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Significant Native American Leaders

The leaders of Native American tribes have played a significant role in the history of the United States, in particular its expansion across the North American continent. While their lands were snatched up piecemeal by land-thirsty settlers, miners, and others, these brave leaders listed below, and many others, worked in battle and in peace to protect their land and their people. The following is a sampler of their efforts:

Leader Name





Powhatan (Wahunsonacock)

? - 1618

Powhatan; Confederation of Algonquin tribes


Powhatan proved he could overcome most obstacles to co-exist with the Pilgrims. He also maintained peace with Jamestown settlers for many years, even after his daughter Pocahontas was kidnapped.

Massasoit (Ousamequin)



Narragansett Bay, Massachusetts

Massasoit cultivated harmonious relations with the colonists, being especially helpful to the Pilgrims in their early travails.

Pocahontas (Matoaka, Rebecca)


Powhatan; Confederation of Algonquin tribes


Daughter of Chief Powhatan, Pocahontas supposedly saved John Smith`s life when he was threatened by tribal members. Her marriage to John Rolfe ushered in eight years of good relations between the Indians and the colonists.




Lenape Nation

New England

Selling land to Roger Williams in 1636, Canonicus agreed to fight alongside the colonists in the Pequot War. But in 1675, a Narragansett settlement was mauled in the Great Swamp Fight, greatly reducing Narragansett numbers and influence.

Tamanend; also "The Affable"


Lenape Nation

New England

Tamanend, adopted by the colonists as a patron saint prior to the American Revolution, signed land treaties with William Penn in 1683 that later comprised Penn`s Woods (Pennsylvania). Chief of the Unami clan, he was immortalized with a statue in Philadelphia. Church bells in Philadelphia were rung to celebrate this "saint" on May 1.

Metacom (known as Metacomet, Pometacom, King Philip)



Eastern side of Narragansett Bay

Son of Massasoit, Metacom was forced to sign a new peace agreement at Taunton in 1671; Metacom`s dignity and unbending spirit impressed and frightened settlers. Violence led to King Philip`s War. Hostilities ceased when Philip (Metacom) was betrayed, captured, and brutally murdered.

Hancock or King Hancock



New Bern, North Carolina

Chief Hancock assembled 500 neighboring Indians to eradicate settlers for frequently raiding his village, kidnaping women and children, and selling them as slaves. Northern Tuscarora tribe chief Tom Blunt captured Hancock during the Tuscarora War and he was executed by settlers in 1712.


Blue Jacket



Northwest Territory

Considered a leader of an "inferior force," Blue Jacket opposed such labeling and emerged as the war leader of the Shawnee Confederacy. In opposition, General Anthony Wayne`s army moved out of Greenville (Ohio) with 2,000 regulars, known as the Legion of the United States, and 1,500 volunteers July 1794. A great battle took place the following month.




Northwest Territory

Tecumseh saw action at the Battle of Fallen Timbers (1794). Bitterly disappointed by his people`s plight, he refused to sign the Treaty of Greenville in 1795. He joined the British in the War of 1812, followed them as they were pushed back into Canada, and was killed in 1813 at the Battle of the Thames.

Chief Seattle (Sealth)



Puget Sound, Washington

Orator Sealth helped protect the small band of European-American Seattle settlers from attacks by other Indians. Because of his friendship and help, the settlers named their city after him. At the presentation of treaty proposals in 1854, the aging Chief Seattle delivered a widely remembered speech.

Sakajawea (Sacajawea, Tsi-ki-ka-wi-as)

1787?-1812 or 1884


Montana, Idaho, Oregon, Washington

Captured by members of the Hidatsa tribe as a girl and sold into slavery, Sakajawea and her young son traveled with husband Toussaint Charbonneau, along with explorers Lewis and Clark, on the Oregon Trail in 1805.

Mangas Coloradas ("Red Sleeves")


Beonkohes Apache

Southwestern New Mexico

Mangas sought friendly relations with the miners at their Pinos Altos camp, who were under constant Indian threat. After they brutally beat him, Mangas and Chief Cochise drove the miners out. Mangas met with a militia officer in 1863, was taken to Ft. McLane, imprisoned, and brutally killed "while trying to escape."


