans.

Red Cloud traveled to Washington to meet with President Grant and on to New York where he made a speech. Returning to the Plains a Sioux agency was named for him in present-day South Dakota. Red Cloud spent the 1870s and 80s seeking to mediate peaceful relations between the Sioux and the United States. He was accused by some younger Oglala of selling out, while government officials accused him of secretly aiding the Sioux and Cheyenne bands that defeated General George Custer at Little Bighorn. Red Cloud’s reservation was renamed, Pine Ridge.

During his later years, Red Cloud lost his sight and had little to do with his people’s affairs. He died at Pine Ridge in 1909. In the course of his lifetime, he had watched the West go from the heyday of the Plains horse culture to an era of the almost complete eradication of Native Americans.

One of only about 12 Native Americans who holds a Ph.D. in mathematics, Robert Megginson grew up in a family who was interested in math. His British father held a bachelor’s degree in physics and math and his maternal grandfather, an Oglala Lakota often gave the young Megginson math problems to solve.

Math was not Megginson’s first degree, however. He received his bachelor’s degree in physics and worked for a private firm for eight years as a computer systems software specialist. In 1977 he returned to college and received his master’s degree in statistics and his doctorate in mathematics from the University of Illinois. Dr. Megginson then joined the faculty of Eastern Illinois University and later the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. His field of study is the study of multi-dimensional (Banach) spaces.

For the past decade, Dr. Megginson has spent his time working to solve the problem of the under-representation of minorities in the field of mathematics. In 1992 he developed a summer program for high school students at the Turtle Mountain Indian Reservation in North Dakota. The purpose of the program is to keep the students interested in mathematics and related fields and encourage them to pursue college degrees in these areas.

Dr. Megginson has mentored many minority students and in 1997 received the U.S. Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics, and Engineering Mentoring. The American Indian Science and Engineering Society awarded Megginson its Ely S. Parker Lifetime Achievement Award in 1999. In 2001 he was named to the Native American Science and Engineering Wall of Fame. He continues to live and teach in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
SACAJAWEA - CA. 1784-1884

Sacajawea, the Shoshoni guide for the Lewis and Clark expedition, was born 1784 or 1787 (reports vary) in what is now present-day Idaho. At the age of ten, she was kidnapped during a raid by the Hidatsa Indians and taken to their village near present-day Mandan, North Dakota. In 1804 Sacajawea and another Native American girl were sold to the French fur trader Toussaint Charbonneau. Charbonneau wed both of the young Native Americans.

When Charbonneau was hired by Lewis and Clark in the winter of 1804-05 he insisted that Sacajawea be allowed to accompany the expedition on the remainder of their trip west. The young Shoshoni woman would serve as an interpreter for the band of explorers. She spoke to the Native Americans the expedition encountered and translated into Hidatsa to Charbonneau, who in turn would translate into English for the rest of the party. When she was unable to understand the language of the tribe, she would use sign language to make known their desires. With her, on the journey, she carried her young infant Jean Baptiste, called Pomp or Pompey by expedition leader William Clark.

In August of 1805 when the expedition reached the navigable limits of the Missouri, Merriweather Lewis set out to make contact with a Shoshoni band, from whom he hoped to obtain horses for the trip across the mountains. Sacajawea discovered the band was led by her older brother Cameahwait, who had become chief on the death of their father. From Cameahwait Sacajawea was able to obtain food, horses and an elderly Shoshoni guide to help the explorers continue their journey to the Pacific Ocean.

Sacajawea served not only as an interpreter but also revealed to Lewis and Clark important passageways through the wilderness. She provided the group with valuable information about edible plants and her mere presence along with her infant son indicated to the Native Americans they met that the expedition was a peaceful one. She was also responsible for housekeeping and food preparation

Sacajawea could have stayed with the Shoshoni, but chose to accompany the “Corp of Discovery” to the Pacific Ocean and then back to Hidatsa village on the Upper Missouri. Historians do not have a definitive picture of history from this point on. It is thought that she may have died in 1812 of an epidemic of “putrid fever.” However other accounts claim that she rejoined her Shoshoni tribe and died in 1884 on the Wind River Reservation in Montana.

Of the many memorials to Sacajawea, the most famous is a statue in Washington Park in Portland, Oregon. In 2000 the U.S. Mint issued a new gold dollar coin with the image of this resourceful, amazing Native American guide.

SITTING BULL - 1831-1890

Arguably the most famous American Indian in history, Sitting Bull was a major military, spiritual and political leader of the Sioux people during the 1800s. His name translates as “a large bull buffalo at rest.” A Hunkpapa Sioux, he was born at a site along the Grand River in Dakota country. As a child, he was called “Slow” and sought at an early age to rise above the nickname. At ten he killed his first buffalo and at fourteen counted his first coup on an enemy and received his adult name.

By 1856 he was the leader of the Strong Heart Warrior society. Sitting Bull’s enemies held his name in such awe that his followers could intimidate them by just shouting “we are Sitting Bull’s boys.” He grew to be not only a great warrior but also a holy man of his people following the traditional ways of life and refusing to abide by the territorial provisions of the Ft. Laramie Treaty signed by Red Cloud in 1868.

When George Armstrong Custer invaded the sacred Black Hills in 1874 Sitting Bull played a key role in gathering Lakota and Cheyenne warriors to defend their land. When the U.S. government ordered all hunting bands to report to U.S. Government agencies attached to reservations, the line was drawn.

By June of 1876, a village of between twelve and fifteen thousand Plains Indians had assembled along the Little Bighorn River. A Sun Dance Ceremony was held and Sitting Bull performed the dance for thirty-six straight hours. At the end of the dance Sitting Bull told his people of his vision of seeing U.S. Army troops being defeated. On June 17th warriors under Sitting Bull engaged the forces of General George Crook in the Battle of the Rosebud and sent the U.S. troops into retreat.

