The American Indian is of the soil, whether it be the region of forests, plains, pueblos, or mesas. He fits into the landscape, for the hand that fashioned the continent also fashioned the man for his surroundings. He once grew as naturally as the wild sunflowers, he belongs just as the buffalo belonged….
– Luther Standing Bear, Oglala
The history of the American West is obviously never complete without the tales of the many Americans who first lived on these vast lands.
Here, you’ll find summaries of many of the chiefs, heroes, warriors, and medicine men that history records as significant in the westward expansion of the United States.
Though there were literally thousands of men and woman that could be mentioned, this ever growing list of individuals, begins with those most famous.
Also See: Native American Heroes & Leaders
Notable Native Americans in History:
American Horse (1800-1876) – American Horse, an Oglala Sioux chief, he was one of the principal war chiefs during the Battle of the Little Bighorn. He was killed by General George Crook’s troops in 1876. See Article HERE.
Big Elk (1765-1846) – Chief of the Omaha tribe. Known as Ongpatonga to the Omaha tribe, Big Elk earned a reputation as a warrior when he was still very young, primarily in skirmishes against the Pawnee. When Omaha Chief Washinggusaba (Black Bird), who was known as a tyrant, died in 1800, Big Elk, who had gained a reputation for fairness in making decisions, became the principal chief. Afterwards, the Euro-Americans began to pass through Omaha Territory. In 1821 and 1837, he traveled to Washington, D.C. to negotiate treaties and became known as a spellbinding orator. He continued to lead the Omaha Indians until died of fever in 1846. He was buried in Bellevue, Nebraska, at a site called Elk Hill, but to the Omahas, called Onpontonga Xiathon, meaning, “the Place Where Big Elk Is Buried.”
Big Foot, aka: Sithanka, Spotted Elk 1826?-1890) – A Hunkpapa Sioux, Big Foot was the chief of the Cheyenne River Reservation. He was killed on December 29, 1890, along with almost 300 other members of his tribe, at the Wounded Knee Massacre. See Article HERE.
Big Mush (??-1839) – Fought in the Cherokee War in Texas and was killed in the Battle of the Neches on July 16, 1839. Though little is known of Chief Big Mush, or Gatun-wa-’li to his people, he was known to exercise authority in civil matters during the time that some Cherokee bands made their home in northeast Texas. Thought to have lived in the northwestern part of Rusk County, he was closely associated with Chief Bowles in 1827 and was one of the signers in the treaty made with General Sam Houston to assign the lands to the Cherokee; however the Texas Senate refused to ratify the treaty which soon led to the Cherokee War. Big Mush was killed in the Battle of the Neches, along with Chief Bowles on July 16, 1839
Black Elk (1863-1950) – Known as Hehaka Sapa to his people, Black Elk was a famous Lakota holy man. He participated in the Battle of the Little Bighorn when he was just 12 years-old. In 1886 Black Elk joined Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West Show and toured eastern cities and even Europe. In 1890, he was wounded in the massacre that occurred in Wounded Knee in 1890. Living on the reservation, he was baptized as a Catholic and took the name Nicholas Black Elk. Serve as a spiritual leader among his people, he saw no contradiction in what he found valid in both his tribal traditions and those of Christianity. He then began to travel helping to convert Arapaho, Winnebago, Omaha and others to Christianity. 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. He died in August, 1950.
Big Tree – See Adoeette
Chief Bowles (1756-1839) – Known to the Cherokee as Diwal’li, Bowles was born in North Carolina around 1756. He was the son of a Scottish father and a Cherokee mother. In 1810, his band moved to better hunting grounds near New Madrid, Missouri and then two years later to northwestern Arkansas. In 1819, they relocated to what they hoped would be their permanent home in northeastern Texas. There, he became the “peace chief” of a council that united several Cherokee villages. The Cherokee were welcomed by the Mexican government, who saw them as a barrier to white settlement and Bowles began to negotiate with them to obtain permanent title to the land, but were never finalized. After the Texas Revolution, Bowles once again began to negotiate with Sam Houston for possession of the lands. On February 23, 1836, in a treaty made by Houston signed a treaty that, though substantially reducing the Cherokee landholdings, would give them permanent title. Unfortunately for the Cherokee, the Texas Senate would not ratify it. Houston’s successor, Mirabeau B. Lamar, opposed all Indians in the new republic and ordered Bowles and his people to leave Texas. This led to what is known as the Cherokee War. On July 16, 1839, Chief Bowles was killed in the Battle of the Neches, the last engagement between the Cherokee and whites settlers in Texas.
Edward “Ned” Wilkerson Bushyhead (1832-1907) – Miner, publisher, and lawman, Bushyhead was born near Cleveland, Tennessee. Part Cherokee Indian, he was the son of a Baptist preacher, who he accompanied from Georgia to Indian Territory on the Trail of Tears at the age of seven. When his father died in 1844, the 12 year-old went to work as a printer with the Cherokee Messenger and later worked in Fort Smith, Arkansas. In 1850, the 18 year-old headed to California where he landed in Placerville seeking his fortune. Having some luck as a miner, he soon allocated his resources and became the publisher of the San Andreas Register in October, 1867. This; however, was short lived, as he then moved to San Diego, where he became the “silent” publisher of the San Diego Union which was first published on October 10, 1868. In 1873, he sold the newspaper, which continued until 1927, and was resurrected for five years between 1942 and 1947. In 1882, he ran for sheriff of San Diego County and served to terms and in 1899 became the Chief of Police in San Diego, California, a position he held until 1903. Due to health reasons, he moved to Alpine, California in 1907, where he died on March 4, 1907. His body was returned to Oklahoma, where it was buried in the family cemetery at Talequah.
Captain Jack – See Kintpuash
Chief Levi Colbert – (1759-1834) – Also known as Itawamba in Chickasaw, Colbert was a leader and chief of the Chickasaw in Alabama and Mississippi. He and his brother, George Colbert, were prominent interpreters and negotiators with Andrew Jackson’s appointed negotiators related to Indian Removal. More …
Also See: Native American Heroes & Leaders