Conquering Bear


Brulé Lakota (Sioux)


Chosen to represent the Lakota at the Ft. Laramie treaty council in 1851, Conquering Bear advocated peace. He was shot after refusing to turn over the Miniconjou Lakota warrior who had killed and eaten a stray cow from a Mormon wagon train.

American Horse, the Elder (Washicun Tashanka)


Oglala Lakota (Sioux)

South Dakota

American Horse served with Chiefs Crazy Horse, Sitting Bull , and others during the Plains Indian War. During the Bozeman Trail War (Red Cloud`s War, 1860s), American Horse rode with Red Cloud, served as a principal military leader at the Battle of the Little Big Horn, and was killed in the massacre at Slim Buttes.

Hototo (also: Lean Elk, Little Tobacco, and Poker Joe)


Nez Percé


War chief with Chief Joseph, Hototo was chosen trail boss and guide of the Nez Percé after the Battle of the Big Hole that spurred his people on a 500-700 mile journey to the Missouri River with most surrendering at the Battle of Bear Paw. During that battle, Hototo was mistakenly killed by friendly fire.





Leader of the Second Seminole War, which began because of Oceaola`s refusal to sign an 1835 treaty after he was released from prison. Fighting continued 20 years after he died in a Charleston, South Carolina, prison in 1838. He was buried with full military honors.




Western Washington State

Once an advocate of peaceful negotiations with Indian agents, Chief Leschi entered the Puget Sound Indian War after his tribe`s land rights were terminated, and they were assigned to a small parcel of scrubland away from their home in 1855. Leschi was hanged three years later.

Dohasan (Tohausen, Téh-tóot-sah, and Sierrito)


Kiowa Apache

Indian Territory (Oklahoma) and Texas

Dohäsan was the son of Chief Dohá (Bluff), and a significant member of a long line of Kiowa chiefs. A leader for more than 30 years, Dohäsan was celebrated as a fierce warrior and an insightful administrator. He also signed several treaties.

Dull Knife (Morning Star, Tahmelapashme, Woheiv)


Northern Cheyenne

Montana, Oklahoma, Colorado, Black Hills

Dull Knife signed the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868. He fought in the Colorado Cheyenne-Arapaho War; and War for the Black Hills, which included the Battle of the Rosebud, Battle of the Little Big Horn, and others.

Satank (Setankeah or "Sitting Bear")



South Dakota and Oklahoma

Satank was a leader of the Koitsenko (Crazy Dog) warrior society and fought intertribal wars while in his twenties. In 1867, he represented the Kiowa at the Medicine Lodge Treaty council.



Chiricahua Apaches

American Southwest

Drawn into conflict during the Bascom Affair, Cochise became chief after father-in-law Mangas Coloradas was killed in 1863. He fought a relentless guerrilla war against U.S. cavalry for nine years, until signing a treaty that established a reservation on his native land.

Lone Wolf (Guipago)



Oklahoma, Kansas, Colorado, Texas

Leader among his tribe`s militant minority during the 1860s and `70s, Lone Wolf rallied in Washington, D.C. with other chiefs and signed the Little Arkansas Treaty. After agreeing to negotiate with Custer, he was held hostage at Fort Cobb. He secured the parole of Santana and Big Tree.

Big Foot


Oglala Lakota (Sioux)

Black Hills, South Dakota

After the Sioux Wars (1876-1877), Big Foot advocated for adapting to the white men`s ways while retaining Lakota traditions. He was a strong Ghost Dance-resurgence proponent and was killed at the Wounded Knee Massacre after surrendering.

Red Cloud (Makhpiyaluta Scarlet Cloud)


Oglala Sioux (Lakota)

Nebraska, Montana, Wyoming, South Dakota

Aiding in the U.S. government`s policy change from military pacification to one of negotiation, Red Cloud was used to persuade Crazy Horse in 1877 to surrender, only to see Crazy Horse slain in custody. He agreed to relocate his people to the Pine Ridge Reservation in 1878. Until his death at 87, Red Cloud continued to lobby from Pine Ridge.