On June 25th General George Custer attacked the native warriors on their home ground and twenty minutes later the battle was over. Custer and his entire force of 225 men were destroyed. Sitting Bull said of the battle, “Let no man say that this was a massacre. They came to kill us and killed themselves.”

After the battle, Sitting Bull and his followers fled to Canada where they stayed for four years. But at the end of the four years, they finally gave up. When Sitting Bull and his band surrendered in 1881 at Ft. Buford, North Dakota, his once vast following now contained 44 men and 143 women and children. Sitting Bull was held a prisoner until 1883 when he was allowed to settle on the Standing Rock Reservation. He joined Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West Show in 1885 and 1886 and then returned to the Reservation. He continued to oppose the selling of Indian land. Although he adopted the farming lifestyle and sent his children to reservation schools, Sitting Bull maintained that he “would rather die an Indian than live a white man.”

In the late 1880s, many Sioux began practicing the Ghost Dance religion that claimed to be able to restore the Native American way of life. Sitting Bull supported the movement and in 1890, agents of the Office of Indian Affairs tried to arrest him. Accounts vary, but it appears that government-paid Indian police officers came to serve him with a warrant. Officer Bullhead shot Sitting Bull in the thigh when Sitting Bull protested and then Sergeant Red Tomahawk shot him in the head. Following the assassination, a riot erupted and six policemen and eight of Sitting Bull’s followers, including his son Crow Foot, were killed.

SPOTTED TAIL - 1823-1881

Spotted Tail was the leader of the Brule Sioux during the Plains Wars of the 1870s. His name came from a striped raccoon pelt given to him by a trapper. His prowess as a warrior against the Pawnee during the 1850s elevated the young warrior to be a war leader before he was thirty.

A valiant man, Spotted Tail surrendered himself to soldiers Ft. Laramie in about 1855 to spare the tribe retaliation after a Brule committed murder. Spotted Tail thought he would be executed but instead was imprisoned for a year at Ft. Leavenworth. During his year in prison, he learned to read and write English.

Spotted Tail allied himself with the war leaders after the Massacre of Sand Creek, but during Red Cloud’s war over the Bozeman Trail, he cooperated with peace negotiations. After the death of Chief Little Thunder, the Brule chose Spotted Tail as their new chief. He signed the Treaty of Ft. Laramie in 1868 agreeing to a large Brule reservation in South Dakota. During the 1870s he traveled many times with Red Cloud to Washington to lobby on behalf of the Sioux.

Spotted Tail refused to sell the Black Hills to the government after gold was discovered. The United States offered $6 million. Wisely, Spotted Tail researched it and asked for $60 million. The government refused. In the ensuing war, Spotted Tail tried again to negotiate a peace treaty.

At the war’s conclusion, the Sioux were forced to live on reservations and Spotted Tail became a very strong-willed administrator for his people. He maintained a police force to keep liquor off the reservation and he worked diligently to keep the Sioux from being sent to Indian Territory in Oklahoma. Once when a man from his tribe was accused of murder, he turned the man over to the federal authorities and then used his own money to hire a defense attorney.

Red Cloud accused Spotted Tail of selling tribal land throughout the 1870s and then keeping the money. Probably due to the dissension between the chiefs, several subchiefs plotted to overthrow Spotted Tail and in 1881, one of them, Crow Dog, shot and killed him.

STANDING BEAR - 1829-1908

Chief of the Ponca, a small Indian nation related to the Omaha, Standing Bear became famous for bringing a lawsuit against the United States Army for forcibly removing Indian people from their homelands. The Ponca had tried to deal peacefully with the government and in 1858 signed a treaty giving up all of their land except for the land around the Niobrara River in Nebraska. By mistake, the government then gave this land to the Sioux in the 1868 Ft. Laramie Treaty. The Sioux began driving the Ponca off their land.

In 1875 the government admitted its mistake and suggested that the Ponca move to Indian Territory in Oklahoma. Standing Bear and several other Ponca leaders accompanied agents of the Office of Indian Affairs to Oklahoma to pick out a site. The Indian leaders refused all locations finding the arid land uninhabitable. The frustrated agents told Standing Bear that if they wished to return home they could walk the 500 miles and they did just that.

Upon returning to Nebraska they found many Ponca had already been moved to Oklahoma. By May of 1877 six hundred Ponca including Standing Bear were forced at bayonet point to walk to the Indian Territory. Several died along the way. After a year in Oklahoma one third of the Ponca had died of disease and starvation, including Standing Bear’s son. In the middle of winter Standing Bear led a troop of sixty-six Ponca and set out on foot toward their Nebraska home. They walked for two months, finally taking shelter on land owned by the Omaha. In the spring the army arrived to force the Ponca to return to Oklahoma. While Standing Bear and the rest Ponca camped outside the town of Omaha the residents of Omaha obtained a writ of habeas corpus on behalf of the Ponca and took the army to federal court.

In his ruling on the case Judge Elmer Dundy ruled, “An Indian is a person within the meaning of the law, and there is no law giving the Army authority to forcibly remove Indians from their lands.” The Army ignored the ruling except as it pertained to Standing Bear. His brother Big Snake tried to move from the Ponca Reservation in Oklahoma to one occupied by the Cheyenne. Indian agent William Whiteman ordered a detail to arrest him. When Big Snake resisted he was shot and killed. Following a U.S. Senate investigation of Big Snake’s death, Standing Bear and the Ponca were allowed to return to Nebraska. Standing Bear traveled the country telling his story through the Omaha interpreter Susette La Flesche. He died in his homeland along the Niobrara River in 1908.

SUSAN LA FLESCHE - 1865-1915

Susan La Flesche was the first Native American woman to become a physician. The sister of Susette and Francis La Flesche she attended the missionary school on the Omaha Reservation, the Elizabeth Institute for Young Ladies. In 1884 she enrolled in the Hampton Institute in Virginia, which had been established by Samuel Armstrong to educate freed slaves. Susan graduated at the top of her class and then attended Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania. She secured a scholarship at the Medical College and again finished at the top of her class.

