10 Native American Inventions

10 Native American Inventions

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From the tip of South America to the Arctic, Native Americans developed scores of innovations—from kayaks, protective goggles and baby bottles to birth control, genetically modified food crops and analgesic medications—that enabled them to survive and flourish wherever they lived.

In fact, early European explorers who reached the Western Hemisphere were apparently so impressed by the achievements of the people they encountered that they felt compelled to dream up stories about Native Americans being descendants of ancient Phoenician traders or a lost tribe of Israel, in an effort to explain the source of their technological prowess.

“People don’t realize the ingenuity or the knowledge that native people had, and continue to have about the world around them,” explains Gaetana De Gennaro, a supervisory specialist at the National Museum of the American Indian in New York, who manages a permanent interactive exhibit on Native American inventions.

Because various Native American groups were connected through trade routes, new inventions created by one group could quickly spread from North to South and East to West, according to De Gennaro, a member of the Tohono O'odham tribe in southern Arizona.


It may be a crop, but corn was carefully cultivated by ancient farmers as long as 10,000 years ago. Native Americans then taught European colonists how to grow the crop.

“Everybody knows about corn, but they don’t know that it’s a food that wouldn’t exist without human intervention,” says De Gennaro.

Farmers in northern Guatemala and southern Mexico selectively bred teosinthe, a wild grass, for many generations to enlarge the ear and develop kernels that were soft enough for humans to eat. Once they’d created the corn plant, their invention spread throughout the Western Hemisphere.


Some Native American inventions were appropriated by the Europeans, who had the trading networks and manufacturing infrastructure to commercialize them, and who sometimes added improvements. For example, rubber was a material developed by Native Americans, and then Columbus took a rubber ball back to Europe, De Gennaro says.

After Charles Goodyear developed the vulcanization process in the 1830s to allow rubber to withstand heat and cold, colonizers developed vast rubber tree plantations in Asia to produce the raw material for factories. “Now, rubber is used all over the world,” De Gennaro says.


The Inuit in the Arctic developed the concept of a small, narrow boat, with a sealed cockpit to protect the paddler from sinking in the event that the craft capsized, according to Canadian technology historians David Johnston and Tom Jenkins. The classic vessels were fashioned entirely from natural materials, with wood or whalebone frames covered by stitched sealskin or other animal hides. Today, the kayaks in use across the world are sometimes built from modern materials such as plastic and carbon fiber, but as De Gennaro notes, “the design is still essentially the same.”

Snow Goggles

The Inuit also invented goggles fashioned from wood, bone, antler or leather to protect their eyes from over-exposure to sunlight reflected from expanses of snow. “They’d put a slit in there, to simulate the way that you can squint,” De Gennaro says. “It cut down on the ultraviolet rays that got into the eyes.” The snow goggles were the predecessors to today’s sunglasses.

Cable Suspension Bridges

The Inca of South America figured out how to weave mountain grasses and other vegetation into cables, sometimes as thick as a person’s body, and then used them to build super-strong suspension bridges that spanned across gorges. Some of the structures spanned longer distances than anything European engineers of the time could construct with stone, though modern steel suspension bridges eventually achieved far greater scale. The last of the ancient Inca-style grass cable suspension bridges still spans a gorge in Peru’s Canas Province.

Raised-Bed Agriculture

Natives in South and Central America invented the technique of enriching soil and piling it to build raised garden plots called chinampas on swampy land and in lakes, according to Emory Dean Keoke and Kay Marie Porterfield in their Encyclopedia of American Indian Contributions to the World. The technique was a forerunner of raised-bed farming used for modern vegetable production.

Baby Bottles

The Iroquois took dried and greased bear gut and added a nipple fashioned from a bird’s quill to create bottles that could be used to feed infants, according to Iroquois historian Arthur C. Parker.

Anesthetics and Topical Pain Relievers

Native American healers pioneered pain relief. In what is now Virginia, natives used jimson weed (scientific name Datura stramonium) as a topical analgesic, grinding the root to make a plaster that they applied to external injuries such as cuts and bruises, according to Keoke and Porterfield’s book.