Spotted Tail (Sinte Galeska and Jumping Buffalo)


Brule tribe of the Sioux Nation

South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Colorado Territory

While in prison at Fort Laramie, Spotted Tail learned to read and write. He was a signer of the Fort Laramie Treaty. As adminstrator and head chief of his people, he maintained an Indian police force that kept alcohol off his reservation, and condemned threats to force the Lakota to Indian Territory.

Bull Chief


Absaroke, or Mountain Crow, tribe

Montana and Wyoming

Bull Chief used non-traditional techniques for spiritual and hunting successes. He was distinguished in battle against tribal enemies and recognized as the bravest warrior during the height of the buffalo culture.




Arizona, New Mexico

Victorio served with Mangas Coloradas and assumed the leadership position after Coloradas` death. He played a key role in the 1870s Apache uprisings.

Geronimo (Goyathlay: "one who yawns")


Chiricahua Apache

Arizona, Indian Territory, New Mexico

An Apache shaman, Geronimo became chief after Cochise`s death. When he and his followers were captured in 1886, they were forced to cut their hair, wear Western clothes, and were shackled while being transported to Alabama. He later traveled to national expositions and was a symbol of resistance to white domination.

American Horse, the Younger (Wasechun-tashunka)


Oglala Lakota (Sioux)

Black Hills, South Dakota

American Horse championed accommodation with the encroaching whites. He signed the treaty secured by the Crook Commission in 1887, which forced the Lakota to abandon half their reservation in Dakota.

Santana (Set-tainte or White Bear Person)



Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, Oklahoma

Santana negotiated numerous times with the American government and signed such treaties as the Little Arkansas (1865) and Medicine Lodge (1867). He fought a protracted war before settlers, miners, and others finally overwhelmed his tribe`s land.

Sitting Bull (Jumping Badger, nickname Hunkesi, Tatanka-Iyotanka)


Hunkpapa Lakota (Sioux)

North Dakota

Originally a medicine man, Sitting Bull became the first principal chief of the entire Lakota Sioux nation in 1868. Remembered as one of the greatest Indian leaders, he battled the land agreements of 1888 and 1889, which threw half the Great Sioux Reservation open to white settlement.

Looking Glass (Allalimya Takanin)


Nez Percé

Pacific Northwest

During the Nez Percé War, Looking Glass was one of the war chiefs who helped lead his people during their long flight to freedom across the Canadian border in 1877. He attempted to demonstrate neutrality and abstained from the conflict between the non-treaty Nez Percé bands and the U.S. government.

Rain in the Face (Ito-na-gaju)


Hunkpapa Sioux within the Lakota Nation

Dakota Territory, Wyoming and Montana

Rain in the Face was one of the Sioux`s greatest and most respected war heroes. As a war chief, he was among the Indian leaders who vanquished George A. Custer and his U.S. Army 7th Cavalry regiment at the Battle of the Little Big Horn.

Gall (Matohinshda: "Bear Shedding His Hair" and Pizia)


Hunkpapa Teton Sioux

South Dakota

Orphaned by Sitting Bull, Gall played a leading role in the Lakotas` long war against the U.S. As a Hunkpapa Teton Sioux leader, he also was a commander of the Native American cavalry forces at the Battle of the Little Big Horn. Gall was one of the most aggressive Sioux leaders in their last stand.

Joseph (Hin-mah-too-yah-lat-kekt, In-mut-too-yah-lat-lat



Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and Montana

Chief Joseph, an advocate of peace, helped lead his people, along with Chief Hototo, on a 500-700 mile journey to the Missouri River. He surrendered at the Battle of Bear Paw after which he uttered his famous remarks. He campaigned for a return to his homeland in the Wallowa Valley until his death.

Ollokot (Tewetakis)


Nez Perce

Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and Montana

Son of Chief Joseph, Ollokot played an important role in the peace initiative at Fort Walla Walla in 1877. Throughout the Nez Percé War, with never more than 250 warriors, he fought some 20 engagements and five major battles against forces of about 2,000 soldiers and others. Ollokot was killed in combat at the final battle on Snake Creek.