After graduation, she returned to the Omaha Reservation where she served as the reservation physician. It was very rare for a Native American to hold such a position and La Flesche was the first Native American woman to do so. For five years La Flesche fought smallpox, influenza, and diphtheria on the reservation traveling to visit her patients in a horse and buggy from before dawn to after dusk. She managed to control several epidemics during that time, but her hard work began to take a toll on her own health and in 1893 she resigned to recover her own health and minister to her sick mother.

In 1894 she married Henry Picotte and established a private practice in Bancroft, Nebraska. She practiced medicine in Bancroft for the rest of her life, as her health permitted. She raised two sons and lectured on health-related matters. After her husband’s death in 1905, she became a Presbyterian missionary to the Omaha nation and represented them in negotiations with the government. Her final accomplishment was the building of a hospital in Walthill, Nebraska. She died at the hospital in 1915. The hospital has been declared a national historic landmark and since 1988, a festival has been held yearly in her memory.


One of three famous children of the Omaha Principal Chief Joseph La Flesche, Susette La Flesche was a teacher, activist, author and lecturer. She was born in 1854 near Bellevue, Nebraska and attended the Presbyterian mission school on the Omaha Reservation. She studied art at the University of Nebraska and traveled with her father to Indian Territory to help provide medical attention to the Ponca. While there she met Standing Bear, Principal Chief of the Ponca tribe.

Standing Bear left Oklahoma in the winter of 1878 to return to his homeland and walked with his band for two months. When they arrived at the Omaha Reservation, the La Flesche family provided them food and shelter. The army came to the Omaha Reservation that spring to force Standing Bear to return to Oklahoma.

At the trial for Standing Bear (see Standing Bear), Susette testified for the Ponca and then wrote several articles about the case. The court’s decision was the first one acknowledging the human rights of Native Americans and stated that Native Americans were free to choose where they wanted to live.

After the trial, Susette and her brother Francis accompanied Standing Bear on a lecture tour to eastern cities pleading the case for a Ponca homeland. Susette and her brother interpreted for Standing Bear. Susette became a national celebrity known as “Bright Eyes” to the public. Also on the tour was a reporter from Omaha, Thomas H. Tibbles, who had helped ignite discussion in Congress about the case.

After the lecture tour was completed Susette and Thomas Tibbles married and continued their advocacy for Native American citizenship and the allotment of tribal lands to individuals. They believed it would be more difficult to take away an individual’s land than land owned by an Indian nation.

Susette and Thomas Tibbles continued to lecture and in 1886 toured England and Scotland. Together they wrote a book on the Wounded Knee massacre. The couple lived in Washington, D.C. for a period of time and lobbied Congress on behalf of the Omaha and the Ponca. Susette eventually returned to Nebraska and died in 1903. In 1994 Susette La Flesche was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame.

WASHAKIE - 1802-1900

During the Great Plains wars of the 1860s and 1870s, the Eastern Shoshoni leader Washakie allied himself and his tribe with the U.S. Army against the Shoshoni’s traditional enemies which included the Sioux, the Cheyenne, and the Arapahos. As a young man during the early 1800s Washakie was a skilled warrior, developing these abilities while riding for several years with a band of Bannocks. However, he was rarely aggressive after his youth.

During the 1820s and 1830s, he befriended explorers, trappers, and traders who came through the Shoshoni territory. In the 1840s after becoming principal leader of his community he refused to allow young warriors to raid the settlers who were traveling the Oregon Trail. When the Mormons came to the edge of the Shoshoni homeland at the Great Salt Lake, Washakie allied with them for a time before the government asserted authority over them as part of Utah’s bid for statehood.

In 1862 Washakie took the Eastern Shoshoni to Ft. Bridger to take refuge. He feared reprisals for raids that young Shoshoni warriors had made against wagon trains and settlements without his permission. In 1863 Washakie signed a treaty guaranteeing safe passage to travelers. And in 1869 signed the Treaty of Ft. Bridger, which set aside three million acres for the Shoshoni in their traditional homeland.

Washakie allied with the Crows and the U.S. Army during the 1870s and was with General George Crook when Crazy Horse’s Lakota routed the Americans on June 16, 1876, just nine days before the battle of Little Bighorn. Washakie had tried to warn Crook before the battle but was ignored.

Despite Washakie’s cooperation with the United States, the government violated the treaty with the Shoshoni in 1870 when they wished to reduce the size of the reservation. Young warriors wished to oust Washakie as the leader. Washakie, close to 70, left camp and returned two months later with seven scalps of Native American enemies. The chief continued to lead his tribe.

Washakie allied with the whites out of necessity. He believed that with their superior tools and weapons, the white men would destroy the Native American people. He supported the U.S. Army to such an extent that a fort was named after him 1878. When he died in 1900 Washakie was buried with full military honors at Fort Washakie in the Wind River valley.

Notable Southwest Native Americans

BARBONCITO — 1820-1871

Born in the Canyon de Chelly on the present-day Navajo Reservation in Arizona Barboncito was a Ceremonial Singer, Navajo War Chief from 1863-1866 and the Head Chief during the Treaty of 1868.

A man of peace, he signed a treaty pledging friendship with the Americans during the Mexican War in 1846. This peace with the United States would not last long. By the early 1860's U.S. troops fought and negotiated with both the Apaches and Navajos to stop Indian raids on settlements in Arizona and New Mexico. Hostilities broke out near Ft. Defiance after an incident where soldiers killed Navajo horses over the issue of grazing rights. In retaliation, Barboncito along with Manuelito led an attack on Ft. Defiance almost taking the fort. Escaping back to the mountains, the Navajo warriors agreed to a peace council.