Healers also had patients ingest the plant as an anesthetic as they set broken bones. Another native remedy for pain and inflammation was tea brewed from the bark of the American black willow (Salix nigra), which contains the chemical salicin. Once it gets into the body, salicin produces salicylic acid, the active ingredient in modern aspirin tablets. Native Americans also used capsaicin, a chemical found in hot peppers, for topical pain relief, according to De Gennaro.


Native Americans fashioned syringes made of animal bladders and hollow bird bones to inject medications, according to Technology in America: A Brief History. The technology didn’t show up in European medicine until the 1850s, when Scottish physician Alexander Wood began using needles to inject morphine to relieve pain.


When Christopher Columbus landed in the Caribbean, he found natives resting in hammocks, a bed made from cotton netting and suspended between two trees or poles, according to his letters. Hammocks were so comfortable and convenient that European sailors began sleeping in them on merchant and naval ships, according to Indians of North America.

Oral Contraceptives

The Shoshone and Navajo tribes used stoneseed, also known as Columbia Puccoon (Lithospermum ruderale) as an oral contraceptive, long before the pharmaceutical industry developed birth control pills.


Various tribes in Northeastern North America used the wildflower goldthread (Coptis trifolia) as a mouthwash and a treatment for oral pain.

8 Native American Entrepreneurs

Native Americans played a significant and yet often unheralded role in shaping the United States. As a result, Native American entrepreneurs often get overshadowed. Other more brash companies and entrepreneurs make more noise, for example on social media and in pop culture.

But November is designated Native American Heritage Month. As a result, this seems a good time to highlight Native American entrepreneurs.

8. Lightbulb

October 14, 1878 marked the date that Thomas Edison filed his first patent of a light bulb. By November 4, 1879, Edison had made various improvements upon the original and filed for a patent for a product that was an electric lamp powered by "a carbon filament or strip coiled and connected . to platina (metal) contact wires". In 1880, Edison began marketing the light bulb commercially through his company, the Edison Electric Light Company. Today light bulbs are more energy efficient as well as lasting a lot longer than the original design. Aesthetically, not a lot has changed since the invention's mass production in the 1880s.

In the early 1900s, Wilbur Chapman, 10, of White Cloud, Kan., inspired the creation of the American piggy bank after selling his pig, Pete, to raise money for a boy with leprosy. When the generous gift captured the world’s attention, the American Leprosy Mission began making cast-iron pigs named Pete with slots in their back to be fed—not corn—but coins.

San Antonio, Texas, native Spencer Silver worked as a chemist for 3M, headquartered in St. Paul, Minn., when he invented a glue in 1968 that was strong enough to hold papers together, yet weak enough to allow the papers to be pulled apart again. The invention sat on the shelf until Silver’s colleague, Art Fry, needed a bookmark that wouldn’t fall out. The resulting Post-it Notes product was introduced nationwide in 1980 and soon became an office standard.

10 Great American Achievements

On July 16, 1969, Apollo 11 blasted off from Kennedy Space Center in Florida. This spacecraft would take 3 American astronauts to the Moon, landing 2 on its surface and return all 3 safely to Earth, less than a decade after the first manned space flight. The US and Americans have achieved many great things, and here we list 10 of them. Not all significant inventions or achievements are necessarily for humanitarian purposes, some of them are for war. Some, like DDT and the polio vaccines saved millions of lives. We list 10 that we think you will find interesting, and invite you to let us know what other American accomplishments we should have listed. ( America bashers beware! This list is by definition US-centric.)

Digging Deeper

10. The Internet, circa 1985.

Although no official opening date exists, the Internet was an American concept actually put forth by the US Government in the 1960’s, interlinking thousands of public and private computer and communication systems, going into effect in the mid-1980’s. During the first few years, almost all Internet use was by government and academic users, with the 1990’s seeing enormous expansion in use by businesses and private individuals. About 100 times more people use the Internet today than in 1995 and well over 90% of US classrooms have Internet access. Al Gore did not invent the Internet, nor did he say he did, but he and others were advocates that made it happen. Thanks, Al. Here are 10 Other ways the Internet has changed our lives.

9. Cell Phones, 1973.

First shown to the world in 1973 by American television and radio manufacturer, Motorola, the cell phone has become a world wide device that makes communications in most civilized places oh so easy. It is hard to even remember what teenagers did before this invention.

