From iconic figures like Geronimo to lesser-known leaders like Red Cloud, meet the most astonishing Native American warriors in history.
For centuries both before and after Europeans began colonizing the New World, countless Native American warriors did battle with both settlers and each other as they defended their land, forged their tribes, and shaped the history of the continent. And while some of their names remain well known to this day, many of their stories have been lost to time.
For example, few know the story of Lozen, nicknamed the “Apache Joan of Arc” for her decades-long resistance against Mexican and American invaders in the mid-19th century.
And though most might know a detail or two about the Battle of Little Bighorn, few remember that it was a Native American warrior named Buffalo Calf Road Woman who knocked Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer off his horse. As the story goes, the fearless female warrior charged straight at Custer while wielding a club. Her blow sent the Civil War hero tumbling to the ground — and may have resulted in his death.
Likewise, the service of Native American soldiers in modern military conflicts are often overlooked. Ira Hayes, for example, was one of the six Marines photographed raising the American flag during the Battle of Iwo Jima against Japanese forces near the end of World War II.
During that same war, Joe Medicine Crow was able to complete the four tests required to become a Crow chief while fighting in Europe: he touched a living enemy, stole an enemy’s weapon, led a war party, and took an enemy’s horse.
Even the stories of great Native American chiefs are often relegated to a footnote. Lakota Chief Red Cloud won a rare victory against the United States government in the 1860s, and Sitting Bull, the supreme leader of the Lakota Sioux inspired his people to victory in the Battle of Little Bighorn. Yet both men would be betrayed by the U.S. government.
Red Cloud lived to see most of the promises that American officials made following his victory wither on the vine. And Sitting Bull once bitterly remarked, “They made us many promises, more than I can remember. But they kept but one — They promised to take our land… and they took it.”
These Native American warriors may be overlooked in most American history textbooks. But regardless of what’s taught in schools, these men and women nevertheless played a crucial role in American history.
Discover more of the stories behind the most incredible Native American warriors in history.