However, the peace would not last long and in 1862 when Barboncito and his brother Delgadito were ordered to relocate to Bosque Redondo in eastern New Mexico the brothers joined Manuelito in rebellions. The rebellion lasted two years until 1864 when Col. Kit Carson captured Barboncito and forced him into the relocation camp at Bosque Redondo with other Navajos and Mescalero Apaches. Conditions at the camp were terrible with many dying of starvation. Crops were destroyed by cut worms before they could be harvested, animals died and hail ravaged fields that the insects and worms had not destroyed.

Escaping again in 1865, Barboncito and 500 followers joined Manuelito, but he later surrendered in November of 1866. As Head Chief of the Navajos in 1868, he negotiated the last treaty between the Navajos and the United States. Convincing Gen. W. T. Sherman that the Navajo should be allowed to return to their ancestral lands and not sent to Indian Country in Oklahoma. Barboncito led his people back to the area of the current- day Navajo Reservation in New Mexico and Arizona. He spent the last three years of his life living up to his word, trying to keep young Navajos peaceful and not raiding settlers outside the reservation. He died in 1871.

COCHISE — 1812-1874
Born in Arizona in 1812, the son of a Chiricahua Apache chief, Cochise inherited the leadership of the Chiricahuas about 1850. The same year, by the Treaty of Guadalupe the United States took control over the territory that is present-day New Mexico and Arizona.

During the first years of American control all was quiet, but in 1858 the route of a transcontinental stage line was laid out across the Chiricahua territory. Cochise allowed the Butterfield Overland stage line to build a station at Apache Pass. He even agreed that his people could cut firewood for the station.

Fighting broke out in 1861 when a white rancher’s child was taken from a ranch near Ft. Buchanan. Cochise met with Lieutenant George Bascom at the Apache Pass station. Bascom surrounded the tent where they were meeting and accused the Apache chief of abducting the boy. Told that his family and he would be held prisoner until the child was freed, Cochise slashed through the tent and escaped. However, members of his family were held as prisoners. The Apache Wars began.

Cochise joined with Mangas Coloradas and led a guerilla campaign against U.S. and Mexican forces. After a major defeat where soldiers ripped through the Indians with shrapnel-loaded Howitzers, Cochise never again attempted a mass attack of the soldiers. He preferred to attack travelers, prospectors and settlers. No Apache band was ever conquered and the wars lasted ten long years.

Finally in 1872 Cochise concluded a peace treaty with General Oliver O. Howard. Cochise agreed to abstain from attacks in exchange for reservation land in eastern Arizona. For Cochise the peace did not last long. In 1874 he became ill and died within hours. Put to rest with full honors by his people, his burial spot has remained a secret.
MANGAS COLORADAS — (1791-1797?)-1863

Considered by many to be the most important Apache leader of the 19th century, Mangas Coloradas, which in Spanish means Red Sleeves, was a striking figure physically. Over 6 feet tall with a hulking body and disproportionately large head, Mangas Coloradas united the Apache nation against the United States.

During his lifetime he fought two great enemies, Mexico and the United States. He fought the Mexicans in the 1820s and 1830s. After gaining independence from Spain in 1821, Mexico was at war with the Apaches and by 1835 they put a bounty on Apache scalps. When the leader of the Mimbreno Apaches, Juan Jose Compas was killed for the bounty money in 1837, Mangas became leader and began a series of retaliatory raids against the Mexicans.

Mangas did seek peace. When the United States took over Apache territory in 1846, he signed a peace treaty with the U.S. and provided safe passage through his lands. Peace ended in the 1850s when gold miners arrived in the Santa Rita Mountains. In 1851 Mangas personally approached a group of miners and offered to lead them to another area. They tied him to a tree and severely beat him as a sign to other Indians to stay away. He survived the beating and the raids continued.

Developing an alliance with his son-in-law, Cochise, in 1861, the two tried to drive all of the Anglo Americans out of Apache territory. They did not succeed, but the Anglo American population was greatly reduced for a few years during the Civil War.

In the summer of 1862 Mangas Coloradas sought peace once more. He was only in middle age, but old physically, so he met with an intermediary to call for peace with the Americans. He decided to risk going in person to meet with military leaders to seek a peaceful solution. In January of 1863 he went to Pinos Altos to a council of peace. When Mangas arrived under a white flag of truce, armed soldiers came out from hiding and took the old warrior hostage. That night they shot and killed him, saying he had been "trying to escape." Adding to the treachery, the next day the soldiers cut off his head, boiled it and sent the skull to the Smithsonian. The Apaches would continue their fight against the United States for almost another quarter century.

MANUELITO — 1818-1894
One of the great war leaders of the Navajo, Manuelito had a long history of fighting his people's enemies prior to becoming a principal opponent of the U.S. government. Born in what is now southeastern Utah, he became a warrior at a young age and fought in raids against the Mexicans, Hopi and Zuni during the 1830s. By 1848 as the United States ended its war with Mexico and annexed much of the Southwest as a new U.S. territory, Manuelito was already a leading war leader of the Navajos.

In 1855 Manuelito became the chief in his community. That same year the U.S. built Ft. Defiance in New Mexico which led to the clash of Manuelito's Navajos and the Americans at Ft. Defiance. The Navajos had always grazed their herds on the pasture close to the fort and now the post commander decided to do the same. He ordered the Navajos to move their stock and when they refused the army shot 60 of Manuelito’s horses and more than 100 of his sheep. Thus began the first many battles. Fortunately, this one lasted only a few weeks before a peace treaty was signed.

Joining with Barboncito in 1861 Manuelito almost succeeded in taking Ft. Defiance, but the army was forewarned and managed to drive the warriors back. Peace came again, but not for long. When Manuelito was accused of cheating at a horse race, artillery was fired into a crowd of Navajos and ten Indians were killed. Once again, war resumed.