8. Machine Guns, 1862, 1884.

Dr. Gatling invented his hand cranked multi-barrel gun in time for limited use during the Civil War, and his guns were still in service until 1911. Hiram Maxim, born in Maine, immigrated to England at age 41 and perfected his automatic machine gun, the first modern such weapon, which was used from then until the 1950’s. The Maxim Gun is the basis for other machine guns that have followed.

7. Panama Canal, 1914.

A project that dwarfed the problems in building the Suez Canal (or any other canal), the US accomplished what the French could not, and provided easy access between the Atlantic and Pacific. Facing incredible engineering obstacles and especially disease, this US achievement accommodates close to 15,000 ships passing through per year and is approaching its millionth customer. The canal and canal zone were turned over to Panama on December 31, 1999. Modifications to accommodate much larger ships are being undertaken at this time.

6. Modern Submarine, 1900.

Invented by John Holland, an Irish-American who sold his idea to the US Navy, which commissioned their first submarine, the USS Holland in 1900. Other attempts at undersea craft go back a few hundred years, including the US Turtle and the CSS Hunley , but these were limited range hand powered craft. In the 19th Century attempts were made at producing steam powered subs, but no practical model appeared until Holland invented a sub that ran on a gasoline internal combustion engine on the surface and on powerful electric batteries and motors under water. Unfortunately, Holland was allowed to sell his designs to other countries and the US Navy failed at a big chance to have a monopoly on modern submarines.

5. Trans-Oceanic Cable Communication, 1858.

American Cyrus West Field masterminded the massive project of laying a telegraph cable from North America to Europe, producing the first trans-Atlantic electronic communication, featuring a message between Queen Victoria (United Kingdom) and President Buchanan (US). An improved version was completed in 1866, and later telephone and other electronic data transmission cables were laid across other oceans as well as the Atlantic. Before this project, communication from Europe to North America took 10 days by boat, but with the cable it would take only a few minutes.

4. First Nuclear Reactor, 1942.

Built in Chicago as part of the Manhattan Project , Chicago Pile-1 became the first man-made nuclear reactor with a controllable self-sustaining nuclear reaction. This led to the production of nuclear electricity producing plants, a potential source of energy for human-kind without burning fossil fuels, if only we could design and supervise enough safety measures into such plants. ( Note: Scientists from other countries contributed to this project, but there is a reason it was done in the US, where money, safety, and freedom made it possible.)

3. Model T Ford, 1908.

Built from 1908 to 1927 this was not the first practical car, but it was the first mass produced practical car that normal people could afford, costing as low as $260. At one point in the 1920’s, almost half the cars in the world were Model T Fords, truly the car that put the masses behind the steering wheel. 15 million were built.

2. First in Flight, 1903.

Many inventors around the world were working on controlled, powered, manned flight projects, but the Wright brothers from Ohio were the first to make it reality. Unfortunately, they also invented the airplane crash fatality.

1. Men on the Moon, 1969.

The US moon landing in 1969 and subsequent lunar forays made the US not only the first to the moon, but also the only country ever to accomplish a manned moon landing. The Apollo program also provided some really neat photography.

Question for students (and subscribers): What other American accomplishments should we have listed? Please let us know in the comments section below this article.

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Historical Evidence

For more information, please see…

The featured image in this article, a photograph by James L. Long of the Apollo 11 liftoff, was originally posted to Flickr by State Library and Archives of Florida at https://flickr.com/photos/[email protected]/8678167050. It was reviewed on 23 August 2016 by FlickreviewR and was confirmed to be licensed under the terms of the No known copyright restrictions. This work is from the Florida Memory Project hosted at the State Archive of Florida, and is released to the public domain in the United States under the terms of Section 257.35(6), Florida Statutes.

About Author

Major Dan is a retired veteran of the United States Marine Corps. He served during the Cold War and has traveled to many countries around the world. Prior to his military service, he graduated from Cleveland State University, having majored in sociology. Following his military service, he worked as a police officer eventually earning the rank of captain prior to his retirement.

Native American Contributions

From pineapples and pumpkins to a model of government and the zero in math, discover some of the many contributions Native Americans have made to world cultures.

As the first inhabitants of North America, Native Americans discovered how to live off the land. Many tribes domesticated edible plants, raised animals, and discovered natural medicines. Native American innovations in areas such as mathematics and government greatly influenced other cultures in Europe and Latin America.

