Library of Congress
You’ve heard some of the names, but how well do you know the history?
These are five famous Native Americans who lived and died in the 1600s, 1700s, and 1800s. Their names may be familiar but, even if not, the events in which they participated will be. Behind these men and women are cultures and histories worth knowing and understanding.
Pope’ d. 1690
Tewa Pueblo medicine doctor Pope’ resisted Spanish authority and rule. In 1675, Pope’ was beaten and imprisoned. After his release, Pope’ developed alliances among the Pueblo peoples, who had previously resisted unified leadership. In August 1680, Pope’ led a coordinated strike against the Spaniards.
After a week’s fighting, the Spaniards retreated to El Paso. Led by Pope’, the Pueblos controlled their homeland for a decade. The Pueblo people resisted Pope’s centralized rule and became disillusioned. By the time Pope’ died in 1690, the Indians’ alliance had crumbled, then collapsed in the face of attacks by the Apache and the Ute, and the Spaniards’ return. By 1692, Spain once again ruled in Santa Fe.
Ten-year-old Sacajawea was kidnapped by the Hidatsa Indians and taken to their village. She and another girl were sold and married to a French fur trader, Toussaint Charbonneau. Charbonneau was hired by Lewis and Clark and insisted that Sacajawea accompany the expedition as an interpreter.
Sacajawea stayed with the “Corp of Discovery” to the Pacific, before dying in an 1812 epidemic of putrid fever, or in 1884 after having rejoined her Shoshoni tribe in Montana. Sacajawea was honored in 2000 by the U.S. Mint’s placement of her image on a new gold dollar coin with Sacajawea’s image.
American Horse 1800-1876
Oglala Sioux war chief American Horse spent a lifetime opposing white settlement of Sioux lands after gold was discovered in 1874. American Horse tried to hold the U.S. accountable. After the Battle of Little Bighorn, American Horse and forty Indian family groups crossed paths with the troops of General George Crook. Crook attacked American Horse’s encampment even though the band was on land guaranteed to them by treaty.
Retreating to a cave along with warriors and women, American Horse was shot through the abdomen during the fight. A rescue party led by Sitting Bull and Gall did not reach him in time. American Horse died at age 76.
Sitting Bull 1831-1890
Sitting Bull was one of the Sioux people’s significant leaders. Sitting Bull helped gather Lakota and Cheyenne warriors in response to Custer’s 1874 invasion of the Black Hills. By June of 1876, a village of up to 15,000 Plains Indians was established along the Little Bighorn River. On June 25, General George Custer attacked the native warriors in a battle that lasted 20 minutes.
Custer’s men were destroyed. Sitting Bull fled to Canada, where he and his followers remained for four years before surrendering. Sitting Bull was imprisoned until 1883, then allowed to settle on the Standing Rock Reservation.
Crazy Horse 1842-1877
Crazy Horse, principal war chief of the Lakota Sioux, was born in 1842 near Rapid City, SD. Prospectors swarmed in after the discovery of gold. The Army ordered that Sioux bands stay on the Great Sioux Reservation to ‘protect’ white travelers. Crazy Horse ignored that order. The Army responded with a campaign against Crazy Horse and his followers. General George Crook’s army attacked twelve hundred warriors led by Crazy Horse but ultimately withdrew. Crazy Horse then joined Sitting Bull at Bighorn River in Montana.
General George Custer attacked the native warriors in a battle that lasted 20 minutes. Custer’s force of 225 men was destroyed.
After the battle there, where Custer’s army was destroyed, Crazy Horse and his followers traveled back to the Rosebud River. In the face of intense military harassment, Crazy Horse and his followers surrendered on May 6, 1877. Crazy Horse was killed in 1877 after being arrested for leaving a reservation without permission. Crazy Horse resisted the arrest and was bayoneted through the abdomen.
There are a huge number of resources – in print and online – for learning more about Native American history, including the biographies of famous Native Americans. One such resource, that includes biographies of dozens of Nothern Plains and Southwest Native Americans is Partnership With Native Americans.
A deeper dive – related reading from the 101:
Photographs have captured some final glimpses into these cultures.
There may have been 100,000,000 ‘Native Americans’ living in North American before the Europeans arrived.