By 1863 Gen. James Carleton began an effort to force the Navajos to move to Bosque Redondo, a reservation in New Mexico. Col. Kit Carson led the endeavor instituting a "scorched-earth" policy against the Navajo, which involved killing their livestock and burning their homes and crops. While Manuelito’s band held out the longest, even he eventually surrendered and joined other Navajos held in captivity at Bosque Redondo.

More than 2,000 Navajo died at Bosque Redondo of disease and starvation. In 1868 Manuelito and other chiefs traveled to Washington to negotiate a return to their homes. After ratification of the treaty of 1868, the Navajos were allowed to return to their homeland. Upon returning home, Manuelito served as principal Navajo chief and chief of tribal police. During his years as chief, he traveled once again to Washington to meet with President U.S. Grant. He died in 1894 at the age of 76.
GANADO MUCHO - 1809-1893

The son of a Navajo mother and a Hopi father, Ganado Mucho was a successful rancher, tribal headman, and peacemaker in the 19th century Southwest. In Spanish his name means "Livestock Many" reflecting the large herds he owned. In the 1850s he was accused of stealing cattle, but he successfully denied the charges. A peaceful man, he signed an agreement to report the theft of livestock and return any found.

During the Navajo War of 1863-66, while Col. Kit Carson was pursuing his policy of killing Navajos and destroying their property, Mucho and his band successfully hid from Carson. Even during this terrible time, he encouraged peace between the two sides. After he lost a son and two daughters to raids by Utes and Mexicans, his band surrendered and Ganado Mucho led them on the "long walk" from Ft. Defiance to Ft. Sumner at Bosque Redondo in New Mexico.

After the treaty of 1868, he returned to the Navajo homeland, rebuilt his herds and ranch and continued to work for peace between the Navajos and the Americans until his death in 1893.

NAICHE — 1857-1921
Naiche was born into the Chokonen band of the Chiricahua Apaches, the youngest son of the great chief Cochise. After the sudden death of his older brother Taza in 1876, he became the last chief of the free Chiricahuas. Initially he was peaceful and co-operative with whites, leading the Chiricahuas into surrender to Gen. Oliver O. Howard in 1876. After the surrender the band was moved north to the San Carlos Reservation in Arizona.

In the summer of 1881 news came of the first Ghost Dance where Cochise and the spirits of other chiefs would soon return. That summer at Cibecue in Arizona, a number of soldiers and an Apache medicine man were murdered. Troops came pouring in and Naiche and his followers fled the reservation.

Naiche and his people surrendered to General Crook after being traced to their hideaway in the Sierra Madres. They returned to San Carlos and were later moved to Turkey Creek (Arizona). The army tried to force the Apaches to be farmers, and straining under the restrictions Naiche, Geronimo, Nanay and their followers fled again. For 10 months in 1885 the band raided on both sides of the Mexican border.

After meeting once again with General Crook, Naiche and Geronimo left the camp by the next morning, refusing to negotiate. The U.S. government replaced Crook with Gen. Nelson A Miles. Taking only scouts, Miles followed the Apaches and finally set a meeting. Naiche and Geronimo agreed to one last surrender.

In 1886 the Apaches were sent first to Florida, then Alabama and finally to Ft. Sill, Indian Territory (Oklahoma). Even after Naiche’s family built a house and he became a government scout, attempts were made to seize his land. Finally after an appeal he was allotted land in the Mescalero Reservation in central New Mexico. He moved in 1913 and lived there the rest of his life.
POPE' — D. 1690

The Tewa Pueblo medicine doctor Pope’ was an important figure in the Pueblo Revolt of 1680. Beaten and imprisoned as a sorcerer Pope' had resisted Christianity all of his life, clinging to the religion of the Kiva. He often clashed with Spanish authorities and the friars regarded him as a troublemaker. As early as 1668 Pope had suggested the time had come to rid the Pueblo people of the harsh Spanish rule, but the different Pueblos could not agree on a plan and were unwilling to accept any unified leadership.

Pope' was beaten and jailed by the Spanish in 1675. Upon his release the old medicine doctor patiently began building a chain of alliances. By the summer of 1680 the network of alliances was almost complete.

On August 10th the Indians following Pope' struck at Tesuque, nine miles north of Santa Fe, killing the priest and a white trader. After a number of smaller engagements, Santa Fe itself was attacked. Fighting lasted for a week and in the end the Spanish retreated south to El Paso.

For the next decade the Pueblos held control of their homeland. Pope' virtually replaced the Spanish governor as dictator of the Pueblo people. He oversaw the destruction of all signs of Christianity, both physical and spiritual. He took up residence at the Governor's Place in Santa Fe. However, he did cling to the most foreign concept that the Spanish had imposed on the once independent villages — the notion of a central authority in the person of Pope. Disillusioned with trading one centralized ruler for another, Pope' only succeeded in driving the tribes further apart. By his death in 1690 the alliance of the region’s Indians was crumbling. Drought and attacks from Apache and Ute bands further destabilized the Pueblo alliance and the Spanish had set out to reconquer New Mexico. By 1692 Santa Fe was again under Spanish rule.

VICTORIO — 1825-1880
Although he was considered one of the fiercest Apaches, Victorio desired to live in peace with the white settlers. As a young man he fought by the side of Mangas Coloradas and when Mangas was killed he became the leader of the Mimbreno Apaches who lived at Ojo Caliente (Warm Springs). In 1870 he agreed to live on a permanent reservation in Southwest New Mexico. When ordered to move to the San Carlos Reservation in Arizona in 1877, Victorio and his band submitted, but left behind a cache of hidden weapons. That fall he left that reservation, but agreed to go to the Mescalero Reservation.

In 1879 he fled once again, deciding a new judge and district attorney would try him for past crimes of killing and horse stealing. Additionally, promised food allotments from the U.S. government for his people were not forthcoming. At one time the Apaches had been allowed to hunt off the reservation, but settlers were afraid of the armed Indians and the practice was stopped.