Crazy Horse (also: Curly, his boyhood name and Tashunka Witko)


Lakota (Sioux)

South Dakota

Crazy Horse was one of the youngest Lakota in memory to receive the title Shirtwearer, one of the highest honors and responsibilities accorded to males. Committed to safeguarding the Lakota tradition and principles, he led a group of approximately 1,500 Lakota and Cheyenne in the Battle of Rosebud and a band in the Battle of Little Big Horn. Except for Gall and Sitting Bull, he was the last important chief to yield.

Manuelito (Hastiin Ch`il Haajiní, Man of Blackweed)



Arizona, New Mexico

Manuelito, an important Navajo leader and spokesperson, opposed the killing of 60 cattle by U.S. soldiers, which eventually led to the infamous "Long Walk" to Bosque Redondo Reservation. On the 350-mile trail of death, 200 died or were killed. He witnessed the deaths of 2,000 Navajos at Bosque. He was noted for his dedication to quality education for his people.



Yakana Indian Nation

Western Washington State

Kamiakan called upon tribes to oppose the 1855 Yakama Treaty, which led to the Yakima War. Along with other local Indians, they held off U.S. soldiers for about three years. In 1858, at the Battle of Four Lakes near Spokane, the Indians were decisively defeated. Kamiakan escaped to Canada.

Kicking Bear (born: Mato Wanartaka)


Oglala Sioux, then Minneconjou Sioux sub-chief


Medicine man Kicking Bear participated in several battles during the War for the Black Hills, including the Battle of the Little Big Horn. He brought the new Ghost Dance to his people and aided in its revival. He toured with Buffalo Bill Cody`s Wild West Show in 1861 to have his sentence commuted.





He was rescued from prison by two University of California at Berkeley anthropologists. Archaeologist Alfred Kroeber`s wife, the author of Ishi in Two Worlds, wrote that Ishi was "the last wild Indian in North America, a man of Stone Age culture."




Nevada, New Mexico

Wodziwob was involved in the rebirth of the Ghost Dance in the 1860s. A prophet and a shaman, Wodziwob prophesied in 1869 that the railroad would come from the East.

Wovoka (Jack Wilson)




Having a strong background in Christian and Paiute spirituality, Wovoka revived the Ghost Dance. He was inspired to action after witnessing his people demoralized by defeat, subjugation, oppression, and segregation. Visitors from many places came to see his updated version of the Ghost Dance.

Black Elk (Hehaka Sapa, Nicholas Black Elk)


Oglala Lakota (Sioux)

Northern Great Plains

In 1886, famous holy man, traditional healer, and visionary, Black Elk joined Buffalo Bill Cody`s Wild West show. Black Elk witnessed the Wounded Knee Massacre and produced two literary works.

Jim Thorpe




Jim Thorpe won medals in the 1912 Olympic games in Sweden that were later stripped. He also played professional football and baseball. His feats on the football field put him on the 1911 and 1912 All-American Football teams.

Dan George



Burrard Reserve, Vancouver Island

Actor as well as a spokesman for his people, Dan George was nominated for Academy Award Best Supporting Actor for his role in "Little Big Man."


Esther Ross



Western Washington State

Esther Ross campaigned for 50 years for her people`s rights. Tribal membership rose from 29 to 160 before her death. She established fishing rights for the Stillaguamish, obtained federal recognition, and gained treaty rights that made them eligible for federal benefits.

Bob Satiacum



Western Washington State

Bob Satiacum, host of many "fish-ins" by the Puyallup and a user of other tactics, secured treaty-guaranteed fishing rights for his people after a 30-year fight. Satiacum secured the return of 20 acres and $77.25 million in tribal claims.

Wilma Pearl Mankiller (A-ji-luhsgi, Asgaya-dihi)



Oklahoma, California, Arkansas

Wilma Pearl Mankiller, first female leader of Cherokee, brought social and economic changes to her people. Reared in poverty, Mankiller received the Presidential Medal of Honor from President Bill Clinton in 1998.

See also Indian Wars Time Table.

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