Edible plants domesticated by Native Americans have become major staples in the diets of peoples all around the world. Such foods include corn (maize), manioc, potatoes, sweet potatoes, peanuts, squashes and pumpkins, tomatoes, papayas, avocados, pineapples, guavas, chili peppers, chocolate (cacao), and many species of beans.

Native Americans were the first to raise turkeys, llamas, guinea pigs, and honeybees for food.

Other plants of great importance developed by Native Americans include cotton, rubber, and tobacco.

The Quechua peoples of Peru discovered the medicinal use for quinine. Also, Canadian Indians knew how to prevent scurvy by eating plants rich in vitamin C, and they passed this information along to the Europeans.

The Mayans of Mexico appear to have been the first to use the zero in mathematics. Scholars believe that Asians traveled across the Pacific Ocean and learned about the zero from the Maya.

25c. Inventors and Inventions

Charles Goodyear received a patent for developing a method of treating rubber, called vulcanization

A nation becomes great because of great people. Often the people that make the greatest impact on progress are not national leaders, but brilliant men and women of ideas. A handful of individuals developed inventions in the first half of the nineteenth century that, not only had a direct impact on everyone's lives, but also affected the destiny of the American nation.

In the second decade of the nineteenth century, roads were few and poor. Getting to the frontier and instituting trade with settlers was difficult. In 1807, Robert Fulton sailed the first commercially viable steamboat , the Clermont , from New York City to Albany. Within 4 years, regular steamboat service from Pittsburgh took passengers and cargo down the Ohio into the Mississippi. Within 20 years, over 200 steamboats were plying these routes.

While New England was moving to mechanize manufacturing, others were working to mechanize agriculture. Cyrus McCormick wanted to design equipment that would simplify farmers' work. In 1831, he invented a horse-drawn reaper to harvest grain and started selling it to others in 1840. It allowed the farmer to do five times the amount of harvesting in a day than they could by hand using a scythe. By 1851, his company was the largest producer of farm equipment in the world.

Cyrus McCormick's reaper was five times more efficient than hand harvesting wheat, but at first farmers looked upon the invention as a novelty.

In 1837, John Deere made the first commercially successful riding plow . Deere's steel plow allowed farmers to turn heavy, gummy prairie sod easily, which stuck to the older wooden and iron plows. His inventions made farm much less physically demanding. During the Civil War, 25 years later, even women and young children of the South would use these devices allowing the men to be away at war.

Another notable American inventor was Samuel F.B. Morse , who invented the electric telegraph and Morse Code . Morse was an artist having a great deal of difficulty making enough money to make ends meet. He started pursuing a number of business opportunities which would allow him to continue his work as an artist. Out of these efforts came the telegraph. With the completion of the first telegraph line between Baltimore and Washington in 1844, almost instant communication between distant places in the country was possible. The man who was responsible for building this first telegraph line was Ezra Cornell , later the founder of Cornell University .

Until Eli Whitney invented interchangeable parts, pistols like this one were handcrafted by gunsmiths, one at a time.

Charles Goodyear invented one of the most important chemical processes of the century. Natural rubber is brittle when cold and sticky when warm. In 1844, Goodyear received a patent for developing a method of treating rubber, called vulcanization , that made it strong and supple when hot or cold. Although, the process was instrumental in the development of tires used on bicycles and automobiles, the fruit of this technology came too late for Goodyear. He died a poor man.

Perhaps no one had as great an impact on the development of the industrial north as Eli Whitney . Whitney raised eyebrows when he walked into the US Patent office, took apart ten guns, and reassembled them mixing the parts of each gun. Whitney lived in an age where an artisan would handcraft each part of every gun. No two products were quite the same. Whitney's milling machine allowed workers to cut metal objects in an identical fashion, making interchangeable parts . It was the start of the concept of mass production. Over the course of time, the device and Whitney's techniques were used to make many others products. Elias Howe used it to make the first workable sewing machine in 1846. Clockmakers used it to make metal gears. In making the cotton gin, Eli Whitney had played a major part in expanding slavery. In making the milling machine to produce precision guns and rifles in a very efficient and effective way, he set the industrial forces of the North in motion.