For over a year Victorio and his band moved back and forth between the United States and Mexico conducting raids on settlers to stay alive. He eluded the armies of both countries so many times that one army official called him the "greatest Indian general who had ever appeared on the American continent." In 1880 the Mexican army trapped Victorio in the Tres Castillos Mountains. Two days of fighting ensued. When it was over Victorio lay dead along with 60 warriors and eighteen women and children. Sixty-eight women and children were taken prisoner.
GERONIMO - 1829-1909

Born Goyathlay (One Who Yawns) in present day Clifton, Arizona, Geronimo’s name has become synonymous with a battle charge cry. His childhood with the Apache tribe was peaceful and isolated from white settlers, but during his teenage years he joined Mangas Coloradas and Cochise in battles against the Mexicans.

In 1858 while trading in Mexico, his wife and three children and his mother were killed by Mexicans. To revenge his family he raided the Mexicans responsible for the murders. Some historians say that the raids are how he received the name by which history has come to know him. During the raids Mexican soldiers would call on St Jerome (Jeronimo or Geronimo in Spanish) to protect them.

In 1876 the U.S. government attempted to move the Chiricahua Apaches from their homeland to the San Carlos Reservation, but the Indians refused to relocate and many fled into Mexico. Over the next ten years Geronimo would go to the San Carlos Reservation several times. In 1886, General George Cook captured Geronimo in Mexico, but he fled with a small band of followers before their captors reached the Untied States border.

General Nelson Miles took over the pursuit of Geronimo and using 5000 white soldiers and 500 Indian auxiliaries would finally track down Geronimo in the Sonoran Mountains of Mexico. It took the army five months traveling 1645 miles before General Miles convinced Geronimo to surrender one last time. Miles promised the Apache warrior that he would spend only a short time in Florida and then be returned to Arizona, Geronimo agreed.

The promise was never kept. The Apaches were sent to Florida and then to Alabama where almost one quarter of their population died. Geronimo would never see Arizona again. He was finally sent to Ft. Sill, Oklahoma where he settled as a farmer. He took part in the inaugural procession of Theodore Roosevelt in 1905. He dictated his memoirs, Geronimo: His Own Story, published in 1906. He died of pneumonia in 1909.

LOZEN — 1840-1890
Sister of famed Apache chief Victorio, Lozen was the most renowned of the Apache War Women. At a young age, Lozen made it known that she had no interest in learning the ways of the women of her tribe but wished to set out on the path of a warrior. Victorio called her "his right hand" and "braver than most."

Lozen was a gifted medicine woman, seer, and shaman. Legend says that Victorio's band relied on her to evade the enemy. She would pray with her arms outstretched and palms upward while turning in circles. When she felt a tingling in her hands that would be the direction in which the enemy was located. Based on the intensity of the tingling she could tell how far they were away.

Lozen was not with Victorio's band when Mexican army trapped them in the Tres Castillos Mountains. Many believed the band would not have been ambushed if Lozen had been with them.

After Victorio’s death Lozen rode with Geronimo. At his request Lozen, along with Dahteste, another woman warrior, went to arrange Geronimo’s surrender in 1886. She became one of the Apache prisoners sent to Florida and then Alabama. In the unsanitary conditions in Mobile, Lozen was one of the many who died in prison.
HENRY CHEE DODGE - 1857-1947

Henry Chee Dodge was born in Ft. Defiance, Arizona, the son of a Navajo-Jemez mother and a Mexican silversmith father. When Henry was very young his father was killed while trying to recover Navajo horses stolen from the Navajos by other Mexicans. During the forced march to Bosque Redondo Reservation, led by Col. Kit Carson, Henry’s mother left her six-year-old son with other relatives to search for food. She never returned.

Dodge was passed from family to family and during a mix-up was left along the trail. An old man and his daughter found him and brought Henry with them to Bosque Redondo where they lived for four years. His Spanish looks and curly hair caused white agents governing the Navajo to choose him as an interpreter for the Navajos.

Returning to the Ft. Defiance area, Henry was reunited with an aunt. He learned English and Spanish and attended the Ft. Defiance Indian School. He worked as a translator for his uncle's trading post. He eventually became the official Navajo interpreter for the U.S. Army.

In 1883 he became the chief of the Navajo police and the following year was appointed "head chief" of the Navajo. This choice was made by a white Indian agent and approved by the U.S. Secretary of the Interior and Commissioner of Indian Affairs. Dodge had carefully saved all the money he made in his various jobs and by 1890 started investing in a trading post and sheep ranch.

In the 1920s Dodge and two others founded a council to handle requests for oil exploration leases on Navajo land. From Dodge’s council the new Navajo Tribal Council was formed and in 1923 Dodge was elected the first chairman. In 1927 Dodge convinced the government that the Navajos should receive 100% of the royalties from oil found on the reservation. His leadership brought the tribe to a modern day organization. Some of Henry Dodge's five children followed their father into leadership positions in the Navajo political system.

Reelected to the council again in 1946, Henry Dodge never took office. He contracted pneumonia and died in 1947.

NAMPEYO — 1859-1942

Nampeyo, Hopi pottery maker, seated, with examples of her work, croppedImage Source: Henry Peabody, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Nampeyo was born in Hano, a small Hopi-Tewa village on the First Mesa in Arizona. Her father was Hopi and her mother was Tewa. She grew up with her mother’s corn clan family. As a child she would have spent her days helping to carry water, grind corn and plant crops. She credited her mother with teaching her the craft of pottery making.

Since the Hopi lived in the same area as their ancestors, Nampeyo was able to study ancient fragments of old pottery. She began to decorate her own pots with designs inspired by the ancient potters. William Henry Jackson, the noted western photographer happened to take pictures of the 15-year old Hano native during the 1875 Hayden Survey of Western America.

