Hiawatha is perhaps the most famous Native American in history. The famous author Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote a story that was based loosely on Hiawatha's life, which was entitled ‘The Song of Hiawatha’. Little historical data remains of Hiawatha's life, although it is widely known that he was a peacemaker, a leader, and a spiritual guide. Skilled in putting positive political plans into action, Hiawatha helped persuade five Native American tribes who shared a similar language, namely the Iroquois, the Onondagas, the Senecas, the Cayugas, the Oneidas, and the Mohawks to
come together to form the Five Nations of the Iroquois confederacy.
2) Black Hawk
Black Hawk was not a traditional Native American tribe chief. Although he inherited a medicine bundle, he became more widely known as a War Chief. Black Hawk's real name was Makataimeshekiakiak. This means “Be a large black hawk” in his native tongue of Sauk. His name was shortened by the English, with whom he engaged in a battle known as the War of 1812. He was the fiercest and most powerful opponent of the English, as he eventually led a band of Sauk and Fox to fight settlers in Wisconsin and Illinois. He died in Iowa, but his legend remains alive to this day.
3) Sitting Bull
Named Slon-he, which literally translates to slow, Sitting Bull was a holy man and a Hunkpapa Lakota Sioux medicine man. He was famous for his premonition of winning against Lt. Col. George Custer at the Battle of Little Bighorn, which came true. He went to Canada for a short while after the battle, and when he returned to the United States, he joined Buffalo Bill's Wildwest Show as a performer. He was killed at the Standing Rock Indian Reservation by the police while they were attempting to arrest him and stop him from supporting the Ghost Dance movement.
Pocahontas, whose real name is Matoaka, is perhaps the most popular female Native American. Pocahontas was actually a childhood nickname given to her because of her frolicsome nature. She became known around the world after Disney's portrayal of her life. The story was actually inaccurate, although it is true that she married an Englishman named John Rolfe. Her father, Wahunsunacock, who was also known as Chief or Emperor Powhatan, presided over an area that is now known as Virginia. During her final days, she adopted an English life and the name
Rebecca Rolfe, abandoning her Native American heritage.
5) Crazy Horse
Crazy Horse is a Lakota who had the name Thasuka Witko, which literally means “His-Horse-is-Crazy.” Born with the Native American name of Cha-O-Ha, meaning “In the Wilderness”, Crazy Horse was also called Curly because of his hair. In 1876, Crazy Horse led a group of Lakotans and Cheyennes in the Great Sioux War. This was a surprise attack against an English troop led by General George Crook, with the support of 300 Crow and Shoshone warriors. The battle prevented General Crook from teaming up with Colonel Custer, which led to Custer's defeat at the Battle of Little Bighorn. Throughout his life, Crazy Horse actively opposed the US Government in its negative decisions on various Indian affairs.
6) Red Cloud
Red Cloud was one the most capable warriors from the Sioux or Oglala Lakota tribe. Born Makhpiya Luta, Red Cloud was the fiercest Sioux tribesman ever faced by the US military. He led his people in what is known in history as Red Cloud’s War, the most successful war ever waged by a Native American against the US military. The war was a battle for the rights of the Sioux to an area called the Powder River Country in Southern Montana and Northern Wyoming. He died at the ripe age of 87 at the Pine Ridge Reservation, where his remains are buried.
A prominent Native American leader, Geronimo led the Chiricahua Apache to fight against the encroachment of the US government on the tribe's lands. Geronimo, whose name literally means “one who yawns” in Chiricahua, fought for his tribesmen for 25 years. He was a great military and spiritual leader, although he was not a tribal chief. He led the last great Native American uprising, after which he led his people to a reservation.
He married six wives, following the Apache tradition.
Known as Obwandiyag in Ottawa, Chief Pontiac defended the Great Lakes Region from the invasion and occupation of the British Troops. Pontiac also led a revolt that took Fort Detroit at what became known as The Battle of Bloody Run. Despite being a prominent figure, many historians are still unsure as to whether or not Pontiac was truly a leader rather than a mere follower. In 1769, Pontiac was assassinated by a member of the Peoria tribe in Illinois.
Sacajawea, whose name is alternatively spelled Sacagawea or Sakakawea, is another well-known Native American woman. She was born to the Shoshone tribe known as the Agaidika or “Salmon Eater”. Sacajawea was only 12 when she and other young girls were kidnapped by a group of Hidatsa men, after which they were taken to a Hidatsa village. She married a French trapper named Toussaint Charbonneau, with whom she has a son named Jean Baptiste. She was known for accompanying Meriwether Lewis and William Clark in their Corps of Discovery of the western part of the United States in 1806. Sacajawea's face now appears on the dollar coin.
10) Will Rogers
A Cherokee-Cowboy, Will Rogers was a popular Native American actor, philanthropist, social commentator, Vaudevillian, comedian, and presidential candidate. He was born William Peen Adair Rogers to a well respected and relatively wealthy family, and was often hailed as Oklahoma's favorite son. He knew how to ride horses so well that ended up in the Guinness Book of World Records. His record was for simultaneously throwing three ropes at a horse—one around the horse's rider, one around the neck, and one around all four legs. He appeared in 71 films, and wrote more than 4,000 columns for nationally-syndicated newspapers. In 1935, he died in a plane crash in Barrow, Alaska.
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