Stretching from Canada to Texas, the Great Plains region was too dry to support large groups of people around 10,000 years ago. But over time the climate became warmer and rainier, allowing grasses to grow. That brought herds of bison—and people weren’t far behind. Starting around A.D. 1200, tribes from the north, east, and southeast regions of what’s now the United States and the Canadian prairies moved to this area to hunt bison for food, shelter, tools, and clothing.

Many tribes, including the Crow and Arapaho (pronounced uh-RAH-puh-hoh), survived by following bison herds as they migrated from place to place. These groups needed homes that could be quickly taken down and rebuilt again, so they lived in tent-like structures made of buffalo skins called tepees. (The Wichita people and a few other Plains tribes stayed in one place to farm the land, living in beehive-shaped houses made of grass.)

In the mid-1700s, Plains tribes started riding horses that had been brought over from Europe. Groups such as the Blackfeet, Sioux (pronounced SOO), and Comanche (pronounced kuh-MAN-chee) became master riders and warriors, and they controlled huge hunting grounds that supported thousands of members. For instance, at one point, the powerful Comanche tribe had more than 40,000 people.

Because the Plains tribes were spread across so much land, they spoke many different languages—so they developed a single sign language for people of all tribes to communicate with. They also shared a tradition of dance: Different tribes practiced ceremonial dances. The Cheyenne (SHY-an) performed the Animal Dance, meant to send luck to hunters so they would bring back enough food for the tribe. The Caddo (CAD-oh) performed the Turkey Dance, which celebrated the return of warriors from battle and several tribes performed the Sun Dance, in which dancers prayed for spiritual healing and the welfare of their communities.

Native Americans: Histories and Facts

First Nations of North America, Central America, and the Caribbean: Links to American Indians web sites, official web sites of Native American Nations of Canada, the United States, Central America, and the Caribbean. Links to native Art, Culture, History, Institutions, Maps, Flags, Education, and News.

First People: A website dedicated to all First People of the America's, and Canada. This is a child friendly, educational site about American Indians and members of the First Nations - EXCELLENT!

How Stuff Works: Native American History: Facts about Native American History including video

National Museum of the American Indian at the Smithsonian Institute: Various online exhibits about Native Americans and their culture

Native American Facts for Kids: Fact sheets about Native Americans in general and specific Native American tribes

Outline of American History: Chapter 1: Early America - The first Americans historical background on the First Americans -- Native American Culturesy

Interesting Facts about the Native Americans

* It is believed that the first Americans in the Americans over 18,000 years ago.

*It is believed that as early as 30,000 B.C. the Paleo-Indians crossed from Siberia to Alaska which began their move to North America.

* Native American Nations today each have their own unique language and traditions.

*It is believed that in 1492 Christopher Columbus met the Taino People on an island named Hispaniola.

*One of the saddest events in Native American history is when, in 1838, the Cherokee Indians were forced to move to Oklahoma. The march was called the "Trail of Tears". Thousands of Cherokee died due to the cold weather and diseases.

*The last major battle fought between Native Americans and United States troops was fought in 1890, and called the Battle of Wounded Knee. More than 200 Sioux were massacred in this battle.

Native Americans who served in the United States Marine Corps were Code talkers. Their primary job was the transmission of secret tactical messages.

In 1924 with the "Indian Citizenship Act", the United States Congress granted all Native Americas U.S. citizenship.

Charles Curtis became Vice President of the United States under Herbert Hoover (1929-1933), and is the only Vice President of Native American heritage.

In 1968, the American Indian Movement, a civil rights organization, was founded.

Many games and sports played in the United States began originated from early Native Americans. Inherited sports include Lacrosse, canoeing, and tobogganing.

American History Calendar: A calendar site showing American history in a unique way: through a user-friendly web calendar. Birthdays of important people in American history and important events in American history can be viewed interactive - browse through it and display details on a specific person or event. A printer friendly version of the calendar is also available.

American History Museum

Smithsonian National Museum of American History Search Engine: Discover history through objects, photographs, interactive timelines: Complete archived collections - excellent!

The History Channel

The History Channel: Each month the History Channel takes new explorations into the past and puts them on display for you, utilizing state-of-the-art interactive technology listen to speeches drawn from the most famous broadcasts and recordings of the Twentieth Century. The History Channel Time Machine brings you to a different speech every day trivia quiz fact of the day games.