That same year the first trading post was established on the Hopi Reservation by Thomas Keam. He promoted the making and sale of Hopi artifacts to help the Hopi enhance their meager earning power. It is almost certain that Nampeyo was bringing pots to Keam and receiving money in return.

Nampeyo used traditional methods to make the pots. She painted them using her own handmade yucca brushes and firing the pots in an outdoor oven. Her style is characterized by geometric figures and pictures of animals and faces. She used a yellowish clay to produce smooth, dense pots. Nampeyo’s new designs used the old as a stepping stone, but not as a copy. She is credited with the birth of contemporary Hopi pottery, now called Hano polychrome. Her pottery making became known to traders and anthropologists who came to the Southwest in the 1880s and 1890s.

Her fame spread and in 1910 the Santa Fe Railway sent Nampeyo and her husband Lesso to Chicago to make pottery for the Exposition. By 1920 she was almost blind and her daughters and husband helped her paint. When she died in 1942 she left behind a fine lineage of potters, including her three daughters and several granddaughters.

MARIA MARTINEZ — 1880-1980
The most famous potter of the 20th century, Maria Antonia Montoya Martinez was born in the San Ildefonso Pueblo, about 20 miles northwest of Santa Fe, New Mexico. She lived in the Pueblo all of her long life, eager to greet visitors and share her craft with those who came to watch and listen.

She was seven years old when her aunt taught her to make pottery. She was fortunate to have a chance to learn this traditional art since by this time pottery was being replaced by inexpensive tin ware and enamelware. By the time she was 13, Maria was a skillful potter.

With her marriage to her good friend Julian Martinez, a life-long partnership began that has produced some of the most famous pottery of the Southwest. When Julian helped with the excavation of an ancient Pueblo ruin in 1907-1908, one of the archeologists asked Maria to duplicate the ancient pots. By mixing clay with fine sand, Maria found she could make pots that were equally thin as the ancient ones

Maria molded the pots while Julian painted them. From 1909 to 1912 the couple demonstrated pottery-making at the Museum of New Mexico. They tried to duplicate the black pots seen in the museum and found they could blacken them with smoke.

For many years, Maria and Julian worked together creating their pottery while raising a family and carrying out the traditional duties of the pueblo. In 1943 Julian died and Maria’s daughter-in-law took over painting the pots. She later worked with her grandson, Popovi Da. One of the family’s most innovative potters is another of Maria’s grandsons, Tony Da.

The first Pueblo potter to sign her work, she often gave away her profits to those in need and generously taught other potters to make the black on black pots. She received many national and international awards for her work and continued to make pots until her death in 1980.
LUCY LEWIS - 1897-1992

Born and raised in the Acoma Pueblo, New Mexico, Lucy Lewis learned to create pottery from her aunt when she was seven or eight years old. At first she made pots to sell tourists, receiving five or ten cents for each pot.

After her marriage and the birth of nine children, Lewis continued to make tourist pottery, signing them 'Acoma Pueblo'. It was not until much later that Lewis began to craft her pottery more carefully. She continued to make tourist pottery, but occasionally she painted designs of her own. Unlike Nampeyo or Maria Martinez she did not study pots at archeological sites or in museums, but based her creations on ancient pottery shards she found on the mesa and her own imagination.

In 1950 she exhibited a fine-line pot in the Gallup Intertribal Ceremonial and won a blue ribbon. Art lovers began to collect her pottery and Lucy began to sign the pots with her own name. Signing her own name broke with Pueblo tradition of not calling attention to yourself.

She was known for several innovations, including fine-line design, the use of the Zuni heart-line deer and the use of empty space. Unlike Maria Martinez, Lucy painted her own pots. She worked at making pottery until her death in 1992 at the age of 95.


The daughter of Henry Chee Dodge, Annie Dodge Wauneka was born in 1910 in a Navajo hogan near the town of Sawmill, Arizona. Her mother, K'eehabah, was one of Dodge's three wives. Annie had a non-traditional upbringing living on Dodge's ranch, where her family was much more prosperous than many other Navajo families.

At eight years old she attended boarding school in Ft. Defiance. From fifth grade on, Annie went to school at the Albuquerque Indian School. The school greatly affected her life. First, she met her husband, then during an influenza, outbreak she found herself helping the nurses. Annie never forgot how her classmates suffered.

After the 11th grade, she returned to her home to inform her parents that she intended to marry George Wauneka. Her pronouncement was unusual, considering that Navajo tradition had families arranging their children’s marriages. George and Annie's marriage also did not reflect Navajo custom. George stayed home and raised their children and tended the herds while Annie traveled with her father, Henry Chee Dodge, who had formed the Navajo Tribal Council in the early 1920s. He was the first chairman of the Council, elected in 1923.

On the reservation, Annie witnessed the devastation caused by disease, especially tuberculosis. She helped her people by bringing "the white man's medicine" to them. She went about this task in an unusual manner. She made up Navajo words for Western medical procedures to calm fearful patients. Wauneka is credited with saving the lives of at least 2,000 tuberculosis victims.

The many years of traveling with Henry Chee Dodge, the first chairman of the Navajo Tribal Council, prepared Annie to join the Navajo political scene. After her father’s death, Annie became the first woman elected to the Tribal Council. She served on the Council for more than 30 years and became chair of the Health and Welfare Commission.

Annie Dodge Wauneka served the New Mexico Committee on Aging and served as a member of the U.S. Surgeon General and the U.S. Public Health Service advisory board. In 1963 she was the first Native American to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom for her contributions to health care. In 1976 she received an honorary doctorate of health from her alma mater, the University of Arizona.

When she died at the age of 87, Navajo Tribal President Albert Hale (her grandson) said,"She made us proud to be Navajo."


Born in 1937 in the disputed Navajo-Hopi joint-use area in Low Mountain, AZ, Peterson Zah has devoted his life to the service of the Navajo people. At the age of nine, he was taken from his family and sent to the Phoenix Indian School. After graduation in 1960, he attended Arizona State University on a basketball scholarship. He received his bachelor's degree in education in 1963.