U.S. History Images

U.S. History Images: What better way to learn about and appreciate the history of the United States than through viewing the illustrations of artists from the last century and a half! The images are all in the public domain and are free for anyone to use in any way after viewing the Terms of Use. This website is a work in progress and new images are always being added. Present topics for images include: Life in the Colonies, Colonial Patriots, Native Americans, Native American Culture, The Age of Exploration, and Explorers

Educational American History Powerpoints
Educational American History Videos
Reference Sites to Help in Your Research

American Memory Learning Page of the Library of Congress: Historical collections of photographs, documents, motion pictures, and sound recordings about American culture and history - SEARCHABLE by keyword

The Biographic Dictionary: Covers more than 33,000 notable men and women who have shaped our world from ancient times to the present day- SEARCHABLE by keyword

Encyclopedia Smithsonian: Encyclopedia Smithsonian features answers to frequently asked questions about the Smithsonian and links to Smithsonian resources from A to Z

Information Please: On-Line Dictionary Encyclopedia Almanac, and MORE

Who2: Find famous people biographies fast! This site also lists links to more information about each person. - SEARCHABLE by keyword

10 Famous Native Americans

Let's face it, America's history is not exactly neat and ti­dy. When white settlers arrived in America, they realized they had a big problem: there were people already living there!

These Native Americans tried various tactics to deal with the European intruders. They tried talking it out, bu­t most of the settlers were afraid of these seemingly primitive people. They tried living harmoniously, by signing tr­eaties for shared land, but the U.S. government had a knack for going back on its word. They even resorted to fighting and won some victories, though the war would eventually be lost along with nearly all of the land they had left.

­Despite the hardships, some heroes emerged. The following figures represent the hundreds of tribal leaders who did everything they could to preserve the history and culture of their threatened people.

This Lakota leader played a major role in the Lakotas' long war against the United States. As a Hunkpapa Teton Sioux leader, he also served as commander of the Native American cavalry forces at the Battle of Little Bighorn. Gall was one of the most aggressive Sioux leaders in the final battles for preservation and resistance, though his story is not without controversy. Though he was Sitting Bull's chief military lieutenant during the Little Bighorn battle, he quarreled with Sitting Bull and retreated to Canada shortly thereafter. His talks with settlers did much to improve relations between the groups, but some felt he conceded too much and befriended too many white leaders. Regardless, Gall was integral to the history of the Native American plight.

9. Makhpiya-Luta, aka Red Cloud

For most of his life, Red Cloud was fighting. At first, it was to defend his Oglala people against the Pawnee and Crow tribes, but by the time he reached his forties, Red Cloud was fighting the white man. His efforts led to the defeat of Fort Phil Kearny in Wyoming in 1867 and kept soldiers at bay (and in fear) for the rest of the winter. In the two years that followed, the government signed the Fort Laramie Treaty and gave the Native Americans land in Wyoming, Montana, and South Dakota. But soon after, the Black Hills were invaded, and Red Cloud and his people lost their land. Until his death in 1909, Red Cloud tried other ways to make peace and preserve the culture of his people, working with government officials and agents to reach a fair agreement.

8. Hin-mah-too-yah-lat-kekt, aka Joseph the Younger

Born in 1840 in what is now Oregon, Joseph the Younger (also called Chief Joseph) had some big shoes to fill. His father, Joseph the Elder, had converted to Christianity in 1838 in an attempt to make peace with white settlers. His father's efforts seemed to work, for his Nez Percé people were given land in Idaho. But in 1863, the U.S. government took the land back, and Joseph the Younger's father burned his Bible and his flag and refused to sign any new treaties. When Joseph succeeded his father as tribal chief in 1871, he clearly had to deal with a rather delicate situation. He eventually agreed to move his people to the now smaller reservation in Idaho, but never made it. They came under attack by white soldiers, fought back, and then dealt with the wrath of the government. In an impressive battle, 700 Native Americans fought 2,000 U.S. soldiers successfully until Joseph surrendered in 1877. He died in 1904 from what his doctor reported was a broken heart.

7. Tashunca-uitco, aka Crazy Horse

At the tender age of 13, this legendary warrior was stealing horses from neighboring tribes. By the time he was 20, Crazy Horse was leading his first war party under the instruction of Chief Red Cloud. The Lakota warrior spent his life fighting for the preservation of his people's way of life. He amassed more than 1,200 warriors to help Sitting Bull defeat General Crook in 1876. After that, Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse joined forces, eventually defeating Custer at Little Bighorn. Crazy Horse continued to tirelessly defend his people's rights, but by 1877, there was little fight left in him. When trying to get to his sick wife, Crazy Horse was killed with a bayonet.

Historical figures are often described with embellishment, but rarely are they mythologized to Geronimo's levels. Geronimo's wife, children, and mother were killed by Mexicans in 1858. He led many attacks on both Mexican and American settlers and was known for his legendary war skills -- some even said he was impervious to bullets. But later in life, this fearless leader of the Chiricahua tribe of the North American Apache was forced to settle on a reservation, his group having dwindled to just a few people. He eventually died a prisoner of war in 1909 and is buried in Oklahoma.

Though only one-eighth Cherokee, John Ross served as a chief in the Cherokee Nation from 1828 until his death in 1866. Over the years, Ross served as a translator for missionaries, a liaison between the Cherokee people and Washington politicians, and owned a farm (and slaves) in North Carolina. By the early 1820s, things did not look good for the Cherokee people. Ross took legal action to try to prevent the forced exile of the tribe.

He was president of the Cherokee Constitutional Convention of 1827 and, for the next ten years, worked with the U.S. government and his people to seek assistance and justice for the Cherokee. Even though several court rulings found the Cherokee to be the rightful owners of land, they weren't enforced, and, slowly but surely, Ross's efforts went largely unrewarded. Ross is known for leading the Cherokee to Oklahoma in 1838 on what is commonly referred to as the "Trail of Tears."

Not much is known about Pontiac's early life, but it is believed that he was born in the Detroit or Maumee River region to Ottawan parents, and, by age 30, he was a prominent figure within his tribe. After the French and Indian War, Pontiac was none too pleased with the British and their trading policies. He responded with widespread attacks against British forts and settlements in the Ohio region during 1763, which came to be known as Pontiac's Rebellion. However, neighboring tribes and other Native American leaders didn't like the way Pontiac conducted himself. Some felt he used a fake title of "chief" given to him by the white man to exert influence and enjoy undue power. Pontiac was killed by a member of the Peoria tribe in 1769.

3. Sequoyah, aka George Guess, aka Sogwali

If it weren't for Sequoyah, a huge piece of Native American culture might be missing. Thanks to this Cherokee born around 1766, the Cherokee language is not a mystery. Sequoyah created the syllabary, or syllable alphabet, for his people and taught the Cherokee how to read and write. The ability to communicate via the written word helped make the Cherokee Nation a leader among tribes everywhere. The giant sequoia tree is named after the man who felt that the pen would outlast the sword -- and he was right. Sequoyah died in 1843 of natural causes.

While Tecumseh, a Shawnee chief, was no stranger to battle, he is more often recognized for his diplomatic efforts in the Native American plight. Born in Ohio in the late 1760s, Tecumseh was an impressive and charismatic orator. In 1809, when the Treaty of Fort Wayne signed over 2.5 million acres to the United States, Tecumseh was outraged. He tried to get all the Native American nations to join together, claiming that the land belonged to the people who were there first, and no one tribe could buy or sell any part of it. Tecumseh's hopes were to create solidarity among all native peoples, but the idea came too late. Eventually, Tecumseh joined forces with the British and was killed in battle in 1813.

1. Tatanka Iyotaka, aka Sitting Bull

The principal chief of the Dakota Sioux was fierce, determined, and less than forgiving of the white miners who tried to take over the Black Hills in the late 1870s. Sitting Bull was born in 1831 and, while he earned a reputation for being ruthless in the Native American resistance efforts of his younger days, his big moment came in 1876. Trying to protect their land, Sitting Bull and his men defeated Custer's troops at the Battle of Little Bighorn. Sitting Bull then escaped to Canada. In 1881, he returned to America on the promise of a pardon, which he received. The legendary warrior then joined Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show, showcasing his riding skills and hunting prowess. But when he died at 69, Sitting Bull was still advising his people to hold on to their land and their heritage.

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