Peterson worked in Phoenix until 1967 when he took a job that would be the beginning of his career in politics, head of Dinebeiina Nahiilna Be Agaditahe (DNA) or "Lawyers Who Contribute to the Economic Revitalization of the People." During the ten years he served DNA he took several cases which established Indian sovereignty to the U.S. Supreme Court.

During this same time, Zah served on the first all-Navajo school board at Window Rock and became the president in 1973. He hired more Navajo teachers and restored knowledge of tribal history. He pushed to have the Navajo language taught in all classes, including math and science.

Zah served as chairman of the Navajo Tribal Council at Window Rock from 1983-1987. From 1990-1994 Zah was the first elected president of the Navajo Nation under a newly reorganized government structure. In 1995 he became an advisor to the president on American Indian Affairs at Arizona State University. He currently lives in Window Rock with his wife and three children.

FRED BEGAY - 1932-2013

The first Navajo to received a Ph.D. in physics, Fred Begay was born at Towaoc, Colorado on the Ute Mountain Indian Reservation. Both of his parents were Navajo and Ute. While still a young child his parents started teaching him Navajo medicine. His modern education began in 1942 when he began to attend a Bureau of Indian Affairs school. Never graduating he joined the Army in 1951 and served in the Korean War.

Returning home, he married and started running a farm. However, the Navajo Nation was recruiting war veterans to attend college. Begay was accepted at the University of New Mexico. Under this program Begay received his bachelors degree in math and science in 1961, his master’s in physics in 1963 and his Ph.D. in physics in 1971.

Begay joined the physics staff of Los Alamos National Laboratory in 1971. His work is in the alternative use of laser, electron and ion beams to heat thermonuclear plasmas (alternative energy sources). He has volunteered his time to advise the Navajo Nation on science and technology matters. He also takes the time to mentor middle school Navajo children. He received the American Indian Science and Engineering Society’s Ely Parker Award in 1992, the National Science Foundation’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 1994 and the Distinguished Scientist Award from the Society for the Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science in 1999. Begay also heads the Seaborg Hall of Science, an organization that provides science and technology related services to the Navajo community.


Born in the Acoma Pueblo in New Mexico, poet Simon Ortiz loved learning to read as a small child. After the sixth grade, Ortiz was sent to St. Catherine's boarding school in Santa Fe, where the nuns tried to convert the students to Catholicism. Although he loved to write, he had never heard of a Native American writer, so Ortiz learned a trade, woodworking and sheet metal work.

After high school, he worked briefly as a laborer in the uranium business but left to go to college in 1962 on a BIA grant and his savings. He left college to join the Army but returned to school after fulfilling his military obligation. However, after a brief time at college, he left again.

Finally, Ortiz decided to give school one last try and in 1969 he completed a master of fine arts degree at the University of Iowa. The National Endowment for the Arts bestowed a journalism award on him. He began writing poetry in the 1970s and his first book of poetry, Going for the Rain was published in 1976.

By the 1990s Ortiz had published fourteen books and had received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Gift Festival of Native Writers. He has served as lieutenant governor of the Acoma Pueblo and is a faculty member at the University of Toronto.

FRANK C. DUKEPOO, PH.D. - 1943-1999
Frank Dukepoo was the first member of the Hopi tribe to earn a Ph.D. Growing up on First Mesa on the Mohave Reservation he became interested in genetics while listening to his father, a farmer, talk about where to plant seeds. In an interview, he said that he "conducted a few controlled mating experiments with a myriad assortment of animals just to see what would happen." One of eleven children Dukepoo credited an older brother with being his role model.

He entered Arizona State University in 1961 with several scholarships but lost them when his grade point average fell to 1.2. However, with the encouragement of a professor who took an interest in the young student, he pulled up his grades to 4.0. After completing his bachelor’s degree he continued his education and earned a doctorate in genetics in 1973.

Joining the faculty of Northern Arizona University Dukepoo taught biology and led a National Science Foundation program to encourage Native American students to stay in school. Under his leadership, every student in the program stayed in school. He also founded the National Native American Honor Society in 1982.

Dukepoo conducted research on the study of birth defects in Southwest Native Americans, albinism (lack of normal pigmentation) among the Hopi and inbreeding among the Hopi of Northern Arizona. His work did not go unnoticed and he received numerous awards, including the John Hay Whitney Fellowship, the Ford Foundation Fellowship and the Iron Eyes Cody Medal of Freedom Award.

An amateur magician and saxophone player, Dukepoo played with various musical groups. Married and the father of two daughters, Frank Dukepoo’s work was cut short in 1999 when he died suddenly of natural causes.

Of mixed ancestry, including Laguna Pueblo, Mexican, and European, Leslie Marmon Silko grew up on the Laguna Pueblo Reservation. She has been called the "most accomplished Indian writer of her generation." She attended a local BIA school as a child but commuted to a Catholic school in Albuquerque as a teenager. She attended the University of New Mexico. While there she decided to take a creative writing class. The class would be the beginning of her career as a writer.

She published her first work "Tony’s Story" in 1969. In 1971 she received a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts and it was the grant that convinced her to drop out of law school and concentrate on her writing. Her first novel Ceremony was published in 1977 and her second major novel Storyteller in 1981. In Storyteller she uses the stories passed on in the Native American tradition to recreate stories about her own family.

Silko lived in Tsaile Arizona, and Ketchikan, Alaska and finally returned to the Southwest to become a professor at the University of New Mexico and then at the University of Arizona. In 1981 she was awarded the MacArthur Foundation fellowship. She used the money to support herself and her son while she wrote her most controversial novel, Almanac of the Dead. The novel deals with many issues related to Native Americans, the most prominent theme being the European conquest of the American Indians.